Archive | May, 2011

Krissi Musiol’s Sugar Statues at NEAT11 Festival, Nottingham (Jun 2, 2011)

31 May

A slight deviation from the usual versions of song lyrics to note that as part of the Hatch programming within the NEAT11 festival, on Thursday June 2nd Manchester-based artist Krissi Musiol will be performing her one-woman show Sugar Statues, reflecting on recent Polish history from the perspective of her own family’s experience, at the Polish Eagle Club in Sherwood. The event is preceded by a new performance by Jenna Finch drawing on Nottingham’s Polish connections aboard a free bus to the venue that will set off from the Playhouse around 6.30pm.

To keep things in the spirit of  the Polish theme, I was asked a week or so ago to compile a couple of CDs of Polish music to be played between and after these performances and the songs below are all included: if you fancy seeing either performance, hearing the sounds, or just having a look inside the Eagle Club itself (built by expatriate Poles after WW2, and well worth a first or repeat visit) booking is via Hatch and the Playhouse.

Sugar Statues Playlist (2 June 2011)

Alibabki – Slonce W Chmurach Lazi

Dwa Plus Jeden – When Ice Floats Down The River

Marek Grechuta & Anawa – Korowod

No To Co – The Green Bridge

Urszula Sipinska – Trzymajac Sie Za Rece

Stenia Kozlowska – Przypomnij Mi

Czerwono Czarni – Beat Mass Credo

Tadeusz Wozniak – Zegarmistrz Swiatla

Maryla Rodowicz – Wolves Chasing The Sheep

Romauld & Roman – Pytanie Czy Haslo

Blackout – Powiedz Swoje Imie

Czeslaw Niemen/Akwarele – Dziwny Jest Ten Swiat

Klan – Don’t Plant Apples of Paradise

Niebiesko Czarni – Nie Pukaj Do Moich Drzwi

Filipinki – Nie Ma Go

Tadeusz Wozniak – Pewnego Dnia O Swicie

Czeslaw Niemen – Enigmatyczne Impresje

Krzysztof Komeda Quintet – Kattorna

NOVI Singers – Torpedo

Helena Majdaniec  – Juz raz bylo tak

Jerzy Polomski – Nie Pierwszy Raz

Czerwono Czarni – Moj Dom Gdzies Daleko

Polanie – Dlugo Sie Znamy

Klan – Picking Wild Strawberries with a Razor

Czerwone Gitary – Coda

Maryla Rodowicz – Hindu Couplets

Halina Frackowiak – Ide Dalej

Romauld & Roman – Czloweik

Marek Grechuta – Twoja Postac

Zespol Izomorf 67 – The Colour of Sound

Klan – Automaty

Krzysztof Komeda – Pushing the Car

Jan ‘Pstazyn’ Wroblewski – Sprzedawcy Glonow


Olympic: Psychiatrický Prášek (Supraphon, 1967)

31 May

Although taken from their 1968 debut LP, Zelva (The Tortoise – on which Psychiatrický Prášek is the long closing track) Olympic and its main songwriters, Petr Janda and Pavel Chrastina, were already veterans on the Czech beat scene when it appeared, the band having originally formed in 1963 and played in many different line-ups (under both the Olympic name and as the backing band for a variety of singers) on dozens of singles before its release. Zelva is usually said to be the first LP by a rock group in Czechoslovakia and its appearance in early 1968 was certainly a landmark. The song represented here is perhaps the nearest to a standard Western-style rock lyric featured so far, though the precise intention behind its ambiguous meaning is unclear. Perhaps it’s a case of a songwriter taking a simple delight in the same kinds of thinly veiled drug-references beloved of British, Dutch and American bands in the same moment or perhaps there are more sinister implications in the song’s allusions to a man who might be saved from his own personal crises with ‘psychiatric powder’ or the hints that the lyric’s subject might be an addict or otherwise caught in a state of alienation . This may be why, for the entirety of the ‘normalisation’ period under Gustáv Husák, Olympic’s early records were removed from circulation, even though the band continued to perform and record, albeit in a far less inventive style. Those recordings nevertheless made them one of the most significant bands of their time and both Zelva and its follow-up, Pták Rosomák (The Wolf-Bird), are classics that deserve a far wider hearing than either has so far received in the West. The Czech lyric to Psychiatrický Prášek can be found here and a version of the song recorded at the 1967 Beat Festival in Prague can be heard here.

Psychiatrický Prášek (Psychiatric Powder)

(after Petr Janda/Pavel Chrastina, 1967)

He’s lost someone or something,
he’s confused and running around –
strangeness always overcomes him,
as he moves around this town.

