Recently, I have had the opportunity to take a brief look into the preview of the contents of a publication concerning Czechoslovak Pop Legends from a period that would include the GOTGE era. Fortunately for me, two of my favourites, Helena Blehárová and Valérie Čižmárová (the latter being featured on the front cover) have initial letters of their surnames fairly near the beginning of the alphabet, so one can read their respective sections without having actually to order the book, which I have tried to, but unfortunately delivery is only possible at the Grada Publishing site to the Czech Republic.
I am still only really a beginner at Czech but I can see from what little I still understand that a question I have been asking myself for quite some time has been answered. The question was, “did any of the GOTGE ever land on these shores back in the day in their professional capacity?” We might be venturing slightly outside of what I have picked out as the GOTGE era, but Helena evidently went to perform in Manchester in the highly significant year of 1964. This would have placed her right at the heart of no less a popular musical phenomenon than the British Beat Boom. One wonders what the Manchester of 1964 would have seemed like to the twenty-one-year-old Helena….and one also wonders where exactly she would have played in the city. In addition, it seems almost unreal to me that she would have come within sixty miles of the three-year-old me. I’m closer than I ever thought possible to one of the GOTGE! In a way, I suppose that makes Helena a sort of honorary ‘Manc Lass’ (even though, in my imagining of the parts of the former Czechoslovakia as parts of the United Kingdom, she’d have been the equivalent of a Scots Borderer!…originating, as she does, from Žilina in the far North-West of Slovakia.)
Being an honorary ‘Manc Lass’ may explain one of Helena’s own contributions to the ongoing GOTGE theme of Northern Soul going East (‘Eastern Soul’, anybody?…do you think the term could grow wings and take off?) This is unfortunately unavailable on YouTube, but if GOTGE readers can get into Spotify (a Facebook account will do the business) I heartily recommend Track No. 10 off the album ‘Š š š’, ‘Slunce už hvězdy zháší’, which is an entirely natively composed slice of Northern (‘Eastern’?) from 1968 – the tune from the pen of Jaromír Kratochvíl. It’s interesting to note that there are also a couple of Dusty Springfield covers in there and one Petula Clark. I love both Dusty and Pet dearly, but it’s creeping up on me that I think most of the Soulful ladies of 1960s and 1970s Czechoslovakia may even have had the edge on both of them on the ‘Soulfulness’ front. They had clearly been ‘infected’ with Helena’s ‘Northern Spirit’ (isn’t that a Train Operating Company?) brought all the way back from Manchester!..oh, and do look out for ‘Hodina H’ (from 1970) on that album – my favourite Helena Blehárová track (until ‘Slunce už hvězdy zháší’ came along?) – tune courtesy of Max Wittmann, another one of those absolutely heroic Czechoslovak tunesmiths.
Maybe Helena could have returned to Manchester to play the Twisted Wheel and performed ‘Slunce už hvězdy zháší’ there. You might not be able to keep up with the Czech (I’m slowly getting up to speed!) but just feel that tune!
Actually, I’m beginning to formulate the opinion that Czech should be considered a sort of ‘second language of Soul’ and that all Soul fans should make some attempt, at least, at learning the language. It’s clearly cracking for Soul-singing, so learn it and belt out that Czech! (oh…and Slovak, while you’re at it, too).
By way of an item of ‘Late News’ it has just come to my attention that ‘Slunce už hvězdy zháší’ can actually be individually embedded. Here is that video, showing, also, what a fantastically stylish lady Helena could be. The video was evidently uploaded only on 25th September, so no wonder I didn’t encounter it in the course of getting this particular post together originally, since the post was originally published on 24th August.
According to another uploading of the song – which has been around on YouTube all the time since 18th April 2012, so goodness only knows why I never found it back in August – I nearly originally got this post together on the anniversary of its recording (in Brno) which was 23rd August 1968. I thought that that would be sometime around the tragic end of the ‘Prague Spring’, so looked into it and sure enough, it was (the Warsaw Pact invasion occurring on 20th and 21st August). So, an absolutely first-class ‘Eastern Soul’ song like this was recorded in a nation under the following circumstances.
One is awfully tempted to think that no matter how many tanks were thrown at Czechoslovakia nobody was ever going to be as cool as they!