You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that it’s taken me this long to recover from my first Ír KocsmaSó (an odd assemblage of words that translates literally into Irish pub salt but really means Irish pub show – punning in a second language is oddity only outdone by the little bags of salt we were given as gifts on the night). And a most peculiar night it was, too. Mistake No. 1 was to think that my Hungarian was good enough to get the gist of what was in store from the website. Yes, I realised it was in the sticks – the suburbs of Budaörs at the Jókai Mór Müvelődési Központ, affectionately known as JMMK. But I didn’t realise that it isn’t a pub… it’s a cultural centre. Yes, I realised that it was being headlined by Firkin, an Irish rock band, but I didn’t realise they weren’t Irish. And yes, I realised that Jamie Winchester was opening for them, but I didn’t realise he would be joining in their first set, not playing on his own. I had read something about Irish stew and free guinness (neither of which particularly excited me) but somewhere deep in my subconsciousness I was missing Ireland terribly and wanted a taste of home, no matter if that taste amounted to two things I least like about Ireland – pottage and porter.
So I convinced a couple of Hungarian friends who have been talking about going on holiday to Ireland that they should come along for the experience. In my head I imagined a smoke-filled room crammed with people sitting chatting and others milling around and more still propping up the bar. I imagined Whelan’s on Wexford St, perhaps, or some such venue in Dublin. I thought the crowd would be youngish and mainly Irish or at least British (given that they’re an Irish Irish band, mar dhea). And I was really looking forward to having the craic.
When we got there, there was a queue forming outside. When we went in (and we were lucky to get tickets and lucky that HÉ and TZs insisted on coming early) there were more queues inside – for the stew and the guinness and for the bar. The doors to the auditorium were shut. People were perched on windowsills lining what looked remarkably like a school corridor. The crowd was a little long in the tooth and instead of being in Whelan’s, in my mind’s eye I was back in the Galtee Mór in Cricklewood, North London. Where were all the fit fellahs?
Once the main doors opened, we packed inside. I’d been dreading theatre seating but all the seats had been taken out. Thank God for small mercies. At least there’d be room to move around. But then people started to produce chairs from nowhere, lining the walls and sitting expectantly staring at the stage. This wasn’t shaping up right at all. The Blackbird ír sztepptánc show with Éiri ír tradiconális zenekar came on and I offered a silent prayer of thanks for the marked absence of embroidered costumes and ringletted wigs! The dancers looked like they were having a whale of a time and the lead vocal certainly had a feel for those fadás. Mind you, the tunes being billed as popular Irish tunes were ones I’d never heard of (with the exception of I wish I was back home in Derry), and I was getting flashbacks to my own failed stepdancing career. Lovely and all as it was, this wasn’t what I’d come for. Judging by the exodus at the intermission though, it was what a lot of others had had in mind (obviously, they’d been able to read and understand the website!)
Somewhere during the tombola, the shapeshifters moved in and the crowd took on a new form. Then the lads took the stage – or more correct, six lads and a female fiddler. The prose-like delivery of the first verse of Whiskey in the Jar in a rather affected British accent had me a little worried but then the rockin’ kicked in and the gig took off. It seemed like everyone of them were doing their own thing and yet it all came together. There was nothing choreographed about it. The crowd went mad. I went mad. You wouldn’t have recognised me! I was mesmirized by the flautist (Janós Péter), leaping around the stage like a court jester without the hat, wearing a mic that looked a remarkably like a third eyebrow. The lead singer ( Marthy Barna) looked a lot like Colin Farrell without the chin. He’s a fine cut of a lad who does justice to the old Clark-Gable-vest-and-open-shirt look. It was only a matter of time before that shirt would come off and those biceps would get the airing they so richly deserved. The collective intake of breath from the female audience was nicely balanced by Göttinger Pali on acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Pali looked like he’d stepped off the back porch of a Grizzly Adams set. With the flat cap and check shirt, I had a hard time believing he wasn’t Irish. Pitch perfect in his enunciation, he was a joy to listen to. All of which I know I told him afterwards, repeatedly. Am blushing to think I was so brazen. Can you just imagine me as a punk Irish groupie! Somewhere in the middle of Colin Farrell and Grizzly Adams is Marczis Attila (on electric guitar) who sported a short back and sides that made me wonder what he’d look like in uniform. Szuna Péter (Bass) and Juhasz Robert (drums) made up the complement along with the dextrous Virag Lili on the fiddle. One of her first times out with the lads, she really made that fiddle talk.
Hearing with Wild Rover sung with a Hungarian accent was fantastic. And where have I been all these years that I never heard bitchin’ in the kitchen before? The night was only beginning when they finished with yet another go at Whiskey in the Jar – this time in Hungarian! It was quite surreal in a way, a bit of a time warp. Suddenly I was 21 again, and back home in Dublin. I only wish I’d woken up from this particular delusion in time. Despite the wonderful company of hedgehogs, griffens, and ministering angels, there’s simply no getting away from the fact that I just can’t hack the long nights and small hours any more. Give me another few weeks to fully recover though and I’ll be in the front row of Firkin’s next-but-one BP gig …Gödör Klub 23 April.