Tim Fienburgh, 1954 – 2008

It is with great sadness that I write that my dear musical brother Tim Fienburgh, - perhaps known to readers as the indomitable Niaveti Mustapha 3rd – has just passed away, apparently from a naturally-caused heart-attack. He was living in southern Germany, and had been there since the 1990s.

I first met Tim in the London post-punk whirlpool of the late 1970s. He was playing a big accordion in a zydeco band called ‘The C Sharps’, from whom descended his next ensemble ‘The Republic’ (a latinesque world London band with releases on Charlie Gillet’s fledgling Oval Records). I saw this gent in full dinner jacket, his steely James Dean visage topped with a beret (Tim was drawn to hats), and thought ‘aha! – hmmm! Kindred spirit. Must do something together’. He and I decided that, should anyone be crazy enough to ask, we’d form a Balkan big band, whether they liked it or not. Eventually Mike Morris of the ICA did ask. The stage was only large enough for four, so 3 Mustaphas 3 were born, or rather, arrived from the famed balkan Crazy Loquat Club, Szegerely, allegedly smuggled in (fridges) by their Uncle, probably in 1982. Thus Tim evolved into Niaveti Mustapha 3rd, our own ‘rooftop bagpipe serenader’; Bagpipes, flutes, accordions were growing in our luggage, and FezCo Recording Artists 3 Mustaphas 3 (shared birthday August 6, each year) took to the airwaves (John Peel), the stage and to vinyl. We did logical, natural, contrary, innocent things, such as record our first Waxing in a giant swimming pool (now demolished, possibly our fault, sorry). Played regularly in a Colombian mafia club (the Sol y Sombra, now firebombed, possibly not our fault, sorry), and everywhere else that wanted us (and some that didn’t).

Slowly the Mustapha family grew, fridge impex business was on the up, and Niaveti had the chance to use his arranging skills for the combo (the beautiful string arrangements on our hit, well almost, single ‘si vous passez par là’, for example). By this time Niaveti had also added the bombarde and zurna to his armoury: these are fierce heavy-attack double-reed instruments inducing concussion in the unwary front row. There would always be a zurna-burner moment in the set – we knew it was coming, usually preceded by some pastoral lull – and waited for the wigs and eardrums to pop. Ha ha ha ha the sound of industrial traffic jam in Olde Szegerely, as evoked in music by 3 Mustaphas 3 combo, is transmitted to another audience. If they could still hear us after that, the survivors were often brave enough to buy ‘merchant-icing’.

Niaveti was a lovely man of great and intense character, a force of nature as much as a force of music, whose immediate turbulence often needed immediate expression, thus the zurna-burner outlet. He would have bitten the audience had the moment required it (he did bite a Ford Transit tour-bus, but that’s another story). We toured together. A lot. One Mustapha touring morning in Santa Monica CA, deep in earthquake central, he and I were sharing a motel room, snoozing before the soundcheck at McCabe’s. When the first grand tremor hit, furniture jumping and paintings waggling off their hooks, Tim sat up in his bed, looked at me for a moment, paused, and then: ‘Did you say something?’ My pause: ‘No’. Both satisfied by this definitive exchange, we slept through the rest of the judders, feeling very secure. Szegerely snores as others panic. It is as our Uncle taught us.

In a band full of maverick hatwearers, where on-stage unity and presence of headgear was an identity statement as well as a groovy headcovering, Niaveti was a maverick’s maverick, eschewing (and occasionally chewing) the 3M3 fez for a prized red borsalino – he fell in love with this on our first trip to Bologna, adding an Aristide Bruant presence to our touring couture – or an albanian semi-egg in white folk-felt.

On our first official Ace Records long-player (‘Shopping’), the last track is a little moment called ‘Szegerely Farewell’. Where other bands might make heavy work of that same-old-same-old accordion-case / electro-gamelan / ukulele-banjo / Turkish bagpipe combination, Niaveti leads the 7/8 nostalgia-dance with aplomb. He introduces it with a couple of words, and at the end, you can hear him say ‘goodbye, beloved Szegerely’. Now it's time for us to say ‘goodbye, beloved Niaveti, beloved Tim – farewell in all directions’.

Ben Mandelson, Hijaz Mustapha (on behalf of all Mustapha family, Friends Fiends & Fronds).