The Greek Sister Act from Czechoslovakia

There has previously been a reference to Valérie Čižmárová’s ‘exotic’ parentage on GOTGE. However, in the course, recently, of tracking down a video of Hana Ulrychová’s version of ‘Pretty Flamingo’, ‘Sladký pták mládí’, my eye was caught by a related video by Martha and Tena Elefteriadu with Jiří Suchý, of the song ‘Tento týden v pátek’ – a version of ‘Save The Bones For Henry Jones’, originally composed by Danny Barker and Vernon Lee, with Czech-language lyrics by Jiří himself, with accompaniment from Studiová Skupina Igora Vavrdy….leading us to a couple of artists with (in the context of Czechoslovakia) a rather more ‘exotic’ background.

This was only a matter of days before – when I was manning the Enjoying Derby/Derbyshire Mind stand at the ‘Chill Ville’ event on Derby Market place for World Mental Health Day on 10th October – I wandered off to the pick-up-a-book-gratis stand to see if there were any interesting books and there was indeed. The book in question was ‘The Knights Of Rhodes’ by the Archaeologist, Annina Valkana, about the days of the Crusades, when Rhodes was populated by knights from such diverse places as France, Portugal, England, Spain and Germany (which in Mediaeval times might have included parts of ‘GOTGE territory’). This got me thinking thoughts back to another project of mine – that has had to go on hold as I have been making all these fascinating discoveries relating to Female and Female-led Pop Music from the former Eastern Bloc, making me think that truth is indeed stranger than any fiction I could possibly make up – a work of fiction inspired by finding, in our attic, just over half-a-decade back, an example of that other 1970s childhood passion, on top of the Matchbox ‘Superfast’ cars previously referenced on GOTGE, an Airfix model aircraft (in a somewhat sorry state – minus its nose engine!) – specifically a Savoia-Marchetti S.M. 79, indicating that my ‘Italian Aircraft of WWII Period’ has been a long one!


As I discovered in the course of looking into the background of the S.M. 79 with the benefit of the modern communications technology which we did not have back in the early-1970s, when I’d have originally made the kit up, during the conflict in the Mediterranean Rhodes was an important Italian airbase for its S.M. 79 torpedo bomber groups, mostly targeting the Allied convoys supplying Malta from British Egypt. But the discovery that really blew me away was the fact that, elsewhere in the Mediterranean, in another S.M.79-equipped torpedo-bombing unit, one of the number of pilots doing their damnedest to sink British shipping was born in New York City – Sottotenente Carlo Pfister…and here is a picture of this All-American guy in Mussolini’s air force.

Thinking that this would make a superb subject for a movie, even, I started actually writing a potential screenplay and did some research into the background of other real-life U.S.-born airmen in the service of Axis Italy, some of whom had also served in the Aviazione Legionaria, aiding Franco’s cause in the Spanish Civil War, showing that not all Americans active in that conflict were on the Republican side. That very soon ground to a halt, however, so I started to think if I couldn’t ‘invent’ a fictional U.S.-born Italian Spanish Civil War and WWII airman.

Since I had also began to uncover Middle Of The Road’s ‘Italian connection’…and other international connections in addition to that (see the ‘Wider Context’ ‘sticky post’ above) I thought that it might be a good idea to have this U.S.-born airman, together with his bomber pilot friend in the Luftwaffe and their respective crews, end up living in Scotland – not as prisoners, but as honoured guests (getting to Scotland via Finland, its side-switching towards the end of WWII and an Arctic Convoy…I’ll leave you to guess how they might have ended up both in the Finnish ‘Ilmavoimat’ – Air Force!)

To cut a (very!) long story short, this project, (currently titled ‘The Radio Operators’) ultimately ballooned to a trilogy encompassing a time-span of in excess of a century (from 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri to the early 2020s in Halle/Saale, Germany) to take care of the back stories and the possible impact on real-life events and personalities in Post-War Europe and America in the worlds of popular entertainment, sport and business, running into the near future….featuring female characters in both whalebone corsets at the outset of the time-line and futuristic, ultra-streamlined cycle-racing gear at the close. The action also would have taken place in five continents – North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia and ultimately, despite the fact that the starting-off point was the U.S.-born Pilot and his Luftwaffe Pilot friend, in many ways, the real ‘stars’ of the show are their respective Radio Operators and their relatives – hence the title, which was also intended to be a play on the fact that Pop Music plays such a crucial role in the plot and that some of the characters become radio-operating Media Moguls.

