MY ISTANBUL STORY

Football and music are closely linked and to celebrate Liverpool’s success in reaching the Champions League final we have indulged our football mad Curator to indulge himself with his tale of why it isn’t always good to involve musicians in major sporting occasions.

The World Cup takes place in June and in honour of that we will have a special exhibition featuring records – some great, some truly awful – that have been produced for football tournaments. But really you can’t get away from the fact that music and football do go hand in hand. I’ve been going to Liverpool games since I was a kid and everything about the game has changed since I began going, apart from the essentials: two teams of 11 players, and a crowd that finds release in singing, chanting and shouting either encouragement or abuse.  At Liverpool we are renowned for our anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. That has been sung at every game I’ve ever been to. But other tunes come and go. In 2005, when we went to Istanbul it was ‘Ring of Fire’. A few years ago Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ became a favourite, and this year we have been serenading our new hero Mo Salah to a specially adapted version of the old James favourite ‘Sit Down’.

My twin passions of music and football sometimes overlap and in honour Liverpool glorious run to another Champions League Final I’ve dug out a piece I wrote for a football anthology about what can go wrong when you take a bunch of musicians to a big football match.

MY ISTANBUL STORY (ALTERNATIVE TITLE: WHY DO MUSICIANS BECOME IDIOTS WHEN YOU TAKE THEM ABROAD)

Every Liverpool fan has an Istanbul story but please indulge me as hopefully mine is sufficiently different to merit a few minutes of your time. And I’m not going to talk about the match itself because: A) If you are bothering to read this then you will  already know the outcome of what was one of the most famous football games of all time and B)  because, for reasons that will become clear later my memory of the game is something of a blur.

So, like every other Liverpool fan, immediately after Liverpool unexpectedly and gloriously beat Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final my thoughts immediately turned to Istanbul. As usual there were the smart arses who had just assumed we were going to win and booked stupidly cheap flights before the semi’s. Then there were the wise (but boring) fans who didn’t celebrate the Chelsea win but legged it straight home to jump on the internet and book the last of the cheap flights. They then smugly told us all about it the next day while we were struggling with Champions League sized hangovers.

As usual I was in the dilly dallying, shilly shallying camp being swayed by people who came up with the stupidest possible routes to Turkey. (‘Yeah, it’ll take us three days to get there via Russia but its dead cheap and it’ll be a real laugh’). Even a normally sensible mate suggested going on holiday to Greece for a week with a sojourn to Istanbul in the middle. I knew I had no chance of selling that option to  wife so I had to gently break the bad news to him that although this sounded great in theory sadly it was a non – starter for me.

So, there I was wrestling with increasingly complex or expensive ways to actually get to the final when I was saved by an old friend. Someone I knew worked for the Premier League, was a Liverpool fan, and had good links to the club. Liverpool were looking for someone to manage a stage for them in the Fans Arena by the stadium. The club obviously had far more important things to do and just wanted to hand it over to someone who wasn’t going to give them any trouble while sorting it all out.  Apparently, I fitted the bill perfectly because I appeared to be a sensible human being, while also having something of a history in the music industry. Although there a number of people who fit into this category I was fortunate that they weren’t aware of anybody else so the gig was mine if I could convince the club.

So, calls were made, in which I did my best to confirm that I was sensible and convince the nice man at LFC that I had some idea of what I was talking about. He fell for it and I was in.

Happy days you may well think. Well I certainly did – but how wrong was I? On the plus side I was guaranteed a flight and a ticket. So obviously that was brilliant. But the downside was that I had to actually decide which musicians to take and then ensure that they all returned from the trip safely without causing any major international incidents.

So, who to take? The club had given me ten flights and match tickets. That sounds like a lot but the reality was that we were meant to provide entertainment for a few hours in the Fans Arena for 20,000-30,000 Liverpool fans. So, what was needed was a line- up that was as flexible as Rafa’s team selections.

With that in mind and with every space absolutely vital I obviously chose my mate Phil first. I went the match with him and he was my mate so it seemed like an obvious choice. He wasn’t a musician who could actually contribute to the festivities but to my mind this minor weakness was balanced by the fact that he ran a venue, understood musicians, and well, he was my mate so he had to come didn’t he?

Next up we needed a proper grown up. I know I had managed to deceive that nice man at LFC but honestly, I had no clue as to what I was doing. In theory Phil could be the nominated ‘adult’ but I knew that in practice he was likely to be even more unreliable than me. So we called up our mate Kenna.  Now Kenna is something of a legend in Liverpool. He has been working with bands since as a young lad he helped out The La’s. He then went on to provide tech support for a number of bands including local lads like Cast and The Coral.

