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Eastern Bloc Disco at Centrala (Playlist for Feb 3, 2017)

4 Feb

Generic Sleeve [Pronit, Poland, 1960s]

The second Eastern Bloc Disco event took place yesterday evening at Centrala, Birmingham, as part of the monthly Digbeth First Friday, and this set ran from around 8pm until 10.40pm (after which a pre-prepared short mix featuring a few other songs, also listed below, saw the event through to its end, more or less). A further collaboration with Centrala, on an archival exhibition and series of events exploring the history, ephemera, design, film and wider political and cultural contexts surrounding some of these artists and sounds, is currently in development for the Summer of 2018. [Watch this space].

Grupa 220: Negdie Postoji Netko (Yugoslavia, 1968)
Koncz Zsuzsa & Illés Együttes: Fáradt Vagyok (Hungary, 1967)
Izomorf 67: Barwy Dzwieku (Poland, 1967)
Karel Černoch: Snídaně v Trávě (Help) (Czechoslovakia, 1971)
Marta Kubišová: Balada o Kornetovi a Divce (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Blackout: Powiedz Swoje Imie (Poland, 1967)
Polanie: Dlugo Się Znamy (Poland, 1968)
Karel Kahovec & Flamengo: Poprava Blond Holky (Czechoslovakia, 1968)
George & Beatovens: Lez Blazniveho Basnika (Czechoslovakia, 1968)
Sarolta Zalatnay: Betonfej (Hungary, 1968)
Koncz Szusza: Visz a Vonat (Hungary, 1970)
Petr Spaleny & Apollobeat: Kdybych Ja Byl Kovarem (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Vaclav Neckar & Golden Kids: Goo-Goo Barabajagal (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Breakout: Pozlabym za Toba (Poland, 1969)
Illés Együttes: Nehez Az Ut (Hungary, 1968)
Janko Nilovic: Xenos Cosmos (Yugoslavia/France, 1974)
Czerwono Czarni: Lot na Wenus (Poland, 1969)
Hana & Petr Ulrychovi: A Co Ma Bejt (Czechoslovakia, 1970)
Angelika Mann: Wenn Ich Mal (DDR, 1974)
Hana Zagorová: Svatej Kluk (Czechoslovakia, 1968)
Chris Doerk: Glaub Nicht (DDR, 1974)
Czeslaw Niemen & Akwarele: Baw Się W Ciuciubabkę (Poland, 1969)
Josef Laufer & Their Majesties: Útěk z Hladomorny (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Grupa ABC: Za Duzo Chcesz (Poland, 1970)
Jana Kratochvílová & Discobolos: Kyvadlo (Czechoslovakia, 1978)
Bemibem: Podaruj Mi Trochę Słońca (Poland, 1973)
Alibabki: Slonce w Chmurach Lazi (Poland, 1969)
Drugi Nacin: Zuti List (Yugoslavia, 1975)
Olympic: Tobogan (Czechoslovakia, 1970)
Emil Dimitrov: Scherazhade (Bulgaria, 1972)
Arp-Life: Baby Bump (Poland, 1976)
Walter Kubiczeck: Tentakel (DDR, 1979)
Grupul Stereo: Coloana Infinită (Romania, 1984)
Marta Kubišová: Tak Dej Se K Nam A Projdem Svet (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Eva Pilarova: Ohen a Led (Czechoslovakia, 1970)
Izabela Trojanowska: Jestem Twoim Grzechem (Poland, 1981)
Grupul Stereo: Plopii Impari (Romania, 1984)
Manaam: Stoję, stoję, czuję się świetnie (Poland, 1980)

Prepared Mix:

Olympic: Ikarus Blues (Czechoslovakia, 1968)
Sarolta Zalatnay & Metro: Fekete Beat (Hungary, 1973)
Filipinki: Nie Ma Go (Poland, 1967)
Halina Frąckowiak: Wodo, Zimna Wodo (Poland, 1974)
Kovács Kati: Add Már, Uram, Az Esőt (Hungary, 1972)
Marta Kubišová: Svlikam Lasku (Czechoslovakia, 1969)
Czeslaw Niemen: Enigmatyczne Impresje (Poland, 1971)
Omega: Gyöngyhajú Lány (Hungary, 1969)
Locomotiv GT: The Worlds Watchmaker (Hungary/Poland, 1974)
Tadeusz Woźniak: Zegarmistrz Światła (Poland, 1972)

