Kev Gray & The Gravy Train

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Kev Gray & The Gravy Train
Kev Gray & The Gravy Train - Live @ The Crocodile Club, Tokyo.jpg
Live @ The Crocodile Club, Tokyo
Background information
GenresIndie, Lounge, Blues, Funk
Years active2008–present
LabelsHemlock Music
Associated actsFinger Eleven
MembersKev Gray
Mami Horano
Forrest "Mississippi" Nelson
Rob Moreau
Shokei Konno
Past membersDamien Cavanagh
Rob Gommerman
Chris Colling
Christy Strothers

Kev Gray & The Gravy Train are an alternative pop rock band formed in Tokyo in November 2008, with members from America, Canada, England and Japan. After being chosen as a feature band in the government-sponsored, UK-Japan Year 2008, the group achieved mixed success on the Japanese music scene, after signing to Hemlock Music and twice winning the national music award, Gaijin Sounds.

Based around the songwriting of lead singer, Kev Gray, their sound has drawn comparisons to melody driven artists such as Paul McCartney, The Smiths and Antony Hegarty.[1][2] After starting as an acoustic trio, the band later went electric and became known for its array of vocal and musical styles, before the band rebuilt its original sound in 2013 with new personnel in Tokyo: "Pon" (guitar); Shokei Konno on percussion, Mari Uga on sax, and Rob Moreau (mandolin).[3] They developed a national following after touring in Japan, including Hard Rock Cafe, The Crocodile Club, and headlined events at the international music festival, Japan Music Week. The group have also played in England, Australia, Canada and America, and much of SE Asia.

The group featured frequently in the Japanese media, including TV, radio and press, receiving strong reviews in Metropolis,[4] Japanzine, and Time Out, whose editor, Jon Wilks, described the songs as demonstrating "lyrical genius".[5][6] Their first release, Shipwrecked, in November 2008, was closely followed in May 2009 by I Should've Stopped There, with their troubled album, Antidote, finally released in October 2011.

After an accident involving the lead singer, The Gravy Train cancelled most live shows and recordings in 2012 but made a comeback in early 2013 in Tokyo, aiming to restart recording for the two albums, The Veil Has Been Lifted, and Prisoner in Paradise.[7] The band headlined events at Hard Rock Cafe's anniversary celebrations in Tokyo and an all-day music festival in July, Tokyo Woodstock,[8] before a summer tour of the US in 2013. A round-the-world tour of Japan, England, Canada and the USA in the summer of 2015 was cut short after a car-crash in California, and the outfit is looking to record a new album in autumn 2016.[9]

Formation and early development[edit]

The band started as a recording trio in 2006 as Akibakei, featuring Japanese TV star, Christy Strothers, female singer from the show, The Human Jukebox; and veteran New York saxophonist, Arnie Baruch, alongside Gray on vocals and guitar. After returning to Tokyo in January 2008, a live duo was formed between Gray and classical guitarist, Robin Watson. Watson was at the time a member of the well-established British-Japanese outfit, Eden Rogue, with the Tokyo label, Suzuki Records. They were joined by Damien Cavanagh, former drummer with the British prog-indie group, Circulus, played the cajón in the trio due to the acoustic nature of the band.

Hemlock Music and Shipwrecked EP[edit]

The band won the Gaijin Sounds songwriting award in April 2008 for the song, "How The Story Ends".[1] This attracted the attention of Australian music producer, Paul Morgan, who then invited them to record at his Medici Studios and set up Hemlock Music to promote the band. The resulting recording, Shipwrecked, was produced by ARIA-nominated, Mike Stangel, at the studio in Melbourne in August 2008. The band released their debut EP, Shipwrecked, on November 7, 2008, in Ebisu, Tokyo.

