Illés Zenekar: Nehéz Az Út (Qualiton, 1968)

29 Mar

A swirling psychedelic road song perfectly attuned to whatever traces of the Summer of Love had managed to cross the Iron Curtain, Nehéz Az Út (Hard Road) was the title track on the first Illés LP,  Nehéz Az Út: Illés Story (Exmusic), released on Hungary’s Qualiton label in 1968. The band’s earliest roots lie in a family cabaret and folk outfit formed around 1957 but the classic Illés line up came together in 1965, at which time they also started to write their own songs. Some of these appeared on the soundtrack of the semi-documentary film Ezek a Fiatalok (These Young People) in 1967. That film also featured two other key Hungarian bands of the late 1960s, Metro (often found backing Sarolta Zalatnay) and Omega, often considered a Hungarian Rolling Stones to Illés’ Hungarian Beatles: in the film, Illés perform both by themselves and on several numbers with the renowned singer Koncz Zsuzsa. Illés released five LPs between 1968 and their eventual dissolution in 1973, but returned in the early 1980s and have remained active, one way and another, ever since, despite the death of founding member Lajos Illés in 2007. Their distinctive sound often incorporates folk elements into pop songs and hard rock structures and in their time they toured and recorded in East Germany and much of Western Europe, including the UK. It was while on a UK tour in 1969 that the band made mildly critical comments about Hungary’s government during a radio interview, leading to a 12 month ban on further recording and touring on their return – but if anything, this forced absence ensured even greater popularity than before when their next recording finally appeared in 1971. Nehéz Az Út itself seems to skirt ambiguous territory, part standard song of hard travelling, part suggestive dream of flight into exile. The Hungarian lyric can be read here and the song can be heard here

Nehéz az út (Hard Road)

(after Bródy János/Szörényi Levente, 1968)

The sky is grey. I’m tired of traveling with this wind.
Light streams in my windscreen, rushes me along a road
where distances endlessly open out to a far horizon.
Give me strength to leave. No one can help me now.

I have long since lost all the friends I once knew.
I’m leaving, though it’s hard, and keep driving on.
Hope lives in me, but, oh, I need all your help.
Give me strength to leave. I need you to help me now.

It’s so hard to keep driving with the wind at your back.
This journey ends only when I get somewhere.
If I arrive? Who knows? I might be there then gone.
Give me strength to leave. I need all the help you have.

All I know are these thoughts that rush through my head,
the grey sky, exhaustion, traveling with this wind.
I aim for horizons, hold a steering wheel tight in my hands.
Give me strength to leave. No one can help me now.

Illes - Nehez az ut (1968)

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