'Funny Fools' promo shot 1967
(Kaponya, Georgie, Gabor, Kelemen)
ON KIRALY UTCA'
"Bitlisz" - said Peter Buchberger. Or he might have said it so: "bitls", which was more or less correct. After all, we were both freshmen highschool students in a class that had English as a major (for Peter, the second time). So, he was a relative senior, sharing a desk with me. He knew what was going on, and what really was going on, according to Peter, was the Bitls. They were the new thing, the big thing, the real thing. England was on her knees and young people went crazy. Real crazy, like losing it …are you getting this, Gaby? The conversation we had been having took place on King Street, the Penny Lane of our corner of the world, walking home like we did every day, straight from the high school we attended at the east end of Kiraly Utca.
The point was to decide who likes what band the most, for we were at the age when these things suddenly acquire disproportionate importance. I was being most impressed with the Spotnicks. They were awesome! I'd already been playing Amapola - or at least making a good attempt at it, but Orange Blossom?…Orange Blossom! That sound! That technique! How could they even play that?.. and now Peter says it's the Bitls. I'd better pay attention. Here I was, at 16, the budding young guitar player and I hadn't even heard of the Bitls let alone their music. So how is it? The music I mean... Peter didn't sound too convincing: it's better than anything. How is it so good? Peter couldn't answer that.
But I knew at that point that it was something profound and glorious, something that would sweep me off-and-away for the rest of my life. It was a premonition. Supernatural.The next days I spent turning the waves upside down and inside out on every radio set I could get my hands on in search for Beatles music. And those radio waves were a mess - I couldn't understand the announcers. Despite the year I'd completed with my English grades all A-s I still couldn't make out what Radio Luxembourg DJs were blabbering. Nobody could.
I must've stumbled across Beatles music in the vast radio space mostly made up of static and interference but I didn't know if I did, I had no reference, and boy, were those waves a mess! In this frustration one dubious hope remained. An almost-miracle. And it happened. To everyone's greatest surprise State Radio Petofi (largely corresponding to BBC 2) made a slight political mistake and announced the formal introduction of The Beatles' first LP. We were glued to the radio, every self respecting young boy and girl in the nation. The broadcast was clear. Un-jammed. And the music was…great. Different…So different that we all lacked the foundations - both musical and cultural - to be fully able to appreciate it. An almost-disillusionment. It left us wide-eyed but unsatiated. Uneasy, restless. Projection sublime: a big warm wave, seductive and shiny was coming towards us over the Iron Curtain to deliver us to worlds colourful and happy and free. In the music I didn't yet fully understand there were qualities, tender messages that were to trigger two basic emotions: one for the need to cry and one to scream.
The Department of Agitation and Propaganda was in a fix. A dilemma. For
even then, just barely out of the '56 revolution there must've been thinking
heads in there too; heads who were capable of assessing a lose-lose situation.
The Official Propaganda of The Propaganda Department was that the West was
employing a Viscous Propaganda of their own for sometime, the so called
"Strategy Of Destabilising" - as in destabilising the very moral fibre of
the Social-Communist society by means of bombarding the Eastern European
countries with messages which destabilize by making young audiences tune
in to their decadent and freedom-suggesting vices: movies and music. Movies
like "Gone With The Wind", "Dr. Zhivago" and, of course, "James Bond".
These movies were regarded, justly, as the most damaging to communist morale. In the Music Department, until the appearance of The Beatles, there was only one Major Evil - American Rock and Roll. Elvis Presley. He was quickly termed indecent and decadent but the Department had lost that battle in no time; Rock and Roll came and won. By 1960 every decent and morally correct dance school taught true boogie-woogie and rock and roll.
The fact that there was no defence against the impact of popular music - as opposed to the movies which, if not shown (and they weren't), were toothless - had caused major concern. Music was a different beast for them; you couldn't stop radio waves and your choices of fighting this evil were limited and the end result was dubious. But so far they managed to stay afloat.The Beatles had changed all that and the Thinking Heads saw the ultimate futility of anything they could put up against such a formidable force of Destabilisation. The best they could do was to delay the inevitable as long as possible - and they did exactly that.