I Should've Stopped There[edit]

To increase the band's songwriting profile, the group released a collection of early recordings, I Should've Stopped There. The cover, designed by Rob Moore, featured "The Angel of Sorrow", from a mural in Valencia, Spain. Although the lyrical and vocal strength of the collection had initially been enough to kickstart the band's initial success, with songs such as the 1950s swing number, "Guatemala", and the harmony rich gospel song, "Jordan River", the album received mixed reaction due to the poor quality production and some mediocre album tracks.

The Crocodile Club, Harajuku 2009–2010[edit]

In April 2009, the band won another Gaijin Sounds award, this time for "One More Chance".[10] The increased exposure saw the band secure a monthly residency at The Crocodile Club,[11] a former rockabilly hangout in Harajuku with their regular UK-Japan Night.[4] During this period, Hemlock Music arranged international support acts such as Afro-American kalimba artist, Kevin Spears; world music from Arabiki-Beat, and the Austin-based country singer, Jackie Bristow. The band also used the club's high quality sound to make live recordings and debut new songs, including The Veil Has Been Lifted, Who Loves The Lonely, and their most popular song, Six Feet Under.[6]

The Gravy Train – Backstage in the Green Room at the Crocodile Club, Shibuya


The proposed ethos of Hemlock music was that Tokyo bands would be able fund recordings through live receipts. The first planned album was to be Antidote, which according to Gray, was to be a showcase of the band's diversity. Songs were written in a mix of genres such as country-inspired, Letters from Tijuana; the blues number, Swingin'; the Cuban-influenced, Voodoo Doll; and the 6/8 open chord waltz, Long Time Coming. The diversity of the song content was to be matched by the lyrical themes which drew upon allegedly true stories, from suicidal friends to a swingers party in a Japanese hot spring. However, production problems and personal differences plagued the recordings delaying its completion. The proposed launch went ahead on November 11, 2009, but without the CD, which despite attempts at remixing would finally be mostly re-recorded.

Live success 2008–2010[edit]

Despite the ongoing problems with the recordings, the band continued to have increasing success on the live scene around Japan. After playing at Hard Rock Cafe in Nagoya in early 2009, they were invited to open the Hakuba Music Festival, also known as KevRock after its Australian organizer, Kevin Gibson, appearing with cult Australian bands, the Hoodoo Gurus and Regurgitator. More success followed at Japan Music Week, the Tokyo attempt at SXSW in November of that year.

UK and Antidote (2010–2011)[edit]

After suffering from ill health, Watson left the band in January 2010, with Canadian, Chris Cooling, taking over on electric guitar, and Mississippian, Forrest Nelson on bass, giving the band a more dynamic sound. Gray returned to London in July 2010 to promote his new solo album, The Veil Has Been Lifted, appearing at the Wimbledon Calling festival, headlined by British Sea Power and The Automatic; and then the acoustic stage at the Aeon Festival. However, again quality issues with the recordings meant the album was postponed and Gray returned to Tokyo to headline at Japan Music Week again in November.

With the departure of drummer, Damien Cavanagh, to England, Nelson recruited close friend, Rob Gommerman, who had been the previous drummer of gold-selling Canadian rock band, Finger Eleven. The band re-recorded the Antidote album at the Japanese indie haven, Stepway Studios, in Yoyogi, Tokyo in spring 2011. A total of 12 new tracks were recorded and Antidote was released in October 2011.

Success in the US[edit]

The Gravy Train garnered some limited success in the US after their folk song, "Happy Children", was used in the short film, The Pin, featuring Hollywood actors, John Magaro and Emily Meade. After shooting a video New York-based Positively Fourth Street Productions[12][not in citation given] in the US in July 2011, the band released an accompanying single, "Hang On To The Sweet Song", with Record Union in December 2011.[13] Both creations were the brainchild of Hal Sofsky and Abhay Sofsky, the latter being the co-producer of SXSW Best Documentary 2012, "Beware of Mr. Baker".[14]

"Hang Onto The Sweet Song In Your Soul" video[edit]