So, three places down and still no musicians. But at least we now had someone who knew what he was doing. I felt like I was making progress.

The first real musician I asked was Pete Wylie. Why him? First off, he was an old friend.  Secondly, he’d based himself in my office for the previous six months so I saw him nearly every day and couldn’t avoid him. And finally, he was one of my all-time favourite musicians with a real passion for the football club and the city.

  Even though we’d been mates for years and I knew Pete wanted to do it, actually getting him there involved several days of extensive negotiations. While this was going on I talked to other bands. All the while I was in regular touch with the nice man at LFC reassuring him that everything was under control and throwing random names into the hat with a confident “yeah, I’m just waiting for them to commit inside the next few days”.

Liverpool’s music community is really close knit so word quickly got out that I had access to tickets and I was being pestered by every musician/LFC fan around who all assured me they would be perfect for the stage in Istanbul.

The lovely Danny Hunt from Ladytron was one of those who offered his services. I’d known Danny for years, he was something of a ‘name’, and an all-round good lad to boot. So that was it. Danny was in. At last I had a genuine musician signed up.

Four places gone and now finally we had a musician. Things were looking up. Obviously, Danny wasn’t going to bring all of Ladytron with him. But he was an actual musician sort of – well he stands there on stage looking cool and pressing a few buttons when Ladytron are playing. But in Istanbul he was going to be our DJ so whether or not he actually had any musical skills was irrelevant. He was our mate and he was coming with us.

John Power once of The La’s and then leader of the hugely successful Cast got in touch.  At this time Cast were no more and John was pursuing a solo career and playing live with Jay Lewis. John had already booked to go but said if I could get Jay there they could play. Jay was someone I knew and liked and it was agreed that he would come as one of the lucky ten and that John would meet us at the Fans Arena where upon he and Jay would do their stuff.

I really should have known that this was complete nonsense!  It was well intentioned but nonsense all the same. In the resulting chaos I’m about to describe I may fail to mention this particular episode so for the sake of completeness let me tell you how this panned out now.

Jay was a brilliant traveller and the least troublesome of our group. For a kick off he wasn’t a vegetarian. I have absolutely nothing against vegetarians but you would be surprised how whiny vegetarians can get even when you have sorted them a flight and ticket for Liverpool’s biggest game in years. But I digress. Jay made it with us to the Fans Arena and was ready and willing to play. John Power also turned up at one point. He was very willing to play but had obviously being enjoying the hospitality available at any number of Turkish hostelries. Standing up was an issue so standing up, playing guitar, and actually singing was going to be a major ask.  But God love him for at least making the effort to turn up.

Now back to the real story. Somehow, I also ended up taking Ian Prowse on the plane. To this day I’m still not sure how this happened. I like Ian, we have known each other for years, and he has written some nice tunes but ultimately, he supports Tranmere. However there seems to a be an unwritten rule in Liverpool that simply says Ian has to play at everything with absolutely no exceptions. I’m not sure how this rule came about but on this occasion,  I just went along with it. By my reckoning that was six of us. Although if you have been paying attention you will have worked out that at this point only Ian Prowse could actually get up on stage and play some songs.

At this point I caved in and gave Wylie everything he wanted. He was coming along with a keyboard player, a drummer, and an old mate of mine in bass player Marin Campbell who was best known for stints with the Lightning Seeds and Richard Ashcroft.  So that was that. We were the ten.

Did I get any thanks for taking people? Not really.  Did I get hassle from the people I had been kind enough to pick to escort me on this trip of a lifetime? Too right I did.

To be honest by the day of the final I’d had enough and I’d have been happy to leave them to it and not go at all. Although I had a sneaking suspicion that even if I’d tried to duck out of it the musicians would have come to my house and forced me on to the plane so just so they could inflict more misery on me.

After sorting out the final ten I’d spent much of the few weeks left before the final dealing with the musicians I’d stupidly chosen, as well as LFC, and the Turkish people who were running the Fans Arena. The musicians kept wanting more things and I couldn’t escape from it. I was either on the phone dealing with LFC or talking to the Turkish organisers (who were lovely and incredibly helpful) or increasingly dealing with members of our ten strong party who just kept turning up in my office slowly doing my head in.

Finally, the fateful day arrived and it was like a well- oiled machine clicking into gear.

