The Watanabes are cracking Japan
Big in Japan with The Watanabes
By Gary Standley
Two Norfolk brothers Selwyn and Duncan Walsh from The Watanabes have swapped their life in rural Norfolk for fame and fortune in the land of the rising sun.
Selwyn and Duncan Walsh grew up in the village of Swanton Novers, near Melton Constable in Norfolk, but now they're making names for themselves on the other side of the globe in Japan with their band The Watanabes.
Selwyn was the first to venture from one East to the other in 2003, followed a year later by Duncan.
"My brother loved it. It was a chance to learn a new language, experience a new culture and become a little more International," said Duncan.
"All the old clichés are there I'm afraid – and not forgetting karaoke!" he added.
The boys settled in Ehime on the rural island of Shikoku, where together with Watanabe bass player Ashley Davies, they worked as English teachers before setting up the band in their spare time.
The band love their Japanese adventure
A cultural identity
The name of the group was taken from a book called Norwegian Wood by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, where the protagonist is called Watanabe. The name is also a very popular name in Ehime.
"We thought calling ourselves The Watanabes would ingratiate ourselves with the locals," said Duncan.
If you thought that the Japanese only went for our hard rock and heavy metal exports, think again. The Watanabes are pure Indie, with floating verses and catchy choruses.
They may be thousands of miles away, but their Norfolk roots feature heavily in the band's music.
"The song JJ's Dream was partly inspired by the beautiful Norfolk countryside," said Duncan.
"The song even contains the line 'You and me around my favourite tree, on an Autumn day at Wells-Next-The-Sea'," he added.
Astley Days is another one of their tracks and it talks about the brother's time at Astley County Primary School, near their home village. It gives a nod to their old school teacher Mrs Pegg and reminisces about the 'legendary' Copeman Centre Disco in Briston, where the boys used to spend their Friday nights during the 1990s.
Although it's the bright lights of Tokyo now, they haven't forgotten the solitude of their home village.
"Stick It In A Novel pays homage to our time as frustrated teenagers living in the sticks," said Duncan.
Although their grandmother receives an affectionate mention as his best friend in the song, Stick It In A Novel also bemoans 'Is this the way it's supposed to be? My Friday nights with a lonely OAP!'
The band's new life also features heavily in their songs too. Tracks such as Love Princess talk about that age old problem of moving abroad: learning the language, getting a girlfriend and mastering the toilets!
The Watanabes made the Japanese news
Not just a flash in the pan
"The band was going really well in Ehime," said Duncan.
"We gained airplay on local radio, appeared in the local press and our gigs were becoming more popular, so we decided to take our music more seriously. We relocated to Tokyo last summer, which is where Belgian drummer Flavio Jerome joined us. We've been recording and playing in Tokyo ever since," he added.
The Watanabes have just finished recording their debut album Independent Social Power, which was recorded at KRH studios in Harajuku. It will be launched at Tokyo Livehouse on the Thursday, 13 November, 2008.
"Life in Japan has been a bit of a rollercoaster at times, but overall we have had an absolutely magical time," said Duncan.
"Needless to say we had to go through some serious culture shocks at first and that never completely goes away. Nevertheless, Japan is a wonderful place to live: friendly, considerate people, safe streets and a very healthy lifestyle. I would recommend it to anyone," he added.
The Watanabes at Osaka Live
The Norfolk renaissance
It may have been a big adventure for the band, but the call of home is proving too great for Selwyn and Duncan and they are now planning to move back to the UK in 2009.
"Our first stop will be Norwich," says Duncan.
"Playing in Japan is wonderful, but we are longing to reach an English speaking audience who will be able to fully appreciate our lyrics," he added.
last updated: 12/11/2008 at 15:09