David Holzer tries to decide whether to see Sir Rod Stewart at the Budapest Arena on January 29. He likes the ageing rocker, but does he want to go simply because Stewart is English and Holzer is feeling the need to reconnect with his own Englishness?
Actually, Stewart may well call himself British. He’s Scottish on his father’s side and fiercely proud of his ancestry. Despite this, he’s as English as they come. But, like the Rolling Stones, Bowie and others of his generation of rock and roll peacocks who made it to the topper most of the popper most in the early 1970s, he left the UK in 1974 when the government raised taxes for high earners to around 90%.
At the time, Stewart claimed to the music press, who thought he was betraying the land of his birth, “It’s just not worth living in England any more”.
Ironically, in that same year Stewart told US magazine Rolling Stone that his reason for emigrating was because he didn’t want to be a performer for the rest of his life. Today, he is 72 and shows no sign of retiring. Which is good for the people of Budapest.
For the better part of his career, Stewart has been known as a flashy, dynamic stage performer. Now, by all accounts, he’s slowed down and can’t quite hit the notes he used to. But the essence of the Rod hasn’t changed. Despite being knighted, he still dresses like a rocker, with his hair teased into signature drowned rooster spikes. His voice is still a melodic rasp.
According to recent reviews of his shows, Stewart still kicks footballs into the crowd from the stage – exactly as he did in the early days. Unlike the wild and crazy days of the 1970s, this is accompanied by warnings to his somewhat more mature audience to beware of low-flying balls.
Apart from the fun and games, Stewart’s show adds up to a stroll through a back catalogue that contains the amount of hits you’d expect from an artist who’s apparently sold around 100 million records.
So, if you’re a fan from the early days, you’ll probably get to listen to classics like “Maggie May”. If you got into Sir Rod when he went rather more unabashedly showbiz, you’ll hear the silly but impossible to dislike “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, which was remixed and re-released in August last year featuring American band DNCE.
At the more tasteful end of the spectrum, Sir Rod will no doubt also offer up chestnuts like “I Get a Kick Out of You” or “Fly me to The Moon” that feature on his five hugely successful Great American Songbook albums.
Despite being hugely successful in the United States, Sir Rod recently moved back to the United Kingdom. The reason he gave was that England has always been in his heart. In common with so many other performers and people in the rock and roll and film industries, he’s managed to live most of the last 40 or so years in the States without appearing to have been affected by the experience one bit.
As someone who’s lived outside of the United Kingdom for the past 15 years, I’ve always been fascinated and amused by how the Sir Rods of this world are fanatical about staying connected to Blighty. I wonder if he’s one of those people who must have a jar of Marmite in the cupboard at all times.
For the uninitiated, Marmite is a sticky brown paste made from yeast extract, a by-product of brewing, with an extremely strong, salty flavor. A little of it goes a very long way. Introduced in 1902, it is part of English life but it also polarizes opinion – in the same way as does “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” you could say.
Since 1996, Marmite has built its advertising around the idea that you either love or hate it. This has led to what’s called the “Marmite effect” entering English pop culture.
If you’re not English, you may well have no idea what Marmite is. Even if you do, it’s pretty hard to describe. When I was growing up, Marmite was ubiquitous. I would imagine more for its supposed nutritional value than the taste. And, despite the levels of salt it contains, Marmite really is good for you. It’s rich in vitamin B and almost gluten free.
What’s interesting is that Marmite seems to be as popular as it ever was. In 2016, Tesco refused to stock Marmite when makers Unilever announced it would put up the price. Tesco triumphed in the pricing dispute (called, of course, Marmitegate) and the result was that the spread reappeared on the supermarket’s shelves. After the victory, shoppers bought an extra 130,000 jars in a few days.
It’s thanks to Tesco that Hungarians and anyone in this country who’s curious can try Marmite. They certainly stock it at my local store. But, although Hungarians do clearly like salt, I’m not so sure what they’d make of Marmite. I can’t say that I’ve been tempted to buy a jar.
Because, for me, one of the great joys of living in another country is diving deep into its cuisine. Especially as I haven’t got much further than Szeged’s superb fish soup or the lángos from our local market and I’m yet to acquire a taste for tejföl – Hungarian sour cream.
And with this in mind, perhaps I should give Rod Stewart a miss and check out Algiers, the experimental American band playing at A38 Ship on the same night. I have no idea whether Algiers is any good or not, but the A38 is a venue, set in a reconditioned Ukrainian stone-carrier ship moored on the Danube, that looks intriguing.
Find out more about A38 Ship at www.a38.hu. Tickets for Sir Rod might still be available at www.ticketpro.hu. Good luck!