The one that woke me up

As I write, exactly one year ago I was merrily dozing away in my room at the Hotel Dominika, Petržalka, Bratislava while a few hundred metres away, at the Dom kultúry Zrkadlový háj, the concert that I should have been attending, as part of a series of concerts marking forty years since the tragically young passing of Eva Kostolányiová, was under way. I did, in the event, console myself with the thought that, the following day, I was due to exploit the opportunity of being in Slovakia for the first time in my life by visiting Valérie Čižmárová’s birthplace of Michalovce, although the fact that that date happened to be an anniversary of her death had yet fully to compute in my mind, being the still-young acquaintance over cyberspace that it was at the time (only just over six months).

The knowledge of the full details of Valinka’s recording career was still, at that time, long into the future, but I had, in the November of 2015, began my collecting of vinyl from the female Pop Music artists of the former Eastern Bloc with her eponymous LP, released in 1975 and recorded between 1st February and 10th April 1974, in large part, I confess, due to the stunning photographs of Valinka on the front and rear of the sleeve that I had encountered on the Web. When one sees something like this and one is of the male of the species it is, naturally, likely to engender some pretty dramatic reaction – some of the most beautiful images of womankind ever taken, by the very fortunate Vladivoj Burjanek – ‘woah!!!’, ‘they had a star like this in Communist-era Czechoslovakia???’, OMG indeed!



On receiving the LP and playing it (I had no idea, beforehand, what any of the tracks were like) the one track that really did wake me up to the sheer musical brilliance of Pop behind the former Iron Curtain and had me in ‘OMG mode’, musically was the tune by Vítězslav Hádl and Ladislav Pikart, with the ultra-catchy hook-line, ‘Koňskou dráhou’ (‘On The Horse Tram’), which was recorded on the date of this post in 1974, with the following lyrics by Petr Markov, with the best (partially modified) translation I can muster from Czech, via IMTranslator, indicating that, in the mid-1970s, there were pretty similar feelings about ‘Modern Times’ abroad in Czechoslovakia as there would have been here in the UK in that time of the sitcom, ‘The Good Life’, about a professional and his wife dropping out and going self-sufficient in Suburbia…and of ‘The Good Old Days’ variety show, broadcast as if direct from an Edwardian/Victorian music hall.

Jedu městem tramvají jak v divokých snech
Auta kolem houkají a kdekdo má spěch
Město známé kouzlem svým
Souží rámus, smog a dým

I’m going to the city by tram in wild dreams
Cars hoot about and everybody has a rush
A city known for its spell
Keeps noise, smog and smoke

Kde je něžná poezie prastarých míst
Dnes už o ní jenom v knihách můžeme číst
Město známé kouzlem svým
Souží rámus, smog a dým

Where is the gentle poetry of ancient places
Only read about in books today
A city known for its spell
Keeps noise, smog and smoke

Koňskou dráhou toužím jet
A mít bílý klobouk do očí
Koňskou dráhou zašlých let
Kde můj děda býval průvodčím
Koňskou dráhou šťastných dní
Kdy pan Kašpar hlásil – poletím
Koňskou dráhou parádní
Slavně vítat konec století a snít

I long to go on the horse tram
And have a white hat over my eyes
On the horse tram, bygone years
Where my grandfather used to crew
On the horse tram, happy days
When Mr. Kaspar reported – I will fly
On the horse tram, wonderful
Gloriously welcomed the end of the century and dream

Po chodnících proudí lidí neklidný proud
V přeplněných tramvajích se není kam hnout
Město známé kouzlem svým
Souží rámus, smog a dým
Kde jsou kola nejistá a slamáčky dam
Čas, kdy pojem turista byl nepříliš znám
Město známé kouzlem svým
Souží rámus, smog a dým

The pavements flows of people turbulent flow
In the crowded trams there is nowhere to move
A city known for its spell
Keeps noise, smog and smoke
Where the wheels are uncertain and slamáčky dam (this bit didn’t automatically translate!)
The time when the concept was not very known tourist
A city known for its spell
Keeps noise, smog and smoke

Koňskou dráhou toužím jet
A mít bílý klobouk do očí…

I long to go on the horse tram
And to have a white hat over my eyes. . .

The accompaniment came from Karel Vlach se svým orchestrem (Karel Vlach and his Orchestra), with backing vocals from Sbor Lubomíra Pánka (The Lubomír Pánek Singers). It was arranged by Vítězslav Hádl, with production from Mojmír Balling, Jan Hrábek and Květoslav Rohleder, sound engineering from František Řebíček and Jiří Brabec and technical co-operation from Milan Svoboda and Jiří Rohan.

Here it is, played on my Toshiba Hi-Fi system, with the speaker (a monstrous nine-inch/twenty-two cm diameter one!) through which I’d have played some of the first vinyl I heard in my life, back in the days when my age could be measured in single digits, hooked up to the system. What a sound!

I recorded this just over a year ago, before I became fully aware that my camera’s video-recording feature could be adjusted to reduce the file-size of the resulting video and therefore the uploading time, so this is going to be the one and only upload, for the immediate future, at any rate, of one of my old videos at the ‘High Definition’ setting.


The other track recorded on that date in 1974 was ‘Žokej’ (‘Jockey’), but, strangely enough, that didn’t appear on the LP. It was released, in 1975, as the flip side to ‘Námořník šel Cik Cak’ (‘The Sailor Went Zig-Zag’), which was recorded on the following day and did appear on the LP.

The year of its recording, it was used as background music during a scene shot at the Café Restaurant Střelecký Ostrov (Marksman’s Island) – improbably, for an album track that had yet to appear on vinyl! –  in what I have described as ‘a Kafka-esque Romantic Comedy’, directed by that master of Czechoslovak cinematic fantasy, Václav Vorlíček,  ‘Jak utopit Dr. Mráčka aneb Konec vodníků v Čechách’ (‘How To Drown Dr. Mráček, Or The End Of The River Sprites In The Czech Lands’), with the Female Lead, Libuše Šafránková (on the left) and Milena Steinmasslová (on the right) being featured.


It is interesting to note that, in the shortlist of ‘favourite songs’ in a poll on Aleš Korábek’s Valérie Čižmárová fan site (from which the aforementioned lyrics were obtained), ‘Koňskou dráhou’ is one of those entered. That is a truly remarkable achievement for what was ‘only’ an album track. It illustrates perfectly the fact that everybody knows it could and should have been a single and would have been one of the smashes of the Czechoslovakia of the 1970s.

One can easily see why I get terribly excited about a ‘Hádl and Pikart’ (not forgetting Markov) now!





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