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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Tarkan's Wembley Show: The Other Story

Sebastian Merrick, who runs London-based music promotion business Kazum! and is familiar with the Turkish music business, wrote to me recently to give his own considered opinion of Tarkan's Wembley Arena concert after having gone to the acclaimed show.

His email differed from other emails sent by fans in the Wembley audience whom had all enjoyed the show and had a great time. Quite the opposite, Merrick - critical of Tarkan's outing in London - wrote to Tarkan Deluxe expressing his disappointment and confirming the low turn-out at the event, even though some fans had been claiming that the audience number was close to 8,000 rather than the quoted 5,000 seats filled.

Along with another British agent, Merrick had for some years been interested in promoting Tarkan in London and was thinking of starting discussions when the artist had signed with Absolute Events. He now confesses that he is glad of the missed opportunity, due to the hassles and expense involved.

Though I did not attend the Wembley show, I wrote a few thoughts on the concert, and I can't help but wonder had Merrick the chance to organise Tarkan in London what the outcome might have been.

In the true spirit of this blog, which aims not to be a mouth-piece for anything but the truth, I asked the music promoter if we could publish his email. He was kind enough to re-write his mail in an article for the blog, which I share with our readers below.

UPDATE: Read the public reaction to Merrick's article here >>

Tarkan in London - Success or Failure?
by Sebastian Merrick

For many of the fans who were there for a good girly screaming session Tarkan could have sung with a karaoke machine and they wouldn't have minded. Just seeing him shake his hips was the reason to be there. And singing along to his mostly very good songs. From a promoter's point of view, just seeing Tarkan actually on the stage at Wembley was a kind of success – after so many years and so many stories of concerts having to be cancelled in places like Germany (2006), Serbia (2007), and elsewhere. After seven years Tarkan actually came to London. And with a crowd of more or less 5000 people in London this event was definitely the largest ever single Turkish event ever to be staged in the UK, not counting the blockbusting Royal Academy of Arts Turks exhibition in 2005 or the free summer Turkish Fests on the South Bank.

Nearly two hours straight of songs, new and old, in London's biggest indoor venue that hosts international stars such as Shakira and Bruce Springsteen. On one level then, a success.

But in many ways I was left deeply unsatisfied with this both as a production and for what it represented in terms of Turkey's place in the cultural world map.

Tarkan Live at WembleyAs a production with tickets costing £40-70 it was simply not on the same league as concerts of similarly-priced English language stars such as Madonna or Ricky Martin. Tarkan is more on the level of international stars like Colombian singer Juanes (actually bigger in sales than Ricky Martin), who only sings in Spanish but has some international fans. You can see his show at Hammersmith Apollo in June for £30. For a start, the £50-priced seats we had at the top of the auditorium alongside some other members of the press were in a place where the vocals were really not clear at all. And since Tarkan's band were kept at the back well out of the spotlight (even with great musicians in the band such as Alp Ersönmez (Metamorfoz, 2007), one of Turkey's top bass players) if the vocals are not audible, you are missing the whole point of a Tarkan show. I can only hope the sound was better further down. Personally I think Tarkan would do a lot better with his band around him, feeding off their energy and even giving them a bit more of a chance to shine though with their stuff, otherwise he might as well just sing to a backing CD.

The evening started not at all well with the maNga fiasco. They came on stage not to play, but to apologise for not playing. Apparently this was due to technical problems. We wondered what this technical problem could be, did they forget to bring UK adaptor plugs? It turns out that 'technical problems' meant they had had no time for a sound check. We presume that Tarkan overran his allotted time. It was a brave maNga that went on stage to apologise. Since they were probably furious too, they were also very gracious to hide the truth from the audience. Apparently Tarkan's management team were not too pleased that maNga had gone on stage to make this announcement. I'm sure they would have much preferred a simple announcement to apologise that maNga could not play, for unspecified reasons. This would leave most of the audience assuming that they had not come to London. But maNga were there on stage ready to play. Whether they did the right thing in not playing to 5000 potential new fans is questionable. They could have played with a risk that their sound was not quite right, and gained a lot of new fans. But not having time to sound check both bands was either simply bad event management, or unreasonable demands for more time from the headline act.

