LAKE MALAWI will be embarking on their first ever British tour in conjunction with their forthcoming appearance at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton this May. The London/Prague-based indie dream pop band, fronted by Albert Černý, will play gigs in Worthing, Newcastle, Birmingham, Chichester and London around their appearance at Brighton’s Paganini Ballroom on 14 May, before returning to the Czech Republic at the end of the month. The tour will begin and end in London (9 May Sebright Arms; 28 May The Finsbury). There will also be two consecutive nights in Birmingham (20 May Victoria; 21 May Actress & Bishop) in view of anticipated demand. Here is a screen shot of Lake Malawi’s full UK tour schedule from the band’s official website: More about Lake Malawi at http://www.lakemalawimusic.com
Born in the Czech Republic, now living in Iceland, MARKÉTA IRGLOVÁ recently completed the British leg of her world tour promoting her latest album MUNA. CzechHarmonies was at her London gig…
MARKÉTA IRGLOVÁ has come a long way. And I’m not just talking about her seemingly never ending world tour promoting her second solo album, or even the middle-distance hop from her adopted home city of Reykjavik to the metropolitan sprawl of West London for this, the first of her two UK gigs this year. I’m talking about her musical journey, her creative journey, her personal journey.
From Valašské Meziříčí in the Moravian valleys to bustling New York to the Icelandic capital to one of the UK capital’s plushest music venues via the Grammy Awards, the Oscars, an episode of The Simpsons, and a clutch of intensely soul-searching album releases – with three love stories thrown in for good measure, the present one culminating in joyful motherhood – is not exactly the shortest distance from A to B.
And on a crisp mid-March evening in Shepherds Bush, a 200-strong capacity audience could almost see and feel Irglová’s emotionally vivid life flashing before their eyes as her cultured melodies caressed Bush Hall’s chandeliers and hanging glitterball on their way into our ears and hearts.
But tonight was not only Markéta Irglová’s evening. Step forward Svavar Knútur, a close friend of Irglová’s whom she had personally invited to open the London gig. Although the CzechHarmonies brief is to write about Czech music, it would be impossible to describe the evening without mentioning this Icelandic singer/songwriter and self-styled troubadour, who seems to share the headline act’s mission to conquer Britain peacefully with a subtle tug of the heartstrings – in addition to being a catalyst for Irglová’s long term relationship with Sturla Mio Thorisson, who produces both artists and was tonight´s sound engineer.
Like Markéta Irglová, Svavar Knútur is phenomenally gifted. He is also extremely funny. In fact, he could release his between-song banter as a comedy album in its own right. There were audience belly laughs aplenty as this thoroughly likeable 39-year-old bearded man in a natty bow-tie outfit regaled us with chuckle-tastic anecdotes about his historic lack of success with girls, that gig where he conspicuously scratched his nose on the mic, how American reactions to his weighty frame are more two-faced than German reactions, and how EU regulations forbid Icelanders from building igloos more than five storeys high without an elevator with a cooling system. Apparently.
In fact Knútur would be in severe danger of eclipsing his musical gift with his comedy gold, were his compositions not so incontestably brilliant in their design and execution. His adept acoustic folk style – mainly on guitar but occasionally on ukulele – perfectly complemented his endearing narratives and mellow vocals, combining taut wordplay ‘Out in the ocean, under a fish, lies a kiss that you once blew to me’ (Baby, Would You Marry Me?’) with sinewy fingerpicked chords. Svavar Knútur sees himself as taking the audience for a workout because, as he so succinctly put it, “music is better for long term health than sport”. Well played, sir!
As Markéta Irglová took her position at the grand piano, sporting tight jeans, a loose fitting pale pastel orange top and a maternity scarf shrouding her stomach in mystery, astute observers might have spotted a bun in the oven. Indeed, eight songs into her set she announced “we have another baby on the way”, to empathetic applause. When she thanked her support act for unwittingly playing cupid (Irglová was providing backing vocals on Knútur’s Sturla Mio Thorisson-produced latest album when love blossomed for Markéta and Mio), Svavar got yet more laughs by bellowing “You’re welcome baby!” from the back of the hall. And he wasn’t finished just yet.
By this time, Valašské Meziříčí’s finest export had comprehensively got London onside by making us care about her, through both her peerless music and bite-size snippets of her life story told between songs. Of course you can surmise the tone of her life story simply from the timbre of her singing, even without studying the words. At its tenderest, Irglová’s voice is so fragile you fear it will shatter at any moment, but somehow it never does. And, like the person it belongs to, what doesn’t kill the voice, only makes it stronger.
