By Peter Elman - Copyright Tribute Inspirations Limited
The Great Music Experience was a ground-breaking global broadcast concert starring top western and Japanese musicians playing each other’s music at an eighth century Buddhist temple in Japan. The concert, held over three nights in May 1994 and part-backed by Unesco, took place in front of the world’s largest wooden building, housing the largest Buddha statue in the world. The temple, Todai-ji, in Nara City, in the south of the country where Buddhism first came to Japan, later became a world heritage site.
Unesco hoped that the event would be the first of seven annual concerts that would take place at some of the world’s architectural treasures. It hoped that the concerts would use the appeal of rock musicians to wide the audience for the world’s cultural heritage. It had in mind sites such as the Pyramids, China’s Forbidden City and the Taj Mahal. Tony Hollingsworth, the British impresario and producer behind The Great Music Experience, planned to put on a similar broadcast event on the site of a Mexican pyramid, but called it off after the collapse of the peso.
The Todai-ji broadcast event was an ambitious project because it was based on bringing together musicians, brought up on very different tonal structures, to play each other’s music. It is far from clear, even to musicians, how music from the two traditions can work together. Top western stars such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Ry Cooder ,The Chieftains, INXS and Wayne Shorter spent days teaching, and learning from, their Japanese counterparts. Western and Japanese rock musicians also performed with two classical music orchestras – the Tokyo New Philharmonic Orchestra and a Japanese ensemble using sixth-century instruments.
Such combinations were made possible by the use of experts such as Michael Kamen, a highly-regarded orchestrator and composer of film music who helped with getting the western and Japanese artists to work together and was in charge of orchestration. George Martin, the famous Beatles record producer and considered by many to be the best record producer ever, took on an elder statesman role, again in a dual capacity: helping with the musical collaborations and chairing the team putting the live sound together.
There were several notable aspects and difficulties – beyond the central idea of getting musicians from different cultures to play together:
- Dylan played with an orchestra for the first time, having to follow rather than being followed, having to stick to the song and the notes rather than cutting out or adding bits. It was a huge relief for him – and he told Hollingsworth as he came off stage that he hadn’t sung as well for 15 years.
- The event might never have materialised, or not in the form that it did, without a stroke of luck that provided Tony Hollingsworth with an inexperienced but extremely able Japanese executive co-producer with the good looks of a Japanese warrior
- Getting the temple to give permission for the event involved months of talks with the monks, answering the same questions time after time and spending much of the time in silence
- The project failed to win commercial support in Japan – until it was realised that the Japanese were put off by the original title, The Great Music Experiment, with “experiment” being interpreted by the Japanese as “untested”
- Hollingsworth brought in two orchestras to provide backing. One was a conventional classical orchestra, the other an ensemble of musicians using sixth-century Japanese instruments led by Ryu Hongjun, a man who arranged music for film and was a contributor to the Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor.
- The rehearsals began with the Chieftains teaching the Japanese ensemble an Irish song and proving that Hollingsworth’s idea of combining different musical structures could work very well. But, two days later, the Japanese said they could not play the music in the temple because its melody was the same as that used in pulling the handle on the country’s ubiquitous pinball machines.
- The final night of the three-night event was broadcast live – but in fact less than half was really live. The first two nights had wildly overrun the planned three-hour slot, so Hollingsworth used an edited tape of the second night for most of the final night. It was a trick he learned as producer when the power failed during the broadcast of Roger Waters’ The Wall – Live in Berlin four years earlier.
Early planning and a stroke of luck
Tony Hollingsworth asked rock stars to play with each other in a number of his major broadcast events, but The Great Music Experience took the idea much further. He also thought that the event might help diffuse hostility in the West to the economic success of Japan. But the Nara event very soon took on a life of its own and, in any case, by the spring of 1994 the Japanese economic bubble had burst.
He approached Unesco more than a year earlier to see if the organisation would back the event. Unesco liked the idea of a big event that brought together two very different cultures, so much so that it wanted a series of similar annual events at world heritage sites. But it would not provide any money. Its backing was therefore little more than a stamp of authority that might have impressed some of the Press. Perhaps, also, it played a part in persuading the monks of Todai-ji to agree to stage what after all was a very strange three-night event for it. Unesco was able to use material from the show for its own purposes – along with two documentaries that Hollingsworth made of the musicians rehearsing and visiting Japanese cultural events.
