The wider context surrounding GOTGE

(Introductory ‘Sticky’ Blog post – Links also here)

‘The Story So Far’ portion of the GOTGE Blog was a way of illustrating the sheer rapidity of how this music scene crept up on me – a matter of still under a year, as I write. It was a partially redacted digest of the E-Mails I sent to my poor put-upon brother about my latest discoveries.

The reader will need to know the following to put GOTGE into its fullest context (demonstrating that GOTGE hasn’t arisen in a vacuum. There have been other events surrounding it.)

(a) In November 2014 my father just happened to switch on the local radio station as ‘I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me’, by Jimmy James and The Vagabonds was being played, which I overheard and was reminded of a French version of that song – ‘Ne raccroche pas, je t’aime’ (‘Don’t Hang Up, I Love You’) by Carene Cheryl, of whom I first became aware some decade or so before that, after finding a photo of her in an old ‘Paris Match’  (dated 13th November 1976) which had been amongst a pile of old copies of that publication, dating from the Mid- to Late-1970s in our attic and wondered why I’d never heard of her – she coming from what I would call ‘my generation’. It fairly soon became clear to me that we were rapidly approaching the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of her recording career in January 1975, so I decided to start ordering her records on-line on the respective fortieth anniversaries of their original release, although, in view of the subsequent, almost overnight developing of an interest in the Pop Music of the Former Eastern Bloc, regrettably, I have had to abandon this – which I eventually decided to do as of her fourth single, ‘Samedi, dimanche, et fêtes’, released in the Spring of 1976 – on the basis that one can only order so many records on-line. It meant that I have, ironically, missed out on the aforementioned ‘Ne raccroche pas, je t’aime’ and Carene’s second LP, also of that name, both released in the Autumn of 1976, but when once one does decide to do something like that when is a ‘good time’ to do it?

More relevant facts in this respect are that she shares the same birthday as me, incredibly enough, she later (in 1978) changed stage name and image and became Karen Cheryl and that her real name is Isabelle Morizet and that under that name she currently presents (on the radio station Europe 1) two hour-long shows per week, interviewing personalities from various fields on Saturday and Sunday mornings (at 10.00 am UK time) entitled ‘Il n’y a pas qu’une vie dans la vie’. In addition to all this she was a Winner of the First Prize at France’s National Drumming Conservatoire.

The clip of Carene performing a live version of ‘Ne raccroche pas, je t’aime’ comes from an appearance on 30th January 1977 on the show ‘Musique and music’. During this episode, since her agricultural background was often traded on, she drove her father’s tractor and also led a cow onto the stage, improbable though that may sound, given the glamorous gown she was wearing!

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P11_PM_13_11_1976_Page

(Note the spelling ‘Carène Cheril’…it was fortunate that my initial searching on that mis-spelled term way back in 2004 found something. Otherwise my personal life history might have turned out somewhat differently!)

http://www.europe1.fr/emissions/il-n-y-a-pas-qu-une-vie-dans-la-vie

https://www.facebook.com/Morizet.Europe1/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf

The clip below of Carene being interviewed after playing a short drum solo comes from an edition of the TV magazine programme ‘Aujourd’hui madame’ dated 11th August 1976. If one has an outline understanding of the French language one will note that there is a reference to her being eighteen years of age at the time of the interview. If she had been born in 1955, as most Web-based sources quote her birth year, this would have been impossible! (That would have had her turning eighteen in 1973, circa one-and-a-half years before her recording career began!) That is why I am so confident that I am correct in quoting her birth year as 1957, which would have made her eighteen between 19th July 1975 and 18th July 1976. The actual interview itself would probably have been conducted shortly before she turned nineteen on 19th July 1976, therefore. If one has an outline understanding of French, likewise, one will note a reference to her previous ambitions for a career in Medicine.

https://player.ina.fr/player/embed/I15201198/1/1b0bd203fbcd702f9bc9b10ac3d0fc21/460/259/1

