Tony Cummings talked to PETER118, the band with the hit radio single named, appropriately enough, "Radio"
Back in the old days the music industry insiders would sometimes use a jokey phrase to describe acts that were unknown to the mass public in Britain or America. The phrase was "big in Japan" meaning that though a band might have had a following somewhere it wasn't in the "important" British or American marketplaces. The phrase started to go out of fashion once a Liverpool punk band, with tongues firmly in cheeks, used the name. Inevitably their success under the Big In Japan moniker was limited, Wikipedia stating, "Big In Japan were a supergroup with a difference - its members only became super after they left." Another reason for the big in Japan phrase falling from fashion was that the blinkered industry people who'd thought up the aloof putdown hadn't grasped that Japan was fast developing to become what is today one of the biggest music markets in the world.
In the last three months a pop punk band from Cross Rhythms' home town of Stoke-on-Trent, Peter118, have acquired a quite literal meaning of the phrase. Their "Radio" single and video have now been heard and seen by millions of Japanese rock fans. Peter118 consists of Peter Field (vocals, guitar), Andrew Derbidge (bass) and Andy Loz (drums). At the KingsStock festival Andrew and Peter filled me in on their brief but memorable history.
"Peter and I met through church," Andrew explained. "Peter plays in a punk band called Ambassadors Of Shalom who recently had their first album released through California's Thumper Punk Records. I originally come from the gangster's paradise, Johannesburg in South Africa, then I moved to the Watford, Hemel Hempstead area and have now been in Walsall in the West Midlands for four years. Peter came to the church in Walsall where I attend, and we found we had a mutual love for music, a mutual love for playing live. At the point he was solo; I said, 'I'll play bass for you - help you out in terms of your gigging'. At that stage it was just doing a Sunday night at the Wharf Bar in Walsall, accompany him and helping him out."
Peter took up the story. "Andrew and I started playing acoustic gigs to maybe 12, 13 people. About three months ago I wrote a song called 'Radio'. It's a really simple punk song about listening to the radio. About 90 seconds and that's it. Other songs I've written for Peter118 are about our Lord. The band's name comes from Psalm 118. There's a part of Psalm 118 that talks about playing to him and not to other people. If we play to other people to impress, that's not what it's about. Sometimes when you're playing on stage you want people to like you, but it's not about that - it's about getting the Gospel message out whether people like us or not. For me, that's where 118 comes in: we're not here to be liked, we're here to deliver a message."
£400 was raised and Peter and Andrew went into a studio in Walsall and quickly recorded "Radio" and three other songs. "Radio" turned out particularly well and, with a kind of naiveté which more industry-savvy musicians lack, sent an MP3 of the song off to one of the most listened to deejays in the world, Mike Rogers. The music industry knows Rogers as the man who found the late Amy Winehouse but as legions of Japanese rock fans know is the presenter/producer of the national Japanese radio station InterFM and presents a show called What The Friday. Mike loved the sheer driving energy of "Radio" and did something that the big radio stations in the UK and USA wouldn't dream of doing and put the cheaply recorded, unreleased song by an unknown band onto his show for four weeks. Said Peter, "It became quite a hit. Thousands of people bought it off iTunes. It was mind-blowing, because I was getting messages from people in Tokyo saying, 'We're listening to your track while driving to work'."
The mass exposure didn't stop there. Mike Rogers told Peter that if the band could film a video he felt he'd be able to get it onto Universal Vision. Another £400 was found and a video shoot planned. Explained the singer/songwriter, "I met a guy called Andy Loz, who lives in Chester, at a wedding. I was telling him about the video. I said, 'We need a drummer, we're doing a video shoot next week in Walsall'. He says, 'Yes, I'm up for it; I'm joining the band'. A friend of mine, Ed Jervis, runs an independent record label in Manchester called InPresence Records. He directed our video. We sent it off to InterFM and an American TV company called G Rock. They broadcast on TBN and loads of other satellites. Kendall, who runs G Rock, is into punk and he invited me out to California."
Out in the Golden State Peter was asked to play the Thumper Punk Night in Bellflower, California, a gathering of punk rockers organised by Dave Aaron, founder of the pioneering Christian punk record label Thumper Punk. Continued Peter, "I went out to play Thumper Punk Night - Drew couldn't make it - so I played our acoustic set solo." Thumper Punk Records had already signed Peter's other band, Ambassadors Of Shalom, so it was hardly surprising when Aaron offered Peter118 a recording contract. Rather than hold out for a deal with a much bigger record label that, thanks to the Japan factor, would have undoubtedly been offered, Peter signed to the company who, over the last few years, have almost single-handedly shone a light for Christian involvement in punk rock culture. Remembered Field rather ruefully, "Dave asked me, 'How many songs have you got for an album?' So I told him, 'I've got about eight.' Time to write!"
Following their utterly unexpected Japanese breakthrough, Peter118 are now preparing for a release - whether an EP or album is yet to be decided - with Thumper Punk releasing it in the USA and InPresence Records in the UK. The buzz in Britain is already beginning to build. The nationally distributed magazine Viva Le Rock selected "Radio" for inclusion on the cover mounted CD of its August issue so that there, alongside tracks like "Burn Trash City" by Self Abuse and "Pisshead" by The Destructors, proudly nestles "Radio". Now in the US and the UK radio stations are beginning to play Peter118's 90 second blast of punk energy. Viva Le Rock enthused, "This ridiculously catchy track has been winning TV and radio play worldwide for good reason. That's a big hook!" The future certainly looks bright for the trio. But the band are not getting carried away. Said Andrew, "Peter and I have been playing in bands for years. Like every band we've had sometimes we've thought 'why are we doing this, playing for three people sitting at a bar?' But God knows and now it seems like we're starting a new season. But finally it's God taking us where he wants to take us. And for now we're enjoying God's favour."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.