space216   Image: © Zoltán Vancsó  Design: dART, Závodszky  
The Göncölszekér Ensemble is based in Budapest
and sets the poems of contemporary poets to music.
Ploughing Through the Fields of Poetry
The Historical Depths

It was a few years ago, just before their début maxi single came out, when I was first introduced to Göncölszekér. I was invited along to one of their concerts that they played in those days at the Újlipótvárosi Klub-Galéria (the “gallery”), down Tátra utca in Budapest. They played a collection of poems, which they set to their own music and melodies, from a vast array of poets great and small, but all brilliant. I came away from that gig with a head full of songs, all in Hungarian, some of which I remember to this day.
And really that says a great deal about the band and their music. They have a way of captivating the essence of the poem, performing in a style that makes for very sonorous and rich textures, sung in a range from tenor to bass. Instrumentation-wise, they have an arsenal to choose from. Going back to that first time I saw them, you enter the gallery, an art gallery no less, and a staircase leads you down to the makeshift concert area in the basement. You are greeted by paintings on the wall, the other members of the audience in front of you all turning heads to see who’s just arrived, and then three figures, seated, all playing different instruments. Behind them, strewn around a table or just willy-nilly on the floor, is a collection of instruments ranging from spare guitars to a glockenspiel. I’m impressed, the band members are multi-instrumental and multi-talented.
The music itself also hits you, it is folk music based, but there are clearly other influences, like jazz or French chansons, with a variety of time signatures and keys (sometimes in one song!), which help to express the undulating moods of the pieces, the poems set to music, they play.

Back to the three figures, at the very beginning it was a three piece band consisting of Dani the recorder player with a rack of recorders behind him on the left of the audience, Péter in the middle with his guitars, steel strings for bashing out bluesy numbers, nylon for more intricate work, and Márton with his myriad of instruments, from banjos to accordions. Soon, by the time they made their first recording, Zoli, an acoustic bass guitarist had joined them. One thing for sure, I thought, they’ll be having fun remembering who plays what and when!

The music is exceptional, formed in neat packages around the singing of the boys, be it solo, each of them singing main vocals at some stage, or together in harmony. And this is the lasting impression of the band, that they can write music that suits each song, fully understanding its message, and bringing out its essence in song. They sing a poem called Kikötő blues (Harbour Blues) by the Hungarian poet Péter Kántor and the music captures the playful, joyous harmonies of the poem in an upbeat twelve bar blues. Then there’s the more thought-provoking Keresni fogsz (You Will Try to Find Me) from Lajos Áprily, interpreted in a melodic, harmonic trio of voices backed by Péter’s beautiful classical guitar sounds. József Utassy’s Éjfél (Midnight) is given a haunting vocal blended with Márton’s unforgettable banjo hook. James Fenton’s Semmi (Nothing) has Dani’s trademark meandering, wistful recorders, supporting the rich vocal of Márton, who also showcases his glockenspiel on this.
The CD, Minden perc itthagy (Every Minute Leaves Me Here) is worth checking out. Over a year in the making, the band’s patience really paid off with this one, with interpretations of their live show played in the studio. A great recording that I often listen to, when I want something meaningful yet melodic in my life.

Since the first heady days, the band’s gone through various stages, old and new members coming and going, guest musicians on their recording and even in their live shows, and they’ve moved away from the gallery and are now playing in bigger, more important venues. Somehow they’ve managed to retain the original three members and have recently replaced their bassist with a new one, Péter. The future looks good for Göncölszekér, and I know I’ll be along to see them wherever they play!

Nick Palmer flamenco guitarist



As we have our own crosses to bear, just like everybody else, and we would merely like to and are able to keep in touch with our audience at the shows and gigs, we thought we had better publish all the information on which the rumours and hearsay are based and which is put about by musicians on no particular request about their childhood, their later lives, their habits, their Weltanschauung in the written and unwritten media.

The word Göncölszekér refers to the asterism of seven stars known as the Plough in English. The official explanation for the choice of name is that the heavenly plough, when dragged down to Earth, scrapes through the obstacles as a wild boar flounders in the mud. The Göncölszekér Ensemble is, by definition, an invented urban legend; a secret friendly society, a public masonic lodge, an enemy troop, a lucrative health spa, an introspective beauty shop, a heretic movement killed in the egg, a sordid life in clover. An exceptional type, a typical exception. Quoting Balázs Radványi, member of the Kaláka Ensemble, re-inventors and promoters of the genre for over forty years: the members of the band are guerrillas and street fighters of the genre of setting poems to music.

Our band was formed by three people, but some of the three counted as two at least but perhaps as many as three even at that time. Márton András Baló plays the mandolin, the banjo, the accordion, the kontra (which is a three-stringed viola) and the glockenspiel, Péter Erdősi plays the guitar and Dániel Fekete plays all sorts of whistles, recorders, the concertina and he even blew the bagpipes in a song about a Scottish freebooter and outlaw (regarded by some as a freedom fighter). As this genre is a part of vocal music, we are compelled to sing, separately and together, under the constraints of polyphonic composition and under the guidance of vocal coach Judit Avar. Shortly after, the trio was joined by Zoltán Barthó who then bought an acoustic bass guitar, in particular because he had already had mastery of the instrument. Without haste, they recorded the material for the maxi single A 30-Year-Old Man together. When Dániel fled abroad, trying to escape from his homesickness, there was a vacancy for a multi-instrumental clown. Two of the band members had been experimenting with the violin and trying to show their talent for it, and it was with great relief when a real violinist, László Harkányi appeared on the scene. However, as soon as he got word that Dániel was residing in England, he immediately chased after him. Dániel, on the other hand, on hearing that László was after him, fled back to Hungary. Following the second, short-lived trio line-up, the original quartet came together again to make the full-length album Every Minute Leaves Me Here under the label Gryllus. Zoltán soon left the band and was replaced by Péter Balog, who is a noted expert on the acoustic bass guitar and other string instruments, such as the piano, and who also worked as a sound engineer on the two existing records of the band.

The current members of the band are Márton András Baló, Péter Balog, Péter Erdősi and Dániel Fekete, dedicating their lives to setting contemporary poems to music.