Elsewhere in that collection of old ‘Paris Match’ magazines (in an edition dated 31st December 1976 – so just a month or so before the aforementioned performance of ‘Ne raccroche pas, je t’aime’) one can see who the presenter of ‘Musique and music’ was – the great French entertainer, Jacques Martin, whose life and work was celebrated last November (21st) on a programme on France 2, entitled ‘On a tous en nous quelque chose de Jacques Martin’ (‘We’ve All Got A Bit Of Jacques Martin In Us’), a trailer for which one can see linked below. I suppose  one could call him a sort of ‘French Sir Bruce Forsyth’, in that context.

j_martin_31_12_1976

http://www.programme-tv.net/videos/bandes-annonces/49717-on-a-tous-en-nous-quelque-chose-de-jacques-martin-france-2-samedi-21-novembre-2015/

(b) Some three or so years ago, in the series of re-broadcasts of ‘Top Of The Pops’, The New Seekers appeared singing ‘Anthem (One Day In Every Week)’ (incidentally, on the episode from the day after my 17th birthday on 19th July 1978, when I was actually out of the country for the first time in my life, on a schools’ exchange trip to Nienburg, about half-way between Bremen and Hannover). Since I was so impressed with it I looked into it on ‘YouTube’ and my attention was, in the process, (somewhat indirectly, clearly, since it is very difficult now to try to re-construct how that might have originally occurred), drawn to a lot of related material on the early-1970s group from Scotland, Middle Of The Road, which, in turn, led me to all manner of connections on the Continental Mainland (and in some cases way beyond) performing their own versions of MOTR songs. Amongst these was Hana Zagorová’s ‘Pan Tydlitýt a pan Tydlitát’ (‘Mr. Tydlitýt And Mr. Tydlitát’). My careers advisor’s suggestion at the end of May 2015 that the future of careers in languages lay in those of Eastern Europe made me think of matters Czech and since I’d found out all these things about Isabelle Morizet over the years I wondered what I’d find on Hana.

…and the video below was my first-ever encounter with the world that was to become GOTGE.

(c) Some years ago I brought a copy of the book ‘Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth’ out of the library. There was a chapter in the book devoted to the Dutch Girl Group of the late 1970s, LUV’, in whom I have have had an interest for some time. Also last Summer, as I was trawling through some old colleagues seeing if they had a LinkedIn presence, I encountered an old friend from The Netherlands, with whom I got in touch and since I was already in a musical groove from that period that got me thinking LUV’ thoughts all over again, which, at length, brought me in contact with all sorts of other Dutch Girl Groups of the late-1970s/early-1980s, plus the Belgian Girl Group of that sort of era, Venus…who, to keep the Eastern European connection going, clearly appeared on East German TV, as seen in the video below, taken from the entertainment/variety show, ‘Ein Kessel Buntes’, making me realise that it was a Girl Group boom almost up there with that of Early-1960s America.

(d) Finally, since I have been looking into the Female Pop Music scene in Communist Europe from an era within my living memory, for the purposes of political balance I thought that looking into the other political extreme, Franco’s and Salazar’s Fascist regimes, respectively in Spain and Portugal, might be a good idea, using the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest Runner-Up, Karina, as a way into that. The video embedded below is not that ESC entry. It is one of those B-Sides (from 1969) that effectively ended up being treated as the A-Side, given its massive popularity and has gone down in Spanish Pop Music history as a record that defined both Karina’s career and that particular era and has even been referred to by some as an alternative national anthem. I was so inspired by it myself when I discovered it on-line back in December 2015 that I actually bought a copy of the original vinyl record forthwith.

I hope that this adequately sets out the wider context.

‘The Story So Far’ concludes with a summary of my experiences going to Slovakia for the first time in my life, variously to attend a concert marking the fortieth anniversary of the death of Eva Kostolányiová, in Bratislava and to visit the birthplace of Valérie Čižmárová, Michalovce.