Various Artists: Privni Pantoniada (Panton) [7

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Klan: Automaty (Pronit, 1970)

29 Nov

The first line-up of Klan formed in Warsaw in the latter half of the 1960s and featured singer-guitarist Marek Ałaszewski, bassist Roman Pawelski, percussionist Andrzej Poniatowski and keyboard player Maciej Głuszkiewicz. They quickly gained attention for their improvised progressive music and often idiosyncratic songwriting. Their original recorded catalogue is fairly small, consisting of one full-length LP, Mrowisko [Anthill], issued on Muza in 1971and a self-titled 7″ EP, Klan (1970), which features Automaty, the song presented here. The band’s line-up changed during 1971, to include Krzysztof Dłutowski and Wojciech Morawski in place of  Głuszkiewicz and Poniatowski, but this brief second incarnation soon disbanded, and remained out of circulation until a new Ałaszewski-led Klan (in truth, a quite different band that happens to be led by the same singer-guitarist) emerged in 1992 with a second full length CD, Po co mi ten raj [Why Do I Need Paradise].  The Klan material released in the late 60s and early 70s is notable for a more committed psychedelic rock influence than was commonplace among other bands at the same time, and for a vein of explicit, if somewhat generalised, social comment – of which the impassioned refusal to become a cog in the machine expressed in Automaty is a prime example. The song itself can be heard here and the Polish lyric can be read here.

Klan: Automaty (Automation) 

(after Marek Ałaszewski, 1970)

The machines are counting, counting, counting,
counting, counting, all the time,
automatically cogs are counting, counting,
mechanically counting human programs through.

Programs run together our captive laughter,
counting, counting, on and on – from zero to oblivion –
while automata hope their calculations fail,
automatically pray this automation stops.

This mechanisation might yet destroy us
will count us, count us as we reproduce.
We’ll pretend we don’t know, counting, counting,
counting down to the sleep of efficiency.

We’ll pretend we don’t see, counting, counting,
leave the machines to work and count alone.
We’ll find out that one day, one day, one day,
we’ve been counted through as cogs ourselves –

counted rows of numbers in machines that count us,
that measure us, weigh us, still segregate us…
Will the young keep up all this counting, too?
Keep these numbers scrolling in automated lines?

Or will they become new numbers, counting, counting,
beyond the cogs of these vast machines?
Become unknown numbers, brand new symbols,
transform equations with the sign of X?

020

Czeslaw Niemen: Kwiaty Ojczyste (Muza, 1970)

14 Apr

Czeslaw Niemen’s Enigmatic (1970) was a recording whose songs were all settings of poems by Polish authors, two of which – Cyprian Norwid’s Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod (Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem) and Adam Asnyk’s Jednego Serca (One Heart) have already featured here, along with some background on the recordings and Czeslaw Niemen himself. This further song is Niemen’s setting of Tadeusz Kubiak’s Kwiaty Ojczyste (Native Flowers), a poem that reads as follows on the sleeve of the original Polish LP release:

Kwiaty nad Wisłą mazowieckie
Stokrotki, fiołki i kaczeńce
Zielone wierchy nad Warszawą
Kwieciste nad domami wieńce.
Kwiaty znad Odry, gąszcze, róże,
Stukolorowe pióra pawie
W parkach Szczecina i Opola
W małych ogródkach pod Wrocławiem…

Kaliny, malwy białostockie,
Lubelskie bujne winogrady,
Dziewanny złote pod Zamościem
I w Kazimierzu białe sady.
Kwiaty nad Wisłą, Narwią, Bugiem,
Zbierane w słońcu, przy księżycu
Kocham was kwiaty mej ojczyzny
Nad Odrą, Wartą i Pilicą…

Mostly the version that follows has tried to remain true to this, with the proviso that some details have been added here and there to elucidate some of the place names and locations that may not be immediately recognised by non-Polish readers as, for example, rivers, or towns in particular regions. This has formally altered the poem by in effect, adding an extra line to it, but hopefully it otherwise remains reasonably close to its source both formally and in meaning. The song can be heard here, accompanied by film of Niemen in performance with the vocal group Alibabki, and a stellar line-up of Polish jazz musicians that includes Zbigniew Namysłowski, Czesław Bartkowski and Michał Urbaniak.