Early on in the planning, Hollingsworth had a major stroke of luck. He was contacted by a young Japanese man who said he was coming to London in the next few weeks and would like to talk to Hollingsworth about the big music events he had staged. “He was interested in big shows,” says Hollingsworth. “But he had no idea that we were working on a Japanese concert.” Kunihiko Yoshimeki, it turned out, was “a smartly-dressed man with very heavy dark eyebrows. He had the stance and the good looks of a Japanese warrior.”
There was plenty to talk about. Hollingsworth had already put on a number of landmark concert- broadcasts. After several years as assistant director of the Glastonbury CND festivals, he ran two major festivals for the Greater London Council on the South Bank and in Battersea Park, the latter attracting 250,000. After a number of shows that filled London’s Festival Hall and Albert Hall, including Amnesty’s Secret Policeman’s Third Ball, Hollingsworth produced two Nelson Mandela events at Wembley Stadium.
Both were organised as broadcast events to get maximum worldwide coverage for their political message. The first, Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, in June 1988, called for his release from an apartheid prison and was broadcast to at least 67 countries and an audience of 600 million people. The global broadcast event and its ripple effect around the world were thought to have brought forward Mandela’s release in February 1990 after 27 years in prison. The second, in April 1990, was regarded by Mandela as his international reception: it celebrated his release but also called for the release of other apartheid prisoners. It was broadcast to more than 60 countries and an audience of 500 million. Three months later, Hollingsworth produced the spectacular staging of Roger Waters’ The Wall on the site of the Berlin wall that had divided the city for 28 years and had been torn down only seven months earlier.
The plans for the Japanese broadcast project shot forward when Hollingsworth and Yoshimeki met. They went to a fish-and-chips restaurant in Upper Street, Islington, near Hollingsworth’s offices. Yoshimeki wanted fish and chips and mushy peas, saying that Japan had a similar dish. “It’s called tempura.” The remark, said Hollingsworth, was typical of the Yoshimeki: he would always see what was common in our cultures.
“We talked about the project and Yoshimeki was very interested, very excited about it. “I’d like to help,” he said. Hollingsworth accepted, not altogether appreciating how much help he would get. But Yoshimeki “became absolutely key to the whole thing, a co-producer in every aspect”.
Yoshimeki, who more recently became executive director of a non-governmental organisation, Koma, which carries out educational and cultural work in Japan and elsewhere, started work immediately, beginning talks with NHK, the Japanese public-service broadcaster, and looking for a suitable site for the event.
Winning over the monks of Nara
Soon after, Hollingsworth went to Japan for the first of what turned out to be more than a dozen week-long visits over the year. He and Yoshimeki visited a number of potential sites, all temples. The choice was easy, says Hollingsworth. “It was quite obvious to me which was the most suitable.” Todai-ji was an ideal location because of the proportions of the temple as a backdrop and the proportions of the quadrangle in front of it. The age of the temple, its historical importance as a seat of Buddhism and its setting – in effect, a deer park – didn’t detract.
“We wrote to the temple officials and held our first meeting with them. We met them every month for a year. We would have other meetings in the country, mostly in Tokyo, with NHK and Japanese musicians, but then we’d get the bullet train down to Kyoto in the south and then the local train to Nara.
“Each time we would see the same three or four monks and have tea with them. The meetings would last one-and-a-half or two hours. They were very, very slow. We’d sit cross-legged on the floor, which hurt my knees. And there were huge silences, taking up half the time. We showed them drawings of where the stage would be, where the production unit would be, how the whole place would be set up.
“Yoshimeki explained to me early on about the etiquette of Japanese meetings; that one of the most important characteristics of old Japanese culture was to be calm and quiet in meetings. When you are quiet and calm, there is no difference between you and the others, you are in harmony. And when you are talking, it is because you are trying to remove a difference in knowledge or feelings.
“He explained to me that if you are asked a question and you don’t answer for a while, that’s OK. It was very good news for me because when I’m asked a question in meetings it quite often takes me a long time to work out an answer.