Konnie Huq carries the torch surrounded by Chinese security guards
Tarkan had so many security between stage and audience, he could have hopped over the barrier in a circle of bodyguards like the Olympic flame to dance in the audience
Tarkan's show was good, but not special. He sings well and in tune, but I was expecting a lot more from the production as a whole. The live projection on stage screens was extremely poor in terms of editing. Tarkan's famed moves were not so special (the dancing fan at the back of the empty standing area, Enis is his name actually, was doing much better). Tarkan's dancers (hired from the UK we presume) were average. His band was just a band at the back of the stage. And, after all those years in the US – and this is really strange - he really didn't speak that much in English. Maybe he thought that 95% of the audience were Turkish-speaking so he didn't feel the need to impress. But a lot of that Turkish audience use English as their language of choice. Apart from that there's so much more he could have done to make this the concert of the year. Doesn't he know that most of his audience are just waiting for him to rip his shirt off? And he had so many security in the no-man's land between stage and audience, he could have hopped over the barrier in a circle of bodyguards like the Olympic flame to dance in the audience - and he'd have brought the house down. Even Bono invites girls on stage for a cuddle, and Sezen Aksu, well, Sezen rolled all over the floor of the Royal Albert Hall in her best designer dress. I mean that's embarrassing, but at least it's rock'n'roll. For £50 Tarkan was just too nice, too ordinary.

Then there was the audience. With less than 50% of sales let's face it Wembley looked sadly empty. And one feels sad for the promoters as one would assume that you don't make profits on a concert at less than 50% capacity, so hopefully they had a bit of money to spare. Or maybe this was the reason for the high ticket prices. The concert should either have been in the smaller Albert Hall or Hammersmith Apollo or ticket prices at Wembley should have started at £20-£25 to allow less committed non-Turkish fans to go. Even Turks were not willing to pay £40 - £70 for what was basically an album launch publicity concert when they would prefer to hear the old Tarkan. And where were the Russians, Tarkan's other big fan base? There's lots of them in London with lots of money. There should have been London-wide marketing to reach the different communities. Tarkan's face should have been on posters on the Underground, or on street billboards. Unfortunately, that kind of marketing is not going to happen if there is no record label pushing a sellable CD at the same time. I wonder if Tarkan's new CD has direct distribution in the UK. I doubt it, and the best place to go and buy it will be in North London Turkish music shops at Turkish prices (£7 retail, a bargain).

Tarkan should have been in the UK a month before the concert giving interviews to national newspapers, radio and even TV. The concert should have been taken on by an international promoter such as Live Nation, though they would never agree to his fees. His album should have been licensed to a UK based label. Tarkan did engage with some British media. His 2-part interview with DJ Ritu on BBC Radio London was excellent, revealing, open and honest, and amazingly over one hour in length. But I wouldn't want to disappoint you with the number of people who actually listen to BBC Radio London on Saturday nights. It is a relatively small local station. I'm not sure why Tarkan is not willing to play the media game for the sake of his British fans (frankly mainly women in their 40s who've been on Turkish holidays in the last 10 years). The word is that Tarkan is apparently due back in London in the next couple of weeks for a shopping trip with the promoter (suggesting that maybe money was made all round, or maybe he's just taking advantage of the current low price of the Pound to get some London bargains)*. So why was he not prepared to do a similar trip to meet the press to support this major concert?

Balkan Fever LondonSo for me this concert was a failure. The production side could be forgiven. Maybe the sound was better for most of the audience. maNga, well no one was there for maNga. The biggest disappointment for me is that Turkey has not yet produced an international level singer or musician who has engaged meaningfully with British audiences or who seems willing to do the hard work that it takes to do so. In this regard Tarkan is way behind artists like Mercan Dede, or even Romani clarinettist Selim Sesler, who is due to return to a prestigious London venue on 10 May – his second concert here in one year. The door remains open for a Turkish singer to step up to the challenge of becoming an international name in Britain.

Sebastian Merrick
Sebastian Merrick is a London-based music promoter who has worked with Mercan Dede, Nil Karaibrahimgil, Erkan Oğur, Müslüm Gürses and many other Turkish artists. In addition he promotes the festival Balkan Fever London, featuring Turkish musician Selim Sesler on Saturday 10 May 2008.

He has been published in Turkish music magazine Roll (January 2007).

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*It doesn't seem that Tarkan will be going shopping with the organisers after all if the reports that the artist boycotted the VIP after show party to show his displeasure at the visa fiasco are true (editor's note).

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