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.


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.






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