Anywhere Else But Here Today ... – A Funky Eastern Europe
- Category: Art Archive
There is, however, a whole world out there. And I have no doubt some great pop music I’ve never heard is being made in places I’ve never been. There’s nothing new in that as the Anywhere Else But Here Today project seeks to prove. The thinking behind the site is to shoot right ‘round the world, sharing great pop moments. Consciously it’s taken from the perspective of the enthusiastic amateur who knows what they like rather than professional collectors’ or expert cratediggers’ outlook.
The project starts off in the old Eastern Europe, which for all sorts of odd reasons (Subway Sect singing about it, the 1970 World Cup, The Make-Up, old spy stories and films on BBC2) retains a certain fascination. But it’s only recently I’ve realised via YouTube just how much great pop music was made behind the Iron Curtain in the ‘60s and into the ‘70s. A certain Pete Meaden quote springs to mind about difficult circumstances.
We know the Cold War clichés about the grey austerity, the bleak severity, and so on. But where we in the arrogant capitalist West were brought up to think of rock music from Eastern Europe as the preserve of hippies playing free jazz inspired jams in illicit cellars we couldn’t be more wrong. Hmm it might have shattered some deep rooted prejudices if we had been able to acknowledge the brilliance of pop from the region.
Now thanks to the weird and wonderfully illogical world of YouTube we are beginning, literally, to see a different picture of what went on. Predominantly, fiercely patriotic pop fans are posting impossibly rare clips of magical moments that make the head whirl. And these are not just audio clips, these are often brilliantly inventive promotional films and fantastic TV performances.
My epiphany came via a Krystyna Konarska clip from Polish TV, quickly followed by a Katarzyna Sobczyk one, which I stumbled across by chance. I guess I should confess part of the appeal (risking a clip round the ear from the missus) was the girls’ striking good looks. But why hadn’t I come across these names before? I knew a bit about Polish jazz and soundtracks, but these ‘60s mod/beat sounds were a revelation. And one thing led to another. From Poland to Czechoslovakia and an obsession with Marta Kubisova, and so on. Now if you like Julie Driscoll and Sharon Tandy, you will love Marta. If you fell for The Unbearable Lightness of Being you will be moved by Marta’s story, and understand why after the Soviet invasion and the end of the Prague Spring she was banned from performing for 20 odd years.
YouTube has a treasure trove of Marta Kubisova clips, and a number of the songs are not even featured on the superb VampiSoul collection of her recordings. It was on finding the Marta clips that the idea of collecting some of these gems as part of a project took hold. And the more I looked the more treasures I found. My particular favourites are the ‘60s clips of Bulgaria’s Lili Ivanova. I guess in the West if we think of music from Bulgaria we think of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares set of beautiful folk songs, but there is something almost patronising about the earnest appreciation of ethnic roots sounds. A few clips of Lili will soon blast away such unease. She can contend with the best of the British soul inspired performers such as Billie Davis and Dusty. Her closest contemporary would be Timi Yuro, and there is certainly something of the dramatic Italian temperament in her delivery which would give Mina a run for her money. Having heard her cover of the Spencer Davis Group’s Gimme Some Lovin’ you start wondering about the way music spread in the ‘60s. There are, for instance, some intriguing and rather unexpected soul covers among our Yugoslavian selections, and the number of times Dusty Springfield and Nancy Sinatra covers crop up suggests a closer study of the influence of these ladies on Eastern Europe is overdue.
A long time ago I was in love with a group called Hurrah! who in the mid-‘80s experimental beat group guise used to joke that while they might feel isolated in the UK pop scene no doubt there were kindred spirits in Bulgaria. Well, the Rumania of the 1960s seems to have had a group called Phoenix who in their melodic invention certainly recall Hurrah! at their best. Somewhere between their early Beatles influences and their prog-folk excursions Phoenix created some breathtakingly beautiful music which has been preserved on film perhaps against the odds and is available free for all to see. Stumbling on these unexpectedly was one of the highlights of 2009, and genuinely makes you believe in magic again. I suspect the Hurrah! lads would approve of some of the beautiful battered guitars too.
Of course there are lots of people who know much more about all this. And labels like VampiSoul and Finders Keepers are performing wonders in waking us up to the way pop music has flourished right ‘round the world. There has been an avalanche of salvaged African sounds for us to lap up. We are now beginning to celebrate Hungarian grooves, Turkish psychedelia, Peruvian garage sounds, Iranian funk, Greek beat, South Korean folk rock, and a whole lot more. That’s got to be a good thing. After all don’t forget it doesn’t seem that long ago that supposedly enlightened pop commentators were even sniggering at the idea of French pop, dismissing Francoise Hardy as a one-off, and thinking global music was all about sitting about in a field hearing someone bang a few percussion items.
So forget about those comfort zones and reality TV. Hopefully as Anywhere Else But Here Today stumbles around the globe, with the help of comrades, we will be able to share some of the delights that have made us believers again.
© Words - Kevin Pearce/ ZANI Ltd