Archive | March, 2013

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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Maryla Rodowicz: Żyj mój świecie (Muza, 1970)

16 Mar

Maryla Rodowicz was a hugely popular singer of rock and pop songs (often nicknamed, despite predating the point of comparison by almost two decades, the ‘Polish Madonna’ for her ability to adapt to every conceivable change in fashion through a long career) and her records, TV appearances and live concerts were successful not only in her native Poland, but across the USSR and in many other Eastern Bloc countries. Her strongest work is found in the material she recorded during the later 1960s and early 1970s, mainly gathered on her more folk/pop inflected LPs like Żyj mój świecie: Maryla Rodowicz i jej gitarzysci (1970: the guitarists in question being her early collaborators Tomasz Myskow & Grzegorz Pietrzyk) and Wyznanie (1972). Żyj mój świecie – the title track on that 1970 debut LP – became an early signature song. Although her presentation at this stage in her career suggested a singer-songwriter, her material was generally supplied by others. In the case of Żyj mój świecie, the music was written by Marian Ziminski (also a key member of Czeslaw Niemen‘s soul-influenced Akwarele [in English, The Watercolours]) and the lyric was written by Agnieszka Osiecka, also behind many other popular songs of the era, including Skaldowie’s Dojeżdżam (The Commute) released the previous year. The version here elaborates somewhat on the occasionally generic sentiments but remains faithful to the general shape and meanings of the Polish song: the Polish lyric can be read here and the song can be listened to here. It might also be worth noting that the flute sections are the work of Włodzimierz Nahorny, a celebrated jazz musician in his own right who also appears on Breakout’s sublime Poszłabym Za Tobą (1969).

Żyj mój świecie (In My World)

(Marian Ziminski/Agnieszka Osiecka, 1970)

I watch an ocean fleshed with red auroras.
Every sunset, all summer and autumn,
its dark waves glisten with salt and wet
as they swell behind the doors of the poor.

I have only this one half-broken world
I want to save from winds and storms;
I’ll protect the beauty its skin reveals
on broken walls, under cracked blue slates.

Cecilia has a white dog, the circus a lion.
There are cats in stone doorways, sleeping out.
A man can sing the simplest tune, or drag a sack
so weighed down with gold it brings him low.

I have only this one half-broken world
to save from rain and grey winter light.
I’ll protect the beauty its skin conceals
inside dark apartments, under cold blue skies.

Who is in charge? My answer: one with a gun
who trades in every dream for scrap.
I don’t own anything but my eyes and hands,
the voice you hear – but I do know this:

I have only this one half-broken world
to save from snow and winter frosts.
Who knows how? I’ll just say: “Let’s be alive –
hear breath catch in a poplar’s leaves.”

And I watch this ocean glow with red light,
every sunrise, all summer and autumn.
Its dark waves glitter with salt and spray.
Floods rise to wash all the doors of the poor.

Maryla Rodowicz