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Into the Beatles vault
A visit to Rubber Soul, a Beatles-themed music venue in Yokohama
Paulo Suzuki photographed by Eric Rechsteiner
Dear friends, the story you are about to read, originally came out only in French, in Zoom Japon magazine, so today I have the pleasure to give you the English version. Enjoy.
Japan’s musical landscape is dotted with Beatles-themed shops, cafes, bars and live venues but when it comes to musical excellence and rigorous knowledge, few places can compete with Rubber Soul in Yokohama’s Tsurumi district.
A long-established pub that has been in business for more than 30 years, this is a compact place that sits about 20 people. Its main feature is a brick arch in the back (a reminder of Liverpool’s Cavern Club) that owner Paulo Suzuki himself designed and which sets the tone of the pub.
Suzuki is famous in the industry as a leading expert in Beatles sound research. There was a time when the place used to be a shop selling Beatles goods and records before Suzuki turned it into a venue for concerts that regularly hosts performances by several cover bands including Rubber Soul’s house band, the Beatloose.
Suzuki Yoshimasa (his real name) fell in love with the Fab Four in 1970. “I was nine at the time,” he says. “I was watching TV when I saw a stereo commercial that featured “Let It Be.” When I heard that song, I was shocked as if I had been hit by a thunderstorm. I asked my father whose song it was, and he said,
‘It's the Beatles. They are even better than Elvis Presley.’
The great thing about the Beatles’ songs is that they make it look like everybody can sing them. It looks easy though they are actually quite difficult to master. That's what makes them attractive. Looking at how so many people still love them, I think that the Beatles belong to everyone."
Suzuki immediately started learning guitar and after a few years, against his parents’ wishes, decided that he wanted to become a professional musician. He finally fulfilled his dream in 1986, and two years later he was hired by the Star Club, a venue in his native Nagoya that was a branch of Tokyo’s famous (and now defunct) Cavern Club. It was here that he began to play the role of Paul McCartney (hence his stage name Paulo).
“Both the Star Club and the Cavern were frequented by hardcore, knowledgeable fans,” Suzuki says, “who didn’t tolerate any mistakes. The Cavern, in particular, was located in Roppongi, so it attracted a fair share of foreigners.”
Suzuki’s next step was moving to Tokyo, Japan’s capital of the music scene, where, in 1990, he was convinced to rent a place in Yokohama and open Rubber Soul. "I wanted to create a place that conveyed my love for the Beatles but was different from other existing Beatles-themed venues," he says. Rubber Soul is packed from floor to ceiling with musical instruments and equipment. Beatles-themed books and magazines, records of every genre and a few other valuable items line up its shelves.
A small stage takes the whole back wall (here, an expert eye will discover a Vox amp, the same model used by the Beatles). A mixer, stereo set and other equipment are squeezed toward the front. Though the overall look is rather chaotic, the place has excellent acoustics. Indeed, Rubber Soul has been ranked among Japan’s small independent live venues with the best sound and equipment.
Among Suzuki’s most prized items are his bass guitars: a Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass, a Rickenbacker 4001S, and a Fender Jazz Bass. The first two, of course, have been used by McCartney during his whole career, and Suzuki plays them with his cover band.
“The Beatloose were formed in 1989,” he says, “by a group of Beatles-loving musicians who only wanted to play for fun. However, they quickly became known among fans when they won a national Beatles contest in 1991 and were later featured on the Fight show of the public TV broadcaster NHK.”
In 1992, the original bass player quit and the band went on hiatus until Suzuki joined them. Taking advantage of his expertise, he introduced the “Sergeant Pepper” military look to their stage costumes and a humorous side to their performances besides improving their sound.
Among the memorabilia scattered around Rubber Soul is a certificate signed by no less than George Martin, the Beatles’ legendary producer. “In 1996 we participated in the Beatles Music Festival sponsored by the Beatles Club,” Suzuki says. “Martin was the chairman of the jury.” The Beatloose were awarded the second prize for performing the hard-to-cover “A Day in the Life” from Sergeant Pepper. “One of my best memories is performing in front of Martin and his wife and receiving the award directly from the man himself.”
This is a more recent performance of that song.
The band’s rising popularity spurred Suzuki to launch his own label, Rubber Soul Records, and in 1997 he released their first album, Magical Dreamy Tour, that received high praise not only in Japan but also among the Beatles enthusiasts overseas.
In the last 20 years, the Beatloose have been Rubber Soul’s core band while becoming one of Japan’s best groups in their genre. Suzuki's labor of love is supported by many Beatles fans, and not few Beatles-themed bands and players who first started at Rubber Soul have gone on to play an active role in the thriving Beatles scene. “We have hosted performances by many fine artists,” Suzuki says, “but for me, the most memorable was a concert by David Peel, a street musician who became familiar with John and Yoko when they moved to New York in the early 1970s. He even made a record for the Beatles’ Apple label called The Pope Smokes Dope.”
Peel was invited to Japan in December 2003 when Suzuki organized the We Love John Lennon Free Concert event that was held at the John Lennon Museum in Saitama Prefecture (the place closed down in 2010). Suzuki convinced him to perform at his venue and even backed him up on bass.
The Beatles, however, are not Suzuki’s only love: at Rubber Souls, he hosts a lot of events every month including listening sessions where the merits of records by several artists are debated. Last but not least, Suzuki is a huge fan of progressive rock and a respected expert of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. He even has a second band, GOMA WORKS, that he shares with famous composer and keyboard player Nanba Hiroyuki, that plays original prog rock
Rubber Soul, 2F Toda Bldg. 1-14-2 Tsurumichuo, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama
That’s al for today, folk. Next time we are going to take a walk down memory lane and visit some Beatles-related places in central Tokyo.
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