A fellow Blog on this sort of subject: ‘Funky Czech-In’ – An introduction to Czech and Slovak pop music from the sixties, seventies and eighties with a touch of funk, soul, disco and jazz.

Another fellow Blog: ‘Interstellar Medium’ – Vintage Eastern/Western Pop from the 20th century, without necessarily being psychedelic! Spices, perfumes, tissues, seeds…, of which I have started to be a ‘Follower’….and which is now a ‘Follower’ of ‘Girls Of The Golden East’.

The first ‘Follower’ of ‘Girls Of The Golden East’: ‘Cue Castanets!’ – Musings on Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and similar music….and going the opposite way around to the aforementioned Blog, ‘Girls Of The Golden East’ is now a ‘Folllower’ of ‘Cue Castanets!’, in return for the favour.

I have now had the very great privilege to have had my application to join the ‘Valérie ČIŽMÁROVÁ’ Facebook Group accepted as a gift to ‘Girls Of The Golden East’ for the New Year of 2017.

‘Bananas For Breakfast’ – My Fan Blog for Valérie Čižmárová.

Aleš Korábek’s Valérie Čižmárová Fan Site.

 

On the other side (of the record and of Europe)

I have mentioned, previously, in GOTGE, the fact that Eva Kostolányiová – on her eponymous LP from 1973 – covered the B-Side to Middle Of The Road’s ‘Soley Soley’, ‘To Remind Me’, (Giosy and Mario Capuano/Sally Carr/Lally Stott) as ‘Kade chodieva láska’, with Slovak-language lyrics – which apparently had to be changed after an intervention by the authorities, showing that songwriters were under some pressure from above – by Viola Muránska, instrumental accompaniment from Gustav Brom and his Orchestra, backing vocals by RT – VOX, musical arrangement by Vladimír Valovič, sound engineering by Peter Hubka, Miloš Šindelař and Ing. Peter Janík, technical co-operation by Marie Hořaková, produced by Ivan Horváth and Vladimír Valovič.

Here are those two versions (uncensored, followed by censored). Unfortunately, I cannot seem to be able to track down any written-down lyrics and my Slovak isn’t quite good enough (yet!) to tell what might be the offending words in the uncensored version.

At any rate, it should be quite clear that there is a vast difference between the Euro Sunshine Bubblegum of ‘Soley Soley’ and a tune like this, revealing hidden depths to MOTR and given the fact that the original was partly written by Sally Carr, it shows that she is rather more than just ‘that blonde bird in the hotpants’ in people’s memories from that period.

This was, actually, part of a wider pattern regarding the B-Sides to MOTR’s big hits, which were comparatively much less upbeat than their higher-profile A-Sides, perhaps reflecting the way in which (The) Sweet’s B-Sides, from their earlier, more Bubblegum-oriented period, were actually quite heavy. I often think that Sally Carr and Brian Connolly could have been separated at birth, given long blonde locks, a Scottish birthplace and being released on the famous orange RCA label, so that similarity is perhaps none too surprising.

I have, in recent weeks – in the case of the former of these, only just during the past couple of days – encountered two other Eastern Bloc interpretations of MOTR B-Sides. In the case of the latter, since I promised a few weeks ago that there’d be some material appearing in GOTGE by this artist, the singer was Jana Robbová.

Also in 1973, Margarita Hranova (one can tell whether or not one is talking of an artist from Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria by the presence or absence of the acute accent over the terminal ‘a’) released a cover of the B-Side to ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, ‘Rainin’ ‘N’ Painin” (Stott & Cassia), as ‘Дивни години’ (‘Divny godiny’ – ‘Wild Times’), with Bulgarian-language lyrics by Zhiva Kyuldjieva and Ivan Peev, who also provided the musical direction. As one who was born just a couple of days before Věra Špinarová and a month and nine days before Valérie Čižmárová this is another one of those illustrations of what a powerful trio of voices were arriving on the face of the planet somewhere in Eastern Europe in a very short space of time.

