Nowadays, I find it quite difficult to enjoy contemporary Hungarian music. Even though the tv, radio, and internet sites are flooded new songs, artists, and many “celebs”, the quality of the songs leaves much demand behind. Teenage stars are on the quick rise…and fall cycle. Even stable bands do not seem to represent something fresh or new in our country (there are exceptions, of course).
However, when I discovered Lighthouse, my perspective changed on Hungarian music, and quality. This band, although not yet on the top charts, has the potential of bringing Hungary on a higher level of musicality. Their exceptional fusions of different musical categories, their great talent in finding the balance, and their passion to bring an enjoyable high-quality experience to the audience definitely arouse my attention. So I sat down with the leader of the band, Péter János Gulyás, to discuss their origins, changes, and latest news.
So first of all, where does the name ‘Lighthouse’ come from?
The reason why the band got this name in 2004, is that in those times I was listening to Celtic songs, and by chance I came across a landscape that portrayed a lighthouse. Then the idea came as I started to think that this name would suit our music, which at that time was mostly rooted in lyrical and monumental Celtic music.
Can you talk about the kind of music you played, when you started, and how it changed through the years until today?
Since the beginning until now, our playlist of songs have gone through a significant change. At the beginning (as I mentioned in the reason why we chose our name) our main inspirations were Irish-Celtic originated music, different folk song adaptations, and folk music inspired progressive rock . Our first adaptations were born to these kinds of songs, with Hungarian translation and lyrics. Our first album, Végtelen Utazás (Endless Journey) contains this collection, mixed with a few of our own instrumental songs. One of the dominant instrument among the solo instruments is the tin whistle and the electric guitar; also keyboard bases and percussion, as accompaniment to the vocals.
In comparison to this, on our 2nd and 3rd albums the Hungarian folk adaptations are dominant, and our own songs are with lyrics. The main change came with the pursuit of Hungarian folk adaptations, because we started to get to know this area, and we also took time to visit certain regions where some of the songs originate from. One of these visits was to Csángóföld (part of Transylvania), where we could deepen our knowledge of folk music with personal experiences.
Nevertheless, we do not play folk music, nor are we folk musicians. And on the recordings there aren’t any musicians that could be called folk musicians, therefore folk music is only a source in our music that we play according to our own definition and musicality, with contemporary technical tools. Moreover, our soloists are primarily jazz musicians who bring color to our songs with their improvisational sessions.
I heard that a new album is out this year, and I was privileged to be present at your debut concert, introducing the latest songs. Can you talk about this third, newest album? What was the concept, and what are the songs about?
The 3rd album titled Fields of Dawn was freshly released in March, 2012. The concept behind it was to pick the best songs from the new playlist on our concerts during last year, and it was obvious for all five of us that those songs should be on the album. The first song is an own composition, (and it is also the title song of the album). There are two own compositions, and there is also a folk-song inspired short instrumental piece, which could be considered as an intro. There are also two old Celtic Christian folk-song adaptations, and a church hymn adaptation. Then an Irish emigration song, which was put into one song with the Hungarian farewell song, Elmegyek, Elmegyek (I’m Going Away, Going Away). Four Hungarian folk-song adaptations can also be found on the latest album, among which there is a Csángó-Hungarian originated; a Bulgarian originated marching song which was given Hungarian lyrics, and is a known song in Hungary; and two Hungarian folk-song adaptations. These take up the 45 minutes long 3rd album of Lighthouse.
It’s great to know that there are absolutely new and original songs on your albums. Who writes these songs?
Most of our own songs are composed by me, but on our 3rd album, there are two folk-song adaptations which were re-composed together by myself Kálmán Mády, our drummer and percussion player.
On your concerts, and even on the album, there are more musicians listed than the five core-members. Who are your main guest musicians?
