GAKUNOWA presents Mad Hatters Rock Party

Mad Hatters Rock Party

Mad Hatters Rock Party poster, designed by Carley Radford

Last week was a bit of a mad week, but I managed to find time for a little fun. On Tuesday night GAKUNOWA (楽ノ輪) (a community of Japanese musicians based in London) held one of their events at Alleycat in Soho.

I hadn’t been to Alleycat before, but it was just the kind of tiny little back-street club I wish I had the time and money to frequent more often. Space was limited, beer was cheap, and the toilet doors were all broken – a classic London pub/club.

There were five acts on the programme for the night: Mikan (蜜柑), Mekurikuru (めくりくる), Daniel Arrowsmith, The Common Sense, and Hibiki Ichikawa feat. Chapa. The entire night was brilliant, with an absolutely incredible climax. But let’s start at the beginning…

First up were Mikan, a five-piece Japanese Pop-Rock-Jazz band formed in London. The lead singer is really kawaii (cute) with a little feisty hint. I prefer their jazz tunes to their pop, but all in all they were a very good start to the evening.

蜜柑 (Mikan)

蜜柑 (Mikan)

蜜柑 (Mikan)

蜜柑 (Mikan)

Next up was Mekurikuru, all the way from Japan. Mekurikuru is a three-piece band formed in Tokyo in 2012. Their act was simple and enjoyable.

めくりくる (Mekurikuru)

めくりくる (Mekurikuru)

Sandwiched in the middle of the evening was Daniel Arrowsmith, appearing like the ‘token gaijin’. Actually, I was really impressed with Daniel’s raw vocals, both in English and Japanese, and hope to see more from him in the future. It can’t be easy to get up there and sing on your own – let alone in Japanese. Although the Japanese was impressive, it was his Damien Rice cover which really grabbed me.


By the time The Common Sense came on the club was really crowded, and my friend and I were attempting to edge along the bar in order to get to the front. Although I had enjoyed everything up until this point, my first thought when The Common Sense started to play was ‘now that’s what a real band sounds like’. They played their own original songs in English, and they rocked.

The Common Sense

The Common Sense

Finally, the act everyone was clearly waiting for – Hibiki Ichikawa!

Hibiki Ichikawa

Hibiki is the UK’s only professional tsugaru shamisen player, and his performances are always spot on. Often Hibiki is accompanied by enka singer Akari Mochizuki, but this time he mixed things up a bit. Not only did he play with Chapa, a Japanese didgeridoo player who I saw him play with at GAKUNOWA’s last event, he also had backing from Takashi Shimabukuro and Koichi Shoji on guitar and bass. Here are a couple of songs they played…

Hibiki Ichikawa


I was tickled to notice that Chapa’s didgeridoo was held in place with a futon laundry peg:

Futon peg

Chapa played one piece on his own (literally, the tambourine and everything) and totally brought the place down – he really is a very talented young man! I love the sounds he creates with the didgeridoo – it felt like a rave for a moment…

As a complete surprise, there was one more special guest at the end of the night – taiko drummer Keisuke Moriya! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would ever stand in a tiny club in Soho listening to tsugaru shamisen, guitars, a didgeridoo and a taiko drum all at the same time. By this point I had managed to squish myself up against the bar, right by the stage, and I managed to take this video…

If you’re reading this and still not convinced that you’re interested in Japanese music, let me add one thing. I brought a friend along to this event who didn’t know what a shamisen was and had no particular interest in or knowledge of Japanese music before the event. But she is open-minded, willing to give anything a go once, and she absolutely loved the event. So, give it a go! Check out the GAKUNOWA YouTube channel for more video clips.

Thanks to everyone involved for another brilliant night! I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the GAKUNOWA website and Facebook page for future events. If you’d like to see more photos from the Mad Hatters Rock Party, please check out my Flickr.

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