For about 10 years, one corner of Manchester was probably the only place in the United Kingdom where you could fall into your local for a pint every month and find a group of eclectic musicians thumping out folk songs and grooves from half-way across the globe. The Country and Eastern Band was a unique global fusion outfit founded by Paula Darwish in Manchester in 2001. The band held a monthly residency, ‘Country and Eastern Night’, in Manchester from 2002 – 2011, mostly at the Iguana Bar (prev. 115-117 Chorlton Road) in Chorlton but also alternating with the King’s Arm’s in Salford for a while. The band played a blend of eastern and western musical elements, mixing up rhythms and folk melodies from Turkey and the Middle East region with lyrics in English, Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, and other languages. Their adventurous approach was exemplified by an off-the-wall version of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, adding eastern rhythms and instrumentation.
Apart from the band’s love of eastern music, the other idea behind the band was to make world music more accessible to music listeners by bringing it onto the mainstream live music circuit. At the Iguana Bar, the band were often joined by the bar’s owner, Pascal Paschalis, himself a virtuoso bouzuki player, and a myriad of other musicians, both those established in Manchester and others from all over the world who were passing through. The night was so popular that it spawned another world music night at the Iguana Bar – this time it was Arabic night with another locally-based group, The Nile Band, who played Arabic music. There was even a gigantic and somewhat spooky image of Paula painted onto the Iguana Walls after it was redecorated – in fact you can see it in the pictures below. The ‘Country and Eastern Nights’ were popular with locals and newcomers to the area alike, creating a kind of micro-united nations with a warm atmosphere which was as Northern as it was international. As the band’s motto said, ‘Everyone is welcome. The Only Borders are in your Mind’. The band had many permutations over its 10 year existence but the most long-standing members were: Paula Darwish, Ric Gibbs, Serpil Kılıç, Colin Pender,and Adam Warne. Other notable fellow passengers were Lou Armer and Carlos Ballester. Paula Darwish and Serpil Kılıç still perform regularly together.