Harley And The Hummingbirds Archive
Tokyo 2016-17

I have had many fresh starts, as anyone who has read the previous pages will attest, but the move to Japan was undoubtedly the biggest one yet. One would imagine that such a monumental change would be the product of careful consideration but in truth I made the decision on a whim. The situation in Amsterdam was deteriorating, both from a musical and an inter-personal standpoint, and I was looking for a way out. Japan had been on my mind since the month’s stay a year prior but moving there always seemed like an impossibility, or so I thought until I discovered the Working Holiday Visa. My timing was optimal as the limit on applicants had just been reset (I think they reset every year in April or May) so I actually had a pretty good chance of getting it. Suddenly I had a mission and I felt alive again. I flew to London immediately to submit my documents to the Japanese embassy and within a month or so got the approval. September came around and a new chapter in my life began. I was fortunate in that my stay would be bankrolled by the sale of a Banksy I had purchased before he became famous (my seven year old self had some tremendous foresight when it came to spending his pocket money), thank goodness because there was no way I was going to get caught up in the English teaching racket. I had booked an Airbnb in Koenji for the first couple of weeks whilst I looked for a more permanent living situation. I no longer had to deal with Dutch bureaucracy but the language barrier proved just as formidable. Navigating the rental market, banking, utilities etc. after just two months of Japanese study is not something I’d voluntarily do again but when there’s a will there’s a way.
Cover Photo: Shinjuku • Maaho (Nervous Hearts) and me at Akabane station • My Kyodo apartment • The new drum machine • Half recording a demo/half selfie for the gram
The new place was in Kyodo, a few stops from Shimokitazawa (hipster central) so it was perfect for someone looking to explore the music scene. I got started immediately, mainly by collecting flyers and following bands around, for instance the first show I saw was The Doctors Of Madness (a member of whom was a family friend) and I thought the opening act were great, so I got talking to them and went along to their next show. If they were playing with another cool band then I’d talk to them, and so little by little I wormed my way into the Tokyo underground. It was exciting, there were shows almost every night, the audiences were receptive and there was a feeling of solidarity amongst musicians. Nostalgia was the order of the day and nobody does it better than the Japanese. There were Mods, Post-Punks, Psychedelic bands, Indie Kids, Power Poppers, Garage Rockers etc. In the West there’s nothing to rail against but Japan is still a rigid, socially conservative country so the shows I would imagine act as some relief to the realities of day to day life. Please note this is not a critique of such a society, order is entirely necessary to maintain high standards, I’m merely pointing out that in the East the dichotomy appears healthier in that Rock music is serving an actual counter-cultural role.
The first band meeting with Kii and Takuto
I spent the first few months making connections and forming friendships, soaking up the atmosphere and using it to guide the direction of my own music. As such, much of what I was writing took on an immediate, stripped down approach more akin to the lively Garage/Northern Soul/Punk bands I was seeing than to the 60s Pop records that had inspired the previous material. This new sound required new equipment, drums or tambourine were out of the question given the thin walls of Tokyo apartments but a drum machine seemed like a perfect addition. I got searching and managed to find a working Roland TR-66 in a music shop in Shinjuku, it sounded like a toy but I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I was continuing to upload my recordings on Soundcloud and to my surprise they were actually being listened to. In January I was approached by Takuto Saiki, a regular at the UFO Club, about the possibility of forming a live group and playing Hummingbirds material. I hadn’t thought about forming a band, especially after the misery of the London shows, but if there was any place in the world where it would be worth doing, this was it. A few weeks went by and I bumped into Takuto again, this time he mentioned Kii who, having heard my music, was expressing an interest in forming the group. Kii worked at the UFO club and whilst I would see him and say hello it never crossed my mind that he might be a musician himself. We had our first band meeting on the 26th January in an Izakaya in Shinjuku and got a nearby table to take our photo to commemorate the moment. I decided that for this incarnation of the band it wouldn’t make sense to use pre-Tokyo material so everything had to be new, if we were short of songs then I would simply write more. February and March were spent rehearsing at Rinky Dink Studios. Rehearsals were sometimes arduous, sometimes fun, I was way too serious about everything and probably drove them insane.