We give concerts mostly with violinist guest musicians. On the 3rd album, Zoltán Lantos plays in six songs. His speciality is the Indian violin, and his main instrument is a 5-stringed acoustic violin. Another talented violinist is Marci Bakai, he plays in two songs. The one who was invited to play on wind instruments is István Grencsó. His speciality is an Armenian instrument called duduk, and his main instrument is saxophone. Shorter parts are played by another guest violinist Bence Boglárka, and a great singer, Papp Gergely, who is also the sound engineer of Híradó Studio, and in fact he recorded most of the vocals and instruments for our latest album.
What kind of other musical influences do you, and other members of Lighthouse have? Are all five of you interested in the same field of music?
As all the 5 members of our band are different personalities, and comes from various musical backgrounds, I would primarily mention those inspirations that affected me, as the one who orchestrated and composed most of the material on the album.
At the beginning of my musical career, rock music was the one that I listened, learned, and loved. Inside rock, I preferred its progressive side. But I also studied jazz guitar for 5 years, and for a short time, singing as well. In addition to this, in the last 4-5 years folk songs also got into my areas of interest, however, comparing these few years to the last 30 years of my life, this new passion is not that dominant.
Specific music that had a great influence on my music, are the songs of Sting, and his orchestrating solutions. During an album recording period, I take his songs out sometimes, and I consider him to be one of the best composer and musician. Apart from this, I would mention a fusion of progressive rock, Celtic folk, and Celtic music, which is a mutual interest with our singer, Vera Brátán. Some inspiration comes from Enya, Clannad, The Corrs, and Loreena McKennit, who brilliantly combines Celtic and Eastern folk music. Less known bands, that are mostly Christian inspired progressive bands are Iona and Eden’s Bridge. The adaptations of their songs could be heard on our first album.
On our latest album, our main sources were folk songs. On one of our visits to Transylvania, I would mention a famous Csángó musician, who is also a carpenter as we got to know, István László Legedi. We had the privilege to listen to his performance live, this way he also had an impact on our music.
A mutual source and favorite for me and the bass player, Gergő Banos, is a progressive band called King Crimson. They were a defining band throughout the ’70s-’80s.
The drummer, Kálmán Mády’s favorites are the monumental fusion jazz bands. Our singer, Vera Brátán prefers folk music, and high quality pop-rock songs. And finally, our percussion player, Gábor Kelemen is a great fan of African, Asian, and South-American kinds of music.
I know it is quite unfair to ask, but from all your songs on the new album, which one would you consider your favorite song?
Naturally, my favorite song is my own song, Fields of Dawn, which is the title song. But others are close to my heart as well, like “Édesanya, Kedves,” which is a Bulgarian adaptation with the lyrics translated into Hungarian. The reason for its greatness is because of the excellent soloists, Zoltán Lantos, playing on the violin; and István Grencsó, playing on duduk and saxophone. Another brilliant adaptation is the Hungarian-Irish emigration song. This one was put as the second song on the album because it sums up the essence of our band, which is called Hungarian-Celtic world music. There are other favorite songs, for example one of the specialities is a Scottish-Gaelic labour song, where the vocals are in Gaelic language; a significant eastern instrument used is the ud, which is the ancestor of the European lyre; Zoltán Lantos’ virtuoso violin session; and an African percussion instrument, the csekere.
And at last, I have to mention among the favorites the Megkötöm Lovamat (I Tie My Horse) titled song, as this was shaped into a unique folk-song adaptation, because it leans toward a progressive-alternative rock style from the second part of the song, with a surprising change in the middle. It’s quite hard to express this in words, it has to be listened.
Band name: Lighthouse
Genre: Celtic-Hungarian World Music
- Péter Gulyás: acoustic, electric and bass guitars, tin whistle
- Vera Brátán: lead vocal, tin whistle
- Kálmán (Coleman) Mády: drums, udu, percussions
- Gábor Kelemen: percussions, acoustic effects
- Gergely Banos: bass guitar
- Endless Journey (Végtelen Utazás) (2006)
- First Light (2008)
- Fields of Dawn (Hajnali Mezőkön) (2012)
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