Moving back only a matter of months, Jana Robbová arrived on Planet Earth – another stupendous voice – and here is her cover of the B-Side to MOTR’s ‘Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum’, ‘Give It Time’ (music by Giosy and Mario Capuano and original English-language lyrics by Sally Carr), ‘Kormorán’, with Czech-language lyrics by Vladimír Poštulka and instrumental accompaniment from Orchestr divadla Semafor (The Semafor Theatre Orchestra). I like the shots of the MIG jet fighters in Czechoslovak markings accompanying the video. It isn’t the thing one might normally see in a Pop video!..But then again, I have encountered the aforementioned Eva Kostolányiová performing in a video of her cover of the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest Winner, Vicky Leandros’ ‘Come What May’/’Après toi’, ‘Keď si sám’ (‘When You Are Alone’) on the wing of a MIG jet, so on a personal level maybe it isn’t so surprising after all!

Finally, I think I have tracked down how come MOTR had such a strong presence in the former Eastern Bloc, even having their B-Sides covered. According to what I can make out of the text on the label of this MOTR release on the Czechoslovak label, Opus, they must have appeared at the Bratislavská Lýra festival of 1972 – quite a popular Spring/Summer of ’72 for them, then, if they then went on to perform (so I have heard) at the Olympiastadion in Munich later that year.

How come a great British (Scottish?) export as this has been almost totally forgotten in their native land?

MOTR should, by rights, be national heroes!

‘Girls Of The Golden East’ updated

I have added Google+, my Myspace GOTGE Mix and my (as yet, still embryonic!) YouTube Channel to the row of social media icons in the GOTGE heading, with the ‘health warning’ that, in the course of setting up the GOTGE Mix back in the Summer of last year, I encountered four Valérie Čižmárová songs that somehow became entered under the wrong title. Here are the offending items, followed by, in parenthesis, the songs that they in fact really are.

‘Huascarán’ (‘Tikot všech hodin’)

‘Žár léta’ (‘Čekám’)

‘Náhodou’ (‘Potlesk’)

‘Sunny’ (‘Léta letí’)

I hope the wrong titles don’t spoil your enjoyment of playing the GOTGE Mix! (Which will, no doubt, be added to as time goes by)

GOTGE has been re-branded again!

In the course of setting up the sister Blog to GOTGE, the Valérie Čižmárová Fan Blog, ‘Bananas For Breakfast’,  I noticed that the social media icons set themselves up immediately below the site photo, unlike when I was setting them up in GOTGE, where I was directed towards setting them up in the hidden area behind the site heading (the ‘widgets area’), which was always somewhat annoying. In the course of cross-referencing how one could customise WordPress sites between the two Blogs to get around this it also became evident that, unlike I’d imagined it, it wasn’t set in stone that the Blog was entitled ‘girlsofthegoldeneast’, instead of being spelled out in separate words, which itself was also annoying. So, those two annoyances have now been rectified thanks to my thinking to set up a new site dedicated to Valinka herself.

Since I now do have a site for Valinka I have also used this as an opportunity to change the site photo so that there isn’t so much focus on her, which gives an opportunity to show off various others in action on stage (I looked around for photos I have saved and took screenshots off YouTube videos of GOTGE either at microphone stands or clutching microphones, so it was obvious that the miniature photos were of Pop Singers singing).

My apologies to a famously Hungarian-speaking personality like Valinka that it turned out that I didn’t get any Hungarian artists in there. Maybe I’ll have a chance sometime down the line to shoehorn one in!

Finally, I am glad to use this also as an opportunity to report that, some weeks ago, I spotted that the photo that I’d failed to think to save of Jitka Zelenková in action on stage at the Bratislavská Lýra (of 1969, I think) and thought I’d missed for ever after frantically searching (in vain) around the Web for it, was part of the accompanying photography in a YouTube video, so I grabbed the chance to save that off that video. It is a sensational photo! (Signed, too!)…and that simply had to be one of the photos for the new GOTGE heading image.

JZ_at_BL

Všechno nejlepší k narozeninám, Alenka!

The day immediately following the day on which Valérie Čižmárová ‘dotted the Is and crossed the Ts’ of her eponymous LP, Alena Tichá celebrated her Thirtieth Birthday, so it’s a Happy Seventy-Third Birthday to Alenka today!

In many ways there is a lot to associate Alenka with the singer born just nineteen days previously and circa forty miles away, Vlaďka Prachařová – the one being born in Zlín (becoming known as Gottwaldov during the Communist era, before reverting to its old name) and the other in Brno – since they both have that gorgeous tone to the voice and, although Alenka is not quite such an obvious ‘sex bomb’ as Vlaďka, there is a ‘quiet sexiness’ there, which is entirely fitting, since the surname, ‘Tichá’ literally does mean ‘quiet’ (a somewhat inappropriate name for a singer, then!) Another thing that is entirely fitting is that her cover of The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’ was entitled ‘Med a cukr’ (‘Honey And Sugar’), since that voice of hers is pure honey, as evidenced by this charming video of her covering of Laura Nyro’s ‘Hands Off The Man/Flim Flam Man’), ‘Dám vám lék’ (‘I Give You The Cure’). The music and original English-language lyrics were composed by Laura Nyro herself, with Czech-language lyrics by Jiří Kameš. Instrumental accompaniment came from Orchestr Studio Brno under Erik Knirsch and it was recorded at Čs. rozhlas Brno (Czechoslovak Radio Brno) on 19th October 1972. Like Valérie Čižmárová’s ‘Oči nelžou’, from slightly earlier that year, which drew my attention to Craig Scott’s ‘When Jo Jo Runs’, this is another one of those cases where an Eastern Bloc covering brings a song from the Western World to a UK-based listener’s awareness…and very grateful I am to Alenka for doing so. It is a cracker of a tune!

Going over to the other side of that 45 R.P.M. release, recorded on the same day, at the same location and with the same personnel comes ‘Náhody’ (‘Coincidences’), illustrating that, while the Czechoslovak record industry covered all the ‘good stuff’ coming from the West, it could come up with some fairly decent material of its own. The music was composed by Max Wittmann, with lyrics coming from Pavel Cmíral. If Max Wittmann could get together a tune like Helena Blehárová’s ‘Hodina ‘H” (‘Hour ‘H”) that is a fairly good indication of his qualities as a tunesmith. This is always a highly entertaining video, with a pair of rooftop dancers, too!

Alenka is one of those maybe exceptional artists from the Czech portion of the former Czechoslovakia to perform and record songs in Slovak. ‘Váhaš’ (‘You Are Hesitating’) is one of those songs, which would explain why this video is from ‘RETRO SLOVAK’. It is a great pity that I cannot seem able to track down any details about this, since I absolutely adore it. It is Pop-Soul of the highest calibre, in every way.

There are not too many contemporary insights into what day-to-day life was like for the GOTGE, but Alenka is an exception here, too. Many GOTGE readers may not be able to keep up with the language (which I take to be Slovak) in this very evocative video, but the images show that Czechoslovakia could provide stunning backdrops to videos from ruined Mediaeval castles to bang-up-to-date Modernist concourses. One will also spot that Alenka took on covers of Petula Clark’s ‘Don’t Sleep In The Subway’, Mary Hopkin’s Eurovision Song Contest entry, ‘Knock Knock, Who’s There?’ and Dana’s entry, ‘All Kinds Of Everything’.

Also of note is the following:

We see shots of Alenka at a blackboard. This is a nod towards her ‘day job’ as a schoolteacher – a career she resumed as her son started school around the end of the 1970s.

Her mother is shown helping out with Alenka’s fan mail.

Alenka does some singing practice with the help of one of those real old-school reel-to-reel tape recorders.

Perhaps Alenka could be thought of as one of the ‘petrolheads’ of the GOTGE Generation (despite us seeing her travelling by public transport!), since amongst her items of pride and joy is a model car collection. This probably chimes with her appearance in the various artists video of Songs from 1973, with her cover of Mouth & MacNeal’s ‘How Do You Do’, as ‘Láska je pes’ (‘Love Is A Dog’), driving a Škoda 110R ‘Rapid’, which I think would be my ‘dream car’.

So, I hope GOTGE readers will themselves appreciate the power of the ‘quiet’ woman.

As the former Leader of the Conservative Party, Iain Duncan Smith said during a speech at the Conservative Party Conference, “Never underestimate the power of a quiet man”. I think Alenka has rather more to recommend herself than ‘I.D.S.’ does, though!

 

Boldog születésnapot!

Just a brief notification to GOTGE readers that, on 10th April 1974, Valérie Čižmárová completed work on her eponymous LP with the recording of the concluding track, ‘Slova kolem nás’ (‘The Word About Us’). There was an intention to have an embedding of the track here, but domestic circumstances have militated against that today, so that is perhaps something for GOTGE readers to look forward to this time next year, or rather, readers of the sister Blog to GOTGE, the new Valérie Čižmárová Fan Blog, ‘Bananas For Breakfast’.

Nevertheless, I suppose that, since I have made reference to Valinka’s 1973 singles recordings as a sort of ‘virtual LP’ and LPs are the subject-in-hand, now would be a good excuse for the track listing for a real LP, on vinyl, on Supraphon, possibly entitled ‘Rok v životě Valérii Čižmárové’ (‘A Year In The Life Of Valérie Čižmárová’), with this piece of work by Vilém Sochůrek on the front cover (being a photo dating from 1973)…

Valerie_VS_Photo_Cover

…and this other piece of work by Vilém Sochůrek, from the same year, on the rear…

ateliér sochůrek

Where I can embed individual YouTube videos associated with those tracks I do so.

1. Strana:

‘Tak měj mě rád’ (‘So Just Love Me’)

 

‘Mít aero a létat’ (‘To Have A Plane And To Fly’)

‘Pojď jen dál’ (‘Just Come On’)

‘Sbohem, školní bráno’ (‘Farewell, School Gate’)

 

‘Důkaz mi dej’ (‘Prove It To Me’)

 

‘Huascarán’

‘V poschodí pátém’ (‘On The Fifth Floor’)

2. Strana:

‘Malý princ’ (‘Little Prince’)

 

‘Žar léta’ (‘The Glow Of The Years’)

‘Láska na dlani’ (‘Love In The Palm Of The Hand’)

 

‘Náhodou’ (‘By Chance’)

‘Spousta příběhů’ (‘Lots Of Stories’)

‘Zrzek’ (‘Redhead’)

(One might have seen, elsewhere in GOTGE, my talking of the recording date for ‘Huascarán’ as being 4th May 1972. However, I am beginning to have misgivings about that information and to be thinking that this should be included as a recording from 1973.)

Watch this fly off the record shop shelves!

Go on, Supraphon…you know you want to! (Sometime in 2023…to mark fifty years down the line, perhaps?)

There’s one ready-made customer somewhere in the UK 😉

Boldog születésnapot!

Valérie Čižmárová had started her recording career releasing two records on the smaller Panton label and – after turning eighteen – had recently been ‘promoted’ to the larger Supraphon label for her first serious smash-hit, ‘Léta letí’/’Dávno nejsem hloupá’ (‘Time Flies’/’I Haven’t Been Crazy For A Long Time’), when – after now turning nineteen – she recorded ‘Za sluncem, za vodou’ (‘In Sunshine, In Water’) on 5th April 1971, so it’s a ‘Happy Birthday!’ to this short-but-very-sweet blast of driving ‘Eastern Soul’ (under two minutes long), which was Valinka’s entry that year in the Děčínská Kotva (Děčín Anchor) Festival – the ‘answer’ in the Czech portion of the former Czechoslovakia to the Slovak portion’s Bratislavská Lýra (Bratislava Lyre) Festival.

