This Hungarian duo – Veronika Harcsa on vocals and Bálint on semi-acoustic guitar – made a dynamic start to their performance and never let up. They were onstage for an hour and a quarter and played ten original songs, mostly from their new album Tell Her, plus a cover song as an encore. The two, we hear, were classmates at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest and Tell Her is the sixth album on which they’ve collaborated, the second as a duo.
Veronika can certainly hit those high notes and in that respect was reminiscent of Minnie Ripperton. Joni Mitchell also came to mind at times. She’s also a great scat singer and improvised freely, almost yelping like a dog at one point. Bálint, whose full name in English means Valentine Diamond (Harcsa means ‘catfish’ apparently), is a dexterous guitarist and on three songs used guitar samples to great effect, especially on one number where he sampled a throbbing bass line and left it buzzing away while Veronika improvised for minutes.
He also played lengthy and engaging solos, sometimes in an almost-flamenco style. On some songs the guitar and vocals were very closely syncopated but others had more of a call and response structure. There was considerable variety of tempo, the pacy songs well balanced by much slower ones. Harcsa said that on every album there has to be a waltz and we got that here. Their music has folky influences – one track their version of a Hungarian folk-number (the only one sung in Hungarian), but this too was jazzy and in nearly every song there were improvised passages.
The lyrics were about real life experiences and personal relationships (“My father wouldn’t call…he’s proud”). ‘Wait and See’ was about trying to find a new home, a theme which resounded with members of the audience. ‘Tell Her’ is about the things we need to talk about but don’t say (“Tell her if you can… however strong your pride. You think the world is lost, she will be by your side”). The waltz we were given was about ‘What’s possible and not impossible’, and included the line, ‘How some people die while still alive…’
Both Veronika and Bálint speak English well and came across as warm, engaging the P.O.S.K. audience from the moment they came onstage. They got a very good reception at the end of their set and after their one encore, the Beatles’ ‘Come Together’ – in which Harcsa got all the complex lyrics right – the crowd were clapping for more. But she came on alone to say thank you, that was the last number.
This was an exhilarating show and though there are no impending London dates, hopefully they’ll be playing here again soon.
Veronika Harcsa and Bálint Gyémánt appeared as part of the ongoing programme of events at hte Polish Cultural Centre. ‘Tell Her’ is available from iTunes, priced 9.99 euros.