July 2007 – LETTER FROM TOKYO 2 [DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER]
I only just got Internet hooked up to my PC at home, which is why you haven’t heard from me before. And yes (those who asked) I did feel the earthquake. The entire house rattled and swayed from side to side. Bit scary. More scary, though, is the fact that the nuclear power plant at the site of the earthquake’s epicenter is in danger of blowing up.

Meanwhile, Tokyo is a fascinating mix of extremes. Tiny little back streets are overshadowed by Blade Runner-esque skyscrapers. Run down wooden shacks are sandwiched between posh apartment buildings. Neon-illuminated boulevards hide dark, quiet side streets where you might come across a cool bar or an all night pet store for drunken impulse puppy-buying — Paris Hilton-sized dogs are de regeur. This little chap tempted me every night on the way home from work.

And the super-strict Japanese work ethic is offset by after work drinking binges which means that at 2am, I am invariably stepping over dark suited businessmen, still impeccably dressed, slumped on the ground in a drunken stupor, or lying beside a little mound of vomit. Or a group of teens will rush by carrying friends in their arms.

Meanwhile …Performing to strangers is a bit strange anyway, but it’s something else entirely performing to desperately rich strangers who are not particularly listening because, to them, 25,000 yen ($25) is a small fry table charge in comparison to the $18,000 (yes, eighteen thousand dollar) MARTINI on the menu. Here are Philip and me. You have to dress in cocktail attire “at all times”! The one time I accidentally went to help the guys set up, wearing a white, strapless summer dress and sandals, I was told off. This dress got the thumbs up from S., the lady in charge of training all the waitstaff.

The “Diamonds Are Forever Martini” contains a one carat diamond, which — assuming the recipient hasn’t choked on it already — is whipped away by the hotel (hopefully after you have finished your drink!) to be set into an engagement ring. I was given the sheet music yesterday because apparently someone is proposing to his girlfriend next month and I have to sing the song at some point during the proceedings.
If you don’t know the lyrics: “…they won’t leave in the night, there’s no fear that they might desert me. Nothing hides in the heart to hurt me…unlike men the diamonds linger (rhymes with finger). Hold one up and then caress it, touch it stroke it and undress it(!). Men are mere mortals who are not worth going to the grave for. (refrain:) I don’t need love. For what good will love do me. Diamonds never lie to me. For when love’s gone, they’ll linger on.” Er… hello?

Meanwhile…. on my FIRST day off in Tokyo (I worked seven nights straight, but now have Sundays free), my new girlfriend Inaia (another singer who lives upstairs) showed me around Tokyo. Of course I can’t remember how to get to any of these places without someone holding my hand and leading me there, and I can’t remember the names (so I couldn’t even ask the way) but she took me to an amazing park called Yoyogi, the entrance to which was crowded with high schoolers dressed as Bo Peep meets Goth, and where I saw my first rabbit on a leash. But the sight to see is the dancing Elvises.

Brylcreemed, slicked back hair, black leather jackets, white tee shirts (or bare chested — phoar!!), faded jeans, and shoes so old and tattered they are wrapped in duct tape, to show that they have been dancing a long time. Kind of like the Dancing Princesses in Hans Christian Anderson. Apparently the duct tape is a mark of pride. The dancing is … well, it’s kind of like the twist meets cowboy dancing with the odd bit of hip hop chucked in. It gave me a squeezy feeling in my heart and I couldn’t decide if it was bad or baaaaaaad. In the end I decided it was baaaaaaaaaaad (i.e., good), because they are very serious about it and it feels so innocent (and they are all very handsome and some are bare-chested — phoar!!). They just want to be looked at — for free! In fact, even the (few) homeless people here don’t panhandle.

Elvis impersonators aside, Japanese people dress so stylishly. Everything they wear looks like couture (mind you, I am living in a very posh part) — i.e., as if there is only ONE of these items in the entire whole world (except for school girls, who all wear plaid miniskirts, white shirts and ties). At the traffic lights everyone obediently stands ON THE SIDEWALK (gasp!) until the green light comes on. I started out impatiently stand in the middle of the road New York style, until I realised that (gasp!) traffic didn’t EXPECT to find people standing in the middle of the road New York style at Tokyo traffic lights.

As for WALKING on the sidewalk. Maybe because Japanese people don’t need to be on red alert for street crime or something (I can’t tell you how many enormously fat wallets I see poking out of men’s back pockets), they appear to have no sense of space and one person can mysteriously take up the entire sidewalk, going at snail’s pace, probably emailing on their cell phone at the same time. It’s kind of tortoise meets hare (me being the hare).