It was recorded at the Studio in Dejvice, Prague and the music was composed by Ivan Šendera, making it Valinka’s first fully natively composed release on Supraphon, unlike ‘Léta letí’ and ‘Dávno nejsem hloupá’, which had been covers of Giorgio Moroder’s own ‘Looky, Looky’ and Harvey Price’s and Daniel Walsh’s ‘Sha-La Love You’ for Lancelot Link and The Evolution Revolution, respectively. Lyrics were by Jana Hornofová and instrumental accompaniment came from Karel Vlach se svým orchestrem (Karel Vlach and his Orchestra), with backing vocals from Sbor Lubomíra Pánka (The Lubomír Pánek Singers).

If Ivan Šendera demonstrated that composers from the former Eastern Bloc could lay down Soul on paper every bit as storming as that from composers in the Western/English-speaking World, the then fifty-nine-year-old Karel Vlach (born on 8th October 1911, in what would then have been the Austro-Hungarian Empire) also shows that he could drive it along with just as much gusto as, say, The Funk Brothers might have done at Tamla Motown. It isn’t everybody who associates Soul Music with the Austro-Hungarian Empire (wasn’t that all about Waltzes?) but I do! However, ultimately, it was down to the singer more than forty years his junior fully to bring the whole enterprise to life with her (as always) mature-beyond-her-years delivery.

The pre-twenty Valinka never fails to astound!

…and she puts the ‘Hungarian’ into the Austro-Hungarian Empire!

Finally, here are some photos of the great child of the Austro-Hungarian Empire himself – first, with that other GOTGE, Marcela Laiferová…

marcela 2

…and second, with Valinka herself.

Screenshot 2016-09-13 09.24.39

Re-united in Musical Heaven

Today should have been the sixty-sixth birthday of Jana Robbová, who sadly passed away on 4th August 1996, at the young age of forty-five. Under very sad circumstances this links in with current events inasmuch as, during a concert on Wednesday 22nd March,  in the town of Čáslav, through which I travelled on the way from Prague to Žďár nad Sázavou during my recent stay in the Czech Republic, Věra Špinarová collapsed with heart trouble. She was rushed away to hospital in Prague, but never regained consciousness and passed away on Sunday 26th March, leaving all those from the GOTGE Generation in the former Czechoslovakia and those who are fans of Věrka’s (and even fans of her erstwhile rival, Valérie Čižmárová, like Aleš Korábek) in utter shock.

Here is the photo I took of the railway station in Čáslav.

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It is very ironic that three of the youngsters of the GOTGE Generation, who would all have been under twenty as 1970 rolled around to 1971 – Janka, Věrka and Valinka – have been amongst the first to depart this World. It is not only their comparatively young years that connect the three. They were all considered to be ‘the Little Ladies with the Huge Voices’ and – as a self-confessed Valinka Fan – I regard it as an almost ridiculous honour that, during the documentary on Valinka’s life and work, ‘Příběhy slavných – Léta letí’, it was remarked that, whereas Valinka might have envied Věrka’s regular backing band and tighter professional support network, which probably enabled Věrka’s recording output to be more prolific, even one with such a gigantic voice as Věrka’s conceded that, in terms of vocal quality, that aforementioned envy was returned in full.

