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You can never get too much of a good thing

I have a vague memory of something about diminishing marginal utility – a vague recollection of my Economics teacher trying to convince us that the more we had of something, the less we’d enjoy it. And yes, there is an argument for seldom being wonderful. And there might well be a case to be made for delayed gratification. Personally, though, I’m all for the never getting enough of a good thing.

Last night was the fourth time I’ve seen the  wonderful Budapest Bár. Twice this summer alone. And they’re brilliant. They’ve yet to disappoint. I’d go even further and say that they could never disappoint, but I know better than to say never – it has a habit of biting me in the ass.

We had three newbies with us – three mates who had never seen the lads before. Okay, so I might have gone a little over the top in my enthusiasm about Frenk, and perhaps in their eyes he didn’t live up to his billing, but hey, taste is personal. I still think that he’s God’s gift to creation.

And he did his fab duet with Németh Juci – The Wild Rose- made famous by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue. That’s a song I can’t get enough of. Last time I saw them, I got to see Kiss Tibi from Quimby live in action and subsequently went to one of his gigs – brilliant. This time I saw Szűcs Krisztián from Heaven Street 7. I might well be keeping an eye out for those boys, too.

Last year, I saw them in the Zoo. Last night’s gig was in the courtyard of the Petőfi Literary Museum. And that’s just part of what makes summer in Budapest so special. These outdoor gigs. Popping up in courtyards and parks and kert bars all over the city. Everything from the more cultural venues like museums to the down and dirty Budapest Park (scene of my unfortunate accident some weeks ago – and yes, I’m still in pain). And when you’re dealing with concert tickets ranging from €5 to the €12 we paid for last night’s gig, there’s no limit to the number you can try out. So if HS7 aren’t all that Szűcs might seem to promise, I won’t be too disappointed.

So my mates were more impressed with Juci than with Frenk and in fairness, the woman certainly has a set of lungs. And that’s the beauty of the Bár – there are so many of them that there’s always going to be someone there for everyone.

I reckon I could fit at least one more BB gig this summer. As I say, you can never get enough of a good thing… and yes, the ‘never’ here is intentional 🙂

2015 Grateful 33

It seems ages ago now, but it was only last week that I battled the rain and stood with hundreds of others, partially shielded by umbrellas, watching the wonderful Budapest Bár in action at Kobuci kert over in Buda. I’ve seen them a couple of times before, but I was still excited. And I had convinced a visiting friend to come with me, so my reputation, in a way, was on the line. I’d been banging on about them so much that they’d better be good!

When bandleader Robert Farkas put together Budapest Bár in 2007, he wanted to create a first-class ensemble that would exemplify Central European urban Gypsy music at its best, rather than what had become its commonplace kitschy-nostalgia worst. The result is a professional music group at the heart of a tight – knit collaborative miscellany of performers that transcends ethnic, musical and generational boundaries.

Budapest Bar is an intoxicating music cocktail of Gypsy virtuosity, infused with rock’n’roll energy. The wildly popular Gypsy band teams up with a rotating roster of singers drawn from the creme de la creme of the international and Hungarian rock, underground and jazz scene, swinging between the sultry and rollicking. Their repertoire stretches from Liszt through 1920s European songs to Michael Jackson covers.

We ran into a couple of other friends and spent the evening in their company. The lovely D was particularly up to date on the current happenings of the band and filled me in. Each of them plays or sings with another group and they get together on occasion for nights just like this to do the ‘oldies’ music. That must be why I like them so much.

KissTFor the seven or so years (nearly eight! where does time go?)  I’ve been in Budapest, I’ve seen posters for two other groups – Quimby and Magna Cum Laude. Seeing both of them live is high up on my list of things to do this summer (as it was last year and the year before and the year before – the road to heaven is paved with unbooked concert tickets). So when Kiss Tibi (the gorgeous guy who fronts Quimby) came on stage, I swooned alongside the rest of the ladies (and a few of the men). What a bonus.

MMiseShortly after Frenk (am a tad smitten by him, too) did his stuff, I got another surprise.  Mező Misi, him who fronts Magna Cum Laude, also appeared. And at one stage, both Misi and Tibi were on stage together. So, although I haven’t seen both groups in action, I’ve seen their front men and have had a taste of what’s to come. ‘Twas well worth a schlep on the HÉV over to Buda for that particular night out.

I’m bound and determined the the summer of 2015 in Budapest will be one to remember. It looks as if I have at least two straight months in the city without a flight to anywhere else and for that I’m grateful. Already this week, I kicked off my Summer Cultural Odyssey (a joint initiative with the inimitable ZE) with a long-promised trip to the Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum (Hungarian National Museum). And I ate, not once, but twice, as a great Vietnamese place over in Buda – Hanoi Étterem (fresh spring rolls to die for). For someone whose metaphorical baggage includes a Northside/Southside discrimination, I’m spending a lot of time on the other side of the river lately but have lived to tell the tale.

So as the temperatures rise, and work continues unabated, I’m full of good intentions to see out the summer in Budapest  – or the next two months at least. All it takes is a little planning. [Sweet Mother of Divine Jesus – did I use the P word? I must be growing up.]

Monkeys, by any other name, are still monkeys

Could I have two tickets for tonight’s concert, please?
It’s sold out.
No tickets?
Yes, there are tickets. But it’s sold out.
So, can I get two tickets?
Yes, but you will have to stand.
That’s no problem.
Can I go in now to see the zoo?
No. You’re standing. You can’t go in until the concert starts. Only those with seats can go in early.

IMG_4158 (800x600)I had come to Budapest Zoo to see Budapest Bar in concert. The website said that with your ticket you could enter at 7 pm, check out the animals, and then see the gig. But only if you got a seated ticket, apparently. If you were standing, then you couldn’t go in. This made no sense. If I was wandering around looking at the animals, I wouldn’t be sitting in a seat? But hey… I was tired. I’d had a bad day. And I really wanted to see Budapest Bar.

So I bought the tickets and then killed an hour in the local IBIS bar. Not the most fascinating place I’ve ever had a drink in, but the wine was wet and came in a glass and I’d had a bad day. I said that already, didn’t I?

Those of you paying attention will remember that Budapest Bar was the band that impressed me most at Sziget. A gypsy band with six musicians who play the cymbol, keyboards, violin, double bass, drums, and accordion, they attract a who’s who of Hungarian contemporary singers. The craic they had on stage had the audience in stitches and us mono linguists wishing for the billionth time that we had the Hungarian to get the humour.

IMG_4153 (800x600)And the joy that is Budapest Bar is that they open up a completely new world of new voices. I now have a major girl crush on Németh Juci. And a major boy crush on Frenk. Together, their rendition of Wild Rose was mindblowing.

My second favourite song of the evening was Frenk – again – with the Alabama Song… this was the one that converted me to Budapest Bar in Sziget.

And in third place was a version of Purple Rain that was, to my mind, better than any one I have ever heard, including the original. Frenk and a girl called Sandi… who in her own right was bloody amazing, too. The talent… the talent…

Fourth place (after this I gave up ranking) went to Rutkai Bori for Mr Alkohol. But you need to see her in action to appreciate the animation. As the inimitable MLB said: I’d wrap her up and take her home.

They played everything from the Pulp Fiction opening number to David Bowie’s Everything will be alright tonight. It was undoubtedly the best 1900 huf (€6/$8) I have ever spent on live music.

These lads love their stuff. The singers, all of them, are animated, acting as well as singing. The audience of about 800 souls chilling out (literally) in the low twenties open air at the zoo on a Thursday night in Budapest were with them all the way. Sure what else would you be doing?

Next door, in Gundel  (perhaps the most expensive restaurant in the city) patrons sitting on the terrace had a great vantage point and a free gig. But it would be hard to begrudge them, seeing as some entrées on that particular menu go for 40000 huf (about €125 or $175).

The booze wasn’t cheap cheap… but the setting more than made up for it. It was a gorgeous evening. Great music, good wine, scintillating company. What more could a body ask for?

Well, I’d have liked to have seen the monkeys!

PS They’re playing a gig in the synagogue on Sept 3. If you’re in town, it’s well worth trying to get tickets.

