Hello Laszlo! Please introduce yourself, and tell us your musical history!
I am Laszlo Kovacs, I live in Hungary. I am a keen listener of music, which brought a huge fanaticism about collecting records and later also some activities in connection with it. Now I regret omitting learning and playing music myself.
Do you remember your first purchase?
Sure, that was back in June 1982, when I spent my small name day (27th June) present for a new local LP. It was Hobo Blues Band: Oly sokáig voltunk lenn (Been Down For A Long Time) and I was at a tender age of 11. I bought it in the main bookshop of my hometown in North, namely Salgótarján. It was usual to sell music in bookstores. The town had just two places selling music on records and tapes. The other selling point was a small division of a state department store. I was quite excited about buying more LPs, but could afford only three more albums that year… Singles were not interesting for me until next Spring.
The Hungarian rock scene was very big 40 years ago compared with other Easter European countries. Are you old enough to have experienced that time, and could you tell us about how it was back then?
Now I find that Eastern European countries were quite isolated from each other as well, not just tied together and took apart from the West by the Iron Curtain. Although we could travel freely throughout the Warsaw Pact countries (except for the Soviet Union) and had easy access to Yugoslavia as well, cultural and goods exchanges were relatively sporadic and at a small range. So here we saw only a few articles about exporting Hungarian rock music to the neighboring countries. This was going on particularly in the 70s when Hungarian rock products were generally above the other Communist countries’ output (both in quality and quantity means) and very few productions approached the leading world class acts as well.
I know you started early with your vinyl passion. How do you think the music progressed from the time you began to discover music to today’s style?
I can hardly answer this, since my taste and interest diverged from the trends since the early 1990. I guess Metallica and U2 were the last performers who became true first class rock actions. They were the last considerably innovative rock performers for me – but that was in the late 80s, a generation’s time earlier.
I know you run a label, Moiras Records, and you have released many Hungarian records on vinyl. Please tell us more about your label, and how you got the idea of starting it.
In the late 80s I started to discover the obscure world of unreleased material existing on copied compact cassettes. There were many great productions left unreleased even in Hungary, where release control was less strict than places like Czechoslovakia, Romania or Bulgaria. In fact most of the famous bands had some confrontation with the power. I managed to get a bunch of tapes then, so in the 90s I collected music in two main groups: released and unreleased. There were quite many collectors interested in these and it was relatively easy to find recordings. Many CDs were released with old material after the fall of Communism in 1989, but quite a few were still left hidden. I was thinking about releasing some favorite copied tapes back in the late 90s (the tapes shifted to CD-Rs from 1999-2000), but the chance of starting this came by founding a label only in 2005. Of course, I don’t make living of this, since I work as a lawyer.
My aim was to put light on such materials connected to Hungarian rock, jazz or folk music genres that 1) are remaining obscure due to being unreleased or very poorly managed for any reason and 2) are decent enough to be introduced to the foreign collectors as well. While designing, I tried to follow foreign release patterns like using gatefold sleeves, hand-numbering, inserts, liner notes etc. The first two releases were remakes of two Electrecord LPs from Romania with local ethnic Hungarian rock and folk artists from 1978, which were sold in 8.000-10.000 copies at their time. These LPs, namely Metropol: Égig érhetne az ének and Józsa Erika – Horváth Károly: Kettőspont never found their way to the public of Hungary, since they were not imported or licensed, even the artists were banned from touring in Hungary by the Romanian Communist authorities! The further releases were mostly my dig-outs, and some tapes were coming from the bands’ ex- members (like Scampolo and Bugocsiga). Of course, all releases are done with the consent of the artists or their representatives.
Many Western European find Eastern European music very exotic, it is the opposite in Hungary?
American and English stars were the etalon even in the times when Western rock artists were not let into the local media. You could receive records from abroad or buy them privately, but you could hardly enjoy any live performers or films or broadcasts until the early 60s. So anything coming through were taken as treasures. From a local’s point of view, I would rather call them as hardly accessible top products than exotic ones. The isolation was far from being total: radio and TV broadcasts became regular from the mid 60s, some rock movies were featured, very few licensed records were pressed at the state record company (with labels Qualiton and later Pepita and more) and even some gigs were held (like Spencer Davis Group, Nashville Teens and later Free). From the early 70s the state label (which had export-import activity as well) imported a limited rock catalogue form its Yugoslavian and Indian partners. These import LPs were sold at “just” 200-250% of the local pressing LP prices, which was still better than the private market prices of the Western pressings, going at 500-700%. The limits of accessibility were disappearing gradually in the 80s and the prices were somewhat dropped.
