Rambling Steve Gardner had some competition as he sang. Photo: Supplied

“I’m worried the pub will be mobbed.” That’s the heading of an email I received from a friend.

The rest of it said: “In case you haven’t noticed, Japan is full of hard-drinking rugby fans. If we don’t have a reservation we might not get seated. Is there a ‘plan B’ for tonight?”

“Tonight” meaning Wednesday the 25th when we wanted to check out our old roots-and-blues musician buddy, Rambling Steve Gardner, performing solo in an English-style pub in Tokyo’s trendy Shibuya district.

So I messaged Steve, who replied with his usual booming voice even though he was typing: “GOOD MORNING Brother Brad! I JUST checked with HOBGOBLIN – NO RUGBY TONIGHT! WE ARE ON from 7:30-9:30! SO COME ON! We’ll save you a place at the Big table!”

Everything was fine for the first half hour of Steve’s performance. He likes to start off softly and then slowly increase the volume and the passion. He was up to medium volume when young, fit-looking men started coming in, pats and hugs all around, and gathering around a long, tall table.

Turned out they were an amateur rugby team from Australia, in Tokyo for the World Cup. Already drunk before leaving their hotel, from the looks of them, they didn’t have a reservation so the proprietor was as surprised as we were.

Soon there were 20 or so and they were getting louder and louder, paying no attention whatsoever to the music. More pats and hugs. One guy took off his shirt. To each his own, I thought, but I was wondering how far they planned to take this male bonding thing.

Then they decided to go into a huddle and do their cheer, which shook the rafters so satisfyingly for them that they continued to cheer.

Steve, a polite fellow from Mississippi, thought that was a bit much, as he told me later. “I hate an all-out war of noise but, being a good southerner, I ain’t just going to roll over and go down without a fight.”

He picked things up volume-wise with a tune called, Yonder’s Wall, “Look on yonder’s wall and hand me down my walking cane.”

He changed some lyrics, situationally, to: “I done been to the war and I have had it kind of rough, I don’t know how many men I done killed but looking y’all over I guess not enough …”

He followed that by remarking, “My grandmother said, ‘You know it is OK to be ignorant – because we can help that man. But if you stupid, don’t spread it around!’”

His volume was way up now, but the team’s cheers hadn’t stopped and were louder still.

Before ending his gig he sang, That’s No Way To Get Along, an old Robert Wilkes tune.

Maybe our table was prejudiced, but we felt Steve had more than held his own. One of the rugger lads had even listened to the music for a bit. He came over and chatted with Steve.

The musician, contemplating the coming Tokyo Olympics, had grown philosophical about the lads’ intrusion. He realized, as he told me later, that “as the 2020 mess gets closer, we shall see more of that. Just goes to show there are no sure things.”

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