Every ten years or so, a band emerges on the rock’n’roll scene that ignites a rare sense of ‘must see’ excitement. Having missed out on the arrival of bands like Big Sandy, the Planet Rockers and the Bellfuries, I was keen to explore what the buzz was about around a trio from Toronto, Canada, who were making their first forays across the Atlantic. Having gained themselves a warm reception at the Rockin’ Race, their UK tour offered just five gigs in such exotic locations as Leighton Buzzard and Hastings, with just three city-based appearances in Leicester, Sheffield and London’s Water Rats around the corner from King’s Cross.
The band have been around since 2019, when they formed to mark the tenth anniversary of the Toronto’s Black Dice Café where Hideki Saito tended bar and fuelled the juke box from his record collection. Stepping out from behind the bar and picking up the bass for the first time, he was joined by lead guitarist and vocalist, Mamoru “Mamo Banzai” Anzai, and drummer-cum-vocalist, Paddy “Paddy Burn” Beirne to create the Ichi-Bons for a one-off performance. Fortunately, they enjoyed themselves enough to keep gigging locally and were headhunted to join the line-up at Viva Las Vegas in 2022, giving them exposure to the wider international rockin’ scene who welcomed them with open arms. A debut 45 followed shortly afterwards, and they’ve just kept building their reputation as hot newcomers since.
With the tour managed by the ‘Three Amigos’ of Chris Whitfield, Pat of the Deltas and Thierry ‘Batman’ of Rockinitis, all their UK gigs have been sell-out events, so we were in place early to ensure a good spot front of stage, catch up with old friends and enjoy the warm up DJ sets. The band were clearly enjoying the chance to mingle with the crowd, disappearing backstage on shortly before their opening. And what an opening – tearing into The Regents’ ‘Downshiftin’’, the Recalls’ ‘Nobody’s Guy’ and Gene Terry’s ‘Hep Cat’, the combination of pounding bass guitar and drum rhythm was enough to see off any kidney stone lurking in the system, while Mamoru’s lead guitar licks seared over the top. The acid test came as they launched into the Reekers’ instrumental ‘Don’t Call Me Fly Face’, a favourite in our household and delivered with total authenticity which went far beyond being a competent cover to capture the essence of the original as it would have sounded live.
The band have real character, too. Mamoru is the total front man – combining superb guitar work with a stage presence that makes ‘energetic’ an understatement and a great vocal style. Behind the drums, Paddy manages to keep up an exhausting pace even when delivering his share of the vocals, switching drumsticks for maraccas that double as sticks and managing the neat trick of maintaining a frantic rhythm with one hand while combing his hair with the other! Hideki provides the enigmatic contrast with a deadpan style, while laying down a bassline that merged seamlessly with Paddy’s drumming.
The band aren’t into lots of chat between numbers, keeping up the pace in a single unbroken set that never relaxed for a second. It’s hard to pick out individual tracks, but highlights included Castin’ My Spell, Switchblade, Beat Girl, Brand New Cadillac and Watusi Zombie (with guest appearance from Captain Pat Marvel). They were never going to get out without an encore, which produced ‘She’s My Witch’ (a consolation for the cancellation of the Sonics imminent UK tour) and a final storming version of Mel Dorsey’s ‘Little Lil’.
Within minutes, the band were circulating amongst a crowd who would happily have seen them stay in town for weeks to come – and more than a few planning to follow them down to Hastings the following day for a repeat performance. Copies of their new EP were flying off the table. Nice guys, superb rock’n’roll musicians, and truly immersed in the spirit of the Big Beat in a way that sounds fresh in 2023, the Ichi-Bons have made their mark on the UK and we’re fully expecting they’ll be back for some major events before long.