With a direct New York City connection to a friend of a WWII Luftwaffe airman (with a sister working as one of the ‘backroom girls’ of the S.S.), one of the characters was initially going to be a Jewish-American Record Producer on the Brill Building scene of the early- to mid-1960s, which I thought might have a poignancy to it, but then I thought, ‘no!’, ‘that would be stereotyping’. So, looking at other possible origins of people in that scene, I ended up with an Irish- and Greek-American couple, the latter of which was a sort of conflation of Ellie Greenwich (in that the character was a female Singer/Songwriter/Record Producer) and Steve Venet – real name, Steve Venetoulis –  (in that she was of Greek descent).

GOTGE readers might already be aware of the praise I have heaped on YouTube contributor, Kerith Louisa Williams-Catton, at ‘Northern Soul Yorkshire’. Well, she has very kindly uploaded a slice of one of my previous Female Pop-related lives, before GOTGE came along – the Steve Venet-produced ‘Whisper Sweet Things’, by The Jelly Beans – a great favourite of mine on the double LP, ‘The Red Bird Story: Vol. 2’, which features a whole side of recording sessions from 1964, which should have resulted in an album, but which never came to fruition – just like Valérie Čižmárová’s ill-fated Hungarian Rock ‘n’ Roll album! I think ‘Whisper Sweet Things’ would have made an excellent single, let alone an album track. I like to imagine my Greek-American female record-producing character at the controls when I’m listening to this.

There have been references previously on GOTGE to the importance of raising the profile of the burial places of the likes of Valérie Čižmárová and Eva Kostolányiová as places of pilgrimage on a par with the ‘Legends’ of the West. In a similar vein the sleeve notes to ‘The Red Bird Story: Vol. 2’ end on a highly poignant note, when one considers how the place where John Lennon was killed is just such a place and how The Beatles revered the early Girl Groups. I quote Mick Patrick’s words from 1987 – the Editor of ‘That Will Never Happen Again’, with acknowledgements to Alan Betrock, Kurt Loder (of ‘Rolling Stone’) and Ralph M. Newman (of ‘Time Barrier Express’).

“The last information to surface on The Jelly Beans was in the early ’70’s – at a time when their Eskee single was enjoying Northern popularity – when it was reported that one of the girls had been murdered. Shot dead on her doorstep.”

The great Female Pop Music artists of the former Eastern Bloc have been almost totally overlooked in the West. Beyond some ‘headline’ names, it seems that many of the early Girl Groups have been almost totally forgotten, too. It’s high time that both gained a much higher profile, therefore, so that Jelly Beans member should be identified and that doorstep should be as famous as John Lennon’s.

Anyway…back to the relevant subject of Female Eastern Boc Pop – after that ‘slight’ diversion!

With all these ‘Greek thoughts’ being uppermost in my mind of late (Rhodes being a part of present-day Greece) this is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate that Czechoslovakia’s ‘Greek connections’ go way beyond Eva Kostolányiová’s and Helena Vondráčková’s respective renditions of Vicky Leandros’ 1972 Eurovision Song Contest Winner, ‘Après toi’/’Come What May’ and Jana Kocianová’s Slovak-language version of Demis Roussos’ ‘For Ever And Ever’ ….since the following are the origins of Martha and Tena Elefteriadu.

To keep that Ellie Greenwich ‘thing’ going. Here is Martha, going solo, singing ‘River Deep, Mountain High’…in English, with accompaniment from the band, Vulkán.

Here are a couple of tracks off Martha & Tena’s 1973 album, ‘Modré království’, accompanied by the band Skupina Aleše Sigmunda – the first being a cover of Nilsson’s heart-wrenching power ballad, ‘Without You’, (by Ham and Evans) that even an avowedly Glam Rock fan – as I was at that time…long before I discovered, sometime in the 1980s, what all the fuss had been about Soul in the 1970s – absolutely adored. The song’s Czech-language title is ‘Kde se hvězdy očím ztrácejí’.

The second of these, ‘Nejdelší most’ (by Gérard and Bernet, originally entitled ‘Tan pis pour moi’ and performed by Hervé Vilard) features a probably unique video – two sisters of Greek origin performing a song of French origin in a boat in a cave somewhere in Czechoslovakia! I wonder how often that ‘constellation’ comes about!

Finally, here is Martha & Tena, live on stage, demonstrating their linguistic versatility, singing – in Slovak – the song ‘To všetko bolo včera’ at the Bratislavská Lýra of 1970 – music by Bohouš Trnečka and lyrics by Ján Štrasser, with accompaniment from Festivalový Orchestr under Josef Vobruba.

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