Bira, Banjos, Busking and Backgammon

There are some things that Noel and I are not good at: being touristy, getting up early, faking interest after 3 hours in a museum, finding cheap food, and sticking to plans …to name a few.  But there are some things that Noel and I are exceptionally good at: finding ice cream shops, sleeping with our mouths open, laughing at things no one else would think is funny, writing postcards, and being flexible with our plans. All those aside, I would have to say Noel and I excel most at being groupies. Not the old fashioned sense of the term (following bands around from city to city in a cloud of sex, drugs, music, and bad decisions), rather the sense where if we like your music, we will follow you around, going to as many gigs as possible. End of story.

Well that’s not the end of this story, it’s the beginning, actually. And it starts with Noel and I walking down Istiklal Street in Istanbul. Our thoughts were most likely set on eggplant and mushrooms over pasta with a side of pilav, when a quirky, vibrant, non-Turkish sound entered our ears and interrupted our thoughts.  There, busking on the street, banjo, cello, trumpet and saxophone were mixing perfectly into a dixieland jazz melody…. wonderful! We stopped and listened longer than the average passer by, and could barely peel ourselves away when the music ended. Fortunately they had a sign saying they were playing at a cafe near our hostel later that evening. Our extremely packed travel itinerary (consisting of lounging around with fellow travelers at the hostel) would have to be changed! We had a performance to attend!

Billie Not on Holiday performing on Istiklal street, Istanbul

We showered, shaved, even put on our last pair of clean underwear – it was our first excuse to look decent since the start of our adventure after all – and headed in the general direction of the cafe/bar.  Being new to the city, we didn’t really know where we were going. We JCGIed (if you’ll remember my last post this means we googled it) so we knew what street it was on, but parading up and down an alley with countless bars, asking where the live music is produces a variety of results, most of them being akin to, “Live music here! You come inside and live music!” In a last ditch effort, ignoring the man telling us there was no live music further down the road, we entered a building with an establishment of a similar name to the one in our memories.  We had almost lost hope and returned to our hostel, but persistence won and we found the place on the fourth floor of that building. It turned out that the cafe was more like a small restaurant and we’d already eaten, so we ordered a Turkish bira to keep our hands occupied while we waited.  The band members started arriving and finally they took to the stage…

Billie Not on Holiday was their name, and apparently when they were busking on the street they were one member short – the lead singer. She was brilliant. I couldn’t have imagined them sounding any more amazing, but I was wrong. Toes were tapping, fingers drumming, shoulders shimmying…. and before long the more courageous among us (Noel) began to migrate toward the dance floor.  Yes, I too, couldn’t contain my urge to dance to this dixieland jazz and soon I was being twirled and whirled around by a stranger, enjoying every second of it.

The end of the show came all too soon, but they did offer a consolation prize in the form of a cd for sale.  We pooled our measly resources and made our purchase, not realizing that we didn’t have a cd player, and wouldn’t have one for another 4 months…. oh well. The show was over and it was time to head home, though first we had to decline some offers to tag along to a recording studio where the strangers we danced with were going to lay down some tracks. We bobbed, scuttled, and skipped back to our hostel with the tunes still bouncing around inside us.

The next two weeks were spent asking all of our new acquaintances if they had the capabilities of putting the cd onto our iPods, all to no avail. Little did we know, we weren’t at the end of our Billie Not on Holiday fun. Our travels took us back to Istanbul for another week and it happened that Billie and the boys were playing again at the same place, we even got to see them busking on Istiklal again. We made sure to keep our evening free for the show, and this time we arrived early to get a good table and a backgammon board. We’d learned how to play while on our travels through Turkey (an entire blog about this marvelous old game is coming soon… don’t worry!) Another night of Billie, banjos, bira and now backgammon. Playing backgammon didn’t last long, the beat begged us to dance and we obeyed. We were quickly joined by a Georgian and an Albanian. They were professional traditional dancers in Georgia (the country, not the state, although I’d like to see what traditional dances the state of Georgia has…) and showed off some of their moves between the spins and dips they led us through. It was another magical night of good music and good company. But when you’re just a passer by, floating from one place to the next, the time always comes to move on. We left Turkey and the hope of seeing another Billie Not on Holiday performance, but I hope I’ll have the chance to shimmy and jive to their music again some day.

An abandoned attempt at playing checkers with the Georgian, after a short lived backgammon game.

So, to all you musicians out there, take this as a warning: If Noel and I like your music, we will follow you around. End of story. And this time it really is the end of the story.

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4 thoughts on “Bira, Banjos, Busking and Backgammon

  1. Ahoy there S & N – Come to Queensland where the sun is always shining ! ! ! Unless it’s raining BUT sincere thanks for sharing your busking experiences with everyone in wordpressworld.
    Cheers and Respect from Captain Tricko in Australia

  2. Billie says:

    Please do come and find us again. This is wonderful to find… hehe… I’m Billie (the singer from the band) and we will be playing again in Istanbul as of next week for one month only. Hope to catch you again. Take care x

    • AH! I would love to hear you guys again! We had so much fun listening and dancing like fools!! Alas, I’m in Korea for the next year or so, but I’d definitely be there otherwise!

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