I ran into Bono one night back in the early 1980s, in the TV Club in Harcourt Street in Dublin. I hadn’t a clue who he was. He didn’t impress me then and doesn’t do much for me now, either. But for years, other than occasional one-sentence comments made in passing with Nicholas Cage, Martin Sheen, and Mark Harmon, that conversation was as close to fame as I’d gotten. Fast forward a few decades to my first month in Budapest. I was invited down to the Balaton to see Bródy János in action. My friend was driving him down and I was going along for the ride. After the gig, in which he wowed young and old alike, we had dinner with the village mayor. English was as scarce as goose liver was plentiful. In my mind, I reckoned Bródy was the Hungarian version of Irish singer Christy Moore, both of whom use their music as a social commentary. [Am thinking Oblivious, which was, of course, written by Mick Blake, and They never came home – one of a few songs of his that were banned.]
Back in the 1970s, Bródy wasn’t at all backward about coming forward, speaking out again Communism with a nuance of innocence. His tongue-in-cheek approach was all the more effective for its implicitness.
In June 10, 1973 at a massive beat event in Diósgyőr, Bródy turned to fans and said “We also wish to thank for the work of the police forces. Yes, I’m serious, as there was many of you who already came here yesterday from Miskolc, many of you who couldn’t sleep anywhere, wanted to spend the night out in Avas. For them, the police provided shelter, even if not as comfortable as the bed at home, and let them out today morning, asking them if they slept well, and wishing them fun for tonight.”
I’ve run into him occasionally over the years. He even dropped by my birthday and sang for me a few years back. I had few favourites, like Szabadnak születtél (Born to be free) and Egy hétig tart (It lasts for a week), both appealing to the hum-along in me. Last night, I went to see him in concert at the Budapest Kongresszusi Központ – an early Christmas present. Me and almost every pensioner in town had made the journey, it would seem. The average age had to have been 60 – and it was brilliant to see the crowd lapping it all up. He’s a powerful performer. Okay, so his voice has seen better days but he still has that presence., that almost grandfatherly sagacity that lends itself so well to being heard.
His latest album Ráadás (Encore) has gone platinum (he accepted an award for it last night) has plenty to say, with tracks such as Magyarok közt európai (Hungarians are European) and Felföldiné estéje (It’s a nightmare); the latter really hit its mark.
Had the Hungarian lyrics not been running across two big screens on either side of the stage, I’d have been lost. But there was enough for me to make a guess at what the songs were about. As for the between-song commentary, that I had to judge from the audience’s reaction. I sensed, though, that one song – Birkaország (Sheep Country) might have struck a raw nerve, ‘A birka burka ára drága, Hát büszke légy, ha birka vagy’ (sheepskin is expensive, be proud to be a sheep).
To Bródy and Christy and Ripoff and all those musicians who write lyrics that ring true, give hope, and speak out, I’m grateful.
And, at the end of what have been a manic couple of weeks in an equally manic couple of months, I’m doubly grateful that I’m beginning to see the light. I have a lie-in scheduled for 10 November and so far, all going to plan, that’ll be the start of two glorious weeks in the village where the sum total of decisions I have to make will amount to little more than deciding which book to read or what movie to watch.