“At each meeting, the monks would ask us much the same questions. One monk was in charge of all the physical realities around the temple – the stage, the seating, the car parking. We’d go over the same drawings and plans again and again – to make sure they were the same as before. Another monk would ask questions about ticketing and promotion. But the oldest, most senior monk [Shinkai Shindoh] would ask only one question.
“He’d flick his fingers at Yoshimeki, but point to me. And he’d say: ‘Ask him in how many countries’ television our temple will appear?’
“At the first meeting I said: ‘None at the moment, but we hope to go to 50 or 60 countries’. I’d update the number of countries each time. Each time he would nod. Most of the time he had his eyes closed. Once he had asked his question, the meeting would finish.”
This went on for some time and Hollingsworth was getting worried at the apparent lack of progress. As he told Q magazine, “it was marvellous to keep coming and going, but a terribly expensive way to do business.” He needed a written agreement from the temple that the event would be staged there – to show television companies and, most importantly, Lloyds insurance.
So Yoshimeki went to see the head monk to make the point – very carefully – “that there is no distrust on our part of their word, but we need a licence to be able to show third parties”. As a result, a meeting was set up “where we would get the piece of paper – or not.
“We had the tea and biscuits. The monks asked their questions and they were updated on the artists and everything else. Then there was a silence as we waited for the old man to ask his question. He flipped his fingers, pointed to me and said: ‘Ask him in how many countries’ television our temple will appear?’
“I told him about 10 at that time but we were hoping for 50. He seemed to accept the answer.
“There was another long silence, perhaps five minutes. He turned to Yoshimeki and asked exactly the same question, flicking his fingers and pointing to me. He’d never done this before.
“As a joke, I said, looking at my watch as if the five minutes silence had made a difference to the number: “By now...” and gave him the same answer. He smiled and I could see in his eyes and his smile that perhaps he understood the joke.
“Then he rummaged around in the long sleeve of his gown to get something out the pocket, but was having difficulty finding it. Finally he pulled out a packet of Marlboroughs. I realised he’d must have understood English all the time.
“What he and the other monks were after was whether we were consistent. Mr Hollingsworth must be consistent. If so, we can deal with him. Consistency as well as calmness and accuracy.”
Shindoh hoped that the global broadcast concert would make Buddhism more appealing to young people. The religion aimed to make people happy. He went a little further a few weeks later at a press conference attended by senior officials from Unesco and NHK, Hollingsworth and the Japanese and western press. He was asked, in the only “unsafe” question put by the Japanese journalists: “Why on earth did you take the decision to let the temple be used for modern music?”
He said that “what attracted us to the idea in the first place was getting Japanese Buddhism involved in something relatively new. We’re associated with something very old, but we should be far more involved with modern culture.” Then, he went on, “we did not take the decision on our own. We actively canvassed the opinion of the Buddhist societies in Japan. We asked them what their opinion was. And 55 per cent said we should do it”. As Hollingsworth shuddered at the low figure, foreseeing trouble ahead, the monk went on: “And that is the largest majority we have ever had!”
Unesco said that it would not have wanted the global broadcast event to go ahead if it were not convinced that the site would be respected in a physical, cultural and religious sense.
Bringing in the musicians
Michael Kamen and Ryu Hongjun were important members of the creative team, Kamen working on the orchestration and collaboration, Ryu collaborating with or providing backing for other musicians with his ensemble of musicians and their sixth-century instruments. Hollingsworth had told Yoshimeki that he wanted some music distinctly Japanese and old, the sort of music that was used in the Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor.
Yoshimeki came up with Ryu, credited as one of the contributors to The Last Emperor, though he played a much bigger role in providing the motifs for much of the film’s music. In addition to his ensemble and arrangements for films, Ryu had another job, exporting second-hand Japanese cars to China, from which he claimed to make most of his money.
When Hollingsworth told Yoshimeki he also wanted a contemporary classical orchestra, the latter came up with the New Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kamen had been excited when Hollingsworth had told him of his idea and the use of the two Japanese orchestras. But, he said, “you’re putting ‘Great Music’ into the title of the event, so you better have some great music in it.
“I’d feel really comfortable,” Kamen said, “if we had some Bob Dylan’s songs.”