He knows you’re only a bag of nerves,
he’s a bag of nerves himself,
but whenever he loses his aim and nerve
those bags are shaken out.

And it seems the obvious cure for this
might be something to eat, perhaps –
but then again, he might still be saved
with psychiatric powder!

And look, he’s straining like a moth,
grinds his head inside a case –
the walls of a chrysalis made just for him
by doctors, dealers, friends.

But perhaps he’s missing something,
in all this confusion and decay –
strange ideas can overwhelm him
as he paces through the day.

He knows you’re only a bag of nerves,
he’s a bag of nerves himself,
but whenever he loses his aim and nerve
those bags are shaken out.

And it seems the obvious cure for this
would be something to eat, perhaps,
but then again, he might still be saved
with psychiatric powder!

Yes, it seems the obvious cure for this
might be something to eat, perhaps.
But then again, he might still be saved
with psychiatric powder!

Karel Kahovec & Flamengo: Poprava Blond Holky (Supraphon, 1967)

26 May

Poprava Blond Holky is a product of the Prague Spring in every way, from its driven freakbeat sound to its strange folk-tale like lyrical content, which reads as an allegory of unaccountable power seen through the lens of Edgar Allan Poe or a Brothers Grimm story. The use of fairy-tales as material for songs was fairly common, perhaps because this material was perceived as ‘safe’ yet could still be made to carry other meanings: The Rebels’ Šípková Růženka (Sleeping Beauty) and Petr Novak’s Kraska a Zvire (Beauty and the Beast) are only two examples. Helena Vondráčková and Vaclav Neckar even starred in a musical fairy-tale film, Šíleně Smutná Princezna (Madly Sad Princess), one of many produced by Czech film studios. The lyric in Flamengo’s song certainly seems to have some connections with this lineage:

Katův sluha volá, že se právě koná,
poprava blond holky, která byla svolná,
a za kousek stříbra šla prej s každým spát,
ubohá, á-á-á, vždyť já jí měl tolik rád.

Ví snad ňákej soudce, proč se dala svíst,
jak je bídně holce, nemá-li co jíst.

Kněz už ruce spíná, málo času zbývá,
nad hlavou blond holky sekera se zdvíhá,
holka hlavu sklání, když v tom volám stát,
ubohá, á-á-á, vždyť já jí měl tolik rád.

Ví snad ňákej soudce, proč se dala svíst,
jak je bídně holce, nemá-li co jíst.

Král však povel dává, a blond hlava padá,
škoda je tý holky, byla ještě mladá,
i když žila v hříchu, měla právo žít,
ubohá, á-á-á, v nebi je jí možná líp.

The full meaning of this strange blend of folktale and political allegory in Ivo Plicka’s text is unclear and this English version is riddled with guesswork, some bits of it more firmly based than others: it may have been a device to smuggle in a comment on the abuse of power while leaving the song easy to interpret as being directed at Western or pre-Communist rule (the girl is killed because the state has been usurped by “those who own everything” with the aid of a priest and corrupt, apathetic  judges) or perhaps it really is nothing more than a fairy-tale story reworked into a big beat context. Whatever the intentions, the lyric is surprising in relation to the feel of the music, and this is one case where having an idea about what the lyric means complicates rather than instantly illuminates the experience of hearing the song. A live version (filmed at 1967’s Beat Festival in Prague) can be heard here.  

Poprava Blond Holky (A Blonde Girl’s Execution)

(after Karel Kahovec/Ivo Plicka, 1967)

The hangman’s servant holds the executioner’s calls
for the blonde girl is to be killed at noon today:
as her wishes pass like silver from hand to hand
she makes her final choice: to sleep again.

But, ah, poor girl, I had so much love for her –
maybe knowing the judge would have got her out
but her meal’s miserable and he’s still to eat.

The priest lifts a hand, waves a desultory cross,
the axe is raised, already, above her head;
she wonders where the law and the state have gone
when the owners of everything can kill a girl.

But, ah, poor girl, I had so much love for her –
maybe knowing the judge would have got her out
but her meal’s miserable and he’s still to eat.

The king gives command and her blonde head falls,
the body of a girl – still young – lies still:
though a judge had decreed she was living in sin
she’d as much right to her life as anyone.

But, ah, poor girl, I had so much love for her –
maybe knowing the judge would have got her out
but her meal’s miserable and he’s still to eat.

The hangman’s servant held the executioner’s calls
for the blonde girl was killed today, by law;
when those pieces of silver passed from hand to hand
she made her final wish: to sleep again.

