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Simply English


Founded in 1995 or thereabouts, Simply English is Hungary's only group to specifically choose English (i.e. not "Celtic") folk and other popular music (mostly song) forms. Its repertoire stretches from the late medieval period to the early twentieth century, with some twenty-first century tunes composed by Andy and arranged by the group.

Andy Rouse

Group history. In 1989 Szélkiáltó, another group based in the city of Pécs (Cultural Capital of Europe 2010), was commissioned to arrange and record 22 British songs for the very young. Andy was to be the vocalist. The material was originally destined for the English language classroom, but this was the time of political change in Hungary. One big change was an end to the compulsory teaching of Russian as a foreign language. Suddenly there was a massive demand for English teachers, qualified or otherwise. This Is The Way rode on the crest of the English language wave and for several years Szélkiáltó and Andy were asked to perform around the country and on national TV. Never sure of the composition of any given audience, a tactic emerged whereby if there was a lack of very young English learners the entertainment would include some of the band's own repertoire and some English folk songs sung a cappella by Andy. Gradually Béla Fenyvesi joined in, playing simple guitar chords as an accompaniment.

Although we did not know it at the time, this was the beginning of Simply English.

We cannot remember exactly the first time we performed under the name of Simply English. It may have been at the opening of a supermarket near Veszprém, or at the Pécs International Folk Days - we attached no importance to it at the time. Andy was in a large "Celtic" band, The Folk Tone Drum, and Béla had Szélkiáltó, which was becoming extremely well-known. However, there was a gradual increase in requests for the two to play, ad hoc meetings turned into regular band practice, Béla brought his tamburica along as well as his guitar, and Andy brought his Appalachian dulcimer and recorders and whistles.

Two events made it clear that we could, if we wished, really take things seriously. One was a cooperation between Simply English and the new publishing house of Pécs University, where Andy lectured, and the other an invitation to perform at the Kaláka Festival - this was to be the first of many times over several years. "A Story So Merry" (CD, MC) became the duo's first recording, quickly to be followed by "Jolly Rogues Together" (MC) and "A Simply English Christmas" (CD, MC). For the recordings various musicians were invited to join, but the two themselves also enriched the sound by superimposing sounds over the basic recording. On one memorable occasion Andy returned to the studio a total of eight times in order to create the impression that he was an octet of shantymen!

After some five years Béla announced that he would be unable to keep up the demands of two bands. Szélkiáltó were performing almost every other day that year - their 15th anniversary. As a result, Andy made it known that he was looking for a guitarist, and it was not long before he was approached by Bulcsú Babarci, a well-known local musician who played in a variety of bands and styles, ranging from rock to reggae with calypso thrown in. Béla slowly prepared Bulcsú to take over, but in the meantime the duo became a trio and when the time came for Béla to finally leave, it was not long before a new third musician was found: Tamás Zajzon. Andy had played with Tomi in the Folk Tone Drum: he played mandolin, guitar, whistles, wood flute and squeezebox, as well as having a fine (if somewhat Irish) voice.

Andy, Bulcsú and Tomi were to develop Simply English into something far more original than it had been as a duo, taking full advantage of the sudden increase in instrumental and vocal opportunities. There followed more recordings: "Birds of Paradise", featuring for the most part folksongs; "Canakins", a collection of songs from the plays and days of Shakespeare celebrating the band's 10th anniversary of its conception, which had been placed at 1995; and "Rosy Apples", a CD commemorating the centenary of the publication of children's songs collected by the Victorian collector Alice Gillingham. Over the following years it also wrote, recorded, arranged and performed music for three Hungarian puppet theatres, began to receive invitations to perform at international festivals, theatres and other venues, formed an association and ran monthly music clubs (which it still does).

After ten years together another chapter in the band's history came to an end, as Tomi decided to emigrate with his partner and child to Germany. Once again we hunted out a third musician, and once again were quick to obtain one, this time in the person of Zsombor Horváth, a talented young multi-instrumentalist who was lead fiddler for Vizin, a group playing southern Salavonic dance music for a dance ensemble, but also with his own band that played predominantly Irish music. After a few years of rearranging and developing an old repertoire and creating a brand new one for violin, mandolin, viola and lute, it was into the studio again for "Songs from the Caravan" (2015). However, in the meantime the band had also recorded music for a book + CD co-authored by David A. Hill and Andy and issued by an educational publisher in Austria.

It was decided to release "Songs from the Caravan" in England, and eventually Simply English went on tour in June 2015. After a "dress rehearsal" in a small pub in the Mosel valley, "Songs from the Caravan" was performed to a full house at the Eynsham Folk Weekend outside Oxford on June 13, and again at the Walthamstow Folk Club on June 21, with smaller appearances in between ranging, in addition to folk clubs and festival sessions, from a residential home for the elderly to a cider bar.

In 2017 the band produced its eighth album, “Long Grey Beard and a Head That’s Bald” – a line taken from one of Andy’s long-term favourites, Ye Mar’ners All, which also appears a cappella on an earlier album. While the long grey beard is undoubtedly Andy’s, the bald head is supplied by Zsombi, the youngest member of the group. Bulcsú, who has designed the graphics for many of the group’s CDs and countless more posters for its clubs, concerts, tours and festivals, smugly has neither… though on the cover he has craftily refrained from including his chin! The new CD was released under a new label, making it the first CD of SPECHEL (SPECD001), the non-profit society that backs the band as well as many other cultural events. Along with the kind hosting by our old friends Keith Kendrick and Sylvia Needham, SPECHEL also made it possible for the band to travel to England to release the CD in November, in Horsley Woodhouse and Rugby. This was followed by a concert in Pécs, together with the guest musician who appear on the recording, in early Spring 2018 in Budapest, and at the Kaláka Festival in Eger on July 1 the same year.

Throughout this time Simply English, by successfully applying for grants and hosting festivals, has performed alongside some of the great names of the English folk scene: Chris Foster, Keith Kendrick, Stefan Hannigan, Sam Lee, Martin and Shan Graebe, Andy Cronshaw, Vic Gammon, Dave Townsend, the English Fiddle, Emily Askew... and met and played with others. In this way, although "It may be because Andy is working out his approach to English song in a somewhat isolated situation surrounded by different traditional music that this approach sounds so different, interesting and fresh" (Vic Smith, ED&S), the band members are also constantly in contact with professionals from within the English folk scene.


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