Hollingsworth: “Better still we get Bob Dylan.”
“That would be fantastic. If you’re talking of music of that calibre, I’d love to be included.”
Hollingsworth approached Bob Dylan’s manager Jeff Kramer and told him of the plan. “We’d like to set Bob’s music to a philharmonic orchestra and also incorporate an ensemble using ancient Japanese instruments.” Kramer was surprised but said he’d put the idea to Dylan. Dylan was intrigued – and became one of the first musicians to agree to do the concert.
Another early signing was The Chieftains, a group which had popularised Irish traditional music around the world and for whom collaborations with a range of artists – if not quite the kind envisaged by Hollingsworth – were commonplace. Founder and leader Paddy Maloney liked the plan, accepted and told Hollingsworth that “whenever we play in Japan, there is a little Chinese man who comes to hear all our concerts. You should get him involved as a music collaborator.”
“Paddy didn’t tell me his name. The man, it turned out, was Ryu – and I didn’t know he was Chinese until we had come together at the rehearsals. When each heard that the other was involved, they were delighted and said that they’d always wanted to work together. So we put them together at the first day of the rehearsals.
Getting the funding together
The Great Music Experiencecost in the region of $10 million (£6.6 million – May 1994 exchange rate) to put on. The risk finance came from Hollingsworth’s Tribute company, as it did for most of his productions. The costs were covered by pre-sales to television, ticket revenue and sponsorship.
The key television sale, made by Hollingsworth and Yoshimeki, was to Japanese state broadcaster NHK, even though it paid in the form of facilities rather than cash, as home broadcasters will frequently do. Such payment in kind was far from a disadvantage in that the facilities were essential and, if not provided by the television company, would have had to be bought from a similar company. Further, according to Hollingsworth, if the production company has an interest in the quality of the broadcast, as the broadcaster does, it is particularly useful.
In other Hollingsworth productions, the BBC provided the facilities for the two Nelson Mandela concerts and ZDF for The Wall: Live in Berlin. Spanish state broadcaster RTVE provided a different payment in kind: advertising airtime for Hollingsworth’s Guitar Legends, which helped to promote the Seville Expo 92.
Television sales of The Great Music Experience were strong in Asia, with particularly good deals in China and Korea. In the UK, BBC2 showed a delayed broadcast eight days later on Bank Holiday Monday. The US networks were not interested – it was “far too artsy for them,” says Hollingsworth – but the show was aired on the Showtime cable network.
Other revenue sources – ticket promotion, sponsorship and record companies – were slow to come on stream for the Japanese event. According to Hollingsworth, “it was very difficult to convince anyone to commit to spending money. We had the most beautiful brochures, yet after six months going around Japan, no one was interested in buying into the idea – certainly not before the monks had committed.
Then Yoshimeki realised what the problem was. He told Hollingsworth: “You are using words like ‘experiment’ [as in the show’s original title, The Great Music Experiment], ‘special’, ‘different’ and ‘unique’ as if they were positive. But I’ve seen people’s reactions to the words. I’m OK with the words, but I’m attracted to western things. What you are saying in Japanese culture is ‘The Great Music Untested’. No matter what you say about it, it is not going to work.”
So the title was changed to The Great Music Experience, the sales patter was adapted and the indifference towards the forthcoming event quickly evaporated. Late in the day, Yoshimeki brought in two sponsors: Sanyo Electronics, which accounted for around $1.2 million, and the make-up company Shishido, which put in a small amount. Once NHK agreed a television deal, pre-sales to other countries moved forward.
But the public isn’t buying tickets
There was still the worrying problem of ticket sales. Tickets were put on sale three months before the event, but even after six weeks they were selling badly.
There had been no obvious choice for ticket promoter – someone who will provide a guarantee against ticketing income. Japan had two big live-music promoters covering 90 per cent of the business, so it was unlikely, according to Hollingsworth, that either would be prepared to guarantee much. Yoshimeki spoke to both companies but also to a large company outside the business which, he had heard, were considering a move into entertainment ticket-promoting. The company had interests in department stores, travel agencies (under the name of Kinki Nippon Tourists) and the rail network. With such financial strength, it would certainly have the power to market the show well and, owning the railway lines in the Osaka-Nara area, would have easy access to train advertising. It also had recent experience taking a big museum show around the country.
