Erdős Péter

Erdős Péter
manager and producer

1977-1990 - Neoton Família
You could count music bands that have world-renowned producers on your fingers; "Neoton Familia" was one such band. Péter Erdős was born in 1925 in Budapest; his parents were a bank clerk and a seamstress. His father left the family when he was 2 years old, and he and his mother lived a rather poor life. In 1943 Péter graduated middle school and began working as an apprentice tailor. Europe was engulfed in World War II then and Hungary's allegiance lied with Nazis. In 1944 the country was shaken by a wave of repressive crackdowns; Péter was arrested because of his Jewish background and sent by force to a railway-building "labor battalion". It was followed by deportation and terms in Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps. When US troops liberated the camp in 1945 Péter weighed a mere 39 kg. His hardships were far from over: after the war communists took power in Hungary, initiating new repressive measures. Péter was an editor for "Hungarian Sun" magazine and a teacher at drama college. His discontent with ideas of dictator Mátyás Rákosi led to a three-year solitary imprisonment on an espionage charge. After serving his term, in 1953, he openly joined the opposition, working at dissident radio channel that soon got shut down. He was a member of an underground organisation "Petőfi Kör" that carried on propaganda for the reforms and against Mátyás Rákosi's dictatorship. As it is known, all this led to Autumn 1956 uprising that was crushed down by USSR troops. Péter was caught and convicted to a 2-year prison term.

Yet the coming changes in Hungary were inevitable. Mátyás Rákosi retired and János Kádár became Hungary's new leader, putting a number of democratic reforms in place. Thanks to Kádár's reformist policies Hungary came to be known as "the jolliest barrack in all Eastern bloc": there was the most liberal censorship, its citizens could freely go abroad, shops were filled by budget-friendly goods from all around the world. Like many other political prisoners, Péter Erdős was granted amnesty and finally could shape his destiny. First he went to get a higher education, studying law at an extramural law faculty during 1960-1966. In 1968 he became general advisor and head of public relations at MHV (Hungarian Record Company). Péter was married to Erzsébet Köves, secretary of one of Hungarian politics; their daughter Ágnes Hankiss (born 1950) later became a member of European Parliament. In the 1960s lawyer Judit Lehel became Péter's next wife; she was followed by actress Gabi Jobba, ballet dancer Erzsi Gombkötő and pediatrist Anna Dobos in turn. 

In 1970 MHV created a sublabel named Pepita which was recording and releasing pop music vinyls, and Péter Erdős was appointed its head. In the 1970s he was regarded as an outstanding expert at Hungarian pop music, getting himself a nickname Pop Caesar (Popcézár). Eventually he started thinking that Hungarian music, successfully exported to Eastern bloc countries, was also fit for conquering Western Europe. If he told in 1976 than in a pair of years one of Hungarian pop bands will gain worldwide fame and popularity, his MHV colleagues would surely laugh at him, so he just told them that to him it seemed necessary for Hungary to have its own disco music. To fulfill this ambition Péter had to go to considerable lengths; and his first step would be choosing an appropriate band to build up as world superstars.

His aim was a band that would become something along the lines of Swedish "ABBA": glamorous, vigorous but steady and cultured singers and musicians that perform smooth melodic music aimed at all ages. In Péter's opinion, pop music's role was to bring generations together, so a father can take his kids to pop concert, and a mother can buy an innoxious pop record to listen to. The problem was that in the early 1970s virtually nobody played pop in Hungary, except only a handful of hoary femaly singers. Rock music was all the rage among the youth: there were many talented rock bands and clubs where they played, in Budapest and in other cities. At the same time many of these bands were borderline trashy and degenerate, so Erdős, being a member of Censorship Committee, on several occasions destroyed careers of artists that were too aggressive or amoral. With a stroke of the pen, he disallowed to publish rock band "Omega"'s "200 Years After The Last War" album in 1972, blocked any prospects of expression for Béla Radics and his "Aligátor" band in 1973, banned "Hobo Blues Band", "P.Mobil" and "Beatrice" in 1980, and shut down punk band "CPg", with its members being sentenced to a 5-and-a-half years in prison for "unconstitutional activity". Radical youth hated Pop Caesar for this. 

Péter approached many rock bands, looking for collaborative relationship, however, all of them seemed too incontrollable and obsessed with generational divide and theme of rebellion in general. The last band he auditioned was "Piramis", which released a successful single titled "A becsület"/"Szállj fel magasra!" in 1976. This band also had to be rejected though, leaving Erdős at an impasse. Solution presented itself in 1977 as he paid a visit to "Tessék választani!" contest, spotting a band that seemed promising. He knew virtually nothing about "Neoton & Kócbabák" before that despite their "Menedékház" 1976 Christmas hit album that propelled the band to the third place in the national pop chart. After that Péter visited another "Neoton & Kócbabák" show and talked to band members. The band's performance seemed very weak to him, but unlike many other bands it was "flexible, manageable and had adequate skill" so he decided to try to work with it.

Erdős told the members from the get-go they'll have to work hard under the governmental supervision. Band members were sceptical at first. The most troubling of statements made by Pepita's head was that music band is not a gathering of individualists that follow their own paths but a family of professionals that work together to reach a common goal. "A talent ain't worth much without proper teamwork," asserted Péter Erdős. The producer decided to turn "Neoton & Kócbabák" into such family of professionals and renamed the band to "Neoton Família" to bring this statement home. From this moment on the band's founding father László Pásztor's leadership was no more: every decision was made collectively, every song was composed and arranged collectively and every member had to propose new ideas. As the band had all songs for the upcoming "Csak a zene" album at the ready, Erdős allowed this album to be recorded and released, suggesting the band should add a song dedicated to the inventor Thomas Edison though; next he put the band on East European tour commemorating a centennial of Edison's invention of the phonograph.

Stylistically "Csak a zene" was quite similar to the band's previous LP: that was a bizarre mix of funk, rock, jazz, psychedelia and disco. You could hardly aim at worldwide success with this sort of music, so Péter Erdős made his first move, deciding to record an English album titled "Neoton Disco" which contained cover versions of songs popular in the West, arranged so people would have no trouble dancing to them. By utilizing his connections in worldwide record industry he could export this album to several European countries, but this didn't gather much attention to the band. As the band made no headway, state support was granted also to a band named "Kati és a Kerek Perec" which recorded successful singles "Hinta"/"Jókedvű Nap" (1978) and "Csillagszórós Éjszaka"/"Egy Kölcsön Álom" (1978) and to Hungary's future disco queen Judith Szűcs whose debut album "Táncolj még" (1978) went platinum. This was actually a breakthrough year for many Hungarian artists, and they expected even more of the next year as Hungary made an application for an international MIDEM event in Cannes. Each were eager to be spotted abroad, so in the end Hungary went at it with full force, sending 56 bands and artists.

In January 1979 "Neoton Família", heading to MIDEM, was anything but Hungary's leading pop band: most of the songs written for the next disco album were too raw yet, the stage act was not polished enough, there were some troubles with stage outfits. However, the latter wasn't much of an issue for Erdős told band members that they "shouldn't pretend they're stars, looking as regular folks for the public to identify themselves with instead". The band performed their new song titled "Santa Maria", unexpectedly getting a Grand Prix. Foreign labels started bombarding Péter Erdős with business proposals and he knew his time has come. In Summer 1979 the band finished recording an album titled "Napraforgó", later to be released in 13 countries, garnering "Neoton Família" worldwide renown. After this MHV officials recognized Erdős as a man who moves in a right direction, without wasting government funds. Almost immediately after "Napraforgó" Pepita released a compilation titled "Pepita Favorit" comprised of Hungarian top hits of 1978-1979, including two "Neoton Família" songs, and a rather impressive album by "Kati és a Kerek Perec" which included "Titanic", Hungary's 1979 top song. In the late 1979 Pepita also released a compilation titled "Disco Party" which included cover versions of hit songs originally sung by Western disco bands; half of the songs were performed by "Neoton Família" & "Kati és a Kerek Perec" and the other half by popular singer Kati Kovács. This compilation's sales got it "gold" status in Hungary. 

That were Péter Erdős's wildest dreams coming true. Yet the real worldwide fame was still a long way off. A lot of managerial issues should have been resolved, including the issue of the band's lineup. In Autumn 1979 "Neoton Família" said goodbye to Éva Fábián, who, according to Erdős, looked too odd and couldn't give it her all on stage. Around this time Éva Pál also fell out of favor, losing her lead singer status. It was officially stated that Éva Pál's strong and independent personality didn't fit into the "family model" and that Éva Csepregi who went artificial blonde could draw more attention of potential fans, resulting in a higher demand for the band's records. However, later Éva Pál herself told that as the band returned home from Cannes, Erdős asked her if she would be his partner. She said no, sealing her future fate. In the end it was Éva Csepregi who became both the band's frontwoman and 55-year old Pop Caesar's partner. This being said, Anna Dobos still remained Péter's wife and the three basically lived together, with Anna treating Éva like her sister. Head of Pepita wasn't secretive about their relationship: he was casually telling he has two passions in life, politics and women, so general public didn't care about his relationship with Csepregi for the time being.

