Music has always featured large in my life, but never so much as it has in the lives of Czechs who fought a revolution partly through art, dance, Vaclav Havel, the playwright who led the country to the Velvet Revolution that saw the back of the Commies and in particular music, with the Plastic People of the Universe who, to the Czechs, were so way beyond the counter-culture that the likes of Bob Dylan represented to us Westerners that we couldn’t even imagine it.
There has always been a strong classical musical culture too, delivering the likes of Dvorak and Smetana from a catchment of so few people, although my friends who are involved in the classical scene bemoan the fact that even today, while the conservatory continues to be held up as a shining example of the country’s commitment to music, it remains fiercely defended by the elite from intrusion by ordinary folk. Its odd though that the quality of music here is – let’s be tactful – pretty bad. Their Pop Idol franchise (called Superstar) usually ends up with finalists that we in the UK would be watching on the out-takes! There isn’t a great deal of originality in any of the arts – understandable for a lot of reasons – and music is no exception. During Communism the pop songs of the day were often melodies stolen directly from Western records with new Party line lyrics added. Its still cool for a guy to look like Ginger Baker did in the sixties and Heavy Metal remains the weapon of choice for a large number of musos.
I was surprised therefore to catch a concert last week by a guy called Vlasta Redl and come away feeling as though I had found Czech music I could listen to. Kinda “Jethro Tull meets James Taylor” this folk rock band demonstrated originality in composition, great harmonies and kicking musicianship across a range of tempos and styles within the folk-rock range. The bloke still looked like a hippie, but, hey, you can’t have it all. The audience, who weren’t by any means teenies, knew the lyrics to pretty much everything he gave them. My Czech wife though, who is a bit of a hippie herself, had never heard of him despite the fact that he has been around since 1990.
I decided to check him out on the Web and discovered that he hasn’t learnt the secret of branding – consistency across all communications. While the archive of down-loadable free stuff was typical of the Czech “all for art” approach the content didn’t live up to the concert. Disappointing, but I’m going to add a Redl CD to my Santa list, if only to discover if he can do it in the studio. I also want to get hold of one the T-shirts with the daisy across the front that half the audience were wearing when they arrived – obviously an icon of the Redl community. Anyhow, despite the downloads not being up to scratch he’s worth a listen, if only to hear what the Czechs are doing these days. Drop in and hear for yourself.