Marta Kubišová: Ring-o-Ding (Supraphon, 1969)

19 May

This song is included on Songy a Balady and also featured (with a film by Kubišová’s husband at the time, the New Wave director Jan Nemec) in a 1969 special made for Czech TV. It’s a lyrical song whose pastoral arrangement and nursery-rhyme imagery lend it a timeless feel, melancholy and tinged with resignation, but finally optimistic, as it closes on a note of possible happiness, but leaves its fulfilment unconfirmed and its nature – given all that precedes it – unavoidably fleeting. Hopefully this version reflects these basics, at least, though some nuances may have been missed. The song can be heard here, and the Czech lyric is available to read here.


(after Bohuslav Ondrácek/Zdeněk Rytíř, 1969)

The deepest sea, the high mountain,
a forest sad in the eyes of a child;
crows’ wings roosting on a thousand gates,
nine rivers, flowing, leading here…


Behind each gate there is a single bell,
and someone rings it every day;
for your tears, your laughter, ring-a-ding,
for every moment, the air will sing.


The street is lined with pearly flowers and leaves,
windows are filled with butterfly wings;
this town is a waterfall of colour and sound
that flows more vividly than you recognise…


We hear, as one bell tolls birth, another death,
that with each misfortune one more bell rings,
chimes for the tear that swells in your eye.
For laughter? Sadness? Each passes by.


Patients wake refreshed from fever dreams,
the sun warms the face of a sleeping girl.
A car at a roadside, an alarm-clock’s repeats:
ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding…


I sing this fairy tale for the children of bells,
that girl’s hair in the sun, flowers on her dress,
the boy whose senses she’ll one day snare:
ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding…


They’ll grow up, and surely exchange rings,
each carillion beginning to chime at birth.
With every moment after, bright air will sing:
ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding, ring-a-ding…

Filipinki: Wala-Twist (Muza, 1964)

17 May

Filipinki were an all-girl vocal group founded in 1959 at a technical college in Szczecin and became popular through exposure at song festivals and other events during the years that followed. By 1963 they were well-established, and while relatively mild by the standards of Polish beat music (Filipinki were generally given the kind of material associated with teenage life in a slightly earlier era, and steered towards a more ‘family entertainment’ ethos than some of their later peers) they are important historically, as the first of their kind in Poland, and did get to perform the occasional song that allowed them to deliver on their potential. The exuberant Nie Ma Go, for example, is as memorable a mix of sweetness, twang and lurching horns as anything in the back pages of the girl-group sound.

In Wala-Twist the musical aspects of the song and arrangement may be fairly saccharine, but the twist in this particular twist is its lyric, which celebrates the achievement of the female cosomonaut Valentina Tereshkova  who became the first woman into space aboard Vostok 6 in June 1963. One reference in the opening verse may need clarification: Pan Twardowski is a sorcerer in Polish folklore whose story shares many features with the Faust legend. One difference lies in the story’s conclusion, when Twardowski prays to the Virgin on his way to Hell and is saved, but deposited on the Moon, where he remains to this day, his only companion a former colleague (turned into a spider by Twardowski himself) who descends on a thread from time to time to gather news of earth. The Filipinki version can be heard here, and there’s also an alternative take from Karin Stanek, recorded the same year: the Polish lyric is available here.

Wala-Twist (Valentina-Twist)

(after J. Janikowski/W. Patuszyński, 1964)

Pan Twardowski has been waiting for years
with his sorcery and spider to bring him news.

He’s put his flags out all over the Moon,
calls through the clouds: “Bravo, Wala, well done!”

He sings Wala, Valentina, Valentina Twist
among the rocks and craters of lunar space –
yes, sings Wala, Valentina, Valentina Twist
among the stars and comets of outer space.

Valentina, the planets already know you well
because today you became the world’s first sky-girl.

Your name’s Wala, Valentina, the Satellite Miss,
because today you are the first girl in space!

We gave flowers to Gagarin, made this twist for you,
singing Wala, Valentina, Valentina Twist:
yes, gave flowers to Gagarin, made this twist for you,
singing Wala, Valentina, Valentina Twist.

Maybe the moon will send you a letter today.
He’ll find two guitars, pick up the spare, and play

(to welcome you, as you take your bow in space)
this song called the Wala, Valentina Twist.

Valentina, the stars and land know your name,
they’re singing this Wala-Twist with us:
Valentina, even oceans and clouds sing your fame,
twist for Wala, Valentina: first girl in space!

