‘Music from manywhere’ comes to Portsmouth for Victorious Festival

With roots in Turkey, Bulgaria, Iran, Greece, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco and London, The Turbans’ description of being from ‘manywhere’ is apt.

And the music they play is as crazy a mash-up as you’d expect, it’s a Gypsy-klezmer-Turkish-folk frenzy, that has been winning them legions of fans wherever they play.

The Turbans on stage at Wilderness Festival. Picture by Danny North.

The Turbans on stage at Wilderness Festival. Picture by Danny North.

Although the two founders Oshan Mahony and violinist Darius Luke Thompson met eight years ago, they only released their debut album in April this year.

Their headlining slot on The World Music Stage on Sunday brings a busy period to a close for the seven-piece multi-national act.

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‘We’ve been going nonstop since March, but the end is in sight, which is kind of nice,’ laughs Oshan, who describes himself as the ‘seventh best guitar player in the band.’

The Turbans in Goa, India. Picture by Nitai Neateye.

The Turbans in Goa, India. Picture by Nitai Neateye.

‘We’ve never played in Portsmouth before, so we’re excited about this.’

Darius and Oshan met while travelling in India. ‘We were in Dharamshala and I had already been in India for six months before that.

‘A few people I’d met along the road turned up in this village, and one of them had run out of money and he said: “I need to make a band so I can put on a concert”. I said I’ll find you some musicians, not thinking that I would play or anything. Then they were like, “We need a guitarist”, but I couldn’t find anyone else, so I said I could play on a few songs. 

‘It all started in this village where nothing much was going on. We played this gig and eveeeerybody came along,’ he stretches the word, ‘it was packed. There were huge piles of shoes – in India you have to take off your shoes – it was a pile a metre high.

‘It sort of started in a weird way, but wherever we travelled after that we played with other musicians. From there we went to Pakistan, then back to India, Turkey, Greece, and all the time meeting people, and if they had some spirit and wanted to play together, we did.’

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In keeping with the band’s multicultural background, his mother is Iranian, but his dad was born in Gosport. Oshan was born in Northumberland, and spent several years in Bhutan as a child.

‘My parents were quite adventurous people, so it happened my dad got a job teaching English in Bhutan. They don’t have western medicine there, so he taught in the holistic medicine school.

‘I’ve got really fond memories of it – one day I will go back.’

When it came to the music though, it was only when they came back to the UK that the pair thought there might be more to it.

‘It was never something too serious - just move around, play here, play there. Then maybe about four-five years ago, Darius and I came here [to London] and we were doing some busking on the streets, people were going crazy for the music, which shocked us.

‘We went, ok, let’s give it a go. So we brought some people over from India and had an amazing season playing at festivals. I think we’re quite a festival-y band - but that all changed two years ago when we decided to make a serious album, so we bought together all the best musicians we’d been working with and got a great team together.’

One of the guests on the album is renowned Gnawa musician Simo Lagnawi – who happens to be playing the same stage earlier in the day.

‘I can’t believe he’s there too,’ says Oshan, ‘of course we’ll get him up if he’s there!’

World music recently made headlines when musicians for the prestigious Womad Festival found themselves unable to get visas in time, or refused to even take a place on the bill, knowing the visa problems they would face.

So far The Turbans have been relatively unscathed by this problem.

‘There’s only one person in the band who has a harder time than the rest, he’s from Turkey. But we’ve never really had a problem – we’ve been pretty switched on and been organised well in advance.

‘Saying that, we were offered quite a few gigs in The States this year, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from it’s super-difficult to get a visa. But as soon as they see the Turkish passport it’s: “No”. No visas for Turkish people at the moment.’

The band have also previously described themselves as being ‘politically neutral.’

‘The one thing we do try and bring across is that everyone should be free to have the right to travel. Every country has its own political issues and problems and we don’t get involved in those, but on a grand global scale, we really want to push that there are many things we don’t agree with and want to change - but on the local level…

‘Different cultures have radically different views on the same issues, so we try and steer clear of those!’

For the album they worked with five-time Grammy-winning producer Jerry Boys, who has worked with the likes of Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Toure, Shakira, Toumani Diabate, and Kronos Quartet.

Asking about Jerry inspires south London-based Oshan to recall an incident from the evening before, that still had him slightly awestruck.

‘Would you believe it, I was on the overground train on the way home and I stopped the doors closing for this guy to get in – and it was [Pulp frontman] Jarvis Cocker!

‘I started speaking to him and it was one of his old Pulp band members, who’s friends with one of the guys in our band, who put us in touch with Jerry Boys in the first place. I don’t think I was name-dropping, but I wanted to tell him this story, and “You know your guitarist Leo (Abrahams), blah, blah…” He was so happy that we’d worked with Jerry Boys, and I hadn’t even told him who our band was, and at the end I told him who we were and he said: “I know you guys, I heard you on the BBC World Service!” That was the last thing I expected.

‘Everyone knows this guy and really respects him. In every industry there are people who are so talented that everyone respects them, and Jerry is one of them.’

THE TURBANS

Victorious Festival, World Music Stage

Sunday, August 26, 7pm

victoriousfestival.co.uk