It liked the look of The Great Music Experience and Hollingsworth and Yoshimeki signed what Hollingsworth describes as a “really good” deal. It very quickly started advertising the event.
Hollingsworth phoned Yoshimeki from London every week to ask for a ticket-sales report. But it never came. Somehow or other Yoshimeki avoided the issue. Six weeks before the show was due to take place, Hollingsworth returned to Japan for talks with various parties and to introduce his production manager Michael Ahern to the monks. Ahern would live with the monks for the next six weeks: “I needed him to get to know the monks to ensure that the event would go smoothly.” A meeting was also set up in Osaka with the ticket-promoter.
This time he made sure he was given the sales report, though he did not get it until the evening before the meeting. “It was terrible. I knew it wasn’t the fault of the artists. We had really good people, including top Japanese stars. X Japan, for instance, was one of the country’s largest acts and could fill a stadium in Tokyo over several days. Hotei could sell 10,000 tickets on his own. So how was it possible so few tickets had been sold?
“I needed to see the advertising. Very late that night Yoshimeki knocked on my hotel room door with photocopies of a newspaper page with the advertisement. There was a small ad towards the bottom of the page. “That’s it,” he said.
“And that’s how big it’s been all along?”
Hollingsworth pointed to the advertisement below it, the same size. “What’s this for?” Yoshimeki sucked in his breath, put his head in his hands. He wouldn’t say.
“I was due to meet the senior executives of the company at 8am. At breakfast, I asked Yuko Kato, my interpreter, what the other ad was for.
“Yoshimeki and I went to the meeting with the Japanese executives, all of them well-dressed with their standard black suits and ties. I told them: ‘Your marketing is absolutely hopeless. You have treated this product as if it’s of the same importance as cockroach powder. The same size, the same place.
“‘We now have six weeks to reverse the problem. You have to start spending money on buying a lot of media.’ They agreed. So we started getting half-page ads in the newspapers and the company filled the railway carriages with ads. The sales started to flow.
“To this day I don’t understand why the problem had arisen. They knew how to advertise – at least with the museum show they were promoting and which was getting regular half-page ads.
Why hadn’t NHK complained about the ads to Hollingsworth? He points out that NHK was in Tokyo, but most of the advertising was in Osaka and the region around it. Anyway, tickets weren’t NHK’s business.
The rehearsals begin – and new music is created
Two weeks of rehearsals preceded the three evenings of live shows. The rehearsals took place in Osaka, where there were studios and hotels. “They were a great learning experience for the producers and for the artists,” says Hollingsworth. But who would play with whom? What would they play? It clearly couldn’t be any song. Some would work, some wouldn’t. There were bound to be mistakes, a degree of trial and error, because of the two different tonal structures. There was the question of whether the instruments could actually do it: they won’t necessarily play the same notes. The sound of the music is likely to be different.
“Each side of the western-Japanese combination would suggest a song or tune to teach the other side and, in the final arrangement of the music, the two sides would weave in and out of the piece.
“We decided for the first day to bring together the Chieftains and Ryu’s ensemble of sixth-century instruments, Tempyo Gafu. I suggested for the first day that the Chieftains should perform a piece of Irish music and teach the ensemble how to play it. On the second day, we would reverse the situation, with the Japanese ensemble teaching the Chieftains how to play one of their pieces. Each piece would be four minutes in length. On the third day, the two groups would practise what they had learned, providing eight minutes of music for the live shows.
On Day 2, another rehearsal room started with Ry Cooder playing with an Okinawan band, Shoukichi Kina, chosen by Cooder himself and whose music he described as garage funk. The ensuing music, says Hollingsworth, was “great fun – bouncy and uplifting”. On Day 3, Joni Mitchell played with jazz saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Ryu on Chinese flute. On another day, the highly-regarded Japanese drummer Leonard Eto and a troupe of drummers combined with a group that included percussionist Ray Cooper and guitarist Richie Sambora. And so on, with INXS and other rock musicians from the west playing with rock musicians from the east.