Of course, that is an outrageous lie!  It started to fall apart before we reached the airport. The plan was that I was to get a taxi from my house, pick up Ian Prowse by the Tunnel on Dale St, then pick up Danny from Duke St and then get Phil in Wavertree on the way to the airport.  Wylie’s gang were making their own way there.

 The first couple of steps were fine. I got the taxi from my house, picked up Prowse and then went on to pick up Phil at his. Luckily Phil was more on his game than I was and his first words as he got in the cab were “Where’s Danny?”

I’d only forgotten to pick up our DJ hadn’t I! What an idiot. Disaster averted, we had to turn around, go back into town, pick up Danny who was oblivious to my error and then hotfoot it back to the airport along with every other Liverpool fan in the city.

The airport was chaos and the next challenge was getting my unruly group and their assorted musical equipment on to the plane. The crew wanted us to stick the guitars and keyboards in the luggage hold whereas my boys wanted to keep their precious guitars close to them in the overhead lockers. A quick call to that nice man from LFC led to him jumping   off the plane so he could negotiate on our behalf with the airline. I think by this point he was beginning to get wind of the fact that he may have been wrong to trust me pull this thing off but obviously he now had no choice but to live with that mistake! Anyway, due his intervention we got to bring our stuff onto the plane with us. Musicians one – airline nil.

At this time, you could bring liquids including alcohol through customs and on to the plane.  Prowse’s mum and dad had just come back from Greece and the Metaxa brandy they had brought him was open and finished off with in about ten minutes of the plane leaving the ground. As the nominated sensible adult, I dint indulge believing that Metaxa and 7am don’t mix.

We finally arrived in Turkey. By this point I already felt like I’d done a day’s work but next was the first real hitch I’d had to face. We had been assured by the club that there would be buses going from the airport to the stadium all day so that when we arrived we could just jump on one of these free buses so we could get there in plenty of time to do soundchecks and all that boring stuff.

Obviously they had lied to us. The reality was at this early stage of the day no other Liverpool fans wanted to go out into the wilds to the stadium. They wanted to do what any right-thinking football fan would and go to Taksim Square, meet up with all the Liverpool fans, and drink and sing. Unsurprisingly Phil and Danny wanted to go on a research trip into the city centre along with everyone else. But in a rare spate of common sense I forbade this splitting up of the group. Prior experience told me that if I let Phil and Danny enter an area with bars full of beer then I would probably never see either of them again until maybe in the airport for the return journey. And more importantly I didn’t want to be left to deal with a bunch of musicians on my own in a strange country for the best part of a day. Also I couldn’t afford to let Danny, our DJ, out of my sight, because we were really going to need him if everything else went west.

 Having worked out that no buses were going to the stadium I now had to convince the doubting musicians that I could handle this mini crisis.

My brainwave was to get taxis. See, problem solved. But nah, it was never going to be that easy. The problem was that there were ten of us and assorted musical instruments. Plus, we were ‘abroad’ and none of us had a clue about anything really. And to top it off me and Phil seemed to be the only ones with any money. Let me just be clear about this. There were ten adults here. It had been explained very clearly to them that LFC were not providing any sort of expenses. However, despite this very clear message most of them had thought it would be ok to go on a journey across the continent with no more than three quid in their pocket in case they needed to get a bus home.

Negotiating with this bunch of taxi drivers was almost as bad as working with the musicians. They knew they had us over a barrel and I seem to recall that they started off by asking for around the equivalent of about one thousand pounds per head.  After several hours of heated discussions, we settled on an eye wateringly extortionate but just about affordable fee to transport us to the stadium. After the three drivers had finished laughing between themselves at how much they had extracted from us they set out on the journey to the stadium. To be honest I’m still staggered that I survived this trip. We chatted to the drivers and they were lovely people but terrible drivers!  We bobbed and weaved across lanes of traffic at incredible speeds while they turned around to chat to us, smoked, and spoke to each other on their phones (no hands free in those days).  I just gave in and assumed death was just moments away.

The last bit of the journey was surreal as we went down the dirt track (or ‘road’ as UEFA called it) towards the stadium. Suddenly we were in the middle of a bunch of hills. Look there’s some sheep. (I still think the plural of ‘sheep’ should be ‘sheeps’ but that’s for another time). Look there’s some military looking men with machine guns next to those sheep. Look there’s a great big stadium in the middle of nowhere.  What a brilliant thought out plan by UEFA to have a major final here!

Finally, we were there. We all shook hands with our new best friends, the taxi drivers, and I breathed a sigh of relive that we had made it this far without losing anyone.

