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When the blues cry for Mary

One of the many reasons I like living in Budapest is the neighbourhood feeling that can still be found in parts of the city, corners of the capital that still have a village feel to them. Take Budafok as an example. Home to what is, in my mind, the best wine festival in the city, the streets and squares are taken over one weekend a year by local vineyards selling their wines (from as little as 200 ft a dl), local cheese makers selling their cheeses, and local craftspeople selling their wares. All available courtyards are put to use as temporary stages are erected to showcase the best of local talent. It’s a family affair with plenty on offer to suit everyone.

Wandering back down the main drag on Saturday evening (Day 1 of the two-day festival), we nipped into the courtyard of Megálló Étterem in search of food. Fed well on kolbász and pickled cabbage, we also sampled one of the wines on offer and were readying ourselves to move on to meet some friends at the Pezsgő tér where the relatively well-known band Group ‘N’ Swing were due to entertain the masses. But just one song into their first set, the band on stage held sway. The only moving we would do would be to the dance floor.

JackCannon-picture (533x800)The Jack Cannon Blues Band (interestingly named after two piece of electrical cable) lists its genres as blues-rock, hard rock, blues, funky, R&B, and soul. The lads nailed a couple of Jimi Hendrix covers Let me stand next to your fire and When the wind cries Mary ‒ and played a couple of new ones of their own (in Hungarian). Lead vocalist and harp player, György Zoltai (Zozo), says he plays the harmonica while thinking with the head of a guitarist, which goes some way to explaining the sound he gets from the tiny instrument. It’s the stuff goosebumps are made of.

With Ádám Biró on guitar, Péter Gyergyádesz on bass, and Attila Lakatos (Lakat) on drums, the four are a force to be reckoned with. The lads have been playing in this current group since 2012 when Lakat added his drums to the mix. Ádám and Zozo have been playing together since 2006 and were joined by Péter on bass in 2007. The three had notable success as an acoustic trio in national and international blues festivals. Back in 2008, when looking for gigs abroad, they stumbled on a Czech website and inadvertently entered (and won) one of Europe’s most prestigious international blues competition, Blues Aperitiv, in the Czech Republic. It was the first of many competition wins for the lads and once you’ve heard them, you’ll know why. They play abroad two or three times a year in Poland and the Czech Republic and play semi-regular gigs at Old Mans Music Pub here in the city (next gig is there on Tuesday, 22nd September – The Jack Cannon Acoustic Trio).

For them, the blues is not just music. It’s how they live and see the world. And when they play the blues, they’re sharing their world with their audience. Some performers have it, some don’t. Call it personality, call it presence, call it what you will. It’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it. I’ve sat through gigs where the performers, although excellent, could just as well have been playing to an empty room. There’s little if any difference between hearing them live and listening to them on CD. And I’ve lived through gigs where every cell in my body was hopping. The difference between passively listening and actively engaging is what makes bands like the Jack Cannon Blues Band memorable. They’re impossible to ignore and even more impossible to forget.

First published in the Budapest Times 11 September 2015

Thermal weapons and wine

Up until the mid-sixteenth century, thermal weapons were all the go.  The objective was simple: inflict maximum damage by scalding or burning. Hot water and sand. Perfect. Hot animal fat. Even better. Nowadays, especially in Hungary, the smell of boiling fat is synonmyous with festivals.

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In a country where vegetarian menus often feature dishes with bacon (which hasn’t yet been given full meat status here) and vegetable soups are often made with chicken stock, meat reigns supreme.

At the Budafoki Pezsgő  és Borfesztivál (the Budafok Wine and Champagne Festival) last weekend, the smells were enticing. I was particularly impressed with the sight of a full cow carcass on a spit. Beef is a luxury here in BP and it’s hard to find good stuff for anything less than exhorbitant prices. But this  simply fell from my fork. Beautifully cooked and a taste to die for.

In Budapest terms, Budafok is District XXII and home to most of the wine makers in the Budapest wine region. The biggest attraction at the festival by far is Törley. It opens its doors to the public this time every year, giving tours of the cellars and selling some of its harder-to-find champagnes.The rather clever exhibition hall includes a massive walk-through   bottle of champagne. Out in the courtyard, jazz bands keep the punters amused while the reasonable prices for 1dl of champers gives the guzzlers a chance to sample the fuller menu.

Hitting the main street, stalls stretch far into the distance with 13 wine cellars and dozens of booths offering all sorts in the line of craftware and oddware. It’s the first time I’ve seen Pivní Kosmetika (beer cosmetics) and can’t for the life of me imagine rubbing Carlsberg onto my face. It seems to be a Czech concept and I wonder if it will ever catch on here in Hungary.

This was the festival’s 23rd year and my 3rd. It’s the first time I stayed into the evening and really got to see what it’s all about. It’s a very local gig – and with tourists (foreigners) few and far between, they were quick to adopt the three of us. I laughed so hard that I cried. Between us, with what Hungarian we could muster, we did okay (Wales definitely took home the cup for Best in Hungarian).

Budafok seems to have its own measure of measures with 1dl differing quite dramatically between the various stalls.  As one blogger put it: ‘Here you still find wine makers who give you more than 1dl of wine just because they are proud of their product and not because they need to make the most money out of their stock.’ Others must be extracting vengence on whoever left them in charge. It’s a regular fixture on my calendar now and I’ll definitely be going back again next year.