With The Specials, The Cribs, Public Image Ltd
John Lydon on stage at the Sziget Festival 2010 with Public Image Ltd

Ask any one of the 1,500 Brits who head over to Sziget each year and they’ll tell you that it’s the best festival in the world. Now this is a bold claim, but plausible, as the big fest in Budapest has a few USPs going for it. Time for a few bullet points...

*You can get there via a beautiful boat trip down the Danube, past the parliament building that’s like something Disney invented before they went all sinister

*Hungarians are really good looking, and really, really pleased to see you.

*It’s a huge long site with all sorts of odd events going on away from the stages. Spectacular street parades (like a cool Disneyland), topless gay cowboy troupes (not so much like Disneyland), a miniature Hungarian village selling a local speciality that involves vodka being fired out of a soda siphon (Vodkacino?)

*This year it was sponsored by Pringles, so every now and then a hot girl would walk up and offer you crisps. I’m sure I had a dream like that once.

*It has an old-school festival vibe: tents pitched in odd places, an impressive lack of dicks, and easy-going security who don’t so much search your bag as gently fondle it

*It’s about £1.50 a pint. Beat that, Latitude.

Ok, so the line-up leaves a bit to be desired, but then Hungarians do love their heavy stuff, which can be amusing. This year’s major headliners were Iron Maiden, who are now as jowly and lumpen as you’d expect but also hilariously fussy. “Ooh, no, we’re not playing unless our name is written on the poster in a different font to everyone else” – that kind of thing. Clash gives up after one song and goes to watch the excellent Icelanders Hjaltalin instead, who are on the jazz stage for some reason and wind up with Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’ just to confuse matters further.

We arrive too late for Wednesday’s Peaches/Madness shenanigans but things start exceptionally well on Thursday with a double whammy of Public Image Ltd then The Specials, who a few ska-clad local Madness fans have clearly never heard of. Still, have you ever heard of any Hungarian ska bands? Exactly.

Friday’s line-up is splendidly odd: nice work from Enter Shikari and Gotan Project early on but then a main-stage double-header of bloody Mika followed by bloody 30 Seconds to Mars. Actually there’s a fair bit of expectation for the latter outfit, but they have an absolute stinker, a proper throw-it-in-the-back-of-your-own-net, game-losing own goal.

Clash bumps into a 30 Seconds fan later and even she admits that they stunk the place out, with the rapidly-aging Jared Leto missing out great chunks of songs and generally just making a noise like some drunks walking down a street. We shouldn’t laugh at the poor man really. Just to round off the oddness, later that evening little-known English troubadour Charlie Winston attracts an enormous roomful of rapidly-moistening ladies, but is interrupted by an ominous announcement: “there’s a big storm coming, stay in your tents and be nice to each other.” True, it is an absolute monster, but the Hungarian lasses just treat it like an enormous wet T-shirt competition. This really is a cracking festival.

The Cribs do a fine job on the main stage on Saturday, Johnny Marr still looking more than happy with this touring lark, as do excellent Swedish couple Wildbirds and Peacedrums in some other tent or other. Speaking of nuptial duos, much later that evening we’re led deep into the heart of the festival by a drunk but determined local, past the goulash stalls and floating bar (it’s hung by a crane) and into a venue heaving with pumped-up punters.

From a distance it looks like some godawful trance tent but no, it turns out that Sziget have booked two aged married pop-stars who sing pitch-perfect versions of old hits and opera numbers and probably a few Hungarian originals. After each of these the youthful audience vociferously chant “Main Stage! Main Stage!” to the old turns, who are clearly chuffed.

What a lovely moment. Magnificent stuff from the Magyars, there.

Words by Si Hawkins
Photos by Veronika Moore

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