12 Songs 12 Stories
I was born and brought up in London, all my life I have lived in a typical London Victorian era house, so the apartment culture of Turkey, or more to the point Istanbul was completely foreign to me.
Here in London no one knocks on your door, or if they do they will clear it with you ages beforehand, but in general London is a lonely city with many lonely people in it, millions of people living in isolation and convincing themselves that they are happy this way, sure they would see people at work, maybe even go out after work, but at the end of the day a large amount of people go to their empty homes and eat their sad microwave meals and watch some mind numbing braincell killing TV program and be programmed. And like little robots we live this life in the greatest city in the world (this is the lie we are told).
I am the product of this city and its people are my people, we went to school together, we played on the same streets, we danced to the same music, in the playground at school we played the same games.
But from an early age I noticed from my privileged position that there was poverty here, while after school I went to a home with cooked meals, a friend would go home to abuse and a can of soup as dinner, I did not even know soup came in a can until I went to a friend’s house after school when I was around 9-10. I did not know prejudice existed until around the same age when I was asked by someone why I had a black girl friend come to my house after school. So even though I was part of London I was definitely apart from London, there was something quite not right here. So, this is where I come from, this is where I grew up and learned about the bitter pill that is life, In the lonely city called London.
In 2001 I went to Istanbul to stay for 3 months (I had been many times before, but this was the first time renting my own place) I rented my own apartment in Esenkent (next to Bahçeşehir), the concept that people would come and visit you whenever they liked was foreign to me, I was looked at weirdly when I would say sorry I’m busy, one friend did not talk to me for a good few weeks because I would not let him in early in the morning and told him I needed to sleep some more, come back another time, in my defence who comes around at 7am? Does he not know musicians do not wake up till late afternoon???? I was a product of a city that would say it was rude to turn up unannounced, while my friend was a product of a city that would deem it rude to turn away a guest even if it was at 7am in the morning, I had trouble understanding this.
I was not having a good time with this and was happy when I went back to London after 3 months, back to my solitude.
Then a few years later after my first album came out, I made the decision to move too Istanbul for a couple of years, again Esenkent was the destination, but this time until I found my own place I was living with a real Turkish family (I had married a girl from Istanbul) and there was a constant stream of visitors in this new for me foreign environment. I was even more shocked as the number of knocks on the door far exceeded the number at my own Esenkent apartment 3 years previously.
Writing this now I don’t recall how I felt this second visit, but I remember I was becoming more accustomed to this, and I started enjoying these visits, after not seeing certain people for a couple of days I would say when is so and so coming around we have not seen them for a few days? I secretly started enjoying the visits and wanting that interaction with people that previously seemed so alien in London and to a Londoner like me.
I used to see certain to my mind unrealistic characters in Turkish TV programs and I would think surely such characters do not exist in real life, what is this? it’s so unrealistic. But then when I stayed there for 2-3 years (eventually getting my own apartment) I noticed none of those characters were exaggerated, they existed in real life, and coming to visit you at your very own Istanbul apartment soon. A steady flow of great characters, life, and food, and Turkish Tea (which I still do not drink) and laughter and living, unimaginable in London, and me as a Londoner not only enjoying but revelling in it.
So, what’s the connection to the song?
Well there was a couple of families that we would mix with a lot, they would come around and we (my ex-wife and I) also started going to visit them as well, obviously it’s a 2-way street. Sometimes music would be played, dancing would take place, and to my embarrassment they would play and dance to one of my songs, always the same song (Karanlıklar İçinde), I can’t dance well so I mostly made awkward gestures instead. I still remember it so well, just a great night in Istanbul with people from the same apartment block, just enjoying life and living in the moment, singing, dancing, being loud, the neighbours won’t complain because they’re the neighbours, and in that moment I went into “THE ZONE” while people we’re dancing to Karanlıklar İçinde. Being in the zone for me is when a song idea or a root of an idea comes to you and if you don’t capture it there and then it will be gone as quickly as it came, so I went to my room which had a keyboard and I composed this simple piece of music and called it Esenkent Dansı. Like a lot of what I wrote that would have been it, never to be heard by anyone else, but with this project It was begging to be released saying to me I am also a story let me free for the world to hear me, and so thanks to 12 songs 12 stories I bring you Esenkent Dansı, whenever I hear it, it reminds me of Istanbul Apartment culture, lovely neighbours and friends and the welcomed knock on the door, any time of night or day, always open with love and Çay.
