Erdal Kizilcay is probably the most famous and successful Turkish musician in the international rock world, having collaborated as multi-instrumentalist with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Freddie Mercury, Tina Turner and Roger Waters amongst others. Kizilcay spoke to Sean Bw Parker about the Eighties and the music industry now in this frank and in-depth interview.
I first came across your name on the liner notes to a David Bowie album (‘Never Let Me Down’), and then on his Glass Spider tour concert video. What are your happiest and least happy memories of those times?
Well, that was my first ‘breakout’, and I was working with the world’s most famous musicians and stars. At the same time it was a challenging moment in my music career.
You are a legendary multi-instrumentalist, Brian Eno once remarking, during a Bowie session: ‘Erdal Kizilcay on everything and bass’. How do you explain this talent of versatility?
I don’t know, I think it’s called ‘the talent’. No, since I was a kid, I was always interested in playing instruments, so, I did so. Obviously, my Conservatory years, and being a Beatles and rock kid pushed me to play instruments other than violin and piano.
How do you feel about the fact that the period in which you worked with Bowie most intensively (the 1979 album ‘Lodger’ and 1995 album ‘1. Outside’ notwithstanding), the mid-eighties, is also his most critically reviled?
Well, I met David for the first time for the Let’s Dance and Labyrinth demos. This was somewhere around 1982 or ’83. As David was living in Lausanne in Switzerland, after his Serious Moonlight tour he called me up and asked me if I’d be interested in doing Iggy Pop’s album Blah Blah Blah, then after the big success and happiness of David we started the album Never Let Me Down. Once again, I was “The Multi Instrumentalist” on this one. But if the criticisms weren’t good, I can’t say. At least David was sure and I trusted him.
Who is/was the most enjoyable to work with? Freddie Mercury, Bowie, Iggy Pop, Roger Waters or Tina Turner? And who has (or had) the biggest ego?
I never worked with Roger Waters or Tina Turner. Tina sang one of my songs called ‘Girls’, which was on the N.L.D. album, and Roger was also involved in the film track ‘When The Wind Blows’, where I wrote and performed the title music of the film. I have never felt any ego of any of the artists that I have worked with. But I must say I had more pleasure working with Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor than the others.
You live in Switzerland these days. Why did you move there, and do you miss Turkey at all?
It was a personal choice; I knew I had to try in Europe, then in Turkey, because at that moment Turkey wasn’t ready for my kind of music. And today, when I look back, I know I had made the right decision.
What is your evaluation of the current Turkish political situation, from the Gezi Park protests, to the corruption scandal, to the funeral of Berkin Elvan (the young boy put in a coma by a police tear gas canister last summer while buying bread)?
I do follow with the keenest interest – Turkey is a Republic and will remain such. There are some politicians who try to change it to that which we are not. We are not Arabic; we are the most civilised Muslim country in the world. And some powers wants to change that to an archaic way of Islam. They will not succeed, that I can tell. I don’t even understand one Arabic word – how me and my children can go in that direction? No way. Sadly, Berkin’s death will put the last brick on the wall, or at least I hope so. I am very sad about Berkin, and for the others. I hope one day the mad man will be in front of justice (if still we have it…)
The death of Elvan inspired 14 million tweets in two days. What is your opinion of social media in general, and specifically its relationship to press freedom?
I think that I already answered that, no?
What is your take on the malaise within the music industry these days? Can you compare and contrast with the Eighties model?
There is no malaise; there is only a changing of generation and technique. When I was a kid, our elders had the same kind of approach, while they were loving and listening to Tango, Bolero or the Twist. And they had same kind of critique about music as we are having today. The destruction of today’s music started with disco and the computer age. Real musicians can’t get a job, because everyone knows better then the musicians, because they have computer facilities, and that’s it.
Do you keep up with emerging artists? Do you have any new music recommendations for us?
Once again it is a personal choice, you should listen to whatever kind of music suits you. But a little music culture and knowledge may help you too, of course. Yes, I am keeping up ‘emergees’, but not regarding upcoming artists, more newcomer great instrumentalists. Suddenly, we have great young musicians all over, and I’m very happy about it.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am preparing ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ show in London with Hanif Kureishi. At the same time, I’m getting ready for my next concert in London, as ” Erdal Kizilcay Band”
What are you drinking?
Anything that gives me pleasure…