If you haven’t been to Budapest, I highly recommend it. I’ll even let you know of a few cool hipster places off the beaten track if you ask nicely. While you’re there, walk around and take in the sights and sounds (and always remember to look up if you don’t want to miss some of the delightful architectural details). And ride the number two tram (that’s the one up there gliding through the snow, alongside the Danube). Before you go, get in the mood with these six picks of varying Budapestness.
George Ezra - Budapest
Bad start in a way. Honestly, I’ve never felt so cheated. I mean, it’s not actually about Budapest at all is it? Here B-town is nothing more than a rhyming MacGuffin, somewhere to keep a treasure chest. Might as well have called it Kanye West, Taribo West or South West Trains. Or Westward Ho! But damn, if it isn’t a catchy earworm once you stop trying to fight it.
Budapest - Is This The Best It Gets
Is it? I don’t know. No place for jokes here, though, because after recording Too Blind To Hear, Budapest’s only album, guitarist Mark Walworth tragically committed suicide. By way of tribute the remaining band members carried on, releasing and touring the album, but it was to be their only release together.
Dirty Beaches - Alone At The Danube River
Alone and scared if this is what you’re listening to. I’m not trying to put you off, you understand, just suggesting that while music doesn’t have to always be upbeat and poppy, this might not be the best soundtrack to, say, a quick stint around the running track on Margitsziget.
Michael Price - Budapest
This is more like it. The sound of a city slowly stirring. Some time before leaving Budapest, while going through photographs of the city it occurred to me that I had a record of how it looked, how it had changed, places I had been and seen, but nothing captured by other senses. And by other senses, I really mean only sound. It’s hard to capture the touch of a city without stealing parts of it, and who really wants to bottle the smell of a city? Particularly that summer drain smell. Some of the tastes will inevitably lost, too, in foods not often found elsewhere.
Sound, however, can be evocative, nostalgic and easily captured with the right equipment. Equipment I didn’t possess. One day I will have to return to record familiar noises: a trolleybus arriving at its stop in a side-street near the apartment; the doors closing announcement on Metro line 1 and the accompanying notes almost taken from In The Mood to chivvy tourists; snatches of Hungarian, still frustratingly elusive.
Compact Disco - Sound of Our Hearts
Hungary’s Eurovision entry for 2012 finished one place above Engelbert Humperdinck, but deserved to do far better. And I’m not saying that just because the video tells the story of two men, one of whom lives in my apartment block: he has my furniture, from wardrobes right down to kettle. (The maid must have been an optional extra that we didn’t sign up for). I’m not even saying it just because the lead singer was a neighbour and therefore friend, albeit the kind of friend with whom your conversations never seem to get beyond ‘jó reggelt’.
No, I’m saying it because of both those things! Also because it’s actually a really great slice of uplifting electropop.
Szécsi Pál - Zenészballada
Szécsi Pál’s father died in the last months of World War II, and his mother left for America during the 1956 revolution. He became a model and was talent-spotted while singing in the bar of the Hotel Gellert. His rapid rise to fame and popularity in Hungary did not bring him happiness, and he retreated into alcoholism. After several unsuccessful attempts, he committed suicide on 30th April 1974, aged 30.
Sorry for the gloomy details, but that is often just how it is with Hungary, its heroes and its art. (You may be familiar, for instance, with Gloomy Sunday, a song performed by Billie Holiday, composed by Rezső Seress, and sometimes dubbed “The Hungarian suicide song”).
Set against this backstory, Zenészballada sits on a knife-edge, staring out in two directions: looking one way it’s easy listening that lets itself go, until it’s a riotous mess of sounds, as drums beat themselves up alongside a confusion of analog moogishness and wakka-wakka guitars and horns, topped off by a waterfall of piano notes, which I first overheard in some downtown bar and had to shazam for posterity; obversely it’s a poignant tale of loss and wondering what might have been that asks a simple question:
Where are you now, where are you old friend?
Budapest is often used as a filming location. Sometimes this works out well, as in the case of a scene from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy shot in Parisi Udvar. Sometimes it works out badly, like when the latest and most rubbish Die Hard movie closes down most of your immediate neighbourhood to film some tedious scenes of chasing and exploding.
Sometimes it’s funny and unexpected. Like this: