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The Carnabeats

Keichi Usui – vocals
Jiro Kitamura – guitar
Hiroshi Koshikawa - guitar
Tadao ‘Paul’ Okada - bass
Ai Takano – drums

The Carnabeats were one of the few Group Sounds bands to become known by western psychedelic fans, mainly because of their later association with Gary Leeds of The Walker Brothers; and for their covers of The Zombies’ songs, indeed the band became referred to in certain quarters as ‘The Japanese Zombies’. The band was formed in Yokohama, in 1967, by sixteen-year-old drummer Ai Takano, himself the son of a jazz sax player and already a veteran of the local club scene. 20-year-old guitarist Jiro Kitamura, whose band Swing West had just broken up, was drawn by Takano’s sweet vocal style and obsession with Keith Moon-style drumming, and the two joined forces. Initially calling themselves The Robin Hoods, the band travelled around in a Toyota van enscribed with a longbow-wielding figure, which was to remain painted on the van’s front doors even throughout their Carnabeat days. Next, they enlisted the aid of singer Keichi Usui and guitarist Hiroshi Koshikawa, both from the huge industrial city of Nagoya. Bassist Tadao Oka completed the band’s line-up just as they changed their name to the ‘Carnaby Street’-inspired Carnabeats. Early success followed with their version of The Zombies’ LP track ‘I Love You’, which became a massive hit when they gave it the Japanese name ‘Sukisa, Sukisa, Sukisa’, causing The Zombies’ original to get its own single release. The Carnabeats were all huge fans of The Who, The Kinks, and many American bands, and chose for their next single an obscure B-side of ‘Give Me Lovin’ by Canada’s The Great Scots. Again re-named for the Japanese market, ‘Koioshiyoyo Jenny’ was another big hit and featured on later international compilations entitled ‘Jenny’. The third single, entitled ‘Suteki Ni Sandy (I Love You, Sandy)’, was written by drummer Ai Takano, and featured their legion of female fans on massed backing vocals. They then returned to The Zombies’ catalogue for two fairly straight covers of the songs ‘She’s Not There’ and ‘Time of the Season’, thereafter charting with their own gimmicky hit ‘Chu! Chu! Chu! (Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!)’. Although The Carnabeats were friendly with other Group Sounds acts, the band’s management insisted that they maintain a distance in public in order to appear cool and aloof, and Carnabeats drummer Ai Takano later described Jaguars singer Sin Okamoto visiting his house after dark to keep up the deceit. However, a professional friendship developed between the band and The Walker Brothers. Ai Takano later described drummer Gary Leeds, who appeared on the B-side of their super-groovy Strangeloves style hit ‘Cutie Morning Moon’, trying to sing and play the A-side song and failing miserably. Perhaps most strangely, this truly excellent single was produced and co-written by Scott ‘Tilt’ Walker himself. By 1969, however, after releasing just one LP, the days of The Carnabeats were over, and they split up; bass player Tadao Okada joining the cast of the musical HAIR, and drummer Ai Takano joining the newly-formed Eddie Ban Group, led by Golden Cups’ guitarist, and later joining the re-formed Golden Cups until their demise.

Julian Cope
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Carnabeats: Sukisa Sukisa Sukisa
Posted by gullcity, Feb 19, 2008
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