All information was withheld; the little that got through was mislabeled. The music was publicly ridiculed and downgraded in every possible way and those who appreciated this evil capitalist manifestation were oppressed and harassed. But, in the end nothing helped. The point of the matter, however extreme it may sound, is that the music that came out of England in the early Sixties with The Beatles at its pinnacle had unleashed destabilising forces so great that it brought down (directly or indirectly) the whole regime and the whole East European Union with it.So, as those thinking heads in The Department foresaw all this, their actions were limited and delaying in nature. They couldn't fight The Great Wave with the hope of winning. The first thing they did was jamming to death any possible radio station broadcasting to Eastern Europe. After the Beatles-narcotic had slipped into my system in that small dose, soon I was getting withdrawal symptoms. I didn't know that it was withdrawal symptoms for I didn't know what withdrawal was; I only knew that if I didn't get some more of that "not-so-great" music into my system I would surely die.
The Blackcollars - my first gig, May 1st 1963
Rudi Schmidt, Zoli, Moi, Charlie Brown, Gulyas. This town is the 'melting pot'
of the nation, lots of ethnic Germans, also Serbs and Croats - masters of
stringed instruments (like Gulyas, my classmate and first mentor).
Note the speaker! Song: "I'm All Shook Up"
At the time of the conversation
on King Street I'd already had one little success in my bag of trophies,
and a slowly-but-surely progressing career as a would-be rock starlet. In
the spring, at the May One festivities, on the stage of one the two big
girls' schools my first band, The Blackcollars, had a rousing-screaming
success performing some mighty interesting stuff. The concert went like
this. Two boys were majoring in the Leöwey Gimnazium's German Branch. (Gimnazium
equals high school - not a sporting hall). Charlie Braun (seriously!) sang,
quite well, and Rudi Schmidt (yes, they were of German ethnicities) played
the drums. They asked my tutor, Joe (who was an ethnic Croat) to team up
with me and Zoli on the piano to form a band for the May One gig. We did
- under the condition that I would have an original in the program - no
Charlie's big hit was "All Shook Up" (except that The King doesn't say it that way. He says: "Amonshooko"). And what do The Beatles sing in "Money"? The answer: "That's What I Want"? No. "Let's Woranvo". Check it out! Middle Earth English…) Charlie received a standing ovation. Then we played my first "original" (I'd had my guitar for seven months now). The masterpiece went like this: "Crying for your heart" - pra pam pa pam. In "C". Again, "crying for your heart" - pra pam pa pam. Change: "crying for your heart" - pra pam pa pam - in "F". Back to C and close the period G - F - C: " just cry-y-y-ying" and similar sophistications. But the beat was Merseybeat and the vocals something new, different, tantalising. Something that was never heard before and the young hearts in the auditorium were ready to pop. And cry. It was in the message.
I sang the lead along with the two harmonies into one mic and we had one amp called "Wirestack 10 watts" into which we plugged the two guitars. Zoli played the piano and sang into the air. Rudi's drumset was a low tom, a footpedal banging it from the bottom, the top was played as a snare, and there was a regular cymbal attached to it by an extension. We had no bass - the bass guitar had yet to be invented in Hungary!
The conclusion to this 'Hit Song' was such a rousing screaming applause that it took all of us by surprise. We didn't know what to do. But I took it as a clear direction as to which way to go, which is a great improvement compared to no direction, which was what I had before when I was still too young. By the autumn the band had grown stronger and we were playing gigs frequently. Little gigs, like the innocent school-class "Five O' Clock Teas", but also difficult and physically challenging ones - Saturday night weddings in the nearby villages. All-nighters, gruelling gigs. But they paid some money and we could buy amplifiers. Other 'Wirestacks' - 20 watts.
The guitar I got for my fifteenth birthday in October, 1962 (It was also my Christmas gift) was a save-the-salvageable solution from my parents, the only practical one. The bug started in me while in eighth grade. Music had begun bothering me, it caused me torture...
Nobody in the family had any formal musical background - though my mum sang quite beautifully, as I've found out later. I still don't know where my urge came from but an urge it was, and strong. I did sing in the school choir, never solo, but I sang. Despite that, I was an outspoken enemy of music-teaching.
I started crusades to eliminate music from our classes; sabotaged anything
that would've educated me, like theory, reading and Kodaly. How stupid -
all I should've done was to open my ears and pay attention. It would've
helped a lot a little later. But no, I had to revolt - and I revolted against
anything that gave me an opportunity. It happened to be the music classes
and, later, physics (that's more understandable…) My nature to revolt must've
come first, and music was a casualty just because it was there. All in all,
eventually I'd dropped my position against music education and some theory
somehow stuck to me; it came in handy later on. My
relation to music outside the school was entirely different. I remember
the first song that got me spellbound was the magnificent "Calcutta Ist
Am Ganges" (No Merseybeat yet…). The song, like a bug, infested me and I
wanted to play it. Sing it, too, but no lyrics, so I wanted to play.
Mum bought me a little toy saxophone that worked on the principle of the kazoo, but had valves and keys like the real thing. I drove everybody up the wall, but played it in key. My favourites were, for a long time, trumpet and saxophone. Then I made drums by covering big glass pickling jars with stout layers of cellophane. You could play them like percussion. Then I got down to the real thing. I fashioned guitar-like things from whatever offered to turn itself into a musical instrument: attached a neck to a thermos bottle and several other similar contraptions. They sounded. Eventually a friend of mine lent me his dad's zither. It was a big German zither, differing from the more primitive Hungarian ones in having a large, resonant belly, which has some twenty open strings over it, some in the bass frequencies. The main part of zithers is a neck with 4 to 8 strings, tuned to an open chord. You play solo or full-chord melody by pushing the strings with something across them, like a little stick, Hawaiian style, never your fingers. But it has frets and you have to press the strings down to meet the frets. (With the German one you hit all those open strings in between melody notes, creating an accompaniment. Naturally it will sound right only in the key it is tuned to).
I started to play it like a guitar, pressing the strings down with my fingers, finding solo melodies and simple harmonies. It ate into the flesh of my hands. Deep. This must've been when my parents decided on the guitar… In a wise decision they avoided the possibilities of me becoming a trumpet player, or worse, a drummer. So a guitar it was. A nice, natural coloured acoustic semi-western. Felt good, sounded good for Eastern Europe. Must've cost a fortune - and we were poor in Hungary in those days - everybody.
Part 5: 'THE TARJAN 1967'
The First Formation - Summer 64
Great bods... Bungalow at nearby resort.
Gabor, Nikita, Moi, Wirth. Note guitar in Gabor's
hands. Me-made. Called "The Goat Guitar"
"Kinga" at The Olimpia
Sweetheart then – wife now, singing Cilla Black's "A Fool Am I".
we first received the invitation to enter the contest we weren't too keen
about it. In true FF spirit we shunned everything that was state-sponsored
and manipulated and we knew that this one would be the same and that we
would lose in the end. But, we also yearned for more publicity - and got
it. Tons! One of the criteria was to perform a Soviet song - not Russian,
mind you, which was deemed undesirable - lest anyone attempt some adaptation
of Russian folk music (which we happened to like and even had some in our
repertoire). This was when we really got ourselves into it.
With Gabor still fully functional - the threat of the draft just looming but denied - we planned to sabotage the Grand Event in a FF way and Gabor was the best in these matters. In ridiculing the establishment he could crack you up, anytime, and you would get sick from laughter. We selected from the thirty-some published Soviet songs the most obvious, the most ridiculous one - and there were many such. We picked one that, in all stern seriousness, tried to satirise the American way of life, masquerading as a quasi-protest song. It was totally hilarious and so we took it to the limit, following all the musical instructions rigidly and the result was something so grotesque, so truly Soviet, that it was killing us. We were dying of laughter; you know - when you're laughing so hard that you start dying and still can't stop it. Gabor was in his element.
Obviously we would be disqualified - but we would make a point - beat those bastards at their own game. The underlying fact that gave us the much-needed moral support to commit such a transgression was a new aspect in this years' finals. The head of the 'Jury' was to be Zoltan Kodaly. That settled it - Mr. Kodaly was someone outside of any jurisdiction and we knew that he spoke our language, and though the rest of the Jury would purge us, he would be on our side. (He spent half of his time in Pecs, in what passed for a socialist villa up on the hillside. He had a colour television, I know, as I was once invited by his wife who was forty years younger than him).
Being damned western rockers - or rather mods - as we were, we had tremendous respect for Mr. Kodaly - everybody did - but only a few understood him. It was around this time that I started seriously experimenting with bringing Hungarian folk music into rock, very much like Kodaly did to classical.
We'd been, from the very beginning, playing our own adaptations of folk
music, but we made it come out in a true Merseybeat sound. The rhythm was
a different thing - it was a sensitive trade-off. The Hungarian ones had
a natural tendency to lend themselves to solid straight beat, even to rock.
We did a Polish and a Russian one, too. They were beautiful but undanceable.
This time I really started to go all the way and we all believed in the
My biggest feat was in procuring a cimbalom. The cimbalom, the Hungarian version, is a serious instrument - a cross between a dulcimer and a grand piano. The common thing with the dulcimer is that you hit the strings with a pair of little curved sticks. The strings are multiple, like that of a piano, strung across a large, resonant wooden body supported by a steel frame, also like a piano's. It stands on four massive legs and weighs 200 pounds. It's tuned like a piano but arranged differently and, instead of the keys, you use sticks. To play an arpeggio you have to hit very fast. The Hungarian one has complete octaves down to the bass region - hence the steel frame support. The instrument is an essential one in full gipsy bands, playing the role of a piano (you can hear one in the marvellous piece of music, "Earth" by Vangelis c. 1979).
I thought of the instrument being outfitted with pickups. Just playing it in a simple fashion would make a tremendous sound impression and it would have a pivotal role in our new music. Eventually I found a beautiful, antique piece and bought it. It cost a lot but it was magnificent. The honour of playing it fell to Gabor - I made him volunteer! He would become the world's number one-ranked rock cimbalom player! However, learning to play it was a different matter so I learned it too, to a point that it started to make musical sense - and it came hard. This was going to be our material, our secret weapon, at the Tarjan Festival. A dark shadow still cast itself upon our plans as Gabor was up for the draft - and so was I. It was just unimaginable for us to serve in an army in which we didn't believe; in an armed force that stood for ideologies we abhorred and we did everything in our means, including endangerment to our health, to get around it (a few of our friends never came out of the service alive…)
I got around it - beat the rap - but paid for it dearly. Gabor, no matter how hard he tried (and he tried much harder then me) - couldn't. He was to enter the gates in three weeks. He insisted that he'd beat it yet and he was applying damage to himself. None of us in the band had any doubt that he would succeed in beating it. He didn't. They wanted him. Just two weeks before his marching-in we accepted a contract to play three months, every night, like a lounge band, at the elegant Café Mecsek on Main Square. We needed the money and we wouldn't play lounge music more than two hours out of the five. Our opening night coincided with Gabor's check-in to the military. He went in the morning, telling us he'd be back by opening time and we were sure that he would. But he wasn't.
The Olimpia Tavern
Our main digs. Good place, good acoustics. Packed always, even though it was on West End outskirts, in a tough neighbourhood - built for the miners of the nearby uranium mines. Buses took you from midtown, but boy, was it a long walk back. A hundred yards away another band had their steady roosts, The Tremolos. Played top Shadows. We used to go over to hear them but there were always fisticuffs - or worse - there. The Olimpia was more of a Mod hangout. No fights. Sundays, five-to-ten...
1965 Main Square
Gabor, Kelemen, Moi, Georgie. Note CAR in the background.
In the resulting emergency George called in his brother, Zoltan, who knew
our material and filled in easily. The hotel management was not happy -
but they had to accept that the military had priority. The chief exec's
name was (and I'm not kidding) Kennedy…and poor Mr. Kennedy came into conflict
with the political powers on our account, a second time. The first week
at the Café went down smoothly, if under-attended - not many were interested
in the crippled band - but it was easy and fun to play there. What threw
the monkey wrench in the works was our upcoming appearance at The Festival.
It would only take three days of absence but, when we dropped the line to
Mr. Kennedy, he started to see red and simply denied our request (and he
was to see red, the real thing, a little while later).