Otherwise, Tokyo is the perfect city with plenty of affordable shampoo. And it is safe. I don’t lock my door when I am home. We leave the front door wide open all the time. And I walk home alone from work at 12.30 am and sometimes at 4 am (if I have gone out with Inaia after work) and feel totally safe. There is something wonderful and liberating — especially as a woman — about looking at a dark alley at 4 am, and not thinking twice about taking the short cut that way home. Okay, you think TWICE. But only because you’ve been living in New York a bit too long.

I live in, Azabu Juban, which is UBER cool. And so quiet, even though a 20 minute walk only from midtown. There is very little traffic — aside from bicycles — which makes it super quiet, with just the odd mother with child on child seat, or granny holding umbrella swishing by. The swishing sound would be due to the rainy season, by the way. Every damn day!! And it is so HOT. People warned me, I did not listen! I washed my clothes the other day and it took them THREE FULL DAYS to dry because the air is so humid. Here is a picture of the outside of my house.


Being already a directional dyslexic makes it a bit hard to find my way around. I felt a bit better when my friend Anna told me that, in order to protect the Imperial Palace, the city was actually designed for people to get lost. Not having street names doesn’t help, of course. Everyone uses maps. Just like in Lost in Translation.

But aside from missing you, I could be very happy here. Oh, hang on, except for having to sing to strangers ignoring me most nights, aside from the odd request — like Danny Boy (gaaaargh! and no I didn’t). Then again, a man in lizard skin winkle pickers the other night gave us a $100 tip!

Ekaterinburg Philharmonic audience

December 11, 2008 I finally arrived in Moscow. The Siberian tour was wonderful and I sold out of CDs and met lots of wonderful, soulful Russians. Okay, so the food wasn’t ideal. But everything else was amazing. We even went to a Scottish jazz pub (see picture of me standing between two hunky Russians in kilts). They even had a flag! Though there seemed to be a bit of confusion because it was actually the Welsh flag. I felt kind of sad as I said goodbye to everyone last night. We were traveling with another two bands who were opening for us. A certain bond happens when you travel en masse on the overnight trains in Siberia.

But although the cab ride from the airport to the hotel today took longer than it did to fly in from Siberia I am THRILLED to report that this hotel is POSH! Already had room service (expense be damned!) and am planning to avail self of the gym and maybe even the sauna later. Yes a gym and sauna and beauty spa are on the premises. I even have internet (free). There is wood. Real wood furniture. Two bedside tables — though a single bed. And a bath WITH A PLUG so I can actually have a bath. Luxury beyond imagining. As for my fellow musicians … Richie, Oleg and Daniel were heading off for another overnight train trip and the St Petersburg musicians were taking a 36-hour (this is not a typo) train trip back home. I thought of them all as I walked up the massive corridor here towards my room. I’m afraid I started laughing. Aloud. All alone. Not at my fellow musicians, enduring more travel horror (as if!), but with JOY! Pure joy! It’s the contrast, you see!

A nice glass of red wine later, I am feeling more like “La Souter” — as they called me in the Italian newspapers in Palermo. Although I must confess that playing at Philharmonic Halls throughout Russia does make you feel pretty grand. When I walked through the foyer to get dinner, the crowd that was still there after the concert burst into spontaneous applause as I passed by, waving and smiling in a queen-like fashion (having been instructed at the start of the tour by Daniel to act more “like a star!” As you can imagine the Queen of Ham doesn’t need to be told things like this twice!). Little did they (or I) know that dinner was going to be shredded boiled egg on mayonnaise and grated carrot on top of bread followed by spaghetti with no sauce, cos I don’t eat pork, which meant I missed out on the giant slab of pork that was served up with it. Or was that why they were applauding. 

But I had lovely emails today from people who said they witnessed people in tears at my performance (nothing like hunger to make you sing with feeling!). And I scored the massive poster outside with my picture on it. It is now all folded up in my suitcase, weighing more than everything else combined. Next up is the gig in Moscow club on Friday followed by a surprise Russian TV appearance on Saturday. Eek! I think I’m scared, but am hoping “La Souter” shows up for that one. And then it’s back to London and then HOME HOME HOME! I can’t WAIT! I hope you will be able to see us in January. Then I go to Korea for three weeks, and then back for February (save the date for Valentine’s Day at Cornelia Street — FANTASTIC food! — and also on Feb 25 at the Kitano, as well as 55 on Friday, Feb 13!) Meanwhile, more pictures from the tour.siberia 2 023 siberia 2 027 siberia 004 siberia 014 siberia 039