The Pains and Pleasures of Foreign Travel

‘Thar she blows!’ Feeling a bit like Moby Dick, the great, white whale these days – much more comfortable well below the surface wrapped in the security blanket of ‘Home‘!


We’ve been back from our trip to the UK nearly a week, during which time I’ve sat and gazed blankly at this post page on numerous occasions. The pleasures of being unconnected (mostly), whilst away, seem to have solidified into a ‘memory-foam mattress’ of blogging-Facebook-Googleless lethargy cum disconnect. Re-reading The Road To Wigan Pier and starting Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan/Gormenghast trilogy has proved a far more interesting occupation.

Our UK visit was timed around SPGB Summer School weekend at the very attractive and user-friendly Fircroft College. This is an event that always lifts our spirits along with many a glass of fine ale! This year felt special reconnecting with a number of old friends and getting to know some new faces.

Summer School was followed by the seriously enjoyable pleasures of spending time with family and dear friends and the mixed pleasures and pains of getting reacquainted with the land of our birth. Here, in no particular order are some of them:

Fine, English bitter beer . .

fine bitter beer

 J getting stuck into one

No1 daughter

(full credit belongs to No1 Daughter who understands perfectly how to please we crusty ‘boffers’)

. . and learning that it’s only most and not all of the traditional pubs that have closed down . .



The Shipwright’s Arms, Hollow Shore, Faversham – once, the only way to get to it was across the fields or, our preferred method, using our boat – which we sold more than twenty years ago. Imagine our surprise and delight as we walked along the creek embankment to spot a familiar hull – and there she was . .


. . albeit with all of her brass bits, ports and varnish-work buried under a very unflattering paint job. Cosmic Wind, for that is indeed her name, was built around 1959-60 in Oxford to a Maurice Griffiths  Eventide design and proved to be the perfect East Coast cruising boat. Looking at her still plucks a few strings!

Moving on and giving some balance to the pleasures above was the delight of getting infected by *&+% (no names, no pack-drill) who should have been wearing one of these . .


. . as that cleared up it was followed by . .


. . further demonstrating the need to protect oneself against foreign pathogens whilst in foreign lands!

Back to the good stuff – in Tankerton, again, thanks to No1 Daughter, we were introduced to this gem, little changed from days of childhood of the 1950’s – then . .

seaview cafe1950

. . and now . .


. . with the best bacon sarnies in the world . .

Bacon sandwich

More ‘quintessentially English’ stuff . .

bearstead green cricket

Cricket on the village green – Bearstead CC founded in 1749

canal tow-path Birmingham

. . wandering along canal tow-paths around Birmingham . .

. . and reconnecting, after a very long time, with dear friends and two of the loveliest people on Planet Earth . .

dearest of friends

The ‘joy’ of taking four and half hours to drive 91 miles . .


the M6 northbound

. . to get to a concert at the very impressive Manchester Central Library . .

manchester central library

. . to meet up with John Surman, Chris Lawrence and the Trans4mation string quartet led by Rita Manning. We also met up with old friend composer/arranger John Warren. JS is family and J has known Chris and JW from long before she and I teamed up. We last saw this line-up about three or four years ago when they played at the Hagia Irene in Istanbul – it was yet another memorable experience. Here’s a sample to finish off with . .

Alan Fenn, still somewhere out in the Wide, Blue Yonder!


Encounters and Coincidence

“A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark

Jazz-musician-John-SurmanJ and I wandered off to İstanbul last Friday. We were going to meet up with saxophonist John Surman who was doing a solo gig at the İstanbul Jazz Festival – JS is family and we don’t get to meet up as often as we’d like. This time around his schedule was more relaxed than is usual with these things and we were able to go for some essential shopping around the musical instrument makers’ places of business at the top of Tünel for odds and sods and, perhaps, a new ‘toy’ or bit of serious gear.

First stop was for a zurna, that quintessential Middle Eastern horn, with its most distinctive sound. We’d stopped by a particular shop three or four years earlier with Jack Dejohnette‘s ‘Ripple Effect’ group and Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Marlui Miranda who had been delighted to get her hands on her very own zurna.

JackDeJohnette_TheRippleEffect_Roma_01‘Ripple Effect’ Jack on drums, JS in reflection (2nd/3rd from r) Marlui extreme right (JazzItalia photo)

Moving on, we were looking for a particular type of reed for some obscure horn JS had acquired some years earlier – we found some in the atelier/atelye/workshop of a saz and kemençe maker Oktay Üst. Turns out that Oktay is not just a master craftsman in wood, he is also a maestro of the kemençe with an international reputation.

Kemence, zurna, meyJS acquired a mey, Oktay launched into a mini-concert and there was hardly a dry eye in the house. Why? because people like Oktay are a dying breed – makers and players of musical instruments are being fast superseded by cheap, mass produced plastic and that should be worth a tear from any lover of artistry.

As an aside, it is amazing what happens when the craftsmen/sellers/shopkeepers realise that they are dealing with someone who can really play these things – rather than someone who wants a wall or table decoration. 30-40% discounts are given and extra reeds thrown in without being asked for. Before you get any ideas, you’ll need to know which end to blow into and demonstrate a bit more than the equivalent of ‘chopsticks’! Above left you can see a zurna, two meys, a kemençe and a cd all by Oktay.

JS and Oktay Üst – two Maestros

So, moving on. We had just left Oktay’s place when we were accosted by three young people who appeared to be trying to flog us a cd of some sort.

We could not have been more wrong – JS suddenly spotted that the cd they were ‘offering’ was one of his and an encounter and a coincidence came together. It turned out that these folks had come from Tehran, Iran for a visit to friends and specifically because their jazz idol John Surman was performing at the festival. They had bought their cd locally as they are not available back home and they just happened to be walking down this particular street as JS came out of Oktay’s place – a Close Encounter of the Coincidental Kind and a perfect chance to get an autograph!

We were able to enjoy a little time with them and then meet up later at the concert which, I have to say, was yet another virtuoso performance that ended with JS playing an encore of jazzed-up folk tunes whilst wandering around the auditorium. To those who don’t know John’s stuff I’d say ‘You really don’t know what you are missing’. His output over the years has been prolific and varied – from jazz to choral to brass to . . well, you name it. (his website is here) J and I are lucky enough to have several class musicians in the family, it means we get to be at some of the best gigs around, not only that, I can’t remember the last time we had to pay! How cool is that?

To finish off here are a few photos:



sound check with the mighty baritone sax


JS, J, sound engineer Paul (in red) and the Tehran Fan Club

Finally, here’s maestro-usta Oktay Üst performing:

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

ps thank you, to the two nice people who enquired about the lack of posting this past week – there is also the challenge of lack of bandwidth – it has taken three and a half hours so far to add the photos!


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