Music with soul, an Irish soul

I was born asking questions. The whys of life fascinate me: I like to know why people do what they do, why they make the choices they make, why they live where they live. My litany of questions has been likened to the relentless nature of the Spanish inquisition (without the evil intent), particularly when I have a glass of wine in hand. I’m fortunate that those who have been on the receiving end rarely if ever take exception to my curiosity. And so the questions continue.

Photo credit: Kaci Simon

Photo credit: Kaci Simon

My latest victim is Hungarian born Martón Béres-Deák. Born in the town of Gyöngyös, some 80km east of Budapest, he spent 9 years in the UK, mainly in London. He speaks his English with a British accent but strangely when he sings an Irish ballad, he sings with an Irish accent. He’s even mastered the soft ‘t’ that is so uniquely Irish.

Béres-Deák was 15 when he first picked up a guitar. And he’s been playing since. At 18, he studied classical music at Bartók Béla Music School, where he also learnt the piano and music theory. Given all that, my burning question was why Irish music? What’s the fascination?

With an Irish landlord in Crawley, UK, Béres-Deák was introduced to the craic from the outset. He played in a band doing popular Irish songs at various Irish festivals in the city. Returning to Budapest, he soon spotted that the Irish pubs in the city liked their Irish music, too. He now plays regular gigs at Jack Doyle’s and at Becketts and loves it.

For Béres-Deák, it’s all about the passion. The songs he sings, most often requested by locals and tourists alike, are full of soul. He likes that the punters get caught up in the music, too. They sing along, eyes half-shut, some inner chord striking as he plays and sings with them. He describes Irish music as a direct extension of the Irish soul.

It takes time to learn new songs, to grasp the lyrics, to mimic the speech, but he says it’s worth it for the emotional response he gets. Some songs take weeks or months to sink in and for him to truly represent their message or vibe. Some songs don’t match his style at all. Some songs he loves the audience won’t like and others that he loathes, the audience will love. Yes, Chesterton had it right when he said of the Irish that our wars are merry and our songs are sad.   The songs Béres-Deák sings are very personal. The stories are easy for him to relate to, as a Hungarian for whom the fight for freedom and the story of migration has also played a huge role in his life.

Earlier this summer, a business man from Boston who heard Béres-Deák play at a gig in Budapest, invited him to play at a local festival in Ballinskelligs. He’s a little nervous about going to Ireland and playing in front of a home crowd but he has what it takes – that cheeky mix of irreverence and passion that is a winning combination. He never repeats the same set of songs. He brings his full repertoire of some 250 songs with him and then picks and chooses to suit his audience. And he makes it all look so easy.

Béres-Deák has worked many jobs – he’s laboured on the building sites, spent time as a lumberjack’s assistant, worked as a cook, drove a van, supervised a warehouse, worked in a call centre. He’s tried hard to not make music his life, but at this he has failed miserably. And rather than fight it, for the moment he’s embracing it.

Check him out at Catch him live at Becketts  tonight, Friday, 8th July, and at Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant tommorrow, Saturday night, 9th July. And if you’d like to book him for a gig, contact him at [email protected]

First published in the Budapest Times 8 July 2016

Came for the rugby, stayed for the soccer

Yesterday, I ran the full gamut of emotions from anticipation and boredom to elation and fear to nervousness and outrage to pride and querulousness, to a weary type of zealousness that I’d rather not experience again any time soon. It’s almost as if the rugby (Ireland’s win over France) and the soccer (Ireland’s loss to Poland) were by-the-way,incidental.

FB2 (320x240)The atmosphere in Jack Doyle’s was electric. I could count on one hand the number of French people I have met in my eight years in Budapest but yesterday, they outnumbered the Irish both in body and in voice. Their rousing rendition of the French national anthem was one worth hearing. So good was it, in fact, that our pathetic effort at our rugby anthem was … well… pathetic. Only a handful of the Irish in JDs knew all the words to it and knowing the chorus just wasn’t enough.

Had we been singing Ireland’s national anthem, I think we might have fared better but then this would have excluded our northern brethren (which was why the rugby anthem was adopted in the first place). A Welsh mate of mine had commented after the England v. Australia game on how sad it was that England only has one rugby song compared to the six Wales can offer up. I thought about agreeing until I realised that Ireland only has one, too – the Fields of Athenry! Lads, we need to do something about this.