Takuto and me at the UFO Club before a show • Kii and me at a Tawings gig at Shimokitazawa Three • Kii and me in my apartment • At Rinky Dink rehearsal rooms in Shinjuku
Drug Me
Drug Me marks a departure from the more ‘produced’ recordings of the first two EPs. I was heavily influenced by what was going on around me and as such the songs I was writing seemed tailored for live performance. I had rough ideas from Amsterdam that would ultimately end up on the EP but the majority of the ideas came about in Tokyo. Everything was written on an unplugged guitar and recorded quickly and simply, without too much thought for the final product. That Girl starts things off and from the get-go you can hear the difference in sound. It’s still Pop music but not as contrived, it was just me at home, playing guitar and singing a song, presumably with the bands I saw live the night before going round my head. I would often go to the Northern Soul events and there are hints of that here, in fact it started life as a Northern Soul number but quickly morphed into something more ‘Power Pop’. The drum machine was the obvious new toy but perhaps more important was my purchase of a Gibson SG Junior. It had always been my dream guitar and I needed an electric, having sold my Flying V in Amsterdam. I went to a shop in Shin-Okubo to try a few out and fell in love with the most abused one there. All of the guitar work from this point up until the release of Future Superstar would be done on the SG into a wah-wah at ‘full cock’, sometimes with fuzz and then straight into the Revox. I Wonder is a bit of a Country/Glam exploit and though the studio version doesn’t approach the live one, it has its own spirit which may be down to the recording method. On the Revox I would have to record takes in one go and although it’s a nuisance with longer songs it does give the vocal takes in particular a bit of nervous energy. The rough idea for Come Back Baby was written in Amsterdam and completed in Tokyo. This is the only track on the EP with any sort of studio trickery. The middle 8th is an experimental bit of tape splicing with a multi-reverse-guitar section spliced in almost at random. As with any tape editing one never knows if it’ll be successful until it’s done but hearing it work so well after having done it was an electrifying moment. High Class Fun was I’m sure written on the back of some Japanese Punk gig, it’s fast and a little ridiculous but it went on to become one of the most popular songs in the set. Never Gonna Get Love is a good old bit of melodramatic Power Pop and an appropriate song with which to end the EP. I wrote most of it in Amsterdam and only added the final section and a few lyrics in Tokyo. The guitar solo is over the top but having spent so many years in bands where taste was the number one priority I always made a point to include moments of tastelessness.
Gibson SG Junior • Epiphone Frontier • Danelectro Longhorn Bass • Roland TR-66 • Tonebender • Colorsound Wah • Revox B77 • Shure Unidyne • Sony C38B
The original photo at Himeji Castle

The Hummingbirds played a total of ten shows in Tokyo including one under the name Noisy Bastard (a last minute show with each member sharing the lead spot) and one solo acoustic show. The core of the group was Kimitake Kobayashi (Kii) on bass, Takuto Saiki on drums and me on guitar & vocals. With the exception of the first show the set list was comprised entirely of new material, much of which would end up on the Drug Me and Drugged Me EPs. The shows were vastly more enjoyable than the ones in London, not so much because of increased confidence but more-so the camaraderie amongst the groups in the scene. Everyone wanted each other to do well and support was plentiful, we were all in the same boat so we might as well have fun doing the thing that we love.