The start of rehearsals, with the Chieftains and Ryu’s ensemble playing together, went deceptively well. When the musicians returned to the hotel at the end of the first day, the Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney was clearly overjoyed. “It was wonderful to do,” he told Hollingsworth. “You’ll be pleased when you hear it. A fantastic piece of music.” The production people thought much the same: “It was wonderful to see that the Irish harps and the Japanese harps could work together.”
The next day, the ensemble taught the Chieftains a “lovely piece of Japanese music” and the report was, again, that it had gone very well. Hollingsworth worked late into the evening with the production team, as he did most evenings, when around half past midnight there was a knock on his bedroom door. Wearing a towel and dressing gown, he opened the door. It was his translator Yuko Tato and Ryu, both of them bowing. “We are very sorry to disturb you.”
“Come into the room.”
“We want to talk to you. We’re very sorry to disturb you.”
“How can I help? What’s wrong?”
“Very difficult for us to say. It’s a very sensitive matter. We do not want to offend anybody.”
“Tell me what it is.”
“It’s very, very sensitive.”
“You’ve got to tell me.”
Hollingsworth needed to get up six in the morning. He wanted to go to bed.
Eventually Ryu says what’s on his mind. “The problem is the piece of music the Irish taught us on the first day. The melody is already known to Japanese people. We cannot play it.”
“Oh dear, why?”
“It is the sound of pachinko” – the melody that is played when you pull the handle of the pinball machine. “We can’t play this pachinko music in an ancient Buddhist temple showing Japanese culture to the world.”
“Why didn’t you say this when you first heard it,” Hollingsworth thought, but did not say.
“OK,” he said. “You’ve obviously thought about it and you say you can’t rehearse it. So we have to find time to rehearse another piece of music, perhaps.”
“But how could you say this to the Chieftains without insulting them and the Irish?”
“Don’t worry. I know how to do that without insulting them. Just go to the rehearsal rooms tomorrow at the same time, at 9am.”
Next morning, everyone was there. He told the interpreter to translate every word he said.
“We have a little bit of a problem with the piece of music we rehearsed on Day 1. “So, Paddy, I’m afraid you’ll have to think of another piece of music and rehearse that.”
Paddy: “What’s wrong with the piece of music?”
“It’s the pachinko music from the machines, so you can’t play it.”
All the Japanese musicians lowered their faces and hid them behind their hands, says Hollingsworth. “They thought it terrible to tell the truth so straight. But as soon as I had said it, all the Irish fell about laughing. At which point the Japanese removed their hands from their faces and laughed too.” They rehearsed a different piece of music.”
The live shows go on – and on
The first of the three live shows was performed for an invited audience. It was, in a sense, a dress rehearsal for the following two nights, the last of which would be broadcast. As it turned out, a dress rehearsal was very much needed. The production moved far too slowly – lasting four hours against the scheduled broadcast slot on the third night of three hours.
“The change-over between artists was very slow and much of the production work was slow, partly because of language problems, with the people directing being English and the crews Japanese. But the songs also were too long: I’d asked everyone to do four minutes, but they would do six minutes. That’s what musicians do. They are hopeless at cutting it short.
“Although I pushed people like mad, it was clear to me it wasn’t going to work.” After a hard night and day’s work, the second night was faster, but still 30 minutes too long.
But Hollingsworth had a trick up his sleeve. He was having the second night filmed anyway as a back-up for the third night. It was a trick he’d learned in producing The Wall in Berlin, when the power had failed during the broadcast performance and he was able to use footage from the dress rehearsal. So, at Todai-ji, he had booked an overnight edit at the on-site production facilities in case the second evening was not fast enough. He edited the last five-eighths of the second-night show down to the required size, cutting out the walk-ons and walk-offs and, where it was possible, editing the songs by taking out the middle.
Then came the third and final evening. “We started broadcasting live and continued to do so for the first three-eighths of the show.” He had told only three people what he was going to do – head of TV production Sandy Phone, head of transmission Dick Allott and head of radio distribution Steven Saltzman: “I’ve edited the back end of the show and at a certain point we’re going to use my tape instead of the live event to ensure we end on time.” He told no one else – “the crew and the artists would not have liked it.”