Regarding the Valinka versus Janka rivalry I have heard it remarked that their respective repertoires would not always have entirely overlapped, since they approached the Music Biz with differing influences. In this respect it is interesting to note that both Věrka and Janka were referred to as ‘the Janis Joplin of Czechoslovakia’. I doubt that anybody would have dreamed of referring to Valinka in such terms. Her voice was far too melodic for that! It is therein that I theorise that Věrka’s envy of Valinka’s voice lay. One also cannot lose sight of the fact that Valinka was brought up in a Hungarian-speaking household about as far away from the nation’s capital as one could get, so, singing the vast majority of her repertoire in Czech, with some Slovak-language exceptions as her first single, ‘Sunny’, she was effectively singing in a foreign language…and being first-class at it. This is an opportunity, incidentally, to set the record straight regarding Valinka’s true ethnic background. Although she was buried in the Nový židovský hřbitov (New Jewish Cemetery) I have been informed that this was not through being herself Jewish. The Kind Family, with whom she was interred, were apparently close friends and it was that reason that led to her being buried there, which might go some way towards explaining why, in photos I have encountered of Valinka in later life, she was wearing crucifixes, which I found very difficult to square with being buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Returning to the subject-in-hand it has long struck me as being remarkable that my journey of musical discovery throughout the Continental Mainland of the 1970s has taken me from one female artist who began her recording career at seventeen, Carene (later, Karen) Cheryl to another, Valinka herself. Regarding rivalries it is almost impossible to overlook Carene’s with her senior label-mate at Disques Carrère, before Carene broke away with her Producer/Mentor, «Mémé» Ibach, to Disques Ibach, Sheila (later Sheila B. Devotion). Given the multifarious life in the public eye of Carene/Karen Cheryl and her ‘real-life’ identity of Isabelle Morizet it has, ever since I got to know the full story of their respective careers, been my impression that, whereas Sheila is the ‘Great Specialist’ in Pop – the ultimate Pop Star – Isabelle/Carene/Karen is the ‘Great Generalist’ – singer, talented drummer, TV and radio host and comedy actress. It is also interesting to note that the young Carene Cheryl was ‘groomed’ (although that word does, nowadays, have negative connotations) as ‘the New Sheila’….just like, at the Divadlo Rokoko, Valinka was sort of ‘groomed’ as ‘the New Helena Vondráčková’.  This is where there was a qualitative difference, I think, between Janka and Věrka on the one hand (arguably, ‘Great Specialists’ both in Pop and Rock) and Valinka on the other – a ‘Great Generalist’, with a background in Jazz as well as Pop and Rock and who would go on to make her own comedy creation, the character, Maria Drevokocúriková, trading on her ‘down-home-ness’, like Carene, the farmer’s daughter. Although, Michalovce is rather more provincial than Poissy – the former being on the very fringes of the nation and the latter being in what could be termed ‘the French Home Counties’ .

So, the three ‘Little Ladies with the Huge Voices’ are finally re-united as a ‘Holy Trinity’ in Musical Heaven.

I have perhaps implied, in GOTGE, that Valinka’s eponymous LP, recorded in 1974 and released in 1975, could have been a stronger set than it eventually was. Even as a Valinka Fan, I would perhaps concede that it wasn’t the classic LP that Věrka’s ‘Andromeda’, from 1972, had been. However, I am beginning to wonder if Valinka’s spectacular run of singles recordings from 1973 could be regarded as a sort of ‘virtual LP’ in answer to ‘Andromeda’…almost as if to say, “I might not be the album-recording Rock Legend that you are, but I could still be the Queen of the Singles”. So, in that respect, despite the second-LP-that-never-was of Hungarian Rock and Roll from the early 1980s, maybe we did get two LPs out of Valinka’s recording career…only one of them wasn’t called as such!

Sorry about the lack of videos here. It’s a bit difficult to do justice to what I’ve had to write all in one go! As time goes on I’m sure it will become evident just what I mean. Anyway, there’s a very juicy Valinka recording anniversary to look forward to tomorrow, so ‘normal service’ will be resumed at GOTGE after this very dramatic development.

Finally, continuing the parallels between events in the Czechoslovakia of the early 1970s and those in the France of the mid-/late 1970s, it is gratifying, in the case of the former, to note that this was a thoroughly professional rivalry – not the almost personal rivalry that emerged from the internecine power struggles at Carrère.