Rooftop rock

The idea of playing live music on a balcony started in Dublin and now the concept has reached Tel Aviv.

balcony tv 521 (photo credit: courtesy Balcony TV)
balcony tv 521
(photo credit: courtesy Balcony TV)
The Beatles did it 44 years ago in London, so there doesn’t seem to be any reason why several of our own pop and rock acts shouldn’t do their artistic thing on a rooftop in Tel Aviv.
Then again, we are, of course, talking about a very different era in terms of cultural ethos and technological advancements. But, in a way, that makes the idea of Balcony TV even more appealing.
About three months ago, Renato Horvath started the local version of the worldwide musical format. Horvath, who hails from Hungary and has been living here for about a year, says he first heard about the idea before he relocated to Israel. Balcony TV is just that – a format for pop and rock musicians to play their music, live, from a balcony or a rooftop while their unplugged performance is filmed and later uploaded to the relevant national slot of the eponymous global website.
The concept was kick-started in Dublin in 2006 by Irish filmmaker Stephen O’Regan and musicians Tom Millett and Pauline Freeman. O’Regan and Millett shared an apartment on Dame Street in the center of the city and began hosting the show from their balcony there. It took about a year to pick up momentum but, over time, has really taken off. “The big breakthrough was when they filmed [alternative rock band] The Script and they became really famous, and that was one of their first gigs,” explains Horvath. The group in question performed a song called “We Cry” for their Dame Street gig and released its debut album a few months later. The record made No. 1 in both Ireland and the UK.
“The Script got a lot of PR from that gig and then other local bands started playing on the balcony,” Horvath continues.
“They also kept on inviting bigger bands too, and they all loved the idea because it was just so simple and organic and natural. They liked to just jump in and do one song on the balcony, and it did a lot of good for promoting their music.”
The idea also began to catch on elsewhere.
“I think Hamburg was the second place to start doing balcony gigs, and then it spread and spread,” says Horvath. “Now there are 42 cities that have Balcony TV and it’s still growing.”
The show frequency is very much a product of the size of the local scene.
“In London they have so many bands and I think they have shows every day,” he continues. “And I just spoke to the guys in Cork [in Ireland] where they also have a lot of bands, and they film once or twice a month, 12 bands or more each time. But most cities do a weekly show, just like we do, and we film three or four bands a month and come out with them each week.”
THE TEL AVIV version of Balcony TV is gaining momentum. Thus far, the artist roster – the acts are presented by Roni Gover – includes well-known performers, such as singer-songwriter Tamar Eisenman and popular indie guitarist-vocalist Uzi Ramirez, as well as some lesser-known acts like electronic music singer Flora, Kama Vardi, high-energy crossover band Acollective and R&B-inclined Jack in the Box, who sing in Hebrew.
Jack in the Box is a case in point for the venture’s left-field approach, Horvath says. “There was a project recently called Indie City, initiated by the municipality, with independent artists playing acoustic music in a sort of stripped-down way in different parts of the city. One guy played in a shared taxi and someone else in a park. There was also this band, Jack in the Box, and they scored the highest viewing.”
Although Horvath says the members of Jack in the Box don’t exactly go out of their way to raise their public profile, the Balcony TV gigs, which – for now – take place on the roof of the Café Tamar building on Sheinkin Street, are largely in the public’s face. “People see us from the street and they sometimes come up to say hello and make some connection. That is nice. In a way it is the opposite of going to a concert in an auditorium, and I think it makes the music and the artists more approachable.”
Horvath cut his teeth in the music industry long before the local Balcony TV venture. “I managed bands in Hungary and I went with one of my bands to South by Southwest, the showcase in Austin [Texas],” he recalls. “I knew the [Balcony TV] guys from before; I wanted one of my bands to get on the show in London and they saw I was coming to Austin and they said, ‘Why don’t you get your band to play on our balcony here?’ so my band did. Then I thought of starting Balcony TV in Hungary, but then I moved to London for a while and I ended up in Tel Aviv, and here we are.”
It wasn’t hard to get the chiefs of Balcony TV’s blessing for the local venture, he says. “There are a lot of great bands here, and there is a really good buzz in Tel Aviv.” He also says the rooftop goingson here can have some ripple-effect added value for the artists. “There are more and more indie bands here, and they want to get out of here and conquer the world, and they want to grab any opportunity that inherently has some potential for them to show what they have to offer to a wider audience in other places around the world.
Balcony TV can help with that.”
It wasn’t difficult to get the support of the local musical community. “We ran a pilot and sent out information, and the reception was fantastic. Everyone wanted to help – with equipment, places to play and people, like soundmen and that sort of thing, offering their skills,” says Horvath. “It seems this was the right idea at the right time.”
Mind you, not everyone is totally enthralled with the vibes coming out from above Café Tamar. “There is this woman neighbor who said the music was disturbing her nap time and she called the police,” he notes. But all’s well that ends well. “The police came up and I explained what we were doing and the policemen were really nice about it all,” he says. “And we went to see the woman, to apologize, and took her some chocolates.”
The neighbor was grateful but was not completely won over. “She said she was willing to let us play some more, but not for too long and not too loud,” says Horvath with a smile.
For more information about Balcony TV: