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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


Hana a Petr Ulrychovi a Vulkán: Sen (Supraphon, 1967)

6 Jan

This is a very early song by Petr Ulrych, performed with Hana Ulrychova and Vulkán, that predates the more famous collaborations with Atlantis of the following year. Sen (Dream) is the b-side of a 7″ single issued on Supraphon in 1967, the a-side being Seď a Tiše Poslouchej (Sit Quietly and Listen). Sen explores a theme of insomnia while hinting at a love story in the background, as though the song’s protagonist conflates sleep and the dreams it might bring with an absent lover who, like the branches of those trees, fails to knock at the door as she hopes and so, paradoxically, keeps her awake by not disturbing the silence or appearing at her window: that curiously aural image of the ‘angelus bell’ underscores this atmosphere of expectation by registering as sound even as it goes unheard. The Czech lyric can be read on the Ulrychovis’ own website here and the song itself, with its hypnotic sleepwalking twang and touch of Roy Orbison’s In Dreams about the arrangement, can be listened to here.

Sen (Dream)

(after Petr Ulrych, 1967)

Come the evening, everything turns to a dream.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.

These branches at my window, like an angelus bell,
do not come knocking or press their leaves to glass,
do not fall straight into the room where I’ll sleep.
How can I sleep when it starts to seem like this?

I don’t even look: if sleep doesn’t stay, I’m alone, afraid.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.

The day has been waiting. All day the evening comes.
I wait so long for the dream that evening brings
but these branches at my window, like an angelus bell,
do not come knocking or press their leaves to glass.

They do not lean on shadows in the room where I’ll sleep.
How can I sleep when it starts to seem like this?
When, in the moment I dream, I wake and want to talk?
So I wait again today, and then again all day, and then?

Then, come the evening, everything turns to a dream.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.

Do I sleep, after so long waiting, so long alone, afraid?
It seems these branches at my window, like an angelus bell,
will not come knocking or press their leaves to glass,
will not fall through the room where I’ll sleep tonight.

Come the evening, everything turns to a dream.
Everything turns to a dream when evening comes.


Hana Zagorová: Verbíř (Supraphon, 1969)

18 Dec

Like Marta Kubišová’s Balada o kornetovi a dívce, released in the same year, Hana Zagorova’s Verbíř (The Recruiter) is a song that draws on a folk tradition going back beyond the Napoleonic era to feel relevant to almost any situation in which women are left behind by lovers, husbands and sons in times of conflict to reflect on the futility and loss caused by wars over which they have little control. At the time these records were released, at the close of the 1960s, their sentiments would almost certainly have been understood on a very personal level, resonating with both the relatively fresh memories of an older generation that had experienced the Second World War and, perhaps, with the raw experience of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which had itself separated many people of younger generations from their own families and partners as many left the country or found themselves unable to return. The original Czech text can be read here and the song itself listened to here.

Verbíř (The Recruiter)

(after Jan Růžička/Drahoslav Volejníček, 1969)

My blood taps its fingers on my body’s wall,
the birds’ dawn chorus is a long croak,
black crows, starlings, dark buzzing flies
where thunder drums stone steps with rain.

A small grey man haunts the town square,
his recruiting song a wind between houses,
a whip’s shadow on the lit windows
where women stand and break like days.

To the fields, the cemeteries, the men go.
There goes my song, too, with a mourning keen.
Listen: my skin’s drum is tightening now
as I hear that shadow call for fresh recruits.

And the sun has fallen back. The fields swell.
Every village hears the galloping horse
pass by some silent corner of an empty house.
In the square, this small gray man sings on.

To the fields, the cemeteries, the men go.
There goes my song, too, with a mourning keen.
There is no man left to owe us anything:
each gave his life and left a woman here.

Now, pale as linen or the morning rose,
white with sorrow as a freshly laundered sheet,
we haunt this village that has no men left,
hear the shadow calling for still more recruits.


Poems for Pussy Riot: Marta Kubisova’s ‘Ne’ in Russian…

29 Sep

A slightly unusual text features here, a version of Marta Kubisova’s 1969 Czech protest song ‘Ne’, translated into Russian («Нет») by way of my own English approximation (‘No’). The reason for this slightly convoluted process is simple: a couple of weeks ago writer, editor and all-round whirlwind Sophie Mayer emailed asking if I wanted to contribute a poem to a project designed to raise awareness and support for Pussy Riot as their appeal hearing – against penal sentences of two years each for the performance of a song – is scheduled for Monday October 1st. (A version of this song, A Punk Prayer, appeared here on August 15th, during the original trial, in both English and Russian, with some discussion of the context of the performance and the exact nature of the allegations against the women). The Russian versions of the many resulting texts were made with the intention of placing the poems in support of the women into their hands, via the band’s legal representatives, who have worked closely with English PEN and the Poems for Pussy Riot team (as well as Mayer, Cat Lucas, Sarah Crewe, Mark Burnhope and many others have been involved) and the English versions of the texts will be released as an e-book called Catechism on Monday, to coincide with the appeal hearing and an international day of action. As well as the English version of Kubisova’s ‘Ne’ (a song chosen for its historical parallels with this case) the book contains new work by 110 writers, ranging from Ali Smith, Deborah Levy and Sandra Alland to Sasha Akhtar, Jack Underwood and Amy Key. In the meantime, many of the contributions can be read on the English PEN website and anyone interested is encouraged to get down to the Russian consulate on Monday, where a protest will be staged (details are on the Poems for Pussy Riot Facebook page). As Mayer has put it, the hope is that the e-book and the band themselves will be released simultaneously. Let’s hope so. Until then, here’s Marta’s beautifully celebratory 1969 song of refusal, in Russian, as translated from my English version of the original Czech lyric by Zdenek Rytir by Dasha McLeish. Convoluted? Perhaps. Worthwhile? Absolutely.

Уэйн Бэрроуз

Песня «Нет» была записана в исполнении чехословацкой певицы Марты Кубишовой в 1969 г., но оставалась под запретом цензуры вплоть до 1990 г. Кубишова не скрывала своего враждебного отношения к процессу «нормализации», последовавшему за вторжением советских танков в 1968 г., и поплатилась за это возможностью выступать, записывать песни и ездить на гастроли – запрет, наложенный в 1970 г., оставался в силе вплоть до 1990 г. За время действия запрета она оставалась одной из главных фигур в диссидентской среде и одной из первых поставила свою подпись под «Хартией 77».


(по мотивам песни Отакара Петрины и Зденека Рытира, 1969 г.)

Я б купила все моря вместе с океанами,
Я б купила все шторма вместе с ураганами.
Я построила бы дом в глубине морской,
Чтоб навеки распрощаться со своей страной.
Той, где правит страх, а правды нет.
Кто-то хочет жить в такой стране?


Я б купила небосвод, звездами расшитый,
Вместе с ветром, что под вечер на покой спешит.
Я бы крепость возвела там, на облаках,
И молилась, чтоб она не обратилась в прах.
Там, где правит страх, невинных нет.
Кто-то хочет жить в такой стране?


Но в морях полным-полно боевых судов,
Бомбами и пулями набитых до краев.
Нет убежища, увы, и на дне морском –
Хищные подлодки вмиг найдут мой дом.
Самолеты рыщут в вышине…
Если ли край, где можно скрыться мне?


Все мы в клетке здесь сидим, в мертвой тишине
Но под маской, иногда, бросаем взгляд вовне.
Мы должны благодарить за дозволенье жить?
За то, что если мы смолчим, нас могут пощадить?
Страх тут правит бал, а правды нет.
Кто-то хочет жить в такой стране?


Marta Kubišová: Tajga Blues ‘69 (Supraphon, 1969)

4 Aug

Said by Marta Kubišová herself to be her favourite among all her recordings, Tajga Blues ‘69 is also one of the greatest records of its era, and not only in the former Eastern bloc. Few Western singles of the day are as remarkable as this particular few minutes of dramatic balladry and highly political poetics underscored by heavily distorted guitar. Tajga is the arctic region of the northern hemisphere, and appearing so soon after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, it’s unlikely that the song’s allusion to Siberia as a region of exile would have been missed, however oblique the imagery of the song itself, reminiscent as it is of some of the material written the Serbian poet Vasko Popa in Yugoslavia, and others elsewhere. How the record was released and even televised (and not, like another overtly political Kubišová song of the same moment, Ne (No), quickly withdrawn) is something of a mystery, possibly related to a time-lag between the management at the State record label (itself a powerful export income generator through its Classical music arm) and the ‘normalisation’ process, but no real information seems to be available. Whatever the reason for her recordings continuing to be released for around a year after the 1968 invasion, Kubišová did not hold onto her room for manouvre for very long. Despite her immense popularity, smear stories were run in the press and used as grounds to impose a ban during early 1970, preventing her from performing, recording or travelling for the next twenty years. If at least some of these post-1968 songs were pressed (though often left largely undistributed) the ban finally managed to silence her, musically at least, until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. This version of Tajga Blues ’69 first appeared in Poetry Review (Vol.100 No.4) in the winter of 2010. The song can be heard here and a transcript of the original Czech lyric can be read here.

Tajga Blues ‘69

(after Bohuslav Ondrácek/Zdenek Rytir, 1969)

Tajga sleeps, soft white drifts in,
Tajga lies sleeping, is gracious – his first grave sin.
Tajga slumbers in a dungeon of trees,
handcuffed to the Blue Mountains
as guards cling to houses in a quiet street.

Tajga blues, sing out the chorus still –
no word fears these short days
or the long nights.

Tajga does not wake, the north is quiet,
Tajga’s wolf trails are tracked by guards.
There are white places on maps,
blank pages in this open book
and power in the eyes of those who look.

Tajga blues is the echo I hear
as rivers roar and wind laughs a storm
through the long nights.

Tajga spreads its blankets to hide the world,
Tajga’s snow thickens on the quiet woods.
Where to go, but walk blind
through forests whose beautiful frosts
envelop us, though our eyes are closed?

Tajga blues, we sing as they imprison us;
our voices echo – exiled, heard –
and long nights whiten until the world returns.

Hana Zagorová: Tisíc nových jmen (Supraphon, 1969)

12 Jun

Perhaps a more straightforwardly pop-orientated song than some of the earlier posts featuring material performed by Hana Zagorova, such as Rokle and Svatej Kluk. The lyric is a simple call to a lover that asks him, instead of stumbling in speech, to join the equally inarticulate Hana in renaming the world around them, expressing love through a playful (perhaps Edenic) act of making things new rather than more conventional (and probably doomed) attempts to describe feelings. It may also be worth noting that Zdeněk Rytíř is a key songwriter of the era and was also responsible for many contributions to The Golden Kids’ and Marta Kubisova’s extensive catalogues of songs, including some of the material which, in the years after 1968, led to Kubisova’s banning from recording, broadcast and performance. The Zagorova song presented here is less controversial in theme – though in its suggestion that the world be remade in secret, and language renewed, may well have a subtext of its own, albeit not a particularly obvious one – and its arrangement follows an oompah-style rhythm between its soaring choruses that manages to stay just on the right side of mere novelty. A 1969 TV performance of Tisíc nových jmen performed at a fairground shooting booth can be seen here and the original Czech lyric can be read here.

Tisíc nových jmen (A Thousand Names)

(after Karel Svoboda/ Zdeněk Rytíř, 1969)

I’ll not tell, being sad and shy;
I’m breathless as Monday,
cool as the breeze in your golden hair,
quiet as a reflection in glass.

What do I want to say, anyway?
I no longer know – do you?
Can you remind me, give me advice?
Where shall we go?

Maybe we can name the flowers,
forget what we know,
spin new words by the thousand
from this feeling, now?

It’ll be more beautiful than wearing
the empty weekday hours
like so many dull dresses
on a rainy, grey afternoon.

Think of it: thousands of new names
for a thousand flowers.
No one but us will know
how we’ve wiped the dust from this world!

Let’s go further still, name the wind
where it shakes a rose,
pretend we no longer recognise
the words we’ve learned for anything!

Come on, let’s make these flowers new,
sigh, say something, anything,
write a word on each leaf…
What else did we want to say, anyway?

Olympic: Pták Rosomák (Supraphon, 1968)

2 Mar

A version of the title song from Olympic’s 1968 album  Pták Rosomák (The Wolf-Bird), whose history and significance in Czechoslovakia’s musical history have already been discussed in earlier posts.  The rather surreal song, comparable in many respects to similarly eccentric recordings made by British and American psychedelic bands of the same era, can be listened to here, and a version of the Czech lyric can be read here. Intriguingly, an English language version of the song also exists, with somewhat differently inclined lyrics to those of the Czech release: this version, I’m Stupid, can be heard here, and is accompanied by film footage of the band larking about, in a manner derived fairly clearly from A Hard Day’s Night, while in Paris circa 1969.

Pták Rosomák (Wolf-Bird)

(after Pavel Chrastina/Petr Janda, 1968)

I have a cold today Wolf-bird.
God sent me this blow.

My keys are in God’s hand.
I can’t continue, can’t go on.

Wolf-bird, fear is in my throat.
I can’t go on or take a breath.

Wolf-bird eyes stare me out,
stalk and scare me, catch my keys.

Wolf-bird has my keys in its beak.
I see it. Fear is in my throat.

Wolf-bird eyes stare me out.
My keys are heavy, hurt its teeth.

Drop them, Wolf-bird. I’ll give you…
something. Or something else.

I’ll give you a grain of opium.
The shock! A Wolf-bird blink.

My keys swing in Wolf-bird’s beak.
I have a cold today. I’m down.

Wolf-bird’s beak is in my throat.
My keys are lost. I can’t go on.