UFO Club 1st April 2017
Complete Show: You, I Wonder, Lies, That Girl, High Class Fun, Southbound Train, Never Gonna Get Love
This was the first show with the second Hummingbirds lineup. We had been offered the gig by Ryoji Arai, a promoter who put on 60s themed nights at various locations around Tokyo. Kii worked at UFO Club and Takuto was well known in the 60s circuit, I imagine it was because of them that we got booked. At the time I had only released the first two EPs, both of which had a strong 60s aesthetic, however since arriving in Tokyo my songwriting had taken a turn towards 70s Pop. I felt a little bad for Ryoji seeing as he took a chance on a new band and probably didn’t get what he expected. The Japanese are notoriously rigid in their approach to style and trends so this feeling of guilt was only exacerbated once we got on stage, launching into the first song You (which wouldn’t sound out of place on an Alice Cooper record) and witnessing a sea of bemused expressions coming from the audience of mods and dandies. That particular song was swiftly dropped from the set after this show. Aside from this little hiccough the rest of the performance went smoothly. It was a relief fronting the band on guitar rather than bass, not only for ease of singing and playing but it was also an opportunity to use my recently bought, long desired dream guitar, a Gibson SG Junior. For those who are interested, the box I’m plugged into is a DIY Tonebender inside a Heathkit voltmeter case. I found that when paired with the Roland Jazz Chorus (a staple of every Japanese venue) I could get a nice clean sound or a fantastic fuzz at the touch of the guitars volume knob. Thank god that was the case because I didn’t have a backup if it sounded like shit. We were very much a new band and as a result our performance was a little unsure, we did win over a fair chunk of the crowd though, many of whom would continue coming to subsequent shows.
Never Gonna Get Love
These performances by no means showcase the best live versions of any of the songs but they are historical documents (if I may be that portentous) in the sense that it was a new lineup playing an entirely new set of material, some of which would only be performed this one time. The complete show is here thanks to Hideo Hamada who recorded the video and Takuto who set up a camera in the back of the room from which the sound is taken. Please forgive my nervousness which occasionally comes across as arrogance and also the embarrassingly bad performance of a few of the numbers.
Heavy Sick 3rd and 6th May 2017
The band outside the venue
In April 2017 we were booked to play two shows at the Heavy Sick club but it looked as though Takuto would be unable to make one of them. I convinced Oli to fly from London to Tokyo for a holiday and to cover on the drums. Oli had been in the first Hummingbirds lineup and I knew he was a more than competent enough musician to learn a set of new material at short notice (supposedly he learnt most of it on the plane ride over). We were both sharing my tiny apartment with him on the raised bed and me on a futon on the floor. Though he is tall, he is rather svelte which certainly made it easier in such cramped conditions, however on the first night I discovered he was a snorer. I was unable to fall asleep because of this and we'd booked an early rehearsal. I remember the sun starting to rise and extreme tiredness hitting me just as our alarms went off. I was exceptionally grumpy that day and I’m sure it showed.
Lies (HQ Link)
The first meeting between Oli and Kii was somewhat understated, especially considering the man-love that developed over the course of the week. One would think that with a shared vocabulary of approximately ten words, a close connection would be unlikely… it certainly took me by surprise. Even after Oli left, Kii would often talk about him, remarking on how cool he was or how much fun he had that week. That second night Oli and I went to get some curry and whilst I was sleeping like a baby he was apparently going through the worst case of food poisoning of his life.
Blue Skies (Oli Swan)
High Class Fun
Blue Skies (Oli Swan)
The rest of the time was spent sightseeing, eating, visiting memorials, shrines etc. Oli was able to find some nice T-shirts and a camera at the Ohi Racecourse flea market and managed to avoid food poisoning for the remainder of the trip. Quite early on it was decided that for the second show Oli would join the band on guitar, so every night we would go back to the apartment and play through the songs, working out new parts for him to play. Due to the thin walls these had to be quiet rehearsals so it was unplugged electrics and thin plectrums. Even then I was still having a go at him every ten minutes, saying “you’re picking too loudly!”, he took it gracefully.
Oli and me at the station • Oli, Kanae (Tawings) and me at Heavy Sick
The set consisted mostly of Hummingbirds material however I was keen to give his current Thin Lizard project an airing, so for the last two songs we would switch - me on drums, Oli upfront - and play some ‘Children’s Rock’ as we called it. The first show was heavy and great fun, however it’s the second show that really sticks in my memory. Just prior to playing we almost reached breaking point and had our ‘Let It Be’ moment backstage. There was a fair bit of tension during the whole week, probably exacerbated by the close living quarters and it all came out during an argument about how exclusively major (scale) Oli should be playing a solo. Still, we managed to get through it and keep the friendship intact. The show itself was the most fun I’ve ever had playing a gig and with Takuto back in the drum seat the band felt complete again. It’s strange how even in a small underground club a good show makes everything else (and any problems) seem rather unimportant.
B&W photos from the second show (Teppei Miki)
Club Cactus 22nd July 2017
Soundcheck before the show
This was a night hosted by the inimitable Hiroki Banjie Baba, a stalwart of the Tokyo mod scene and a bit of a character to say the least. The PA system rather unusually was facing the band and the drum kit was a half-size child's kit, I suppose it was a bit of a DIY affair. The show was notable in that it was here that Emily was first played. The song would eventually end up on the Future Superstar album and from this show onwards it would become a staple of the live set.
Emily, one of the first attempts playing it live in fact
Heavy Sick 28th July 2017
Incomplete Show: The Midnight Man, I Wonder, High Class Fun, Emily, Lady Day (Lou Reed)
This was the third and final show at Heavy Sick. The club was run by the one and only Mr Death and was a key venue in the Tokyo underground scene (along with Green Apple, UFO Club, Shinjuku Jam and a few others). Though the gig was largely uneventful it has become the source of a couple of Hummingbirds rarities, namely the footage of us playing Small Town Blues and Lady Day. Small Town Blues was a generic Stones rip-off that was saved by it’s off-kilter Captain Beefheart-esque bridge. Lady Day was the bands first attempt at a cover and what a cover it was. Perhaps it was a little foolish to choose such a grand song as a three piece, but it seemed like a useful challenge and it certainly tightened us up as a band. I’ve got to hand it to Takuto and Kii, they aren’t the most technical of musicians but their playing has an indefinable quality, reliant more on charm and personality, and as such the Hummingbirds never sounded better than with them as the rhythm section. Even though I found the show a bit difficult at the time (owing to a bout of stage-fright that night) the footage serves as one of the best example of the Mk II lineup.
The Midnight Man
Small Town Blues
Shimokitazawa Three 5th August 2017
I was a regular at Shimokitazawa Three but I'd never played there before. The show itself wasn't particular noteworthy but I was excited to play alongside Car Crash, a band that I rate as one of the finest of that time. This was peak Tokyo summer and the venue was hot, which almost spelled disaster for our set. The fuzz box I was using had germanium transistors which are very temperature sensitive and the heat was rendering it unusable. I remember rushing around the venue before our set trying to find the coldest spot to store it in. Thankfully it just about made it through the show but by the end the guitar was sounding more like a power tool than an instrument.
I Wonder
UFO Club 20th August 2017
The last band show, like the first, was at the UFO club but we’d grown a lot in five months and by now we’d forged a position in the underground scene. Kii had organised the event and it seemed like everyone was there to see the band off. I had invited Nao-Nao of Vivian Boys and Toyozo of The Fadeaways to come on stage to sing Me and Bobby McGee and I’m So Bored With The USA respectively. We rehearsed the songs together just once during the sound-check but it wasn’t important that they were perfect, I just wanted to have fun playing some covers with a couple of my peers.
That Girl
Me And Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin)
I'd seen Nao-Nao play the Janis Joplin song on youtube with Keiji Ronson of Young Parisian and thought it would be neat to invite her to play a full band version. The Clash song was chosen since it seemed to fit well with my impending move and having seen The Fadeaways multiple times I figured that Toyozo would be the man for the job. I was sure he'd give it the energy required and I wasn't disappointed.
Me And Bobby McGee (Janis Joplin)
High Class Fun
I'm So Bored With The USA (The Clash)
I'm So Bored With The USA (The Clash)
By this point Takuto and Kii were a well-oiled machine, in fact I think this was the first time we matched the speed of the recorded version of High Class Fun, no mean feat. They both looked excellent as well, Kii’s hair/moustache combo was really coming along and Takuto had successfully embodied Japan circa 1967. After the show I was inundated with gifts and spent a good hour taking photos with everyone. I don’t think I was able to express the extent of my gratitude given my limited Japanese but my love goes out to everyone in that scene. It was a little piece of paradise, full of optimism and support, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
Kimitake Kobayashi on bass • Takuto Saiki on drums • Nao-Nao (Vivian Boys) on vocals and acoustic guitar • Toyozo (The Fadeaways) on vocals
Poor Cow 27th August 2017
I ended my time in Japan with a show at Poor Cow. It was a solo acoustic affair (with Takuto on tambourine for a couple of songs) and the perfect end to what had been a remarkable year. I had heard about the legendary bar, even watched some videos on youtube of bands playing there, but this was my first time going. It was on the second or third floor of a commercial building space and I’m sure that most people on the street were completely oblivious to its existence. Fifi was the scene’s big record collector and owned the place, I’d bumped into him a few times in Disc Union but he always seemed preoccupied with his vinyl hunt.
I Wonder
As with the previous show, this acoustic night brought along a bunch of people from the scene albeit this time for a more intimate affair. This was my first solo performance since the ill-fated karaoke night all the way back in the Northwood Hall era. I wasn’t particularly nervous, I quite enjoyed being able to hear myself clearly and I was still on a high from the UFO Club show.
Small Town Blues
High Class Fun
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young)
I must give a mention to Yoko from Rock A Cherry who after I told her how much I loved her t-shirt immediately gave it to me as a parting gift, it’s not often you literally get given the shirt off someone’s back and I was more than happy to rep’ her band for the show. The set was as follows: The Midnight Man, I Wonder, Small Town Blues, High Class Fun (sing-a-long edition), Emily, Left In Line, Love Love Love, A Cowgirl Called Yuka, Never Gonna Get Love and a cover of Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young. A Cowgirl Called Yuka would end up being one-off for this performance as would the Neil Young song. I must have been in a 'covers' mindset after the success of the ones at the UFO Club.
Takuto, Young Parisian, X-Tits and The Neso • Suzu (Hi-Marts) • Fifi, Young Parisian, Rock Juice • Yoko (Rock-A-Cherry) • Gorilla • Takuto, Kannana Speedcats
Tokyo Tapes 2016-17
In September 2016 I moved to Tokyo bringing only the Revox B77 and two microphones with which to record. In retrospect it was good to cut down on the gear, it got me focusing more on songwriting again. Small Town Blues was the first full song I wrote after I got settled into my apartment in Kyodo. It’s essentially a Rolling Stones rip-off (with a hint of Beefheart) but it has its charm and I just needed to record something to break out of the inspirational vacuum that was my year in Amsterdam. After initially recording in this minimal fashion I found the songs were lacking rhythm and since the walls of Japanese apartments were too thin to even contemplate tambourine I decided to buy an old Roland drum machine. It unexpectedly became an integral part of the Hummingbirds sound and allowed for a move towards Power Pop - a goal of mine at the time. Hard Earned Pain was a conscious effort to write a song in this vein and would have been included on the EP had it have been recorded better. I’m willing to let a lot slide in terms of recording quality but this one never got close to how I thought it should sound. I’m Talking About is in hindsight an obvious homage to the West Coast Pop Art Band and a bit of an anomaly in the catalogue. I’d come up with the basic idea in Amsterdam in an attempt to write something akin to early Psychedelia. The Heart Attack is basically a demonstration song for the Yamaha E1005 delay/modulation unit I’d just bought. I wanted to use it on everything so this song (somewhat of a throwaway Glam number) was written in about an hour to serve as that vehicle. Your Love is a short simple song that came from a chord progression I’d had for a while. As with most of the songs from this time it suffers from overly-quiet singing (owing to the thin walls) but it displays some of my Country inclinations. My time in The Moon Music Orchestra and The Brixtones, two groups with strong roots in the genre, had obviously had an impact and nowhere else is this more obvious than on A Cowgirl Called Yuka. I’d had the title in my head for a long time and my intent was to write a Pop song around it… instead this came out. The lyrics are simple but it was supposed to be a hark back to old Country songwriting. As with most of my songs I couldn’t keep out the Glam Rock for too long so the ‘Brian May’ guitars do make an appearance. Emily was something I’d been working on for a while. I had the beginning of the song written and was struggling to finish it, but I found the impetus when The Lemon Twigs announced they were looking for a drummer. Suddenly there wasn’t time to wait for inspiration, I just needed something with which to audition. I booked a seven hour mega-session at Rinky Dink Studios to try and get it done, needless to say a far more competent drummer than I would end up filling the role.