Later it turned out drummer Zoltán Ambrus was not able to play live in the manner needed, so he had to leave the band. György Jakab, Ambrus's longtime friend, was the person most hurt by their parting. As "Neoton Família" were actively collaborating with "Kati és a Kerek Perec", they began inviting their drummer Gyula Bardóczi to play at the band's live shows. Péter Erdős instantly recognized the opportunity and invited Gyula to become "Neoton Família"'s full-time member. Gyula agreed, bringing guitar player Ádám Végvári with him. That was the beginning of the end for "Kati és a Kerek Perec": the band couldn't recover from losing half of its experienced members. "Neoton Família", on the other hand, entered its Golden Age, recording three of its best albums, "Marathon" (1980), "A família" (1981) and "Szerencsejáték" (1982) in three years. These works cemented "Neoton Família"'s international fame, marking a place for the band in the world pop scene history books.

As "Neoton Família" garnered worldwide renown, haters and gossipers began criticizing Erdős, claiming that his band has an unfair advantage (in regards to recordings and tours), that it doesn't leave a chance for other young talents to shine and so on. Cases like this: after Éva Pál left the band, Erdős offered experienced Hungarian singer Zsuzsa Cserháti (born 1948) with her great voice to be a backing vocalist to Éva Csepregi, but she found this offer insulting, calling Erdős an extortionist. Following this Pop Caesar basically locked her out of music career. The media bore down most furiously upon his relationship with Csepregi: tabloids swarmed with vitriolic articles on what kind of "family" Péter did have in his mind and on Éva Csepregi's alleged mediocrity as a singer and her rise to fame which was possible exclusively thanks to the person sponsoring her. Péter even had to hand in resignation for ethical reasons, however, the top staff of MHV turned down his resignation, stating there was no abuse of position on Erdős's part after an investigation. Anyway, his relationship with Csepregi went basically over, and the singer's music career soon went under the supervision of her new partner, British producer Bob Heatlie. Several years later, when socialist countries entered perestroika phase, Péter Erdős left his state company, becoming an actual manager of "Neoton Família" business instead. 

Éva Pál leaving "Neoton Família" was clearly one of Pop Caesar's professional errors; Mária Juhász and Erzsébet Lukács, who replaced her, amounted to backup singers at best. And, despite all the replacements and shakeups, climate in the family shaped by Péter Erdős was far from clear; the band resembled gradually heating boiler close to blowing up. Erdős's harsh personnel policy and poor decisions regarding other things escalated the situation further, invoking tensions between the members of the band. For instance, László Pásztor stood strongly against the decision to let "Holnap hajnalig" song he wrote be performed by the duo of Éva Csepregi and Ádám Végvári instead of the whole band at 1983 Yamaha Festival. As Éva Csepregi married Bob Heatlie and began her solo career under his supervision, László Pásztor in turn became a producer of young and talented singer Erika Zoltán, greatly irritating Erdős. Later, when Péter Erdős managed to win Éva Csepregi an opportunity to perform a song at the Seoul Olympics opening ceremony, László Pásztor opposed this idea in every way, refusing to participate in composing or performing said song. As the result the song was composed by Ralph Siegel, producer working at Jupiter Records, and Éva Csepregi performed it together with Leslie Mandoki, former lead singer of "Dschinghis Khan". In the end László Pásztor and Gyula Bardóczi visited Pop Caesar someday in the late 1989, announcing that they're leaving the band.

Such was the end of "Neoton Família". Péter Erdős could probably have prevented his "family" from breaking up once again, had he not passed away in February 1990. Nowadays his supervising talent and objectivity of his decisions could be judged in more than one way, yet one thing is for sure: he played a prominent part in the evolution of Hungarian pop music, and without Péter Erdős there would have been no such phenomenon as "Neoton Família".

By Mikhail Badanin
Translated into English by Andrey Sinelnikov