Istanbul, Turkey 26, 27 April 2013
Friday the 26th was a beautiful and relaxing day off in Istanbul, everyone catching up on sleep following the hectic day before. By noon I'd made my way down to the hotel's large and perfectly equipped gym to find Jim, Mark and our tour manager Tim already there and sweating their way through various trials of torture. For the next 90 minutes I did the same. The weather in Istanbul could not be better; bright, sunny and in the mid 70s F. Our palatial hotel is located on the Strait of Bosphorus and the swimming pool is at the edge of that waterway, looking across to Asia. An Olympic size pool that was impossible to resist, we all made our way out to expose yards of white flesh and soak up some vitamin D. That's D not G.
That evening we had a remarkably delicious dinner, all present, at Topaz. The restaurant overlooks the Bosphorus, it's hills teaming with homes apartments, businesses and the bridge. A massive, orange, full moon rising slowly over the horizon completed the scene. A big hit was baked beef rib, a large one that was slowly roasted for 9 hours, the meat falling from the bleached bone. I ordered stuffed grape leaves followed by a grilled sea bass. Many bottles of Turkish wine were enjoyed. I've had wine from Turkey before and didn't particularly like it so wasn't expecting much but I have to say, I've changed my mind and will begin looking at them with a new view and seeking them out.
A good deal of talk centred around George Jones who died early Friday morning in Nashville and he was toasted all around the table. Jones was arguably the best country singer of the last 60 years and possibly ever. I was very fortunate to have played on a couple of his albums but my first encounter with George Jones came way back in 1956. My dad was working in radio then as an announcer in Chicago and would often bring home stacks of 45 rpm singles that the station no longer wanted or didn't fit their format. Already, at the age of 5, I was hooked on these magic discs of black plastic that with the help of a "machine" came to life with music and singing. In amongst the stacks was a record with a bright yellow label adorned with stars at the top and stylish script that I was still too young to read. I put it on my little RCA singles player, dropped the tone arm down and fell in love with the sound of the music and the guy singing. That record was You Gotta Be My Baby, the label was Starday and the singer was George Jones. Over the next 50+ years he would leave a stunning amount of wreckage in his wake from severe alcoholism, drug abuse, failed marriages, staggeringly poor business choices, horrible management, bankruptcies, very public meltdowns and simple indifference. But above the tragedy lies a shining body of recordings, thousands. I could go on and on about how important his records have been to me over the years...but won't. I'll just say this, if you own a George Jones record, listen to it again and if you don't.... get one. You won't be sorry and might just fall in love as I did almost 60 years ago.
We ended this day back at the hotel's outdoor bar overlooking the strait for a nightcap then off to bed.
Saturday the 27th was another slice of heaven only warmer. After a cup of coffee I headed back to the pool. I plan to take advantage of this weather as we'll no doubt be back to cooler climes soon enough. Istanbul is a transcontinental city of nearly 14 million people that straddles the Bosphorus, two-thirds of it population is European and one-third Asian. Tonight's venue, Ulker Sports Arena is on the Asian side of the city. With a teaming population, traffic in this city is insane so it was decided we would boat across the Bosphorus to the Asian side and cut much of the time sitting in traffic. It was a rough but enjoyable ride and we docked on the continent of Asia in about 30 minutes. Our drivers were stuck in traffic and we cooled our heals for another half hour there at the dock watching the people dressed for summer out walking, biking and rollerblading. At last the Range Rovers arrived, we got in and hit more gridlock arriving at the venue past 5 o'clock. A quick bowl of soup in catering then soundcheck to work out some of the bugs of the Bucharest show. That done, it was back to catering for a wonderful dinner, a mezza platter... mixed plate of Turkish foods, grilled meats, vegetables, fish, stuffed artichoke hearts, rice and cous-cous. Tonight also saw the return of the Meet and Greet. Not quite the extravaganza or length of old but lots of fun. Mike and John taking the lead, Guy and I strumming along with their reels and waltzes... Mark signing a few posters.
Back to the dressing room with just enough time to change clothes, warm up the fingers a little more and take the stage albeit after a 15 minute delay due the crowd being slow getting in. The venue is new and holds 12,000, seating around the perimeter and standing floor. What a gig it was, many of the slight mishaps of the first show behind us and the surety of this band back in full force. We changed the set a little and included Postcards From Paraguay a song we recorded on the Shangri-La album and have only played a couple of times live, way back when. It, like everything else was steaming. Feels like we're back up on the horse again, the two hour set passing like a few minutes.... at least to us up there on stage. The Istanbul audience was loud in their approval. Before we knew it, we were running after the last encore, in the Rovers and making our way back to the European side of Istanbul. The traffic more cooperative this direction, we were at the hotel in the time it took to drink a beer. Another full band gathering at the outdoor bar looking out on the Bosphorus for a nightcap and talk through a few more details and improvements that can be brought to the show. Tomorrow's another day off... what a schedule.