The video was shot in a vintage furniture store in Williamsburg, New York, called Brooklyn Reclamation.[15] The producers went for the innovative approach of making a compound live video where over 50 live takes were taken around the store over the course of about 10 hours. The best matches were chosen and edited to form one "live song". Co-director, Hal Sofksy said: "After seeing him perform live, we felt lip-syncing would underplay his vocal appeal. We chose the store to reflect the timeless nature of the vintage music that his songwriting evokes – it does sound from another era until you hear the lyrics. And although the song itself deals with the struggle of modern existence, its message is again pretty timeless: whatever happens, you'll always have music to help you through".[16]

Before the video was shot, Gray embarked on a minor tour of the US East Coast, playing in NYC at Greenwich Village hangouts such as The Bitter End and Caffe Vivaldi, as well as Boston, where he featured in the music festival, Fête de la Musique,[17] and played at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge.

After the US venture, The Gravy Train restarted in Tokyo playing at Japan Music Week 2011 at various events from November 4–13, including Rock Cafe, La Mama, Crawfish, and the popular musicians hangout, Timeout, with bands from Canada, Singapore, Japan and Brazil, including the bossa-nova artist, Sabrina Helsh.[18]

Accident and comeback (2012–2013)[edit]

After a near-fatal accident, Gray had to stop singing for most of 2012,[19] cancelling all recordings and most of their live shows.[9] The band resurfaced in Tokyo in February 2013 playing a series of comeback shows in Azabu,[20] Akasaka,[21] and Roppongi, including Bauhaus and Hard Rock Cafe.[22] Due to the break, the existing members of the band moved onto new projects, leading Gray to recruit new personnel in Tokyo. Instrumental in the new sound was Canadian mandolinist, Rob Moreau, whose fusion of styles added a rich dimension to older songs such as The Mountain and adding texture to new compositions such as the yoga-inspired bossa nova song, Dirty Downward Dog.[9] Moreau drafted in the guitarist from the band of 1970s folk-singer Masato Minami,[23] Pon, whom he met while playing in Kichijōji's Inokashira Park, which was also the meeting place of the new multi-instrumentalist drummer, Shokei Konno. This added a more Japanese influence to the band, with occasional impromptu vocal performances of traditional Japanese folks songs such as "Seikatsu no gara".[24]

Hard Rock Cafe anniversary[edit]

Poster for Hard Rock Cafe Tokyo's 25th Anniversary Party featuring Kev Gray & The Gravy Train – June 2013

In June 2013, The Gravy Train headlined at Hard Rock Cafe, Tokyo[25] as part of the Hard Rock Cafe's Anniversary celebrations[22] celebrations.[3][22] The event featured an art exhibition by Nagoya-based painter and designer, Rob Moore, and an additional live set from the Japanese rock outfit, Sawas Phool. This was followed by a special performance at the Neptune Theatre [26] for Tokyo Arts Week, which featured Edinburgh Festival comedian Spring Day and a run of Lanford Wilson's Burn This starring New York actors Katherine Puma and Rob Skolits.[27]

Tokyo Woodstock – July 2013[edit]

The band soon matched that success by headlining an all-day arts and music festival in July called Tokyo Woodstock. The event showcased artists from around Japan demonstrating artwork, poetry, music, spoken word, film and photography.

  • The festival featured film by "the foremost Western scholar of the Japanese cinema", the late Donald Richie, who was described by author Tom Wolfe as "the Lafcadio Hearn of our time; a subtle, stylish, and deceptively lucid medium between two cultures that confuse one another: the Japanese and the American." The short film, was one of the "Five Philosophical Fables" [28] from 1967, said to have "had a seminal influence in Japan"[29]
  • The festival also featured short films by the pinhole photographer, film maker and author, Edward Levinson;[30] and videographer, Kyle Drubeck, debuting a preview of his documentary about the devastating impact of the Fukushima disaster on the communities of Tohoku in 2011.[31] Drubeck travelled to radioactive areas on his motorbike and filmed footage in a radiation suit to record a first-hand account of the disaster.
  • Poetry was represented by Gary Quinn, the Irish poet, author and film-maker;[32] Joe Zhangi, publisher of Printed Matter Press,[33] and Yuri Kugeyama, the American-Japanese poet, author and journalist, who was described by the Mainichi News,[34] as writing "poems that convey an intelligent, sensitive and sexual woman who enjoys life to the full, and who can express herself in a language filled to excess with energy".