What sort of music do you mainly focus on, in your own collection?
Currently I listen mostly to classical music. I find those works very sophisticated and feel almost impossible to discover the pieces in their true depths. So a section of 200-300 LPs will do for me for a very long time. My main collection (put together in 20 years) includes beat, hard rock, Heavy Metal, prog rock and punk records, and a small section of folk as well.
How do you discover new music?
Any channel will do for me, but I find new favorites mostly via internet and via friends’ hints.
Please let us know more about the Hungarian vinyl collecting situation. Many people who collect?
I guess there are very few serious record collectors around, both in attitude and quantity means. Just two aspects to show: a collection of 10.000 LPs is taken almost unique in the country (well, mine is far from that…) and a 50 EURO local oldie is already considered a serious collectible item.
Where do you prefer to buy your records?
In the last decade practically I stopped collecting. The last few ones were taken from you (!!!), back in May and from a small classical music shop in Budapest who had been just shifting to web shop and made a sellout due to this.
Name three records that are special to you, and will be buried with you. Please tell us the story of how you got hold of them.
I have many loved pieces but have very few that I have emotional ties with. Like all collectors, I had several purchases I felt very lucky about. The first two records are coming from such collectors’ successes.
The first one is Phoenix: Cei-ce ne-au dat nume (Those Who Gave Us A Name) first pressing LP. This is a foreign record from Romania, sung in native language which sounds at least so strange for me than for you. I got a great collection of Romanian rock LPs and singles in Arad, Romania in 1994 where I swapped them for a bunch of Hungarian oldies. The collection included several prog rock, beat and hard rock masterpieces (like Metropol, Progresiv TM, Sfinx, all three albums of Phoenix etc.), but this LP is the crown of all. The LP released in 1972 in a nice artwork gatefold sleeve as the debut LP of the doubtless no.1. Romanian rock band. Some prog rock and hard rock touches (like Jethro Tull and Deep Purple) are mixed with local folk music structures. The results is a very strong and unique sound, which remains basically rock. But take that the LPs greatest hit of the time (The Wedding) was recorded in ¾ rhythm!
I am the proud owner of the first Hungarian language beat EP from 1966 (Illés: Légy jó kicsit hozzám – Be Good To Me). The item is not particularly rare even in its original picture sleeve – but I got this copy in 1995 in unplayed, untouched condition! A doctor lady who had been buying records in the late 60s sold her collection to me – many in Mint or even fully unplayed condition. It was like attending a shop in 1966 or so. Well, I dared to play this EP 4 or 5 times since then…
The third one is the piece that had maybe the greatest impact on me in the 80s. It is Iron Maiden’s Live After Death, which I bought on 1st April, 1986, in the “Cinema Boutique” of my hometown. This was a small record shop inside the cinema’s building, near the cashiers. The LP was pressed by Jugoton, Zagreb in Yugoslavia and had all inserts and label artworks featured (unlike many other Eastern pressings…). This was my first Maiden album and in fact I met Maiden only then – and fell in love forever. I counted its listening in full until 70 or so times in the next 1-2 years, then omitted counting… Sincerely, I left regular listening to it some short time later and never pulled out for about 20 years. And then it was a revelation to discover again!
And finally: what do you see in the future of record collecting?
There will be a worldwide sect of vinyl lovers for many decades to come. In this new world of file music it is just a unique passion to make a ritual of listening. Keeping a record player, hunting some pressed music for it, putting on a record and finally listening to the contents of grooves: this is and will be a joy for many newcomers due to its passion style. But the number of followers will gradually decline and in 10-20 years this will be a very small market with the usual pains due to its size.
Interesting, but strange that OMEGA, the only Hungarian progband with a moderate succes (and official western releases) isn’t mentioned anywhere!