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Big in Japan (band)

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Big in Japan
OriginLiverpool, England
Years active
  • 1977–1978
  • 1979
Past members

Big in Japan were a punk band that emerged from Liverpool, United Kingdom in the late 1970s. They are better known for the later successes of their band members than for their own music.



Big in Japan began from the same Merseyside scene which would produce Echo & the Bunnymen, the Teardrop Explodes, OMD and Dalek I Love You.

Big In Japan started off playing gigs around Liverpool, such as Ruffwood School in Kirkby along with Wah! Heat, but most notably at Eric's Club.[1] Their stage show was unique: lead singer Jayne Casey would perform with a lampshade over her shaved head, guitarist Bill Drummond played in a kilt and bassist Holly Johnson performed in a flamboyant manner which he would later take further in Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

As an initial idea of Deaf School's Clive Langer, his friend Bill Drummond (guitar, vocals), Kevin Ward (bass, vocals) and Phil Allen (drums), formed the band in May 1977, playing only three gigs, the first of them at Bretton Hall College, in Yorkshire.[2] In August, the line-up grew, joining Jayne Casey (vocals), Ian Broudie (guitar) and Clive Langer (guitar), who quit in September, but not before the band recorded their first song released, "Big in Japan", which appeared on the split single "Brutality, Religion and a Dance Beat", released the same year. In October, Ambrose Reynolds joined to replace Ward who then left that December, but Reynolds himself quit shortly afterwards and was replaced by Holly Johnson.[3] In January 1978, Budgie (previously in The Spitfire Boys and later member of The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees) replaced Allen on drums, and in early June, Johnson was sacked and replaced with ex-Deaf School Steve Lindsey, who was replaced in July by Dave Balfe (previously in Dalek I Love You), the last member to join.[4][5]

Hatred of the band reached such a level that a petition calling on them to split up was launched by a jealous young Julian Cope resulting from a rivalry with the Crucial Three.[6] Displayed in local shop Probe Records the petition gathered numerous signatures, including those of the band themselves.[7] According to Cope's autobiography, "Of course, Bill Drummond was into the whole thing and told us we needed 14,000 signatures, then they'd split up. We got about nine".[8] In the 1980s, Drummond became manager of Cope's band, The Teardrop Explodes.

The band broke up after a last gig at Eric's on 26 August 1978. During their time, Big in Japan recorded four songs which were included in From Y to Z and Never Again EP, released afterwards to pay off debts. The unintentional consequence of the EP was the formation of the Zoo label, which went on to release early material by Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, amongst others. They also recorded a Peel Session on 12 February 1979, with a line-up of Casey, Broudie, Johnson and Budgie; the session was broadcast on 6 March 1979.[9] Balfe and Drummond then formed the short-lived Lori and the Chameleons.

Big in Japan left a recorded legacy of seven songs: one on a single, four on their EP From Y to Z and Never Again, and two released on compilation albums. As of 2005, five out of these recorded songs are commercially available, on the compilation album, The Zoo: Uncaged 1978–1982.[10]

According to the Liverpool Echo, Big in Japan were "a supergroup with a difference—its members only became super after they left";[1] former members of Big in Japan would later find fame in the KLF, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Lightning Seeds, the Teardrop Explodes and Siouxsie and the Banshees.[11]

The German group Alphaville's first single was called "Big in Japan", named directly after the band.[12] Coincidentally, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's single "Relax" was displaced from the top of the German charts by Alphaville's "Big in Japan".[13][14] Singer/songwriter Gold later said that "we never got to speak with him [Holly Johnson] but he must have wondered 'who is this German group with a song named after my band?'!"[15]

Members' remembrances


Jayne Casey later states:

"We were all a bit too eccentric at a time when punk was quite macho and clear cut...a bit too much for people to handle. We always wanted to be like the Monkees or something. We wanted to be a cartoon, and that's how we tried to sell ourselves to the record companies".[16]

Ian Broudie said:

"It was more performance art than rock and roll. But it gave me a healthy disregard for musicianship. It's ideas that are important, not proficiency".[17]

Bill Drummond recalled:

[The] group only lasted 12 months but that's about as long as any punk band should last. We never got anywhere, but all went on to success later on with bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Teardrop Explodes.[18]



Singles and EPs



  • Street to Street: A Liverpool Album (1978) – "Match of the Day"
  • To the Shores of Lake Placid (1982) – "Suicide a Go Go" / "Society for Cutting Up Men"
  • The Zoo: Uncaged 1978–1982 (1990) – "Nothing Special" / "Cindy & the Valley of the Barbie Dolls" / "Suicide a Go Go" / "Taxi" / "Society for Cutting Up Men"

Other work


Three unreleased songs were recorded for the band's only John Peel session of 6 March 1979; "Suicide High Life", "Goodbye" and "Don't Bomb China".[19]

A bootleg CD is in circulation which contains all of the material listed above as well as demo versions of "Society for Cutting Up Men" (named after the manifesto Society for Cutting Up Men), "Boys Cry", "Big in Japan", "Space Walk", "Match of the Day" and "Taxi". It also contains the audio from the band's performance of "Suicide a Go Go" on their Granada TV appearance of 23 March 1978 (on Tony Wilson's, So It Goes).

Black-and-white, amateur home movie footage of the band performing live at Eric's still exists—excerpts of the band performing both "Big in Japan" and "Cindy and the Barbi Dolls" were used in the BBC Television's Rock Family Trees: The New Merseybeat, originally broadcast in August 1995 and repeated in 1997.

Band members



  1. ^ a b Shennan, P., "Memories of Eric's; Paddy Shennan recalls the sights and sounds of legendary club Eric's", Liverpool Echo, 20 September 2003, Features p26.
  2. ^ "The 17 - FURTHER INFORMATION". The17.org. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  3. ^ Strong, Martin C. (2003) The Great Indie Discography, Canongate, ISBN 1-84195-335-0, p. 12
  4. ^ Frame, Pete. Rock Family Tree. 1980
  5. ^ "music...isms: The Eric's Progeny (1974-1980)". Music-isms.blogspot.com. Retrieved 22 January 2018.
  6. ^ Reynolds, Simon, Rip It Up And Start Again: Post-punk 1978-1984, ISBN 0-571-21570-X
  7. ^ Reynolds, Simon, Rip It Up And Start Again: Post-punk 1978-1984, ISBN 0-571-21570-X
  8. ^ Cope, Julian (2000). Head-On/Repossessed. Thorsons Publishers. pp. 60 of Head On. ISBN 0-7225-3882-0.
  9. ^ Garner, Ken (2007). The Peel Sessions. BBC Books. p. 258. ISBN 978-1-84607-326-7.
  10. ^ The Zoo: Uncaged 1978-1982 at AllMusic. Retrieved July 2009.
  11. ^ "Big in Japan – Where are they now?". Q. January 1992. Archived (via the Library of Mu) on 16 September 2016.Wikipedia:WikiProject The KLF/LibraryOfMu/271
  12. ^ so80s presents Alphaville (CD liner notes). Alphaville. Blank & Jones (So 80s). 2014. SC0344.{{cite AV media notes}}: CS1 maint: others in cite AV media (notes) (link)
  13. ^ Gold, Marian; Lloyd, Bernhard (15 March 2019). "How I wrote 'Big in Japan' by Alphaville". Songwriting Magazine (Interview). Interviewed by Duncan Haskell. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  14. ^ "Offizielle Deutsche Charts - Offizielle Deutsche Charts". www.offiziellecharts.de. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  15. ^ McPherson, Douglas (September 2019). "Godfathers of Pop: Marian Gold". Classic Pop. Retrieved 30 June 2021.
  16. ^ (link Jayne Casey interviewed by Lin Sangster, 1993 Archived 15 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Pattenden, M., "A Broudie guy", The Times (1FA Edition, London), 30 October 1999, p8.
  18. ^ Drummond, Bill (19 October 1996). "Shelf life: Bill Drummond reviews his own back catalogue". The Independent. Retrieved 27 February 2020.
  19. ^ "BBC - Radio 1 - Keeping It Peel - 12/02/1979 Big In Japan". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 22 January 2018.