On 22 September 2012 I participated in an event called Bike And Roll – Rock and Buda – a popular music-themed sightseeing bicycle tour organised on International Car Free Day, and at the same time as the ninth Bike And Roll event since Majdnem Híres Rocksuli (Almost Famous Rock School) began the series in 2009. The tour, led by György Réz and Balázs Bihari, has a different theme every time and covers different locations, with different speakers introducing the locations (musicians, music industry people, rock journalists etc.).
The good news for those of you who are visiting Budapest in October is that we are having another tour organised for Saturday 6 October specially for you (commencing around noon I think). Hopefully the weather will be as kind to us as yesterday!
The event series is one of the most systematic and innovative initiatives linking up the spreading of knowledge on local popular music heritage with, on the one hand, city tourism, and, on the other hand, with music education, through the organising music management school.
About the school itself: Majdnem Híres (http://www.myspace.com/majdnemhiresrocksuli, http://www.facebook.com/majdnem.hires) is the first institution to provide accredited popular music management training in Hungary. The staff primarily consists of well-known music journalists, as well as various guest lecturers representing the music industries. The school normally offers one course per semester, for a fee. Again, those of you attending the Budapest event will be able to attend a talk by a member of staff about the activity of the school, scheduled for 5th October 3pm at the conference venue.
For the Rock and Buda tour, we set off at noon from in front of the café and bar Szóda in Pest city centre – for those participants in need of a bicycle, a nearby bike rental shop offered one (the price of this was included in the ticket).
Having crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, our first stop was at the Budavári Művelődési Ház culture centre. The culture centre itself, founded in 1966 in an already existing building, is interesting in its own regard as an important venue for rock gigs – besides folk dance nights – during the communist years. It is in fact regarded as one of the birthplaces for Hungarian rock music – for some people on the tour, it was more familiar for having featured in a film about rock music in Hungary. Here that we saw a retrospective photography exhibition commemorating 40 years of the Tabán music festival – a late spring open-air music festival on the side of neighbouring Gellért Hill (http://www.bem6.hu/programjaink/vizualis-mveszetek/498-40-eves-a-taban-fesztival-kamara-kiallitas-1972-2012). The first of these events was held in 1968, and then annually until 1987. During these years the festival was an important event for rock and blues bands – all major rock artists performed here – the so-called ’great generation’ of Hungarian rock –, as the photographs testified. We were introduced to the festival by Béla Szilárd Jávorszky, a well-known Hungarian rock author and journalist. Stories and anecdotes were in abundance, not only from the organisers and Jávorszky, but also the participants old enough to remember those years (there was a lot of mention of trees growing, resulting in the outdoors location looking smaller now, and also of punters climbing trees to see bands better). The festival was restarted in 1997 and is still going – however, interestingly, it still features (some of) the same acts, so it has effectively turned into a living nostalgia event. As we learnt, there have been attempts to include newer bands, but even our best-established alternative band, Kispál és a Borz, itself going back 25 years (and now retired), failed to go down particularly well. Later on we went to see the location – the current as well as the old location, the latter of which has now become to small – partly because the crowds have grown, partly because the trees have likewise.
The next place we went to see was the spectacular Buda Youth Park – a World Heritage listed protected site on the hillside, looking down onto the river with a wonderful panorama view – that has been closed to the public since 1984, but is currently about to be refurbished, extended and reopened in March 2014. The park – known as the Castle Bazaar – was built between 1875 and 1895 based on the plans of acclaimed Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl, and it originally housed various arts and industry workshops and shops, including sculptors’ workshops. The current plans to restore the place include housing similar shops and workshops, as well as restoring the upper part as a park, and adding a conference centre and two museums, one of which would also house a rock collection (you can take a look at the plans here: http://urbanista.blog.hu/2012/08/31/na_melyik_fouri_kastely_kertjeben_jarunk_egyikben_sem_ezek_a_varbazar_vegleges_latvanytervei_egy_tel?utm_source=ketrec&utm_medium=link&utm_content=2012_08_31&utm_campaign=index). The reason why we visited this place is that it functioned as the popular music venue in Budapest from the sixties onwards – the so-called Youth Park was opened here in August 1961 by the Communist Youth Association (the only group with the authority to open a venue like this at the time) (see television footage from its opening here: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL7l3ZjY0tI?wmode=transparent]). During its first years, it mainly featured light music to dance to. Clothing was regulated: boys were to wear a suit and a tie and girls were not allowed to wear mini skirts. Later they introduced thematic nights for rock, dance, and pop. Amazingly, the venue held 10,000 people – unimaginable with today’s health and safety standards (even if, as somebody pointed out, the audience was generally better-behaved than today’s rock crowds). However, unfortunately there was a decisive event that reinforced the importance of safety concerns: in 1980, at a rock concert (featuring the band Edda) the crowd was so large that a part of the railing gave way and fell down the hillside – it was very lucky that the stones avoided the queuing up crowd. The event was immediately cancelled and the place closed down for a year, then reopened in 1981 with the side-entrance now in use – but only for another three years.
We looked at some old photographs (Jávorszky’s book on Hungarian rock history came in handy) and walked around the area. Jávorszky told us about the five main eras in the history of the place: the first years were characterised by light dance/singers/jazz, until about 1965; the second era featured the underground acts of the late sixties – even bands without a record were allowed to perform here; the third era, the beginning of the seventies, was a more lukewarm period, with hit-oriented pop music taking over; the period from 1976-77 until 1980 was a second golden age, with heavy rock dominating; and lastly, the fifth period, is again less remarkable – elsewhere in the city new wave was taking over, but it found different venues.
The venue also had a studio where each and every show was recorded – but only for security/monitoring purposes (for authorities to listen to what the artists said in between numbers, rather then what went on during songs) – and not for the music! Most of these recordings are now unfortunately lost. (However, our national radio still has many live show recordings, in particular from the late seventies, because prior to that many tapes had been recorded over, due to a shortage.)
It was evident from the conversations that the place can also act as a symbolic repository for collective memories from the teenage years of people living in Budapest. For example, we were joined here by a rock fan who told us how she used to regularly attend gigs here, and who is currently maintaining a Facebook page for those who used to come to the venue, as a space for them to share memories – a sort of small-scale community archive project (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Budai-Ifj%C3%BAs%C3%A1gi-Park-Ifipark/109831951184).
We then cycled further down the riverside to get to the A38 boat (http://www.a38.hu/en/), the venue voted as ’World’s Greatest Bar’ in the 2012 Lonely Planet poll. We were greeted by Sándor Kozlov, one of the programme organisers, who introduced us to all of the boat’s (several) rooms and spaces, including the stage areas, the restaurant, the ’Motor Bar,’ as well as the new extension – nicknamed the ’Box’ – that also functions as a space for acoustic events, exhibitions, film screenings, lectures, receptions etc., and houses the new office area. We were able to gain a lot of insight into the – successful – management of such an important and exciting popular music venue – but this location will most probably also feature in the tour on 6th October, so I do not want to give everything away.
Majdnem Híres made a video recording of their tour, an edited version of which will be uploaded to their website – thereby creating a source that will be available to their students, as well as anyone interested in the city’s pop history.