FB3 (320x240)The bar seemed quite divided – the French at one end and the Irish at the other – with both sets of fans doing their bit to egg on their respective teams. And even though we won, when it all cleared out afterwards, the French fans were the ones still singing. A credit to them. The rest of us were still discussing what it meant for us to lose four players as we approach the quarter finals. We were doing Joe Schmidt’s job for him, working through the boys on the bench and debating whether or not we had cover for next Sunday’s game with Argentina.

With an hour wait we  thought about going home or staying to see what Martin O’Neill has done with the Irish soccer team. We stayed. And as the French filtered out, the Poles arrived. And what a difference.

The bar had been packed solid for the rugby. It took an age to get out for a smoke or to the loo. Kudos to the floor staff who managed to stay upright without accident while navigating the dense crowd balancing their booze-laden trays.  And hats off to them for keeping a smile on their face as the punters’  anxiety about what was happening on the pitch seeped in to what was happening with their drinks. A stellar off-pitch performance.

Given how important a game this was for Ireland, it was surprising how few people stayed to watch, but those who did got to see some great camaraderie between both sets of fans. When Ireland scored the equaliser in the early minutes, our Poland neighbours tipped their glasses in acknowledgement. And when it was all over, gracious in their victory, they shook hands with all of us.

Behind me, I overheard a snippet of a conversation that summarised the atmosphere:

Polish fan: There are way more Irish in here. We’re outnumbered.
Irish fan: Sure we’re all friends here tonight. We’ll have a few pints and then we’ll be singing.

Me? Give me rugby any day. I enjoyed the football well enough but there isn’t enough action in it for me. So much so that I spent my time wondering at what was going through Ireland’s manager Martin O’Neill’s head when he picked that lilac and green tracksuit to wear? Had he no one to tell him NOT to wear it? He made Poland’s manager Adam Nawałka look like a pin-up from GQ! I was mortified.

We didn’t get the result we needed in the football but we’re not out of it yet. There are still the play-offs. Martin – if you’re reading this – lilac ain’t your colour, pet.

But we are through to the quarter finals in the rugby. Next up, Sunday at 2pm, Ireland v Argentina. If you’re Irish (or Argentinian) in Budapest, pop by Jack Doyle’s. And if you’re buying, mine will be a Magners. Bring the Valium.

2014 Grateful 42

How I could have held my head high and called myself Irish when there’s so much that I didn’t know about St Patrick is beyond me.  I can’t explain this recent obsession with the man. Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis of sorts. Never before was I so curious about him and yet despite all my research, I still have little more than a cup of tea and two biscuit’s worth of information. I started off being a tad embarrassed about my lack of knowledge, given that I’m Irish through and through, but in hindsight, I doubt very much that I’m the only Irish person with such a knowledge deficit.

IMG_3413 (600x800)I never knew, for instance, that St Patrick was the patron saint of paralegals and engineers. Or that his patronage extended not alone to Ireland but also to Nigeria and Montserrat. I had never heard that it took him so long to drum the religion into us that the walking stick he had stuck in the ground took root and grew into a tree. And while I am familiar with the wearing of shamrock and perhaps a harp on St Patrick’s Day, I’d never heard of the two St Patrick’s crosses.

For years I’ve been trying to persuade people that the shamrock is not a clover only to find that for years I’ve been wrong. The name shamrock comes from the Irish seamróg, which is the diminutive version of the Irish word for clover, meaning ‘little clover’. Another bubble burst… the embarrassment.

Despite being known the world over as St Patrick, Patrick was never formally canonised by a pope. And I never knew that when he died there was a fight to see who’d get the body – the Battle for the Body of St Patrick went over my head. Or that when he was buried he was watched over for 12 days and nights, or more like 12 long days as night never came – it was daylight the entire time.

IMG_3396 (800x599) (800x599)The first St Patrick’s Day parade was in New York back in the 1762 when some Irish soldiers serving with the British Army apparently marched across the city to a pub in Manhattan. Funny … the first one in Budapest was in 2011 and we ended up Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub and Restaurant.  mmmm… maybe it’s all finally beginning to make sense.

At the end of what has been another hectic week, I’m grateful for the fact  I have retained enough Irish to be able to wish the blessings of St Patrick’s Day on you all. Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh go léir. Wherever you are tomorrow, how ever you’re celebrating, know that I’ll be with ye in spirit. And if you’re in Budapest – mine’s a Jameson and ginger!