I … apparently … made a right tit of myself last week. I’m still processing it. I know I can get a little OTT when I meet someone or something I like – and like a lot. I’ve been known to enthuse a tad. But apparently this time I was positively gushing in my groupieness. I may have even used the word to describe myself. BLUSH. MEGA BLUSH. I just don’t do well when awed.

I still squirm when I remember being at a gig at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. A chance encounter with a fave author (Pat McCabe) complete with a witty throwaway line that he asked to borrow (the man using my words – I was in awe-city), was blown to smithereens when I asked the dumbest of dumb questions during his interview with Neil Jordan. Mortified. I’m still mortified.

Last Wednesday’s performance lacks the mortification element as it was only witnessed by four others, not four hundred. And while I’m still getting ragged about it, they’ll forget in time.

Three days after I was born, Ludwig (Lutz) Knoglinger was celebrating his 11th birthday in Linz, Austria. Little did he know that half a century later, in a bar in Budapest, our paths would cross and that I’d feel driven to tell him just exactly what I thought of him.

These days, he goes by the name Ripoff Raskolnikov (remember Crime and Punishment?) and while not nearly as famous as Dostoevsky’s main man, he certainly deserves to be.

It was a cold Wednesday evening in May. He was playing in Kobuci Kert, one of my favourite BP venues for live music. The crowd wasn’t as big as it could have been, had the weather been cooperating. We had a table near the front, as all three guitar-playing friends wanted to watch the man play. Me? I was happy enough to sit and listen.

I like my blues to have lyrics that make me think. And Ripoff writes beautifully. Everything is temporary. Lenin Street. And a favourite – It’s not easy.

I like it too, when I don’t matter. When I know that whoever is on stage would be giving it welly even if there was no one listening or watching. The way blues takes you inside, that visible inward folding, that’s what gives it soul.

I wish, though, that he didn’t speak Hungarian, that he stuck to English, as I was only getting a smattering of his between-song commentary, which, by the crowd’s reaction, was as funny as all git out. No. No. That’s stupid. Of course I don’t wish that he didn’t speak Hungarian; I just wish that I did. My bad.

It’s beyond me why he’s not world famous. He’d give Tom Waits a run for his money any day. I’d heard tell that it was more choice than circumstance and that I’d quite believe. He seems too laid back to crave the limelight. He said though that fame had passed him by. Or at least, that’s what I think he said. It was all a bit of daze. I was gibbering. He looked bemused. And as I said, I don’t do well when I’m in awe.

The good news is that he’s a regular to Hungary and is playing in Zala County on 2 June. And I can’t very well pass that up. [I’m sure I invited him to drop by for dinner.] The lovelies are in from Ireland that weekend so it’ll be an airport-gig run. Whatever I can do to introduce the world to Ripoff Raskolnikov I will do – I’m on a mission.

WOW… I’ve just noticed that he plays Kobuci Kert in August, on my birthday. Well, that’s that sorted, SJ. We’re staying put. For other gigs in Europe this year, check the website.






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.]

The magic flautist

The first time I set foot in Hungary, back in 2003, I recognised the affinity that is peculiar to the Hungarians and the Irish. It goes beyond literature and art, beyond folklore and tradition. It’s something that resides deep in the souls of both peoples, something intangible.

Of course, literature and art have their space. Bloomsday celebrations of Joyce’s work are huge in Szombathely. The Weeping Madonna at Győr – who apparently cried tears of blood on 17 March 1697 after the Irish Parliament voted in favour of the Banishment Act to rid the country of its clergy – is further testament to an age-old connection between the two countries, this one based in a shared sense of Catholicism. And a retired diplomat I met recently told me of 400-page treatise written by a Hungarian scholar on the similarities between the two languages – Gaelic and Hungarian.

But it is in the Hungarian adoption of Irish music that I find the most inspiring. In Kobuci kert recently I first heard Paddy and the Rats. Hailing from Miskolc, the lads bill their genre as Pub ‘n’ Roll, Celtic Punk, and Sailor Punk. Between the six of them, their energy could keep Budapest in lights for a day. Paddy himself had the audience in the palm of his hand, in true Irish story-telling form. I was blown away.

IMG_7393And yet, good and all as they are, my heart is with Firkin who played an hour-long gig at the recent Sparking Wine Festival in Budafok.  Although it had been a while since I’d seen them live, they hadn’t lost their magic. There’s something quite surreal in hearing old Irish songs belted out in Hungarian. And, in fact, on more than one occasion, I could have sworn the lads were singing in Gaelic. Perhaps there is a connection between the languages after all.

IMG_7403 (600x800)Were I to be totally honest, I’d admit to being a little enthralled by their flautist. There’s something magical about János Péter; it was as if he’d sprung from the netherworld of the sidhe (the fairy folk), brimming with mischief and life. I can’t help thinking that had we more of his energy, we might manage to lift ourselves from the political doldrums that currently ensnare us.

First published in the Budapest Times 13 September 2013

2013 Grateful 19

I mixed up my Paddys. I thought I was going to Kobuci to see Paddy, he who sometimes plays in Jack Doyle’s. I had visions of a rousing ballad session with more than a hint of Irish. Having dinner beforehand it was obvious from the general conversation that I’d mixed up my Paddys.

What I was actuallpaddy ky going to see was a gig by Paddy and the Rats. And the confusion didn’t stop there. With names like Paddy O’Reilly, Sam McKenzie, Joey MacOnkay, Bernie Bellamy, Vince Murphy, and Seamus Connelly, I was expecting a six-pack of Irish lads on stage, but when I spoke with Bernie afterwards, he was obviously Hungarian. So I’m still clueless.

From what I can gather, the boys hail from Miskolc and banded together in 2008, listing their genres as Pub ‘n’ Roll, Celtic Punk, Sailor Punk. What I know for sure is that the gig was bloody amazing. It’s been a while (my first Firkin gig in BP actually) since I’ve seen grown men body-slamming, or girls being shouldered by their lads, or every foot in the place rocking. I had a permanent grin on my face and with the mantra ‘bloody amazing’ rollicking around in my brain as the rest of me seemed to be going in fifty million directions – yet all perfectly coordinated. The music gets into your bones.

paddy5Paddy O’Reilly, whoever he is when he’s at home, had the crowd in the palm of his hand – literally. He choreographed them like they were puppets on a string. I say ‘them’ because although I was there, I stood back, by the bar, to avoid the frenzy and watched with a peculiar mix of pride that I think only someone as romantically Irish as I can be could feel – a pride that our music has run the gauntlet, somersaulted across cultures and borders and landed so firmly in Hungary where it so obviously enjoyed.

paddy4The accordion work on Pilgrim on the Road was amazing. And while I struggled to catch the words (a combination methinks of accent, enunciation, and acoustics) Never walk alone is still rattling around in my head. As for the bagpipes, the fiddle work, and the drums… am already itching for more.

This week, I’m grateful for the invitations I get to go places I’ve not been before, for the exposure to music I’d never discover on my own, and to those who hang tight till the wee hours and make these forays so much more enjoyable. And even if I was the common denominator in the series of accidents that befell the city this week … ta very much, lads. I had a blast.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52