Kwiaty Ojczyste (Native Flowers)

(after Czeslaw Niemen/Tadeusz Kubiak, 1970)

There are flowers on the Masovian Vistula,
white daisies, blue violets and marigolds.
Flowers crown the green peaks over Warsaw,
lay floral wreaths on all the houses’ roofs.
There are roses, flowers from the thickets of Odra,
like hundred-coloured peacock feathers
in all the parks of Szczecin and Opole,
in all the small gardens tended near Wrocław.

Mallows strike root in Kalina and Bialystok,
grow in Lublin’s lush vineyards and wineries.
Golden clementines flower in Zamosc,
the orchards of Kazimierz turn white with blossom.
There are flowers on the banks of the Vistula,
flowers by the waters of the Narew and Bug,
flowers I love, gathered under the sun and moon,
bright in the shadow of Pilica’s castle wall,
flowers where the Oder and Warta rivers flow.

Czeslaw Niemen Enigmatic (1970)

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

Skaldowie: Malowany Dym (Muza, 1969)

14 Feb

Malowany Dym is the first track on Skaldowie’s 1969 LP Cała Jesteś W Skowronkach (the title is translated on the sleeve as There Are Skylarks All Over You, presumably an idiomatic phrase meaning something like ‘You’re Happy’ or ‘You’re All Smiles’). Formed in Krakow around 1965 by Andrzej and Jacek Zielinski, Skaldowie quickly became one of the better known Polish bands of the era, with a softer sound than some of their peers, often comparable to the Beach Boys, but with a tone coloured by Polish folk melodies (particularly those of the Podhale region) rather than the American doo-wop that was Brian Wilson’s primary influence. Malowane Dym (Painted Smoke), is fairly typical of main composer Andrzej Zielinski’s defining approach, blending these highly distinctive Polish folk sounds with pop arrangements and instrumentation. It’s an odd mix, more subtle in its blend of Polish and Western influences than some of the era’s more immediately appealing (to Western ears, at least) Polish groups were creating at the same time. That said, it’s also worth noting that, as with some of the more ‘Baroque Pop’ sounds being made in the UK and US between the mid sixties and early seventies (think of, say, The Four Seasons’ Genuine Imitation Life Gazette LP, or the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society) the later 1960s recordings of Skaldowie, which can be seen retrospectively as a transitional phase between the group’s earlier folk-beat based songs and Zielinski’s developing progressive leanings, have a layered and ornately textured quality that retains a lot of staying power. The Polish lyric of Malowany Dym can be read here, and the song itself can be listened to here.

Malowany Dym (Painted Smoke)
(after Leszek Moczulski/Andrzej Zielinski, 1969)
I paint the wheels of my car but the brush goes on,
my eyes are fixed on all the wide sky above.
No-one knows I’m painting the pavements too,
all the trees, their leaves, the grass and bark.
I’m lighting fires, painting flames and chimney-stacks,
watching smoke rise: a letter sent to the sky.
Turn around. Look up through the rain,
then come to me, whenever you want, like smoke.
Watch the heavy cloth-clouds begin to disperse,
dark curtains draw back to reveal the stars.
I’ll be there and – look! – start to paint again,
colour in roof and thatch, gutter-pipes and slates,
every echo sounding on this deserted street
till all the air and its warm drifting winds alike
carry colours from my hand to your sight.
Keep your eyes fixed on the wide sky above
because I’m painting smoke and setting it free.
This smoke drifts through the world, for me.
Look up. The sky can be any colour you like.
Come to me. Be wherever you want, like smoke.

Tadeusz Woźniak: Pewnego Dnia O Świcie (1974)

19 Dec

Like Zegarmistrz światła two years earlier, and Odcień Ciszy, the title song on the same LP that features it, Pewnego Dnia O Świcie is both a collaboration between Tadeusz Woźniak and Bogdan Chorążuk and a strangely oblique and dream-like song, set to an uptempo musical score that is arguably slightly at odds with its own somnambulant theme. The track was issued on Odcień Ciszy, a consistently strong 1974 LP, and can be heard here. The original Polish lyric (from which this version diverges in all kinds of mostly minor ways at several points, though hopefully in order to more effectively mirror its curious effect in English) can be found here.

Pewnego Dnia O Świcie (One day near dawn)

(after Bogdan Chorążuk/Tadeusz Wozniak, 1974)

One day near dawn cars fell from the sky.
Even as I slept I drove a car away.
The seat was cold. The steering wheel,
the dashboard, smelled of angels.
It happened last June, to someone else, perhaps.

