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"Paprikázz fel!"
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By Laszlo Kovacs

 

Udo

Imagine you are living in a Communist country that had not only fought on the ’wrong’side of both World Wars, but also lost two third of its territory and some ten million people dropping out of its new boundaries (after the first World War), had one million dead and had its capital eventually destroyed (during the second WW). Even more, it has just recently lost its own national revolution against Soviet Communist rule in 1956. And imagine you are son of a nation that has an unique passion for playing music. Not just the unique Gypsy Music is coming from there, but also the high classic heritage of Liszt and Bartók. Well, you are in early 60s Hungary, in some sense sitting in the very middle of Europe, in other sense just Behind the Iron Curtain. You want to do rock music. What will be the result?

Here is a selection of what one may think to be best preserved. Rockin’ and rollin’ started in Budapest back in 1957, when Békák (Frogs) were formed, but bands stayed very few and isolated until the mid 60s. The first beat festival was held in 1963, mixing jazz, dance music and instrumental beat bands.

The very first beat record was an Illes EP in 1964. Beat singles came out regularly - however not in lots -  beginning in 1966. These recordings are standing out for their excellent compositions, arrangement and talented engineering - all thanks to the exceptionally strict quality control of the Radio and Record Company (both State Monopolists). On the other side the Record Company took beat as a (non-convertible) Hungarian Forint cashing business, which money well financed all local classical recordings, that were easily marketable for Any Hard Currencies (like a representative Complete Work of Bartok which series were much appreciated in the Western World). Quite a trivial capitalist manner – but very unusual in 60s Hungary… and luckily in the favour of beat audience!

Most artists played only covers, the few original compositions were quite traditional dance song-like ones. Interestingly, Hungarian language conquered the local beat scene almost completely in 1964-66, when playing own compositions became a solid standard. Hungarian folk music and its Eastern passions infiltrated into some of the repertoires, and you can hear some powerful results on the second LP. I am sure none of the musicians were suspicious at that time of making world class psychedelic tracks!

Until 1967-68 bands had two main formats of appearing live: playing for their dance clubs and going for countryside pack tours with non-beat artists: jazz bands, comedians, operette-singers and so on. .Even the most famous bands had contracts with dancing clubs for 4-6 hours of live music once a week. During the pack tours beat bands had mere 20-30 minutes blocks. Besides local clubbing bands, this was the live channel of beat music in the countryside. From 1968 on the most popular bands started playing 60-90 minute gigs of their own material in the shape we are used to now.

By 1968 three bands emerged as a triumvirat of Hungarian beat: Illes, Metro and Omega. They made the first LPs and TV-shows. Many bands were transformed or split up in 1970-71. The beat era had never grown to an excessive Psychedelic or Progressive mania in Hungary. By just that time - for political reasons - the Party put a grip on youth culture. Even the previously favoured band Illes was banned out from Budapest and what more, even LP releases were cut in general (in 1971 there was a half year without ANY releases!). Well, Communist restrictions proved only to be temporary, but from 1972 another music period come. In the shade of fine record output and careers there is another side of this rock scene. In those early - and not so early - years performer- and composer-talents were in fact secondary. If you did not have proper party contacts, your band could almost never make a professional studio recording, due to the mentioned oligopoly of Hungarian Radio, TV and the state run Record Company. Of course, all had further monopoly in its activity scale.


Hungarian beat and rock story is full of never-blossoming geniuses and sadly fallen live performance legends. So see all succesful bands as talented guys who had the choice to fight with and within the structure. They had to fight anyway, in fact most preferred artists have their stories of having conflicts with censorship. But how could this scene shine if all excellent bands had their proper recordings out. Just to name a few artists: Wittek Mária, Liversing, Scampolo, Dogs, Kex, Sakk-Matt.... real classics WITHOUT or with just a handful of decent sound recordings as small bottle-posts on the tides of fading memories.

On the other side, forming and managing a band was extremely expensive, comparing to the low Eastern Block salary’s. For example the price of a single Vox AC 30 amplifier equalled seven months (!!) of average salary in late 60s Hungary. This was absolutely NOT reflected in the price of entrance tickets and records, not to mention the regularly unjust sharing of incomes between clubs and musicians.

In the extremely capital-focused country all important beat bands originated from Budapest – so it is no wonder. This lasted even until the late 70s, when a few countryside rock bands made a breakthrough – but that is another story.

This story is full of mentioning the political backgrounds. Never forget where we are now. But the guys you will hear tried their best - and succeeded! So hear what happened in Hungary in 1966-1971.

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Laszlo Kovacs (1971, Salgótarján, Hungary) has been a record collector since the age of 11. He has specialised on Eastern European beat, rock artists since the early 1990s.  He lives in Budapest and works as a lawyer. Besides collecting records, he is engaged in various cultural activities connected to music:
- Author of several articles on Hungarian bands, contributing to HMS underground metal magazine in Mexico (1988-1990).
- Contributed to books „Scented Gardens of the Mind - A Comprehensive Guide to the Golden Era of Progressive Rock (1968-1980)” by Dag Erik Asdjornsen (2000) and „Discography of Eastern European Punk Music 1977-1999” by Lük Haas (2001), with the core of the Hungarian and Romanian sections in both projects.
- Founder and leader of Moiras Records (2005), with a profile on discovering and publishing obscure Hungarian beat, rock, folk and jazz productions of the 1960-70s, all on hand numbered LPs of 330 copies. Author of liner notes for all eight original releases of the label.

If above text triggered you to search for those great gems of Hungarian Beat there is an excellent compilation called Paprikazz fel! – Best of the Hungarian rockscene 1965-1971 2 LP set (Grey Past Records, Netherlands, 2008) co-compiled and reviewed by Laszlo. You can also contact him personally on: kovacsl@nograd.net


 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 




 

 
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