He was right, but we wouldn't take no for an answer. We wanted to go. We wanted to go badly. We knew that Gabor would get himself out. Mr. Kennedy wouldn't budge - city prestige at stake or not. Drummer Kelemen got into action. or rather, he kind of sneaked into it. Or, more accurately, his dad sneaked into it and what transpired then gave us a glimpse, for the first time, of drummer Kelemen's strange connections…
At this time we'd only learned of the outcome: Mr. Kennedy came down, gave us his blessing and wished us success! We had a week to get ready. Gabor was still locked in and we knew nothing of what was happening to him but he managed to send word: he'd be out soon. The days passed. We had to make contingency plans. To go or not to go? Then some other bad news came: Zoltan Kodaly had died and with him our hopes and secret strategies. Obviously, in his place there would be a government mule - some schmuck. This is when I should've cancelled our participation but, this far into the game, I couldn't. I simply could not do it. If it wasonly the three of us, so be it. We were going and, in the end, this was the right decision.
In the remaining couple of days we reworked the whole thing that had been the Funny Fools of yore. Without Gabor the poking-fun-at-soviets had to be cancelled. Instead, we learned the least notorious piece of "Soviet Beat". The folk element was dropped and the cimbalom was put out to pasture. To compensate for the losses I translated most of our own songs from English to Hungarian. They came out good - not because they sounded better, but because the fans could finally connect. After all, we were in Hungary and they were Hungarians and nobody understood English lyrics (not even the English…)
| We sounded OK
as a trio but the vocals suffered badly. The time had come but no Gabor,
so it was the three of us: Georgie, Kelemen and me - and Mariann. She had
hung around with Peter Buchberger since the beginning and she was pretty,
but her singing left a lot to be desired. We managed to squeeze her in but
Peter had to take his own transportation, just like the many fans who followed
us everywhere, either hitch-hiking or by train. So far, this was the farthest
we'd ever been. For transportation we chose Mr. Gruenwald. He was the most
expensive but he was reliable and also an intelligent person, sort of an
almost-fan - and he owned a Ford Taurus, the European edition. It was a
car and it got us there, always, but we paid an arm and a leg for the privilege
of riding in it. It was good for our image and the Commies hated us for
We packed just two Selmers in, plus the drumkit. Whoever rode in the front seat cradled the snare but it was passably comfortable, and fast. Gruenwald drove in car races and he was good - he never did less than 75 m.p.h. which was risky on Hungarian roads. Our spot was scheduled for Saturday with a sleepover to do the Sunday Gala. We left on Friday to do two gigs which served as testing grounds for our new material. The small towns on the way were our strongholds; they loved us there - the whole town came to Main Square. The new material, in Hungarian, went very well despite the missing Gabor, yet we felt rotten.
Part 6: 'SATURDAY MAY 17th, 1967'
We skirted Budapest and crossed the Danube. The countryside had changed and we were entering real mountains, the southernmost remnants of the High Tatras, now in Slovakia. While Pecs was basking in Mediterranean sunshine, here were cool and shady pine forests and sudden outcrops of green, steep cones of solitary mountainettes, as if they'd just sprouted from the grounds. We were running late on account of getting to bed too late the previous night, getting up too late and getting a flat tyre. Running late just added to the apprehension growing with every mile of getting closer to Tarjan. Well, to heck with it, we were seasoned pros weren't we?
We rolled into town around five. On the perimeter some outposts stopped us and gave us directions. As they glanced at our invitation papers one of them said "You guys are supposed to be on stage at six!"
Our paper said eight and we were late even for that. I asked the nearest sentry. "Who is the Head of the Jury?"
The "Doki Club", just off Kiraly Street.
Debut concert of our "first, unreleased, LP" of 21 songs in English."
At the Entrance of the Hotel Tarjan
From left: A proper Hungarian "sixties-girl", Georgie, Gruenwald,
Kelemen, Peter Buchberger, Mariann, Moi
"George Komjathy" said the post. Ah, beautiful. My old nemesis. Surely no
Kodaly. This guy was a good-for-nothing ass-licker of the establishment
with two radio shows a week, someone who pronounced Michelle of The Beatles
as Mikéle - like in Greek. At the next square stood two obligatory policemen.
They stopped us - didn't like the car - and checked around inside. "That
guy" said one cop to the other behind him. "I think we should take him to
the barber". Gruenwald
interjected. He was good at this - he had experience. "Excuse me but these
gentlemen with me are appearing at tonight's show on the Festival and we
are late". Without waiting for an answer he drove off.
As we arrived at the front of the theatre the crowd immediately noticed us - I don't know how, because we'd never played around there; I guess the fans must've gotten there before us - and created quite a scene (indeed I'd spotted some familiar faces in the crowd). It was a welcoming scene, more friendly than not. I was so upset about the cop's remark that I burst out of the car, marched straight in and demanded to see Mr. Komjathy immediately. I couldn't get to him but his assistants appeared helpful.
"What is the problem?"
"Listen. I'm the leader of The Funny Fools from Pecs. We just got here after a two hundred-mile drive which cost us a fortune. Now, this cop is threatening me with intrusion against my personal freedom. I want Comrade Komjathy (this is how I had to address him here as I was talking to some young, ranking Communists from the Culture Department of the Young Communists' Organization (youth.com) which sponsored the event) to guarantee my personal safety or we'll turn right back!"
The young cadres were polished and polite. One of them said "Comrade Komjathy is listening to performances. I will give him your message if you insist, but I can guarantee it myself that you will have no such problem here in Tarjan. But... aren't you late?" The young cadre was smooth; he defused me. I felt reassured and went back to the car. The guys had already unpacked the equipment and we had half an hour to get ourselves ready.
"So, how did it go with Komjathy?" asked George. "I'm alright for now. The cops won't bother me. What a stinking country." "You are stupid enough" remarked Gruenwald "Why is it good for you to create a scandal as an entrance?" He didn't like my hair either. He was a Frank Sinatra fan. I helped to drag the stuff to our performing room. A band played somewhere. The room we were assigned to was a disaster. These guys obviously didn't care a bit about acoustics; at least not ours.
And so our turn came. As we were setting up behind the curtain Esther Tamasi,
the pretty young Commie announcer of the Hungarian Television, was doing
her intro on us up front (she had picked up the material just a few minutes
ago and had sensed something. So did the other media-people. Some word must
have gotten around and there was something in the air).
"And now I'd like to introduce to you the Funny Fools band". (Screaming. (Something's wrong? This was not customary around here.)
Enter the hair-fixation....
"Three long-haired young men from the city of Pecs."
"I've asked the band's leader that, in Pecs, isn't he causing scandals with his long hair, or how is it? He said 'no, they've gotten used to it. It's mentioned along with the Cathedral as one of the city's famous sights'". (Laughter, screaming.)
"And, as he remembers, since early childhood it's been kicking and howling whenever his hair got cut. So, this new fad benefits him to no end". (Laughter, screaming, louder.)
Esther was in her element. She was totally enjoying it. Our disqualified status just added to her poignancy.
She continued: "Please allow me to tell you a story. The band was playing at Pasto last night. Poor boys, their head, their hair was sweating: the place was packed with forty, fifty…sixty year olds… (laughter), and well, their music is for the young generation, what will happen here? To their surprise the audience clapped! So much so, that when the performance ended, up came a sixty-year old poppa with a mustache and told the boys: 'My sons, if next time you come around here, notify me in advance, and it will be sixty-six chickens that I will cut for your honor!'" ( Loud screaming, laughter, catcalls.)
Esther really fired them up.....
"Let me introduce the band: "Drums - Kelemen" (Screaming.)
"Bass guitar - George" (More screaming.)
"Twelve-string guitar - the band's leader, Kaponya"
Loud screaming. (Goes on for a while.) Now she did the obligatory political jab, to show who really was the boss. She did it cutely.
"And where is Gabor, the bands all-rounder? Well, instead of singing, playing rhythm guitar, ukulele and trumpet he's become a simple little infantry man…" (Lame laughter.)
"And what will we hear now? All the band's own material. I don't think we have any other bands here with a repertoire like that!"
Then she announced the songs. "Wait A Minute", "Flowers' Street" and "Wind Down". "Well, happy winding down!"
All Original Material
Copyright SixtiesCity 2017