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MAKING HIS MARC: How Bolan inspired Japanese superstar Tomoyasu Hotei

Japanese star Tomoyasu Hotei is set to play at the Roundhouse on December 18

Japanese star Tomoyasu Hotei is set to play at the Roundhouse on December 18

Published: 6 December, 2012
by ROISIN GADELRAB

PASSING a music shop, age 14, Tomoyasu Hotei was stopped in his tracks by a compelling image that not only put an end to nine years of piano lessons but provoked an impromptu crime in his own home.

“There was a huge black and white poster – it was Marc Bolan. He looked so expressive. I looked down and there was an electric guitar and I thought, this makes him so exciting,” said Hotei.

“I went to my mum’s room and there was a wallet. I took £100 and went straight to the music shop and bought a really cheap £100 Stratocaster. She knew.”

His mother took it in good humour, he said.

Twenty-five years on, as a successful musician on his first visit to London, a friend brought Hotei to the spot where Bolan met his death in Barnes. Now, the same time has passed again and 49-year-old Hotei, one of Japan’s multi-million-selling rock stars, has just moved to England with his pop star wife, daughter and celebrity dog Loulie, ending up living in Barnes – by pure coincidence, moments from that historic spot.

Hotei and his three-piece band play Camden Roundhouse on December 18.
He said: “It’s beautiful, a really nice place. Bring all your friends, please. I play with a Japanese band. The drummer is a really famous free jazz avant garde musician. He has a full-body Japanese tattoo –he’s like a Japanese Keith Moon. The bassist is really beautiful, the most sexy bassist in Japan, she plays really wild, and there’s the DJ who collaborated on the Kill Bill theme tune.

“We’re a kind of rock ’n’ roll, funky avant-garde style but the DJ is going to make Japanese traditional drums to give a really Oriental avant-garde sound. It should be really danceable and really fashionable. I can’t play without dancing. I’m always dancing, jumping – that’s my style. I want to dance with the audience.”

While hundreds of Japanese fans are flying over for the gig, some tickets remain.

For a star who recently sold out 100,000-seat shows in Japan within 20 minutes, and penned the infamous Kill Bill theme tune, shared the stage with Bowie, dined with Bill Wyman and has an actual mini car designed for him, Hotei is unbelievably humble.

His first thought is to ask Grooves to excuse his words: “I have to apologise for my bad English. I’m still learning so sometimes you may not understand what I’m saying, but I will do my best.”

On the contrary, Hotei is a clear, obliging speaker with a gentle turn of phrase, and an easy conversationalist.

His popularity in Japan, where he is easily recognised and often mobbed, is one of the reasons he moved to the UK, where he is happily settling into his new life.

He said: “It’s freezing this morning, oh my god, seven degrees. I don’t want to go out and walk with my dog today.

“We’re living in Barnes now. It’s such a nice town, very pretty and people are very calm, relaxed. I feel so free here. I’ve got an Oyster card and go on the tube. I’m really enjoying this. I missed this kind of normal life.

“Last year was my 30th anniversary as a professional musician. I’m quite a tall person, maybe a bit too tall in Japan, so all people recognise me. Of course, I can walk in the street but these days everybody has cameras and iPhones. It’s not a big problem for me because people are very nice to me because they respect my music so I’m never embarrassed from other people.”

Moving to the UK, he said, has been a long-time dream: “My dream is I will play guitar all over the world. I’m 50 this year, so maybe this is good time. I have a daughter, we’re always thinking we wanted her to have an international education and 10 years old is a good time for her, so big decisions, but I think we’re going to get our dream altogether.”

He says he’s enjoying life and even the food in London – except for his attempts to secure an electrician: “I want them to fix my ceiling light. They are very lazy. Everybody in the world says English food is not good but the vegetables are really fresh and I’m quite enjoying English food – salmon, mmm.”

His family doesn’t travel lightly, as Hotei confessed to bringing 150 boxes from Japan: “I only brought five guitars. I have another 70 in Tokyo.”
His wife, Miki Imai, has taken a break from her own successful career: “She’s very famous. I’m rock ’n’ roll but she’s more soft, she’s sold millions and millions, but now she’s in London she’s 100 per cent mother because she wants to enjoy her new life and take care of our daughter and learn English. Maybe next year sometime, she also wants to sing in London.”

Hotei’s dramatic dress sense is influenced by his admiration for his three biggest idols: Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Roxy Music.
“Being fashionable makes me feel better. I’m influenced by them, they are really super cool so I want to be cool.”

On sharing a stage with Bowie, he said: “I’m such a lucky boy. I was really nervous and nearly crying and so happy. I learned many things from him on and off stage. He’s such a calm and nice person and also really artistic. I feel deep power from his eyes and his moves. He’s really special.

“We played All The Young Dudes. I used to copy that song when I was a schoolboy so to play that with the real David Bowie was unbelievable.”

He added: “I’m sure you’ll enjoy my show because it’s a bit different from UK rock, but all influenced by your country’s music, so may­be that’s interesting for you to see how UK spirits grow by Samurai spirit. I wish many people to come to our show and enjoy it.”

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