Recording the drums for the first version of Emily at Rinky Dink Studios in Umegaoka
Sometime was the last thing I wrote in Japan and it was a jump headfirst into the realm of that most 70s of musical sub-categories, the Soft Rock Space song. It’s a bit of a nod to the music that was coming out of LA at the time, after all I was about to move there, it seemed appropriate to start getting familiar with Maj7 chords. Another Green Suicide was written for my Dad who was after some electronic music for one of his fashion adverts. I didn't have any electronic gear so I made this approximation with guitars and tape effects.
Gibson SG Junior • Epiphone Frontier • Danelectro Longhorn Bass • Roland TR-66 • Tonebender • Colorsound Wah • Revox B77 • Yamaha E1005 • Shure Unidyne • Sony C38B
All songs recorded in Kyodo, Tokyo.
Hummingbird's Day Out/Last Days In Tokyo

As a send off of sorts it was decided that we would have one last band outing at Inokashira Park in Kichijoji complete with the obligatory boating on the lake. It was a heartwarming way to end my time with Takuto and Kii, were it not for them my stay in Japan would likely have been far less consequential. To my surprise they had bought me an Olympus Pen half-frame 35mm camera as a departing gift, a fine camera which I still use to this day. My visa expired on the 1st September and they both came over to my apartment a few days before to raid my possessions, I figured it was the least I could do.
Takuto, Kii and me in Inokashira Park, photos taken on the aforementioned Olympus Pen

Photo and video credits: H Hill-Richmond • Yusuke Toyoshima • Eli Pearl • H Hill-Richmond • H Hill-Richmond • Unknown • Takuto Saiki • Unknown • Takuto Saiki • Takuto Saiki • Yoshiko Matsumoto • Yoshiko Matsumoto • Hideo Hamada • Hideo Hamada • Kuriyama Shintaro • Takako Kiyose • Unknown (possibly Jun Ichioka) • Masaya Suzuki • Atsushi Kasai • Motor Ken • Atsushi Kasai • Atsushi Kasai • Kimitake Kobayashi • Unknown • Teppei Miki • Teppei Miki • Teppei Miki • Unknown (possibly Hiroki Banjie Baba) • Imai Satoshi • Carall (Young Parisian) • Jetty (The Ills) • Kuriyama Shintaro • Unknown • Yuko (X-Tits) • Yasushi Kitatani • Kuriyama Shintaro • Kummy (The Beach Cat Club) • Ayane (Mellvins) • Ayane (Mellvins) • Ayane (Mellvins) • Kummy (The Beach Cat Club) • Kummy (The Beach Cat Club) • Yasushi Kitatani • Yasushi Kitatani • Yasushi Kitatani • Yasushi Kitatani • Yoko (Rock-A-Cherry) • Atsushi Kasai • Yuko (X-Tits) • Suzu Kawane • Hideo Kamekura • Kummy (Beach Cat Club) • Suzu Kawane • Unknown • Unknown • Fumi (Petersfield) • Unknown • Unknown • H Hill-Richmond • Takuto Saiki • Kimitake Kobayashi • Takuto Saiki • Takuto Saiki • Takuto Saiki