Hana a Petr Ulrychovi: Vůně (Supraphon, 1968)

16 May

Some of the records of Hana & Petr Ulrychovi, a brother and sister duo who sang both together and separately with many Czech bands from 1964 onwards, are already in English: Don’t You Break It Again (Nepřerušuj!) (recorded with Atlantis) is a particularly good example. The flipside, however, is in Czech and like much of their work hints towards the folk and early music influences that would come to dominate their output from the mid-1970s onwards. Vůně’s lyric appears to contain subtexts within the more obvious love song, largely an implication that the lovers’ separation and the ‘barriers’ causing it are not entirely circumstantial or romantic in nature, though unlike Hana Zagorova’s similarly allusive Rokle,  the Ulrychovis’ Vůně pre-dates the 1968 invasion. It’s also worth noting that there’s a tendency, so far as I can tell, towards a rather formal, perhaps slightly ‘courtly’ tone in many of Petr Ulrych’s songs that I’ve tried to retain to at least some degree in the version below. The song can be heard here, and the Czech lyric is available here.

Vůně (Fragrance)

(after Petr Ulrych, 1968)

I only know that you will come back soon
and what I have now will then be gone.

But your scent stays with me, for now at least,
and my own fragrance is inhaled by you

wherever you are. I knew a long time ago
what you are only now beginning to realise:

that river and grove offer places to hide,
that each day carries the scent of home

further away from us as it fades in the air.
Days become long. Fragrance leaves the breath.

I ask, ‘why us?’, as the scent of grass
and flowers merge with the thunderstorm,

the newly surfaced road. Since we parted,
taking with us the same perfumes, I wish more often

for time alone to breathe you in. No-one knows.
I hope you also long for this return

now the day, like a fragrance on the wind, is near.
But do not rely on remembering scent:

I may invoke more than a field of roses
when the barrier that divides us at last

breaks down. Love is the two of us, here and now,
and a girl needs more than a residue

of perfumes mingled on a chemist’s shelves.
Some days, I can detect no difference

between the rose with all its blowsy flowers
and a length of rope. I lose track of time.

Will the bloom regain its scent. What to do?
I only know that when the barrier that divides us

breaks down, we will come to love again.
May this fragrance lead you to come back soon.

Tadeusz Wozniak: Zegarmistrz światła (Muza, 1972)

12 May

Tadeusz Wozniak’s Zegarmistrz Swiatła isn’t a song I thought I’d manage to produce a version of, given that even in Poland it’s considered a somewhat ‘difficult’ lyric to interpret with any degree of precision, despite consisting of a mere eight lines, repeated in different ways during the course of the song. The structure has the short verses sung first by Wozniak solo to acoustic guitar, then with a full band, then by the backing vocals of Alibabki, then by Wozniak and band with the backing vocals added, before returning to Wozniak’s acoustic rendition at the conclusion. This gives the repetitions a very different texture each time, as the lines switch between single and massed voices and the tone shifts from reflective to impassioned. The Polish lyric reads as follows:

A kiedy przyjdzie także po mnie
Zegarmistrz światła purpurowy
By mi zabełtać błękit w głowie
To będę jasny i gotowy

Spłyną przeze mnie dni na przestrzał
Zgasną podłogi i powietrza
Na wszystko jeszcze raz popatrzę
I pójdę nie wiem gdzie – na zawsze.

In the version below I’ve introduced variations to the repeated stanzas to echo this shifting musical texture (at the expense of being more strictly accurate). It may or may not work: according to Bogdan Chorążuk, the author of the text, in an interview with Sławomir Zygmunt archived here, the song’s very deliberately opaque meaning was highly controversial despite its huge popularity, so I hope this no less oblique approach to its translation at least catches something of the general flavour and atmosphere, even if at many points here literal fidelity has been wilfully discarded, even more so than usual.

Zegarmistrz Swiatła (Watchmaker of Light)

(after Bogdan Chorążuk/Tadeusz Wozniak, 1972)

This I know: when they come after me, too,
in the watchmaker’s indigo light
the blue inside my head will splash,
clear and ready, will flow through me.

It may take days to cleanse this source
as ground and air extinguish alike.
I see reflections and points of light.
I’ll leave, forever, go…I don’t know where.

And, yes. When they come after me
in the watchmaker’s magenta light
the cobalt head of a match will flash and burn,
cast a shadow, clear and sharp

as the days flow from me, leave my shape
where the floors and air once were.
I’ll look at everything again, one last time,
and go, forever, with no idea of where.

And for all I know, when they come for me too
in the watchmaker’s purple light,
the turquoise in my mind will splash,
a translucent flare, and flood my days.

It may take time to quench these flames
as ground and air fade away alike,
as all I know sharpens to a point of light
and I leave forever, going…I don’t know where.

For I know, when they come for me at last
in the watchmaker’s damson light
the water inside my head will flare,
run clear as glass, then flow to fade.

It may take days to cleanse this source
as ground and air dissolve alike.
I see reflections and points of light.
I’ll leave, forever, go…I don’t know where.