In the Summer of 1995, Harris studied in Poland and then traveled though Eastern Europe with friends. I remember he called me from a payphone in Istanbul with a view of Hajia Sofia. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and at 5am and he prefaced the conversation with “Hey Michelle! Do you know that Tom Waites song “Phone call from Istanbul?”
Claude Cahn was one of the friends Harris met and traveled with that summer and he sent me the following music on audio cassette. The majority is not of Harris playing, but I wanted to put the entire recording here anyway. I also have some of the DATs he recorded that summer and his notebook from the trip that I will get on line as I come to them.
Here is the note from Claude:
We were together at the Kuprivshtica festival, which is where I met him — Christina Crowder had appropriated him from somewhere. She had taken the bus from Hungary, while I had flown, because through some weird fluke Balkan Air had a special to Sofia which was cheaper than the bus (why do I remember all this?). We then went as a big Americo-Bulgar train to Veliko Trnovo, where we did some drinking and some busking (more of the former) and some listening to the earliest Bulgarian hip-hop. One of the guys we were with, who I remember only as “Vladi-Badi” (his first name was Vladimir, was a producer of Bulgarian rap). The other guy we were with was a great guitar songster type called Harry Zachariev, who had been in Syria and elsewhere working as a musician. He is the person singing on the recordings with Harris. Harry I heard died a few years ago, I think as a result of recurring hard drugs issues. Harry’s girlfriend was with us too, but I don’t remember her name. Then I was with Harris in Istanbul and we went hunting (and found) disused synagogues in an old Jewish neighborhood.
Anyway, I’ll send you the stuff. It is not much, but there is at least one gem on it (Track 1. Harris playing along to a really bawdy Bulgarian song being sung by Harry Zacharaiev).
And now for some R-rated tracks:
And Harris, himself, kept a notebook. Here is an excerpt:
Tuesday, August 8th
…Met Harry and Juli! Americans left. I hung with Harry, Juli, Nikki (who lives next door to my place) and Irene (Harry’s girlfriend) until 6am.
Wednesday, August 9th
Wet to record store with Harry, bought tape, CD. Had lunch with his friend, “S—-” (illegible). Went to his recording studio, “Studio-x.” Met Vladi. Saw his software. Heard rap music produced at Studio-x. Evening: Called parents at Sheraton. Pizza (good) for dinner. Met Harry and Juli at Palace of Culture (this time with my violin). Jammed until 3am.
Thursday, August 10th
Tried to be a tourist. Saw Nevsky Church, Mosque, Museum of History. Sitting on strut (?) reading guidebook, met Christina. She came with me to Studio. Met Go-Yo. Eventually we all went out. Up until 5am. She crashed at my place (she was quite drunk).
Friday, August 11th
I am now on a train to Koprivshtitsa . I am alone because the others had to stay to collect their things. I will meet Christina, Harry, Irene and Vladi there.
On train to Istanbul
Much of what I did in Koprivshtitsa is recorded in the small notebook and documented on two DAT tapes (which I have yet to unearth – m). Here are some details:
Friday, August 11th
Arrived in Koprivshtitsa. Crowded! Walked around town. Went up to hotel to try to drop my packs. They wouldn’t let me and couldn’t help me find a room. Outside, I met Cecelia and friend. Discovered she knows Christina and that she was meeting Claude in town at 7:30. I went to town and met Claude (called out “Claude” to a geeky-looking American guy). Met up with Cecelia, went to her room in a village house. Dropped my stuff there. Went to a park in town with Claude, Cecelia and ( ) [sic – m]. There was a group of musicians sitting around a table and they suddenly began to play. I recorded some of this. People were dancing too. We went back to the stage in town and found Christina, Harry and Vladi. Christina was drunk. She told me that I sucked and that my playing was too “classical” and that I had to come to E. Europe to live and learn the music. We jammed (Harry, Claude, me) but Christina was really unable to play. [she doesn’t remember anything from that night but she got a lot of scratched and bruises from falling over]. Cecelia played some rockin’ Hungarian and Irish music on fiddle. Eventually went to a different pub with Cecelia. The same band was playing (minus gadulka). Recorded and photographed. Cecelia danced.
Saturday, August 12th
I climbed up the hill to the festival proper and… oh my god! It was packed. I almost couldn’t move. There were thousands of people and everywhere there was music. Along the path there were stands with people selling food, drinks, hats, trinkets, and of course, musical instruments. Old people were walking around in their regional costumes. Children were dancing and playing. It is pretty well-documented on tape and in the small notebook. We found Irene and Nikki from Sofia. Christina, Vladi and I got a much better room in a lovely village house. Heard Irish music on the way down hill with Christina. That night we had a long jam session with Christina, Harry, Claude, Cecelia. People even listened to us. Met Svetlio (now I know all the Studio-x-ers). Zurna players were playing in the street at 3am. I taped them.
Sunday, August 13th
More festival. Left my tape recorder on for a while and walked around. Met Harry and Irene. Harry helped me look for a gadulka. We didn’t find anything inexpensive. Finally went down the hill with Christina after buying slippers and rosewater for relatives. Sad because the festival was over.
I bought a zurna. Svethio asked a zurna player to show me his moves. He was a yuppie from near Macadonia. I got to play a nice one. The guy wanted $100 so I left and then Harry bought one at the “Bulgarian price” ($30) and sold it to me. The trick was good except that I didn’t get exactly the one I wanted. No matter. Harry looks out.
Harry, Irene, Christina, Claude and I got on a train to Veliko Tarnovo. Vladi and the Hungarians (whom he called fondly “Majarbi” [??? -m]) were to follow the next day. They wanted to see Koprivshtitsa.
On the train we jammed some more. Christina taught me some Irish tunes. I wrote out lyrics to “Sittin’ on top of the world” for Harry and he wrote lyrics to
(Makedonsko Devojcke) for me.
In Veliko Tarnovo, Harry found his friend, Nikki and Nikki put up in his house. Nikki’s house is a squat right neat the river in Veliko Tarnovo. It has a great view and enough floor space for us. Nikki is a big guy. The kind of guy that you’re glad is on your side. He’s a real sweetie with a psychotic little dog. Unfortunately he doesn’t speak English.
There we played some more…
Monday, August 14th
We went to a terrace cafe in Veliko Tarnovo with a great view. I took a picture of Harry and Irene there. We chilled for a long time. It seems to be the Bulgarian way.
We were going to busk but when we went back to Nikki’s place (without him), we couldn’t find where he hid the key (he had given instructions to Harry). So instead we went to the castle and climbed around the walls. It’s another great view from there. On the top is a very strange church with socialist realist religious art! I bought a photo on the way out. In the evening, we chilled some more in a different cafe. Then we played music at Nikki’s. I recorded some, I think (check the small notebook). I tried Christina’s gaïda and regretted not getting one in Kop.
Vladi had missed all his meetings with us but at midnight, Christina decided to go again to the meeting place (near the post office). She found him there with the Hungarians and she brought them to Nikki’s. We played music. It must have been strange for Nikki to suddenly have three more people show up at his doorstep but he put them up without a word. We slept like sardines: five side-by-side on the floor.
Tuesday, August 15th
Chilled in the same terrace cafe. We played on the street for a while while Vladi went with the Hungarians to see the town. Then we chilled some more. Then we changed cafes and chilled. Vladi met us there. I debated whether to go with Harry, Irene, and Vladi to the Black Sea coast. Vladi really wanted me to go but I think Irene was sick of us. I decided to go with Christina and Claude back to Sofia so I could get to Istanbul in time to see it for a few days. So we all said goodbye in the train station.
[I have not yet located this small notebook he mentions. I will keep looking -m]
Comment from CLAUDE on May 17, 2009
This is such a trip – the journal fragments have jogged my memory about many things from that time. Hope Christina doesn’t sue for libel, but the details are pretty accurate for this period — steady amounts of alcohol with great longevity and endurance, followed by creative experiments with the forces of gravity. If I recall correctly, around this time, she and the visiting Sharla Benedict yanked each other down two flights of metro stairs in Budapest.
I had completely forgotten that Juhasz Cecilia was along for this journey. She was also in the company of a tall, thin friend of hers whose name escapes me entirely. Cecilia was an incredible fiddle player who once accused me of playing guitar “like a German”, probably the most withering criticism anyone has ever made of my guitar-playing. She was an incredibly gifted fiddle player, who had been thrown out of the Budapest conservatory because she had stage fright. Her nose was slightly pinnocchioid, and she had a really confident ability to hammer with her pinkie, which she did like a viper striking, and it always seems like the tip of her nose quivered along to the pinkie striking when she played up the neck. Cecilia turned me on among other things to the US fiddler Liz Carroll. She had a battered bootlegged cassette copy of Liz Carroll’s first record – probably her best – of which Cecilia had learned most if not all of the tunes, many of which are very lovely. This is how I learned to play slip jigs. I later heard she went to Italy to join a circus, if you can believe that (the fates, the destinies…).
The notebook page is I think Harris under the influence of Christina. Christina had in repertoire a number of yay-dee-diddly Irish ballads, some of which she evidently inflicted on Harris. This looks like his effort at writing under the influence of that.
I wish I could remember more. I recall watching at Kuprivshtica with Harris a group of Hungarians who played Bulgarian music on one of the field stages. They were I think the only non-Bulgarian band playing. There was an old man who was very moved by the sound of non-Bulgarians playing Bulgarian music. We asked him if they were any good and he said, “No, they are terrible, but they are playing our music! Nobody can play our music well!”
I also remember sitting with Harris in a cajzhilnica fairly far from the centre of Istanbul, on the European side of the Bosphorus, in a neighborhood his guidebook said had once been Jewish, and that we found an old gate with Hebrew lettering which we concluded must have been a synagogue. We did not have a language in common with the old man in the tea shop, but he seemed to affirm that we had found what we were looking for, and he declined to take any money for the tea. It was one of those beautiful afternoons.