“We went into the transmission truck and put the tape in, and at the appropriate time – during the applause between songs – we told the transmissions editor to fade the tape between the two. We were no longer broadcasting live. Dick and I felt so happy we’d pulled it up. We could relax.”
“We walked to the backstage area where the dressing rooms and the lounge – a tented version of the “Green Room” – where the musicians and others were watching the television monitors. We suddenly had panic in our faces. Are these monitors watching what’s coming off stage or the transmission tape of the previous night? The tape is going faster than the reality out there on stage. An artist is going to see himself perform something he hasn’t yet been on stage to do.
“I hadn’t worked out how the place was wired up. I had to talk to the Japanese technicians, but I needed to find an interpreter. There wasn’t time. The cable from the television monitors being watched by the artists disappeared behind the marquee flap. I rolled under the flap and pulled the plug out. Dick did the same thing elsewhere. Finally we discovered what the monitors were showing: they were showing what was on stage. So we could go back and plug them in again.
“The show finished. Unusually for me I was backstage and able to shake the artists’ hands when they came off. Only one person thought that something strange might have been going on. Jim Beach, the long-time manager of Queen was also back stage because Queen drummer Roger Taylor was playing.
“He’d seen me work at other shows where I’m usually watching the edit, I’m not backstage. And he knew the live show had gone on too long. “There’s something wrong that you’re standing here congratulating everyone.”
“Yes. But you’ll never find out what it is!”
Broadcasters from 50 countries showed The Great Music Experience, many of them live or what they thought was live. Quite a few showed the event delayed, in some cases simply because of the awkward time-zone difference. Ironically, these broadcasters saw more of the “live” third night than the real-time “live” broadcasters, because Hollingsworth was able to insert more of the third-night tape.
Dylan steals the show
The Great Music Experiencewas the first time that Dylan had performed his music with an orchestra. This was not an easy thing to do. He was still very much a troubadour and, with his fame, had become extremely idiosyncratic in the way he played. Everyone who has played with him said it was very difficult. He would quite often change the song in the middle, sing it in a different way, change the tempo, add or miss out bits. Playing with an orchestra was thus an entirely different experience for him.
For once, the band was not following him. He couldn’t lead and demand that the musicians behind him follow. The 64-piece orchestra – the New Tokyo Philharmonic plus some members of the sixth-century ensemble – was working to dots on a page. The only flexibility was that given by the interpretation of the conductor, Michael Kamen, albeit playing the way Dylan wanted.
“But Dylan found it liberating, a great relief. He sang three songs and he sang them well. He came off stage on the final night, shook Hollingsworth’s hand, smiled a big, rare smile and said: ‘That’s the best I’ve sung in 15 years’”.
He wasn’t the only person who thought so. Dylan, according to Q magazine, “takes the stage with the bearing of a man on a mission. In his black, shiny-buttoned tunic and collar and tie, he – naturally – doesn’t speak, but turns his body half away from Michael Kamen and his primed classical orchestra.
“A few strummed acoustic guitar notes and Kamen brings his hordes swirling in. This being Japan, of course, Dylan has chosen to perform A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, but this is no ordinary version. Perhaps moved by the wondrous surrounds, maybe hemmed in by the discipline of having 60-odd musicians dependent on him, Dylan sings, really open his lungs and heart and sings, like ‘he’s not done for many a year. Kamen’s arrangements keep pushing him gently along; it’s like watching a creaking old galleon, long becalmed, suddenly setting full sail again, propelled by an irresistible breeze. The only word for it is majestic.”
This is followed by I Shall Be Released, in “much the same pattern, while Ring Them Bells…is, if anything, better still. To the mix is added the chimes [from ancient bells] of the Japanese folk band and Dylan responds yet further, giving his unique all. The Buddha smiles down on him. The tears flow.
“…those who saw Dylan will never forget it; even the screeching X fans took 15 minutes off, seeming to realise that they were in the presence of something at least historically special” (Q, August 1994).
Dylan hid himself for most of the time he was in Japan, but rehearsed like everyone else. He also proved the wisdom of Hollingsworth’s hiring of George Martin. Martin’s job was to produce the sound and he did it very well, says Hollingsworth. “There are few people who have the gravitas in a rehearsal studio to go up to Bob Dylan and say: ‘The reason it is not working is we can’t hear you! Sing louder!’ People don’t normally talk straight to people like Bob Dylan. George Martin was straight.”