Between the film and poetry were various musical performances, with main events of the evening were the performances of the German-Japanese funk band, TEFCO,[35] and the headline act, Kev Gray & The Gravy Train.

US tour 2013[edit]

On the back of the summer success in Tokyo, Gray headed on a tour of the States, playing in New York, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Miami, and Key West.

Cafe Vivaldi, Greenwich Village[edit]

The highlight was a show at the New York singer-songwriter institution Caffe Vivaldi in Greenwich Village. Opened in the 1980s, it became a regular hangout for New York artists, such as Woody Allen, and Al Pacino.[36] Owner Ishrat Ansari had befriended Gray on his previous trips to the Caffe and gave him a coveted Friday night slot, usually slated for major artists such as Marcus Mumford from the Grammy-award-winning band, Mumford and Sons. The show featured Jack Spann,[37] from the Broadway musical, Warhorse,[38] on the Grand piano, and Mikiya Ito from Japan on cajon and percussion.


NHK Tokyo Eye[edit]

In the winter of 2015, the band featured on the TOKYO EYE program for the national Japanese TV broadcaster, NHK. In the program, the band explored the music scene at various livehouses in Tokyo, culminating in an impromptu jam session at Meguro Timeout, a live music speak-easy ran by master, Mura-san, where musicians can drop in at any time and play with other musicians using the numerous instruments on display. Gray stated that Timeout was one of his favourites places to play music anywhere due to its informal nature and inclusivity of styles and ages, saying he had often been in the middle of the night to finish writing a song or practice when needed.[39]

Live radio[edit]

Gray featured on the radio in Japan due to interest from DJ Guy Perryman from Tokyo InterFM. Firstly, on a live performance broadcast and interview of Gray's Desert Island Discs at the Brewdog Live Sessions in Roppongi, Tokyo.

This was followed by another live performance on air, featuring four songs: One More Chance; The Arrival of the Prince: and the yoga-inspired Dirty Downward Dog. Gray mentioned he had planned to record a video with the song in New York in September 2015 but the video was cancelled due to the production company getting a contract to work with Leonardo DiCaprio. In the interview, Gray mentioned his recent jam session with Japanese popstar, Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, from Japan's most famous celebrity group, SMAP, describing him as very modest and "a gentle soul". [40] [41]

World Tour Summer 2015[edit]

The band started round-the-world tour of Japan, England, Canada and the USA in the summer of 2015 with dates in Tokyo, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Chicago, New York, London and Gray's hometown of Newcastle. However, the tour was cut short after a car-crash on a highway in California in September, which left Gray with concussion and whiplash.

Activism and campaigning[edit]

The band has been an active supporter of several charities in its career, raising money at shows and donating performance fees for causes all over the world, such as Empowerment Society International in Liberia;[42][not in citation given] the Chiki Kids Charity in Laos; ARK Animal Rescue Kansai; and disaster relief such the Tohoku earthquake and Haiti earthquake (Lovin' Haiti).

Recently, the band played at the Black Card Cabaret Hollywood Ball in Tokyo, featuring Tokyo celebrities, such as DJ Guy Perryman and Japanese TV star, Dewi Fujin. The event raised over 1.4 million yen for Refugees International Japan.[43][not in citation given][44][45][46][not in citation given]

Gray was commissioned to write a song for the Shark Conservation group, Projects Abroad, which campaigns against the malpractice of "finning" where 95% of the shark is discarded after the fins are cut off for the lucrative soup market. After a month of research, Gray came up with the theme and lyrics, then the music. The song, "The Last Shark", is sung from the perspective of "the last shark" and hopes "to warn, educate, and change attitudes to the demonization of sharks". The song is to be used for a video to campaign to reduce "finning". The project claims sharks will be virtually extinct within 20 years and marine ecosystems will collapse.[9] Written as melancholy lament at the demise of the last shark in jazz standard style on guitar and piano, Gray sang and played a solo guitar version live on air during a radio interview at Tokyo INTER FM in February 2016, cautioning listeners of the dangers of eating "fukahire" shark fin soup.

