On Friday, 7th June 1963, Helena Blehárová sang, to the accompaniment of her long-time collaborator, Gustav Brom and His Orchestra, amongst other songs, ‘Moonlight In Vermont’, intially made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, alongside Frank Sinatra, at the ‘Daily Mail’ International Jazz Festival at Belle Vue, Manchester. Yesterday – exactly five-and-a-half decades to the day down the line – the future fan of all things Eastern Bloc, Female and Pop (then just under two years of age and approximately sixty miles away in his home town of Belper…and probably tightly tucked up in bed!) paid a visit, equipped with Helena Blehárová’s eponymous 1976 LP, so that ‘Helenka’ could ‘return’ to the city herself.
A very pleasant (and well-earned?) picnic was had in Gorton Park, Belle Vue after the walk out from Manchester Piccadilly Station – I reason that ‘Pop Pilgrimages’ are best experienced on one’s own two feet, as evidenced by my walk, during my stay in Prague in January 2017, all the way from the Mozarteum, on Jungmannova, where Valérie Čižmárová did many of her classic recordings, to her burial place out at the Nový Židovský Hřbitov (The New Jewish Cemetery) – some of the way, interestingly enough, being along the A6 (the road that passes through Belper), meaning that Helenka may well have herself been along “my town’s road”.
One thing that did occur to me was how contrasting the weather was yesterday from when I visited Helenka’s home city of Žilina, in North-Western Slovakia, like Prague, in January 2017, the temperatures there plummeting to -21 Degrees Celsius, probably the coldest I have ever experienced first-hand!…quite un-Manchester-like…the real Manchester weather apparently occurring back home in Belper, where my brother, Julian had to bring my washing in while he happened to be around my house. No sign of anything like that at all in the legendarily ‘Rainy City’.
Here is a selection of the photos I took as a memento of that memorable close-to-home ‘Girls Of The Golden East Pop Pilgrimage’. I especially love the one of the ‘Northern Soul’ hoardings with the ‘Helena Blehárová’ LP, since, in my opinion, she is a real Northern Soul Girl…or, as I describe it in my invention of maybe a new genre of Pop Music, ‘Eastern Soul’ – Northern Soul-like music devised entirely in the former Eastern Bloc, in my case, more specifically, performed by the females of the Pop World east of the former Iron Curtain. I thought, “Helenka, this is where you belong…Northern Soul country!”
If one doesn’t believe me about ‘Eastern Soul’, just listen to Helenka’s ‘Slunce už hvězdy zháší’ (‘The Sun Is Already Putting Out The Stars’) with music by Jaromír Kratochvíl, ‘Tak dávno’ (‘So Long Ago’) with music by Bohuslav Ondráček and, since some Northern Soul records are what some Northern Soul DJs call “a bit of Rhythm and Blues”, I’ve got a lot of time for Helenka’s ‘Nauč mě čarovat’ (‘Teach Me To Do Magic’), with music by Jindřich Brabec. That’s what one calls ‘magic’!
Get your Northern (‘Eastern’) dancing shoes on and celebrate the ‘Honorary Manc Lass’ I consider Helenka to be!…the only ‘Girl Of The Golden East’ (as far as I am aware) to have graced these shores with the Soulful voice that so marks her ilk out, to the extent that I think of both Czech and Slovak as ‘languages of Soul’.