Perceptions of cafés in Budapest might be diverse and various, influenced by a maze of filmic and literary genre: from decadent 20’s Central Europe, through extreme ethnic and other conflicts spanning 50 years or more, complete with sad bands and occasional images of Joseph Cotton and Michael Caine, doggedly drinking undrinkable coffee in smoky cafes, peopled by unsmiling men in raincoats, heads in newspapers, traversing the paranoia of hopeless political regimes.
But the bands in these cafes often possessed the talent for performing popularised and recognisable folk tunes, with gypsy influence, great skill and commitment: not unlike the four gifted Orchestra members tonight who, with an accordion and various stringed instruments, splattered our musical taste-buds with driven and committed numbers, from re-formed Greig to a Jewish lament, all with wit and a twinkle in the eye and peeping out from under their own anarchic slogan, ‘the finest purveyors of gypsy beat this side of a Lada scrapheap’!: some stirringly wrenching tones punctuated by a whiplash of frenzied foot-stamping and string-pulling.
Last time I was exposed to music like this was over 25 years ago, in a bar in a small town called Rust, on the Austro-Hungarian border, sometime before the Iron Curtain was tentatively pulled aside. The stale atmosphere of fear then was replaced tonight with a grateful sense that strings had been totally plucked and we had been truly fiddled out of a quiet night at home – no Soviet soldiers awaiting us at the top of Horton Street!
By Derek Greenwood