Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Tiny Scene Setter for Budapest Jams – I Hope

July 28, 2012

I have not updated the blog in a few days not out of laziness, but because I did not attend any open mics or do anything spectacular in the last few days. That said, I flew to Budapest and spent my first two nights either seeking or dreaming about where I would find a place to play music here. My two previous best experiences were at an Irish pub called Becketts and at the extraordinary Szimpla Kert, a wild alternative world of a bar complex.

So last night on my first real free night – after I attended a dinner on Thursday night – to go and chart out future territories, I decided to check out both Becketts and Szimpla. In fact, I had not been to Becketts since 2009, and I feared it might not even exist anymore. Thinking I might be wasting my time going there, I almost did not go. Thinking I had dinner at a place closer to Szimpla, I decided first I would check out Szimpla first.

Then I said, “no, try Becketts.” It was the kind of decision that may have made all the difference to the success of the weekend, as I arrived just at 22:00 and found a jam session on the terrace just ending. I managed to film the last two words or so of the song, and I watched as the guitar player and singer ran into the pub as if seeking shelter.

I decided to follow him, and when he re-emerged from the back of the pub I realized it was John Murphy, the very man who had given me the microphone in 2009 for a full set of my music, on the break that he had taken with his guitarist. John has been living in Budapest for something like a decade now I think, and he plays music regularly at Becketts. He invited me to return tonight where he may be playing in full band mode, and where he said I could probably play a song with his Hungarian guitar player as part of my effort to play and record with a local at every country I visit this year.

Imagine if I had arrived two minutes later? I’d never have recognized or even seen John Murphy, no doubt.

Well anyway, from there I went to Instant, another bar, and checked it out, but found no music. Then on to Szimpla, where a man behind the bar confirmed that there would be a jam session on Sunday night as there was last year. But his English was so bad, I am not convinced I will find a jam.

So after two nights in Budapest, I keep my fingers crossed that this will not be the first country where I fail to find a place to play….

An Open Jam Session Like None Other Anywhere, at the Szimpla Kert in Budapest

August 1, 2011

It is Szimpla mad this weekly open jam session in Budapest, Szimpla mad! Before I went to Budapest I was very worried that I would encounter the first country of the year where I would not find an open mic or open jam session. I had barely managed to find a place to play last time I went, and even when I did it was a “possibly” open mic at Becketts Irish pub. Not something to get the Hungarian paprika juices flowing. But this time, oh my God, did I ever find a jam – and a half!

There was supposedly two jams on Sunday night but I decided to settle for one, once I saw how mad, manic and amazing it became. When I arrived at the Szimpla kert, which is a kind of beer garden with a massively alternative flavor to it, I had to ask around at 8 PM where the jam was. It was written up on the web site, and we eventually found a small stage area with instruments in their cases. I was sure this was going to be a jam that might not even take off. I was so wrong.

As the evening progressed the jam became a wild Bacchanal of music, rhythms, audience participation and audience dancing and free-for-all on the stage. Szimpla is owned and operated by a couple of musicians, and it is very hippie, as is the jam. There is a fabulous music studio on an upper floor, there is a VIP room – not very hippie, but cool – there are bars and narguile pipes and video screens and a full-fledged 16mm movie projector showing old arty films on the wall… there is an open air area, winding staircases, art works on all the walls, weird shell corpses of cars to sit in. If my prose feels muddy, it is because the atmosphere at Szimpla is muddy, and wonderful. Anything goes.

The jam consisted of people sitting around on the stage mostly in a circle, and playing all sorts of instruments in unison: guitars, drums, bongos, accordions, violins, triangles, a flute, singing, hand clapping, dancing. And some vocals. And at the same time, I was allowed – and Vanessa was allowed – to do simple songs, cover songs, formal songs. It is supposed to start every Sunday at 7 PM and finish at 10 PM. It actually starts closer to 9 PM and sometimes finishes as late as 3:30 AM. (I think it went until close to 2 PM last night.)

The feeling was as vibrant and chaotic as some of the moments I have felt in Istanbul and Sao Paulo; but there was something unique about this, particularly in the way the audience participated, and how the music although jammed and unprepared, held together. But freedom and free-for-all have to be the key words. And the crowd was young and hip and hippie and alternative. And other.

But I never did get to go and check out the other Sunday night jam at the other art space, called Cökxpon Café Theater. Maybe next year. But if you are there next week for the Sziget festival, be sure to check out the Szimpla Sunday night jam. Boy did this renew my faith in Budapest after a down year….

From Hungarian Dancing to Simply Madness at Szimpla in Budapest

July 29, 2011

I am caught in another bind of time in Budapest. A full night ahead, a full day behind, but last night was just so spectacular and promising that I have to put down a few words before I speed off again into the adventure of the Budapest night. We went looking for places to play music and that led us to all sorts of bars and clubs, with the most remarkable being this underground thing I forget the name of at the moment, but will put in later. There we found made Hungarian folk dancing that made me think the dancers had all taken LSD. But the greatest discovery was the vast underground – in a different sense – so-called-cafe known as Szimpla.

If I thought the folk dancers were on acid, Szimpla made me feel like I was on acid. It looks like a squat, but I do not think it is. It has a web site, an events calendar, and just too many little bars and businesses inside to really look like a squat. But it is so hip and cool and vast, with its music, wall decorations of every nature, infinite variety of private rooms, narguile pipes – chicha – and fashion statements, that this place cannot be defined in a few words here.

The greatest news, however, is that Szimpla has an open acoustic jam session every Sunday from 7 PM to 10 PM, so I have finally found a bona fide open mic or jam session in Budapest and I will definitely be attending. As it was, Vanessa and I sang several of our songs together last night, playing my guitar and singing in our corner in one of the many rooms, and a few people sang along, and we just had a great little private jam session going on. Despite the loud music that meant few people could hear us. But that is the free nature of this dynamic “cafe.”

Check it out!!!

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