Jack’s guest Wednesday post gets there on time again – –
As a singer of Scots songs and ballads I’ve been very privileged to travel all over the world for free – and sometimes even made some money too.
One of the more bizarre events was a Burns supper in Istanbul. It took place in the UK Consulate and involved me and my friend George Haig. He had a Scottish friend who worked for the New Zealand milk and cheese organization and was posted to Istanbul, and he wangled the gig for us, at the end of January In the mid-1990s.
We set out on a free plane ticket from Edinburgh airport where we had been instructed to pick up a box, which turned out to be in a ‘secure room’. It was a large haggis and the box was originally for whisky so both involved a fair amount of explanation at Turkish customs.
Our milk and cheese host accommodated us at his house which was in a gated community with a blockhouse and armed guards. After years of playing music all over Europe with no need for armed security we were a bit alarmed!
Then to the actual Burns Supper –
The Consulate dates back to the Ottoman Empire and is magnificent in opulent architecture. The occasion equaled the setting, with full table service, a bottle of excellent Scotch on each table and a menu that was fit for any clan chief! Seated with us at our table was a young lad from Kirkcaldy who was a pipe major in the British army and had chosen himself to be the one to pipe in the haggis. We immediately hit it off!
Being a port city there happened to be a Royal Navy ship in the harbor and the officers were invited to join us. They were all English but one of them had attended a private school in Scotland and fancied himself as a piper.
Eventually, after he had played a fairly nondescript and predictable set of tunes, he invited our Kirkcaldy friend to join him for a duet. He had arrived late and hadn’t heard the piping in of the haggis! And he was an arrogant toff from the ‘senior service’ who considered himself ‘upper class’ – much above anyone from the army.
What then happened was glorious, with our table friend leading the navy guy into ever more complex musical traps. There was no way of escape and on it went for more than twenty minutes, as everyone else gradually realized what was going on—including the lesser piper who couldn’t figure out why he suddenly had nowhere to go at the end of each run. I should explain that pipe tunes often involve ever more complex variations on the basic tune and our new friend new them all and the navy guy didn’t.
We stayed on a couple of days and got to visit the Souk and play more music in a bar, but that piping duet and ambush I will never forget!