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Balkan fever

PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 2:17 pm
by garth cartwright
I'm at Guca brass band festival in Serbia. My first return to Guca since I was here researching Princes Amongst Men in 2003. It's the 50th anniversary so pretty epic - some 600000 people expected over the week. All free tho there is a charge of ten euros per car to enter. I didnt come back just for Guca - it was more hearing that the Bulgarian folk festival that is held every 5 years was on this August that got me into the Balkans. I'd never attended this festival and always wanted to - if i missed this one next is 2015. Then it turned out Guca was kicking off just over a week later. So I travelled around Bulgaria - the festival was great, held in Koprishtitsa, a historic town that is very beautiful - Sofia, the capital, is even more wrecked than when i was here in 2003! - and lots of Bulgarian village choirs and musicians playing gaida - the local bagpipes - and flutes and such. in the evening lots of street music. She'Koyayh, the London Balkan band, turned up and jammed with the locals and went down well. Took a long slow train ride to the Black Sea. A heatwave is riding the southern Balkans and so this was a very sticky journey. Speaking Spanish was fortunate as i managed to have a good conversation with a heavily tattooed Gypsy guy who had lived in Spain. He told me about how racist Bulgarians were - no surprise - and had 421 tattooed on his leg, the number of days he had spent in jail after punching a cop who had assaulted his wife merely for being Rom. Boy, did his face drop when I recounted all the musicians i knew! He then started playing me local music on his phone. Sounded very Balkan.

The Black Sea is extremely crowded - it seems most of Bulgaria head there in August. Nice swimming and very reasonable prices - bulgaria is cheap compared to West Europe - but they are ruining the coast with apartment complexes and bars on the beach and the beaches just being packed with people. Being a Kiwi i like my beaches wide open and unspoiled. Met Papasov and Kottarashcky - both holidaying at Black sea!

Back to Sofia and then a train from hell thru the night to Belgrade. I was informed that the reason the rail network is in such bad state is that various politicians own the bus lines so dont want to invest in what is competition. Arriving around 5.30am in Belgrade and the temperature was already 22 and rising. Crazy city Belgrade, very lively and quite beautiful in spots. The Danube meets the Sava river here and this gives the city a lovely watery soul. Trouble finding accommodation - lots of awful youth hostels set up to prey on the backpacking kids that are now arriving for Exit and guca. 20 years ago I was one of them. Now i need more than a bunk bed alongside a dozen other smelly strangers.

Insane heat. Felt like i had a fever i sweated so much. Saw various friends and then went with dragan from Kal to his hometown close to the Bosnian border. Went to the family mahala which was full of big houses built by locals who had worked in Germany, austria, and a wedding was underway. Next day to the northern city of Novi Sad - a gorgeous city on the Danube. Caught up with some old friends here and swam in the river which has a very fast current. Then a drive through the mountains and glorious countryside that has changed little over the last century. Finally Guca. Pandemonium as expected. Much more developed than 7 years ago. Back then 99 percent were Serbs. Today its about 60 percent with lots of western travellers arriving for the free festival.

Boban and Marko played. Very slick. Then Shantel who was joined by Marko and other members of the orchestra. A stadium show but, for me, just awful. The Serbs shook their heads in despair at their music being so trivalised. The Western visitors enjoyed him - I chatted to a french guy who had come just to see Shantel but never heard of Boban!

Today the temp-s continue to rise. Serbia is not as cheap as Bulgaria but still good value and the people very friendly and helpful. The women are amongst the world's most beautiful. This is my last day then Im back to the UK to perform at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Friday night - Scots please come along!

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 2:54 pm
by Adam Blake
Wow, Garth, you indefatigable traveller! Thank you so much for taking the time and trouble to post this fascinating report. Look forward to catching up in September.

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 3:56 pm
by Des
...and world music was mentioned! Result!

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 4:59 pm
by Adam Blake
I know what you mean, Des. I nearly wrote "and thanks for reminding us what this forum was supposed to be for" but thought it was too sententious (it is, isn't it?) But I thought it, and also thought how much it would have pleased Charlie to read that report.

I know diddley shit about World Music really. Even the stuff I thought was World Music that I like turns out to be too old and too pure to be - Indian & Arabic & African Classical.

I know I'm a prime offender in turning this forum into a chatroom for ageing rock'n'rollers. At least I know it, eh?

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 5:18 pm
by Des
I also plead guilty on that count m'lud.

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Wed Aug 18, 2010 9:42 pm
by jackdaw version
I'm not convinced that this is an authentic piece of Garth C writing — there is no mention of the usual hangover!

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2010 1:10 am
by judith
Yikes. The thought of consuming alcoholic beverages in that kind of heat makes me nauseous.

Thanks, Garth. As always, entertaining stories and an informative account.

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2010 3:52 am
by djritu
I really enjoyed reading this account of your trip Garth, thanku!
Interesting to note the disdain at 'disko-boy' Shantel too. Good to know Ivo is well or at least on holiday! Perunika Trio are on A World In London this Saturday.
Good luck in Edinburgh - should be cooler there!

