Cultural Deserts & ‘Other’ Stuff Like Name-Dropping!

I love where I live, I really do; it has almost everything I could want from life and doesn’t have many of the things I don’t want!! I did say ‘almost’ – and I’ll confess to some occasional thumb-sucking sessions in a quiet corner when I get overwhelmed by a need for good, English bitter beer, Stilton cheese and sausages from the butcher in the village where I once lived. After 14 years in my adopted country I have discovered alternatives to my cravings; a form of ‘Methadone’ you might say. What has proved harder to satisfy is what might best be pigeon-holed under the label ‘Culture’. Okçular has many things going for it, but it is a cultural desert as far as music is concerned; apart from village weddings, that is, which are wonderful once the zurnas and davuls are in full voice!

Music, like much else, is a very personal thing; and whilst I’m not averse to head-banging (even at my sensible and mature time of life) away ‘wiv a bit o’ the Quo’ (I’ve given up on the ‘po-going’ after knee surgery last year!), CDs are no substitute for the real thing! J and I share a common love of most things dubbed ‘classical’ and nearly all things dubbed ‘jazz’. Driving 4 hours to Aspendos is alright if there is stuff we fancy; alright as long as it isn’t opening or closing nights which we’ve always found to be chaotic and distracting. As for jazz, that’s very hard get outside of Istanbul which is a real European hot-spot that attracts the very best from around the world.

J and I have just come back from an ‘overnighter’ to ISKV’s (Istanbul Arts and Culture Foundation) wonderful venue in Şişhane, not far from the top end of the Tünel in the great metropolis and a quick dip into the refreshing pool of a live performance. Our son is a sound engineer of considerable talent who works with some of the best jazz musicians around and this gives us several very good reasons to brave the hassles of air travel. It also, usually, has us treated as honoured guests who get ushered through security and doors at venues without a single kuruş of entrance money changing hands. This time around he’s working with drummer Jack Dejohnette and his band (photo: sound check, ISKV Salon); we get to see Jack fairly often because he’s family; our son’s father-in-law. Jack has long been at the cutting edge and I love his stuff and find the energy from a live gig is like an intravenous drip, instantaneous  and the ‘high’ lasts a long while. Long enough to get me through to the next ‘fix’? Well, sometimes!

Last year we were in Istanbul for the concerts given by Medeski, Martin & Wood who gave one of the most electric performances you can conceive of; saxophonist John Surman (also family) at the Aya Irene church in the Topkai Palace; and in Athens for a concert with guitarist John Scofield. Our son will be back with Scofield in Istanbul in September for 2 gigs so you know where we’ll be! Would we be going if our son wasn’t doing the sound and if we had to pay on the door? Most of them for sure – just like my coffee habit, I need a regular fix of the good stuff or I’d soon be back in the corner sucking my thumb!

If you love ‘progressive’ music then the links will give you information and in some cases you’ll be able to order CDs, otherwise a search of your usual supplier will find these excellent musicians and their stuff.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü