Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Istanbul

October 16, 2014



My worldwide open mic journey began in China in 2008 after the Formula One race in Shanghai, and little did I know that it was a journey that would continue for six more years and cover most of the globe, every continent except Africa (where I once lived and played music in an open mic decades earlier) and Antarctica, and that it would spawn a book, a blog, an album, a documentary film, numerous podcasts, music videos and other multimedia projects.

This year, 2014, I have decided to finish all of the projects and tie them together into a consolidation of multimedia. As part of my personal impetus to gather it all together for myself, but also put it into perspective on this blog, I have decided to create a page for each city I have visited on the journey, tying together samples of the whole multimedia adventure linked to that city.

Because the last race that I attended was in Sochi, Russia, and it was the first time that I have been there, I did not have any material aside from my weekend’s experience there there year to constitute a part of the Worldwide open mic multimedia thing. So what I have done instead, is to take a race that used to exist, and where I have a lot of material, and which no longer exists. In that way, I have fit into the multimedia adventure a race location in the place of Sochi, and made use of a major part of the adventure:

So here is the page devoted to tying together the pieces of the open mic adventure that I have lived in Istanbul since I first started. At each subsequent Formula One race that I visit this year, I will add a new such page. Keep posted….

True Spirit of the Kooperatif in Istanbul

April 29, 2012

kooperatif istanbul

kooperatif istanbul

I did all I could to make it to the Wednesday night open jam session at the Kooperatif in Istanbul last Wednesday because I wanted to see it, but also because I thought it could be my only chance of playing music in Turkey in the four nights I was there. That, as it turned out, was to misjudge the Kooperatif and its genial man-behind-the-concept, Safak Velioglu.

As it turned out, I dropped by on the Thursday night with some new friends, and when the band stopped playing, I asked Safak if I could play a few songs for my new friends – just sitting at my table. “Of course,” he said enthusiastically, “I’ll turn off the music.” (He had turned on a recorded background music after the band.)

I also told Safak that I wanted to interview him for a podcast for this blog, as I have been doing in every country I visit this year. He agreed, but preferred if I return on the Friday night. So I accepted happily, because I love the vibe at the Kooperatif. I also had one or two other venues I wanted to check out in the area on Friday, so I brought my guitar.

Almost as soon as I entered the Kooperatif on Friday, despite there not being a live band hired for that night – there usually is – one of the musicians with whom I had played on the Wednesday asked if I wanted to play later on. Of course I agreed. But first, Safak and I jammed at the table where he sat near the bar, with him on a traditional Turkish stringed instrument – a kind of lute – and me on guitar. Then, I did my podcast with him all about the Kooperatif – which you can hear here.

Then, at around 11 PM, I went up on stage with that musician, and there began nearly three hours of us jamming, and most of it was to me leading the songs with my music, and the others joining in on guitar, drums and other percussion instruments. This was pure bliss. I could not believe I would end my short trip to Istanbul in such a wonderful and open jam and environment. I didn’t even get to check out the music in the other venues. No need!!!

Letdown at BluesLive, Istanbul

May 29, 2010

I mentioned earlier that we would go to the BluesLive bar in Beyoglu on Friday and possibly Saturday. I had found this cool basement bar last year over the Internet because it appeared to have a jam session. In fact, it did have a jam session, but unfortunately that was on Mondays, when I would leave the country. But Mohammed Saad and his partner – whose name I am afraid I have forgotten or never learned – allowed me to play with the band and the band then invited me back again. It was a fabulous success.

I was excited after we dropped in on Wednesday after arrival in Istanbul and both Mohammed and his parter recognized me. She invited us to come on Friday and play a few songs before the band – called Mustang – played their first set at 10:30 PM. Vanessa had found a fabulous restaurant near the blue mosque, called, Balikci Sabahattin, where we ate a wonderful dinnner outside on the hilly terrace that was no more than a sidewalk. (The restaurant is well known as a place where the intelligentsia eat, and I can see why: The beautiful setting amongst old Istanbul houses and much greenery made it feel as if it was in the countryside, and the food was fabulous – I had sole and Vanessa had sea bass.)

So we rushed off in a taxi to BluesLive and arrived at 10:00 PM after the taxi dropped us off far from the destination and required that we walk nearly a kilometer up Istiklal Street. Upon arrival, BluesLive was empty of clients and a video showed on the screen in front of the stage with the drum set and amps. We were both really hot to play, and Vanessa suggested we set up and try the mics and sound system. But I told her this was not an open mic and that the jam was on a different day and that Mohammed and his partner were just allowing us to play out of kindness. IE, I didn’t want to push the matter with them, despite our being invited to play.

To make a long story short, the band did not start until probably 11 PM, but by then we were so tired of waiting that we finished our drinks and went to a neighboring bar to pass the time with chicha, which will probably be the last time I do it, since it is poisonous for the lungs, voice and head. We then returned to BluesLive to find the band playing, and it was not as good as last year’s. The singer had a fairly unappealing voice, although he played guitar quite well.

I had told Mohammed I had a blog now and that I had a cool Zoom Q3 video camera that I used around the world to put up videos of my musical journey on the blog. He thought it was interesting when I showed it to him. This I had shown him at around 10 PM. So finally, now that the band played, I decided to start doing a few videos. I did one of their first song, which I forget. Then I did one of a Hendrix song, “Little Wing.” I was very careful to keep out of the way of the view of any of the people watching the band – and the bar was now quite full of clients – and I took several different angles of the band, each time making sure that I did not obstruct anyone’s view in the audience.

It was now after midnight and we still had not been approached about playing, and the band was still playing. But I figured it would be good for BluesLive and good for my blog to have some video footage of the band. But when I stepped outside to the terrace to have a sip of my beer, Mohammed said, “When you take a picture, don’t go near the stage because it’s not good for the spectators.”

This was the first time I had ever had any comment made to me about my handheld camera, which is slightly bigger than a cell phone camera that people use all the time at bars to record bands. And suddenly I felt very unwelcome. Maybe it is a flaw of my character, but I simply said, “okay.” Then I asked for the bill and Mohammed told me to wait for his partner to ask for that. So I did, and then paid for the drinks. And she said, “Aren’t you going to play some music?” I said, “No.” And we left.

Temperamental? Maybe. But I did not feel welcome, and it was already after midnight – would we be there until 1 AM before we played? In any case, there is no way I will put up on this blog the videos I did of Mustang at BluesLive….

The Flashing, Many Colored, Invasion of Istanbul’s Music Scene

May 27, 2010

My ears, eyes and nose were again last night invaded by the massive sounds, colors and smells of one of my two favorite locations for a Formula One race as I arrived in Istanbul for the Turkish Grand Prix this weekend.

This time, however, I have the additional pleasure of revisiting my musical territory of last year with Vanessa. So last night upon our arrival I took her around to the main places where I played and sought out music last year in what was also one of my favorite locations for the musical adventure.

There is no way to describe the invasion of the senses, really, without being there. I occasionally think of it as like a trip on LSD where all your senses kind of blend in together and you’re hit from several different directions and dimensions with emotional vibes that you find hard to categorize. Walking through the Taksim area and Beyoğlu at night all the bars have different kinds of music at full volume and it blasts you from all directions and you cannot really make out the sound of any one group. Ninety percent of it is live music, and so Istanbul is a fine place to be a musician. (That sounds like Hemingway. Remember, “fine.”)

We took a walk around last year’s places, so I dropped in and said hello to Mohammed at the BluesLive bar where we were invited to play with the band – and separately – on Friday and Saturday. I’ll write more about it and the other places as we re-live them more fully. The BluesLive bar was hosting film club night last night, however, so there was no music.

We went to Molly’s Café for a while and spoke to Molly and found she had moved to bigger quarters, across the street, and she invited us to come along to the musical evening on Saturday, and perhaps place. Molly is of Canadian origin, but lived in the United States to raise a family, and then came to Istanbul to run a school – and then she started her homey café near the Galatasaray Tower.

Because last year I visited Istanbul in June the Jazz Café, off Istiklal Street, was closed for the summer. It was one of the few places that has an official, occasional, open mic. So I dropped by there hoping it would be open – but it was again closed for the summer, relocating to some beach bar somewhere.

We dropped by, walking in front, of a couple of the other bars I played last year, but I made no attempt to play in them. Walking in front of another bar in Beyoğlu, however, I found myself being solicited as I was last year to enter and play some music myself, although there was already a Turkish musician playing. I would have to buy a beer, at least, of course. The bar was empty, however, and we had much walking and tourism to do, so we elected not to go in and play at this one. I’d have done it had I been alone, but I had no qualms not doing it while preferring to discover Istanbul with Vanessa.

Finished the night by going to one of the chicha bars to do the comparison between the chichi in Paris and the chicha in Istanbul that we had planned to do since smoking the pipe in Paris a few days ago. I will not make a habit of this, as I quit smoking 20 years ago and do not want to start again, particularly not with the lung destroying chichas…. We tried an apple chicha, and it was a lot rougher than what we had in Paris. Hit me in the head immediately. We were served at the bar by a rock and roller in his 20s with long curly locks and a beard and a black T-shirt with guitar necks on it and torn denim black pants with chains. He showed me his electric guitar – as he saw I had a guitar – which was an imitation Stratocaster. I let him play my Seagull acoustic, and he loved it – as is the usual way. He then played a couple of songs for us to listen to on his portable phone with Vanessa and I each using one ear bud. It was Turkish rock music. Kind of soft metal ballads.

I also revisted two times the place where I spent a couple of hours busking last year with a gypsy off Istiklal, but I did not see him or his friends. In any case, I had no desire to start busking again. But I will always remember the beautiful voice of the gothic woman violinist named Meltem, who came that first night last year and sang a few songs and listened to mine. I remember particularly also how I discovered afterwards the sound of the birds singing along above us.

I kept the recording I did of Meltem last year and present it here for you:

Meltem sings in the streets in Istanbul

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