Musical influences[edit]

As the sole songwriter of the band, Gray describes the songs as "vintage originals", given the influence of all of the older vintage genres on the music: jazz, blues, swing, Latin, folk, country, and rock'n' roll. He ascribes the mainly acoustic nature of the music as being due to living in small musician-unfriendly accommodation in Japan, where electric guitars are not welcome, while maintaining that "electric guitars should not be played with headphones". The eclectic nature of the music was no better demonstrated in diverse lyrical and thematic choices of Gray during a Desert Island Discs radio show with InterFM DJ, Guy Perryman, in Roppongi in 2015.[41]

Future plans[edit]

The band still aim to make a video for the yoga-themed bossa nova song, "Dirty Downward Dog".[9] The albums The Veil Has Been Lifted, and Prisoner in Paradise, are yet to be finished. Gray states that he is currently[when?] looking for a suitable producer to finish the albums.[47]


  1. ^ a b "Gaijin Sounds 2008". Seek Japan. Archived from the original on May 17, 2008.
  2. ^ "The Gravy Train". Time Out Tokyo. May 6, 2011. ...Gray is a dark and brooding songwriter, with a kind of Morrissey/Heaton ear for a lyric about him...
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b Grunebaum, Dan (December 10, 2009). "Kev Gray & The Gravy Train". Metropolis.
  5. ^ Wilks, Jon. "Kev Gray: A Bit Of A Genius". Seek Japan. Archived from the original on April 5, 2012.
  6. ^ a b パブリックアイ 第46回. Time Out Tokyo (in Japanese). January 25, 2011.
  7. ^ What The Dickens (2011-05-06). "The Gravy Train – What The Dickens". Time Out Tokyo. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-06-19. Retrieved 2015-06-19.
  9. ^ a b c d e [1][dead link]
  10. ^ Davies, Jonti. "Kev Gray: 'One More Chance'". Seek Japan.[dead link]
  11. ^ "Crocodile – Reviews and Ratings of Bars and Clubs in Tokyo". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 10, 2013. Retrieved 2012-03-23.
  12. ^ [2][dead link]
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  14. ^ Barnes, Henry (March 14, 2012). "SXSW top film prizes go to Beware of Mr Baker and Gimme the Loot". The Guardian. London.
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  22. ^ a b c
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  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-06-10. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-06-19. Retrieved 2015-06-19. "Donald Richie's classic is, in the words of Yukio Mishima, an outrageous farce, and a pitiless indictment of all our false ‘human’ values. As an allegory of an ‘all-consuming’ Tokyo family cannibalizing each other in a Tokyo park, it attains the highest reaches of black humour".
  30. ^
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  34. ^ Yuri Kugeyama
  35. ^
  36. ^ "When Joseph Brodsky won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, he gave some of interviews to the world press, sitting down at Vivaldi and enjoying his favorite drink. When Woody Allen and Al Pacino wanted to make movies featuring the timeless quality of Greenwich Village they came to Vivaldi."
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  41. ^ a b
  42. ^ [3]
  43. ^ [4]
  44. ^ [5][dead link]
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  46. ^ [6]
  47. ^ [7][dead link] "It is kind of embarrassing that we haven't made an album in 4 years. Ironically, we have 60-70 songs waiting to be recorded but just can't find the perfect situation... place... person to record. We need a top producer who knows about British and American music, how to record a Western voice. You would be hard pushed to find a J-pop producer in London and so the opposite applies. But there is no point in putting out an album that we are not happy with. I did find a Shangri-La in Krabi, but the studio blew up. So back to the drawing board. We are looking into some new options later in the year."

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