I drove through the streets, passed corners, lamps,
paving stones and shop facades:
I knew their every brick and painted sign.
An illusion, reflected in living glass
where girls sleepwalk or shine like sighs.

Maybe it’s the silence, or an engine’s noise?
One silver car draws so close to us
we catch the pure metal of its machine breath turn.
Lilies of the valley overwhelm all sense
where horizons flourish with narcotic leaves.

And I am moving further, always, further on,
dawn exploding in the windscreen’s glass
at every turn and bend of the road.
Everything happens. I might even meet myself
living other lives I’ve never known.

Maybe it’s the silence, or an engine’s noise?
One silver car draws so close to me
I feel its velocity and momentum fade.
The roads seem clean as white surgeons’ screens
someone, anyway, is already taking down.

wozniak2

Czeslaw Niemen: Bema pamięci żałobny rapsod (Muza, 1970)

26 Aug

Czeslaw Niemen‘s 1970 setting of Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod, a text written in 1851 by the Polish poet Cyprian Norwid (1821 – 1883), is also the first collaboration in what would become a long-standing series, as Niemen returned to Norwid’s work many times in the years following the release of this recording. Although Norwid himself is now regarded as among Poland’s most important nineteenth century poets in his own lifetime he was largely neglected and lived a life of poverty and rootlessness, living for periods in London, Paris and New York, while never winning much financial stability or recognition: it’s said that at one point, he was reduced to living in a churchyard’s crypt. In fact, the date of Niemen’s arrangement is significant, as it was only in 1968 that the first complete edition of Norwid’s poetry appeared in Poland, so his achievement of public and literary eminence coincides chronologically with Niemen’s time rather than his own, though he had achieved a certain cult status among younger Polish writers in the early 20th century. The funeral rhapsody takes as its subject the Polish military leader Józef Zachariasz Bem, an important figure during the Napoleonic Wars who died in 1850, making Norwid’s elegy an immediate historical response to his passing. The version here follows Niemen in sticking to Norwid’s text, so amounts to a direct attempt to translate the poem itself. Some liberties have been taken but as far as I can I’ve tried to keep within the patterns of imagery and approximate form of Norwid’s original, though for purposes of comparison a more literal English text can be read here. The song can be listened to here, accompanied by footage from a Polish TV performance dating from the first release of Enigmatic, the 1970 Niemen LP on which his Norwid setting takes up the first side.

Bema pamięci żałobny-rapsod (Funeral Rhapsody in Memory of General Bem)

(after Cyprian Norwid/Czeslaw Niemen, 1970)

“An oath was given to my father and I have kept it…”

Hannibal

(i)

Where is the shadow going with his broken hands,
sparks flying out from his knees and spurs?
His laurel sword gleams, his green candles cry wax,
falcons and horses beat the rhythms of a dance
as streaming pennants crack whips among clouds.
There are troop encampments moving across the skies,
trumpet calls blown among flags and signs,
tents pitched in the shade of day’s lowered wings.
Did spears pierce dragons, lizards and birds?
Do thoughts sharpen to spear-points among these stars?

(ii)

A woman mourns, collects her tears in a conch shell cup.
She lifts a scented sheaf that bursts on the wind,
seeks directions from grave-posts on a familiar road.
The rest go wild, smash clay pots on the ground.
In this clay’s destruction is a mournful human noise.

(iii)

Boys beat their blunt axes in dark rhythms on the sky,
hammer bright brass shields on anvils of light.
A vast banner is spreading its cloth above fires
whose smoke plumes bend, resembling a bow or spear
in a blue haze tense as a tightrope’s steel wire.

(iv)

We’ll press on, drown in the rock of a gorge, climb out,
pass under moonlit cloud and trembling stars
towards a lake in darkness, an impassable chasm.
The chanting stops, breaks out again in waves.
We spear-thrust your horse into an open grave.

(v)

We’ll watch for cast shadows by treacherous roads
where paths seem lost between fallen boughs,
knowing no human convoy will ever truly pass.
We’ll drive our procession on, through sleeping towns,
beat urns at gates, brighten axe-blades on whistling stones.

(vi)

We’ll hammer until we’ve smashed these granite walls
like the winter log-piles that feed our fires –
chant translucent stars from night’s brink,
feel the startled jump in our ribs as hearts awake.
We’ll go on, gathering lichens from nations’ eyes…