If it had all ended their I’d have been happy to tell you the truth.  We’d had a bit of an adventure and we’d all survived. That wouldn’t have been so bad would it? But we had to go and do the gig didn’t we. I know that was the reason we were there but it didn’t half cause a lot of trouble.

You all know the scenes there. There were thousands of us in this scruffy bit of countryside with no beer (unless you’d brought it in a bus or taxi yourself) and nothing else really apart from this huge   stage made from bits of wood and sticky backed plaster. The musicians obviously started moaning as soon as we got there. They wanted food and they wanted beer. My good Turkish friend who I’d been talking to for the previous month about the arrangements provided both but not in sufficiently large amounts for the musicians and obviously not to the satisfaction of the vegetarians. I’d thought ahead (as befitting my status as the Leader of this motley crew) and brought a bottle of whisky with me which I generously shared with the musicians and resisted drinking myself.

We all saw mates in the crowd and people came over to us and suddenly with the amazing atmosphere building and the musicians not moaning for a few minutes it all seemed worthwhile.

Phil liked getting on the mic so he made the first announcements and then young Danny was on stage in his role as our official DJ. He played a few well received tunes and I particularly remember a rapturously well received ‘Teenage Kicks’, favourite of the late, great Liverpool fan John Peel. In a stroke of genius he then played the Kop favourite ‘Ring of Fire’. The whole place went bonkers and Danny realising he was on to a good thing and sacrificing his art for the greater good, basically just kept on playing the same tune for most of the time he was on. And believe me it worked.

Chaos was all around. The Coral who were doing a corporate gig nearby sent someone over to borrow a guitar. People turned up asking us to announce they needed a ticket or had spares.  And somehow in the midst of this madness we managed to put a show on as well.

Prowse had the unenviable task of coming on first and I think he did OK. It’s hard being one man with an acoustic guitar in front of 30,000 mad Liverpool fans who just want to sing and dance. I think he did a Clash song and a few of his own and then he was gone.

The crowd was getting bigger and more excitable as more arrived from the bars of Taskam Square.  And up stepped Wylie who was simply magnificent. He loves the big occasion and like a striker at the top of his game he responded to the challenge of entertaining an increasingly rowdy but good-humoured mob. Wylie, with his great band, pulled out all the stops, including a version of the Ramones ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ changed to ‘Blitkrieg Kop’. The place went absolutely mental and lots of our friends and thousands of people we didn’t know suddenly they decided they wanted to join us on stage.

The local stage manager understandably got a little upset and began yelling down the mic “THERE WILL BE A CATASTROPHE. PLEASE GET OFF THE STAGE. THERE WILL BE A CATASTROPHE”.

At this point a very emotional John Power staggered to the stage to do his turn but by that point there was no way we were going to be allowed to go back on. So that was it. It was all over. We managed to get everyone off stage but there was to be no more.  Still it had been a brilliant experience and one that everyone who witnessed it will remember for ever.

At this point things got worse for me. I was on a real high and relieved that somehow, we’d got through it. And, with my work done I stupidly went wandering with a friend Gary Bandit (from Liverpool band The Bandits).  I remember we bumped into Colin Murray from the tele/radio, who is a huge Liverpool fan and an acquaintance of Gary’s.  Then I fell over and blacked out. And for me that was it.  Game over.

I still don’t really know what happened. I suspect that Gary is partly to blame (he normally is) along with the rocky terrain around the stadium. I can’t even blame alcohol because I’d barely had half a bottle of beer because I was too concerned with looking after my charges.

Anyway, I woke up at some point. It was dark, I was cold and groggy and had no idea what was going on. I had big cuts and bruises on my face and to this day my Istanbul scar on my nose still appears every year on the 25th May. The lovely first aid people patched me up and when they thought I was ok they let me into the stadium. But that epic match was wasted on me I’m sad to say. I can truthfully say I was there but none of it made much sense. It really was a blur.

I somehow got myself back to the airport where the medical team patched me up some more and my beautifully battered face was there to greet my travelling companions and many other friends as they arrived for their flights back to Liverpool.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I was there but that epic match passed me by.

I swore I’d never do anything like that ever again. Even without the blackout all the hassle of dealing with the musicians took the pleasure out of it. It was like work but without the pay.

But move forward two years and we’d just beaten Chelsea on penalties in the semi-final. Within half an hour of the match finishing I’d had a text from Danny Hunt. ‘We on for Athens Kev?’

Of course I should have said no but like a proper idiot I ended up doing it all again. Well I couldn’t let the musicians go there on their own, could I? They’d never have survived without me.

Words by Kevin McManus

Photos by Paul Tsanos 

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