Japanese punk stars Shonen Knife bring a hit of their Sweet Candy Power to Portsmouth

For any band to stay together for nearly 40 years without a break is no mean feat.

Monday, 15th July 2019, 2:35 pm
Updated Tuesday, 23rd July 2019, 11:41 am
Risa, Naoko and Atsuko of Shonen Knife

For a cult all-female punk act from a famously conservative country, it is pretty much a miracle.

Shonen Knife received an international boost in the early 1990s when Nirvana took them on tour and other alternative-rock luminaries such as Sonic Youth would regularly sing their praises.

But when they started in 1981, did they think it would last this long?

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Co-founder and frontwoman Naoko Yamano says: ‘I couldn’t imagine I would still be doing it now, and I also don’t feel it’s been so many years. I still very fresh for Shonen Knife, so it’s like only two or three years have passed.’

And being all-female also made them stand out. ‘There weren’t so many like nowadays, but there were some in the underground Japanese scene. No-one else has lasted quite as long as us, but others like Yellow Machinegun or Noodles, they’ve been going for about 20 years.’

The trio recently released their 19th studio album, Sweet Candy Power, a 10-track, 32-minute blast of effervescent garage-rock. As is standard it draws on their love of the Ramones, Motorhead and classic rock.

And they are currently on a 10-date UK tour, their first here in three years.

Naoko has been looking forward to returning to the UK and says: ‘I love our fans here. Many people are looking like they’re having a lot of fun through our shows, and I get energy from our fans’ good reactions and I get more powerful because of that.’

Naoko’s sister and co-founder Atsuko is back in the fold too – she was originally the band’s drummer before switching to bass in 2000, and then ‘retiring’ when she married an American and moved to Los Angeles. Fortunately for fans, she is part of the set up again.

In an unusual arrangement, the bass player’s spot is shared three ways between her, Naru and Ritsuko – and all three play on the new album.

‘For our long tours and for some of our Japanese tours, Atsuko joins us. Naru and Ritsuko sometimes join us because it’s hard for Atsuko to come back to Japan just for one show or something.

‘But Ritsuko has two little kids so it’s hard for her to leave them for a long time.’

With siblings in bands having a less than glorious record – think the Davies brothers in The Kinks, or the Gallaghers in Oasis – it seems the Yamano sisters have found an unusual outlet for any tension.

‘Its not like The Kinks,’ Naoko laughs. ‘We have a very good relationship. We both like to play tennis, so we often play tennis when Atsuko comes to Japan or when I go to Los Angeles.’

Both are on-record as being big tennis fans, but unfortunately Naoko missed the finale of this year’s epic men’s singles final between Federer and Djokovic at Wimbledon.

‘I started watching it, but it was very late at night in Japan so I couldn’t stay up as I was coming to the UK the next day,’ she says a little ruefully.

Sweet Candy Power would bring a smile to even the most cynical soul. But don’t expect anything too profound – as is customary for the Osakans, it features several songs about food.

As Naoko says: ‘I would like to sing songs about my favourite things. I like sweet candy, so I have fun when I sing about delicious food.’

It also marks the longest gap between albums – it’s three years since their last, Adventure.

What took them so long?

‘Because we were very busy for touring all over the world – we did America, Britain, all over. And I was also busy having tennis lessons,’ she giggles.

‘Just kidding.’

Support comes from two top reunited Portsmouth acts, Thee Sopwith Camels and Paul Groovy & The Pop Art Experience.


The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

Thursday, July 25