There were other good performances, including Joni Mitchell singing Hejira. According to Q, “the Chieftains, Ry Cooder and an assortment of exquisite local noises, notably Shoukichi Kina’s Okinawan band, …play beautifully, producing moments when the music of two hemispheres for once really seem to swap juices. Roger Taylor – very much a hero in these parts – also sings rather well, before giving way to the extraordinary sight of X, featuring their heartthrob drummer Yoshiki…They play Standing Sex, causing scores of young girls, all wearing the X-fan uniform of lace body stocking and Robert Smith hair-don’t, to be dragged fainting from the otherwise sedate crowd.”
The biggest disappointment for Hollingsworth was Jon Bon Jovi, who played with his band and a number of star backing musicians. The songs were all done competently but, as Q put it, were “completely out of keeping” with everything else. As Hollingsworth says, Jon Bon Jovi “refused to come early enough to rehearse; and so he was the one musician who didn’t really understand what we were doing. He thought it was about other people getting the orchestra together and then him singing. So all he was able to do was to play Jon Bon Jovi music. There was no collaboration with Japanese musicians.
“By the end of the show he’d got the point.” As he told Hollingsworth, the show “was very good. I missed the point, didn’t I?” All was forgiven three years later when he appeared at another Hollingsworth event, Songs & Visions – and this time did all the rehearsals.
The man who’s great experience wasn’t musical
Most of the television sales for The Great Music Experience were handled by Hollingsworth and Simon Woodroffe, a former stage designer who’d earlier gone on the road with Rod Stewart and the Moody Blues. Woodroffe worked from Tribute’s London office but flew out to Japan to see the live show.
But what struck him most was not the Buddhist temple or the Japanese ensemble of sixth-century instruments or Dylan on the top of his form. It was the Japanese restaurants using conveyor belts to provide the food to customers.
Woodroffe returned to London and, one month later, told Hollingsworth he was resigning. He wanted to work on a plan to launch Japanese conveyor-belt restaurants in the UK.
The result was the Yo! Sushi chain of restaurants, which made him a fortune. Woodroffe sold a majority stake in 2003 for £10 million and the remaining 22 per cent five years later. But he continued to get one per cent of gross sales, living on a £1 million houseboat in Chelsea.
Music blossoms in lots of different ways
Once the musicians had arrived in Osaka and were in the middle of rehearsals, a press conference was held to talk about the show. Hollingsworth was asked why he was doing the event and what he was trying to achieve.
He said that one of the good things he was hoping for was to exhibit Japanese music and get people interested in it, thereby counteracting the tendency around the world of everyone listening to the same music and the music industry itself wanting to produce the same music. “We have to fight against it,” he told the press.
Ry Cooder, who was making a name for himself in working with different types of music, vehemently disagreed. “You don’t need to fight against it. Music blossoms in lots of different ways, in lots of different places, all the time.”
Artists taking part in The Great Music Experience
Jon Bon Jovi
Leonard Eto and His Drummers
Ryu Hongjun and Tempyo Gafu
Todai Ji Shomyo
TokyoNew Philharmonic Orchestra
Backing musicians: Ray Cooper, Ed Shearmur, Jim Keltner, Phil Palmer, Pino Palladino, Wix Wickens
Creative and production
Show conceived and produced by Tony Hollingsworth
Music and sound consultant: George Martin
Music director: Michael Kamen
Director: Gavin Taylor
Japanese executive producer: Kunihiko Yoshimeki
Executive producer: Alan Broach
Television co-ordinating producer: Phil Chilvers
NHK executive producer: Akira Yoshigi
Television production for NHK: Teruo Nakatsugawa
Set design: Mark Fisher
Graphic Design: 4i
Lighting designer: Patrick Woodroffe
Sound producer: Jon Kelly
Production managers: Michael Ahern, Benny Collins
Head of TV production: Sandy Fone
Head of radio distribution: Steven Saltzman
Head of transmission: Dick Allot
Production companies: Tribute Productions, BBC, NHK
TV sales: Simon Woodroffe, Tony Hollingsworth