‘Blacko,’ barks the intense slab of face from behind the trestle table; ‘Who’re you shootin’ for?’ It takes a second to realise that the first statement is the face’s name, and the second is aimed at the camera hanging around my neck (which I forgot about when I thought the intensity might escalate into vehemence).
I’m at Marz to shoot a different band, but Blacko has an urgency about him that I think would be unwise to ignore. He implores me to stick around to see the last band, his band, and I agree quickly and prudently. ‘Its Irish music’, he promises in an equally intense Dublin accent, ‘but with a difference.’
Two hours later, other duties dispensed with, I descend the stairs into the snug Marz basement and push my way through a significantly swollen crowd to stage left. Blacko’s band, Johnsons Motorcar, clamber onboard, flick the ignition and away the crowd goes — 45 minutes of frenzied jigging, pounding the floor like a bunch of club-footed Riverdancers. It’s a fantastic release of energy — certainly not what you’d expect for a quiet Sunday night on Tokyo Town — and enough of a spectacle to make me wonder whether I shouldn’t surrender to wrongly-perceived threats more often.
It’s all down to Blacko and his band, of course. It certainly is Irish music, and for many of these gig-goers, heavy volts of electricity probably provide enough of a difference for Blacko’s manifesto to be partly valid. My newfound friend fires staccato, machine-gun riffs at the front row from a sleek, black electric, while frontman Martin Johnson (and here’s you thinking they were just named after William Gillespie’s rebel song) bombards the circle with gruffly serviced traditionals and flighty fiddle histrionics, like the lovechild of Nigel Kennedy and Shane MacGowen (God forbid that unholy union should ever actually occur). That their young Japanese drummer looks barely durable enough to raise her own drumsticks only adds to the spectacle: there’s something almost disturbing in the glee with which she lays waste to her instrument.
It’s not entirely original, of course — fans of Fairport Convention have been listening to similar stuff ever since Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick awoke one morning in ’69 and led ‘Rakish Paddy’ through ‘Foxhunters’ Jig’ via a newly discovered Mississippi detour — but it’s unlikely that the Motorcar are after breaking new ground. The attitude and the craic are authentic enough, and it’s all enjoyably intoxicating. If you’re after a good-time band and you’re fed up of watching atmosphere-free gigs from amidst Tokyo’s wallflowers, Johnsons Motorcar come with our hearty recommendation — absolutely no threats required.
Originally blogged on Time Out Tokyo