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2010 8:25 am
by jackdaw version
djritu wrote: . . . Interesting to note the disdain at 'disko-boy' Shantel too. . . .

Let's not get too partizani over just another gadjo dilo!

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Thu Aug 19, 2010 11:46 pm
by Gordon Neill
Garth mentioned:

Im back to the UK to perform at the Edinburgh Book Festival on Friday night - Scots please come along!


Argh! I didn't know about this. Edinburgh can be quite sleepy for most of the year, and then upwards of 1,300 shows get crammed into 3 weeks. Too much choice, so little time. I'd have come along to swell the numbers, but I've already arranged a date with Emo Philips at much the same time and I think he'll be funnier.....

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Fri Aug 20, 2010 4:28 am
by Tom McPhillips
lovely bit of prose Garth! Thanks!

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Sun Aug 22, 2010 3:34 am
by garth cartwright
I tried to post on this in Edinburgh and after writing several hundred words and pressing submit it vanished! Such are the risks of using borrowed computers.

anyway, gordon u made the right choice - I too would rather have been at Emo. How was he? Funny but I mentioned u in the Balkans when talking with boban's manager - I was emphasising how he doesn't play the great material off Boban i Marko and The Promise albums and said that a Scottish fan went to the Celtic Connections gig and mentioned this on Charlie Gillett's website! there! Point Made! Not that his manager believes he can make Boban change - "I'm not a musician so he doesn't listen to me on music!"

Edinburgh is a lovely city. I once worked at the Festival in 92 doing door and stage at the Gilded Balloon. Seeing stand up comedy night after night put me off it for life - beyond the likes of Emo and Chris Rock and billy Connelly. The evening went well enough altho i was paired with the author of a book on Rough Trade so not a lot of common ground. I read from my juke joint experiences and that got a few laughs so it was not humour free.Oh, when I finished my 3 week 92 stint at Ed I took off for East Europe and did my first Gadjo Dilo trip thru Romania-bulgaria. Funny to think how young I once was!

Guca: Bregovic played on Wednesday night. I last saw him at the Barbican with a 40 piece orchestra. Here he only had 8 musicians and was doing the pop brass groove of the Alchohol album while dipping into his catalogue including songs from his prog rock 70s band Belo Digme. I find his material very thin but the crowd - and what a crowd - disagreed. He is a superstar in Serbia and this was like seeing um maybe Paul and Ringo doing the Beatles. Wild audience response with lots of Serb flags waving and crowd surfing. I can't think of a concert i've been to in recent memory that has evoked a more Pavlovian response. That said, I generally tend to avoid superstar stadium gigs.

Bregovic's popularity is so huge that a lot of the Gypsy brass bands tend to play his hits over and over. This is sad - a bit like going to a blues event and hearing Mojo Working and Hoochie Coochie over and over. Guca still is a trip - nothing in Western europe compares as far as street music making. In Edinbugh i visited the lovely Modern Art Museum and there was a video installation called The Most Beautiful Girl In Gucha by a Serb artist. Very nicely done - and a real surprise - recommended to all Scots.

End note: in guca I slept in a car - a tiny Yugo car and my friend Dusan snored all nite - while in Ed i was in a 4 star hotel. Crazy, mixed up world!

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 2:49 pm
by Gordon Neill
Garth asked:

gordon u made the right choice - I too would rather have been at Emo. How was he?


Emo Philips was fine, but I felt he's found himself in a bit of a comedy cul-de-sac. He duly did his greatest hits, and delivered them professionally. But it didn't seem to have much spontaneity. I'd Googled 'Emo Philips quotes' beforehand, and most of them were duly trotted out and duly appluaded. It felt a bit like going to a Hollies gig, but with none of the original band members no longer around. Next time, I'll choose you Garth.

PS Emo's encore joke (which I think a bunch of people voted as the best joke ever or something):

I was walking across a bridge one day and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said,
"Stop! Don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said.
"Well, there is so much to live for."
"Like what?"
"Well, are you religious?"
He said yes.
I said, "Me too! Are you Christian?"
"Christian."
"Me too! Are you Lutheran, Catholic or Protestant?"
"Protestant."
"Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Baptist."
"Wow, me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of the Lord."
"Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of the Lord or are you Reformed Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of the Lord."
"Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of the Lord, reformation of 1879, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of the Lord, reformation of 1915?"
He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of the Lord, reformation of 1879."
I said, "Die, heretic," and pushed him off.

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Fri Aug 27, 2010 5:19 pm
by Des
Brilliant!

Heard him on R4 and his silly voice put me off though. I'm a Tim Vine man.

Re: Balkan fever

PostPosted: Mon Aug 30, 2010 8:37 pm
by kas
A very enjoyable account, Garth, thanks.

Over here, the festival got a full page first hand report in the main national newspaper (with an ample selection of colour photos). And "disco boy" Shantel visited the town with a nine piece band and tore the house down (no, I wasn't there though).