 

 

 

 

No longer a virgin

Each year, come July/August, I go through the same routine. I check the line-up for this years Sziget music festival and see how few names I recognise. Then I have the same debate with myself: to go or not to go. And each year, despite the best of intentions to let this be the year that I get out of my box and break down those comfortable walls, I never follow through. I find an excuse and I chicken out.

The seven-day Sziget music festival has been running since 1993 and now features more than 1000 live performances over the course of the week. This year, Thursday sold out with Lily Allen on the main stage. 85 000 day tickets were sold that day and all festival goers were contained on Óbudai-sziget, a 266-acre island on the Danube.

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In my defence, I am musically clueless. It’s as if the music world stopped turning for me in the 1980s. I detest crowds with a passion, unless I’m neatly corralled in my allocated space where you can’t stomp on me, elbow me, or spill your pint on top of me (strangely though, I have no problem with crowds at a racetrack…mmm…). I can’t abide being marked up, paying over the odds just because I’m one of  a captive audience with no choice other than to pay or go without. But this year, I actually went. Just for one day. But I went.

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It was muddy and the mud stank like the wet fur of a million dogs. This was the second-last day and those who were camping for the week were looking a little like they’d been dragged through a ditch backwards. As a newbie, I let fly with my fair share of oohs and aghs. I was  impressed. It’s like a little city with post offices, pharmacies, shops, a consular office, bars, and restaurants. All that was missing was a church.  There were UK police and police from Germany, the Netherlands  and other countries in uniform and on hand to help. Signs showed meeting points for Australians, Dutch, Nordic, Indians and more. You could buy a festival phone to keep track of your mates and everything was paid for using a festival card that you topped up as you needed at one of the many banks around the place. You could even get married there, have an HIV test, or check your mental health. There was an Irish stage, a world stage, and various other tents and stages that featured specific types of music. I could have stayed all night at the circus pitch – remarkable stuff.

 

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Prices seemed quite standardised and certainly more expensive than the usual Hungarian fare but for the many international heads (I heard that over 70% of attendees come from abroad), it is still cheap. Hidden amongst it all is a pub that operates on the island year round. It accepts the festival card but has its own prices (about half of what you’d pay elsewhere)  – a good place to know. People were walking around with small pails of cocktails. Wine bottles were being emptied into plastic containers. Beer was being sold by the vatload and yet there were surprisingly few obvious drunks and those who were a little the worse for wear were in great form.

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The place is dotted with interesting art installations and there is plenty to see and do. Were I to do it over, I’d go in the morning and wander around before the crowds got too much. Then I’d sit for a while near the circus, spend some time at the world stage, and perhaps hand-pick a band or two that I really wanted to see.

First band on the main stage that even was an Indie band from the UK – the Bombay Bicycle Club. Needless to say I’d never heard of them but they were good. I could listen to them. At 7.30 IMG_4090 (800x600)Madness appeared and I was back in the kitchen in Northbrook in the mi-1980s with Messrs Jackson and Dowdall doing their take on Suggs et al. in the kitchen. Great stuff. They sang all the classics to which I even knew then words. I never fail to surprise myself.

Crowdsurfing was all the go and I watched a little agestruck as people were bodily passed across the crowd, mentally calculating that there wasn’t enough wine in the world to make me trust in the hands of strangers.  Towards the end,  Our House and Baggy Pants roused the younger ones, as if turning on a collective memory switch. It became just a tad hairy, as they barrelled through the crowd to the front, regardless of what or who was in the way. By this stage, I’d had enough. There’s a limit to the amount of discomfort I can handle. Prodigy were next up – the main act that night. I listened long enough to realise that I am not and will never be a fan. I just didn’t get them. So I went in search of good music – Budapest Bar. 

And from there to the World Stage for some reggae. By this time, I was running on empty. Completely knackered. Twelve hours was as much as I could handle. I was pretty impressed that I’d lasted that long and more impressed with the set-up. And while I love the idea, I can’t for the life of me imagine a whole week of it. Next year, I’ll be in Africa, so the internal debate can be postponed. In 2016? Who knows.

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