Konkurt was a London based Turkish Cypriot band who formed in 1973 and performed until 1989, they not only played the wedding circuit, but they also made records with their own songs written by singer/keyboard player Hüseyin Katkın, these records now fetch a high price from collectors, Hüseyin Katkın also made homemade solo tapes of his songs, these are also highly sort out and are very rare.
When I was in my early teens, I started having an interest in music, being Turkish Cypriot naturally most Saturday or Sunday nights were spent going to weddings with my family, and the only band I wanted to hear at the weddings was Konkurt. There were many other bands around at the time, but Konkurt to me was the best, even when playing the hits of the day they never sounded Arabesque, a sound I really do not like, while every other band was bleeding peoples ears with that sound, Konkurt was making great music.
Hüseyin Katkın - Keyboards/Vocals
Doğan Ahmet: Guitar/Vocals
Mehmet Ahmet: Bass Guitar/Vocals
Hasan Ahmet: Drums/Vocals
I had not been playing keyboards very long and was really interested in watching others play, so during one of these weddings I snuck up next to the band and was intensely watching Hüseyin Katkın playing and singing, he noticed me and nodded over for me to come next to him and watch, which I of course did, then the band started playing Işte Hendek Işte Deve by Baris Manco, after the first verse when it was time for the instrumental break he nodded at me to play, I was nervous but there was no time to think so I started playing the short melodic section of the song, it maybe lasted 30-40 seconds but for me it was all my 14 year old brain could think about for the next few days. After I played, he gave me a thumbs up and I left the band area thinking yes this is what I want to do as well.
I never joined a wedding band because what I wanted to do was play and sing and write my own songs, I did once audition for a wedding band to see if I could get in, and when I did I politely said I had changed my mind.
But I did get to do what I always wanted to do, which was to write sing and play my own music and this small step was the start of that. Hüseyin Katkın is still alive and well, we have never met since but have spoken on the phone a few times, and I hope once this pandemic is over to get to meet him properly. That fleeting moment was my first time on stage, and I remember my whole body shaking, it’s a great memory that I will treasure for ever.
My new song Nazlanma Güzel Nazlanma is a tribute and thank you to Konkurt and Hüseyin Katkın, they made the record to this song in 1977, on the liner notes of the 45 there is a special thanks to a secret hero who played baglama on the recording, that secret hero was none other than Ohannes Kemer, who was of course the Baglama/Guitar player for Baris Manco’s Kurtalan Ekspres band at that time, Ohannes Kemer is maybe another story for another timeJ
Sometimes a song comes to you right away, with no notice it just turns up and you need to catch it quickly otherwise once it's gone that's it, no second chances. But other songs can take for ever, and some will just never be finished (most in fact). Having written the music for this song years ago I could never get the words done, all I needed was an opening line, but nothing ever happened, every few months I would try always to retreat defeated, with the song mocking me "you will never work me out".
Then one day during this lockdown, during this painful time that we are all living, you pick up a poetry book that you have picked up many times, you read the same poems you have been reading and loving for years, then you go to one of your favourites, but instead of reading the now familiar poem you start singing it, it fits perfectly, Oh my I think I found it, and for the first time in my musical life quite my accident I had set to music a poem, and not just any poem, a poem from one of my favourites Turkish poets, but am I worthy? The words not only fitted perfectly but quite summed up how I was feeling in those first dark months of uncertainty.
I rushed to the studio and made a brand new arrangement playing everything myself and spent the rest of the week recording only pausing to eat and sleep, the song instead of admitting defeat now said well done you found me, but you took your time.