GOTGE is one year old today!

…and what a conclusion to the first 365 days – since deciding that turning all these E-Mails I was imposing on my brother into a fully blown Blog might be the way to go – yesterday was.

Having taken Jana Kocianová back to the banks of the Danube in Bratislava, this probably gave me the inspiration – since the theme of GOTGE is, after all, promoting significant places in their lives – to make today a relatively short trip – out via Kúty and back via Trnava – to Janka’s home town of Šaštín-Stráže. This is doubly fitting in view of the way in which I have characterised GOTGE as ‘Pop Pilgrimages’ –  Šaštín-Stráže being probably best-known (apart from Janka herself?) for the Bazilika Sedembolestnej Panny Márie (Basilica of  Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows)….and probably trebly so, given Janka’s status as an interpreter of Gospel Music….featuring very heavily on her 1975 LP, with Nový Tradicionál, ‘Každý deň’ and her 1972 covering of the Les Humphries Singers’ ‘We Are Going Down Jordan’, ‘Zahoď starosti’.

Janka at the Bratislavská Lýra of 1975, performing the title track, with the backing of Nový Tradicionál (Slovak-language lyrics by Zoro Laurinc).

‘Zahoď starosti’, to the accompaniment of Tanečný Orchestr Čs. Rozhlasu under Vieroslav Matušík, produced by Jozef Škvařil.

On the way I took the opportunity to take Janka (or rather, her records) back through the Sad Janka Kráľa (King John’s Gardens…or I’m now beginning to think that it might not be a reference to any ‘King John’, after all) to the banks of the Danube…in the sunshine, this time.

Here is some of the snowy scenery seen on the way to Šaštín-Stráže – on the train I got on without a ticket, because I hadn’t left enough time to get a ticket before boarding, but I managed, thanks in part to IMTranslator, to explain to the guard the circumstances and she understood, which, very appropriately, in view of my destination, was a miracle. Hallelujah!

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So…where would a ‘Hot Gospeller’ like Janka come from? Could it be a place like this?…starting off with her return to her home town station, continuing through Šaštín-Stráže, finding its Co-Op (they get everywhere!) was unsurprisingly shut, but finding a club called the Riverside (the English language gets everywhere, too!), which is very fitting for the home town of a Gospel Singer, as in ‘Down By The Riverside’, (which I found myself irresistibly singing to myself!), encountering ‘Winter Wonderlands’, finding a decidedly inappropriately named eaterie, in view of the weather conditions and last, but by no means least, seeing what the Bazilika Sedembolestnej Panny Márie looks like floodlit…and it was a stunning series of images.

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It’s not very often one sees this at a railway station!…indicating how fervently Catholic this place is…which might be Christian, but it’s not the type of Christianity usually associated with Gospel Music, if one thinks about it. That’s all Protestant!

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On the way back to the station, (which I nearly lost!) I caught this very atmospheric picture of a level crossing in the snow and darkness. Yes, those are wires you see. It might be a small place, but Šaštín-Stráže is on an electrified line and it has some direct services to Prague.

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Trnava (that other great GOTGE, Eva Kostolányiová’s home town) on the way back.

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The return to Bratislava. This was evening on the Sixteenth Platform, but here in 1974, Janka is singing about an early morning on the sixth platform (‘Ráno na šiestom peróne’) – a ‘Ska-ified’ rendering of Jerome Kern’s ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, with Slovak-language lyrics by Zoro Laurinc.

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On the way back through Bratislava, I dropped in on a shop with a very familiar name to all Norwich City fans. Delia Smith is noted for being a devout Roman Catholic, so I am sure she’d have approved of the place I’d visited that day. Indeed, she is sometimes referred to as ‘St. Delia’, although that may be something more to do with her perfection in the kitchen (foreign readers will need to know that she is a celebrity cook and Director of the club) than with any religious connotations.

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I also spied the following advertisement for Zlatý Bažant (Golden Pheasant) beer, indicating that 1973 was a classic year.

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…and if we do go back to 1973, the antecedents to these memorable TV aerials spotted in Šaštín-Stráže would have been picking up this classic slice of TV, with Janka performing with Valérie Čižmárová’s erstwhile collaborator, Jitka Zeleková and the great male Star, Karel Gott, on an early-to-mid-1970s nostalgia show, ‘Vzpomínková směs ze Slaného’ (‘Nostalgic Assortment From The Theatre In Slaný’).

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I also took these astounding images of beautiful night-time Bratislava from the Starý Most, including one of the Apollo Bridge with the Moon above, which is very apposite.

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Finally, moving on to more TV entertainment from the Czechoslovakia of the 1970s, we have just seen Libuše Šafránková, of the film ‘Jak utopit Dr. Mráčka aneb Konec vodníků v Čechách’ mentioned in GOTGE. Another star of the film was Vladimír Menšík, the host of the brilliant creator of TV of that era, Ján Roháč’s New Year’s Eve show of 1977, ‘Silvestr na přání, aneb – čí jsou hory Kavčí’, (perhaps a brisker offering than might have been on UK TV at the time). Well, I was playing some Jana Kocianová-related videos for some on-train entertainment on the way to Šaštín-Stráže and this came up of a charming performance, (with Milan Lasica and Július Satinský), of a bit of French-goes-Czech-and-Slovak and a skit on Janka’s backless gown (she might be a Gospel Queen, but she could dress quite naughtily..as also shown four years previously in ‘Vzpomínková směs ze Slaného’…and actually, when I come to think of it, that ‘Ráno na šiestom peróne’ dress couldn’t be much shorter, could it?).

Right at the very end one can catch a fleeting glimpse of Valinka in the audience, who also did her Hungarian Rock ‘n’ Roll number on that show. She’s sitting near the left-hand end of the block.

If one thinks about the fact that Janka worked with Jitka, who worked with Valinka and that Marie Rottrová worked with Helena Vondráčková, who in turn worked with Jitka and that both Jitka and Valinka worked with Miluška Voborníková, who worked with Naďa Urbánková, who worked with Hana Zagorová (which takes us back to the beginnings of GOTGE) one can see what an endless network of female Stars they had in the Czechoslovakia of the 1970s….and that some of them come from very visit-able places…one can see why, also, as my Blog developed over this past year, my dream of these parts (and elsewhere in Eastern Europe) being places of ‘Pop Pilgrimage’ has eminent chance of becoming reality.

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