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.

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

Talk to me...