Although it was no surprise that the Muna album’s opener ‘Point Of Creation’, with its bells, organ, choir and cathedral acoustics, did not feature in this solo show, before we knew it we were into the album’s second song ‘Time Immemorial’, the first of only four tracks tonight taken from Irglová’s latest album. In total, her set (including encores) comprised fifteen songs, being drawn also from debut solo album Anar, as well as The Swell Season repertoire – though the band itself was absent tonight. “I have you all to myself,” she quietly gloated. There were also a couple of cover versions.
A notable highlight, from the ‘Once’ film soundtrack collaboration with Glen Hansard, was a movingly desolate version of ‘If You Want Me’. The switch from guitars and drums to solo piano opened up a huge vista, into which Irglová seemed to pour every last molecule of her soul, culminating in a swelling wordless vocal that surfed the coda with an imperious yet hushed intensity.
Hearing a song from a blockbuster musical out of its normal context is an intriguing acid test, and Irglová’s reading of ‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him’, from Jesus Christ Superstar (preceded by the delightful tale of her childhood crush on the musical’s lead actor) gelled surprisingly smoothly with the rest of her set, nestling as it did quite comfortably between ‘If You Want Me’ and ‘Gabriel’.
‘This Right Here’ might be the Muna album’s closer, but here it was at the beating heart of the Bush Hall set list, followed not by silence, but by a sensitive rendition of ‘Gently Johnny’, from The Wicker Man soundtrack, which turned out to be Irglová’s only foray of the evening on acoustic guitar, prematurely abandoned due to a faulty capo.
We were then blessed with a privileged insight into Irglová’s creative process as, returning to the piano, she treated us to an untitled work in progress characterised by slow, twinkling arpeggios and a looped chord progression. A few bum notes and hesitations really didn’t matter: we were witnessing a rough diamond being freshly hewn from the mine. The finished, polished product can’t come soon enough.
If I had never heard of Markéta Irglová but stumbled upon ‘Crossroads’, I would possibly have guessed, on first hearing, that it might be a classic early Joni Mitchell outtake that had somehow inexplicably failed to make it onto her ‘Blue’ album of 1971. But subsequent listens mark out this lovingly chiselled sculpture of pianistic magic as pure Irglová through and through. And in Bush Hall it glowed like a candle that will never go out.
“The act of falling in love is so precious, and you never get that time back…but sometimes those feelings come back…I sing this song to remind myself of what I am when I fall in love – to honour the bond.” With such an introduction, she could only be talking about ‘Let Me Fall In Love’, another showstopper from ‘Anar’. And what was incredible during this performance – and I don’t know if this was by accident or design, and I swear I didn’t imagine this – was the illusion, caused by red light reflected off the piano lid onto her eyes, that she was wearing rose-tinted shades. Which was eerily, movingly appropriate for the lines ‘When you fall in love, you fall in love with everything, with everyone/ And you look at the world through a new pair of eyes’.
There was only one possible set-ending masterstroke to top this: a duet with the irrepressible Svavar Knútur, who returned to the stage to join Irglová for another Swell Season classic ‘Falling Slowly’. First, however, there was the unhappy announcement that both of them had had some possessions stolen earlier in the day. Irglová herself had been so knocked back by this that she had felt like cancelling the gig and going home… “but when I came into the room and felt the energy from you guys I knew I’d made the right decision to stay.”
You’re not wrong there, Markéta.
There followed two encores: ‘The Hill’ (Swell Season territory again) swiftly followed by Svavar Knútur again duetting with Irglová on one of his most affecting songs. But not before Knútur had once again pressed the between-song comedy button, telling us how he loves to wind up audiences on his foreign tours with the revelation that “in Iceland we don’t have any normal clothes like you, we just wear furs from animals that we kill”.
And so on, ad infinitum, while Markéta Irglová – the headline act, need I remind you – sat patiently at the piano, fixing her friend with an ever-intensifying ‘have you quite finished upstaging me at my own concert?’ stare. Eventually the Icelandic jester took the hint and, after a pause measured out with perfect comic timing, his sheepish “Shall we do the last song?” elicited possibly the biggest laugh of the night. Priceless.
Obviously you can only follow such shenanigans with a ‘post-apocalyptic love song’, which is exactly what they did. And as Knútur picked the plaintive intro to ‘While The World Burns’, taken from his latest album ‘Way Of Waves’, he made it up to Irglová by thanking her sincerely for tonight and declaring touchingly that her life has also affected his life.
This was more than a concert of very special music. This was a window into the lives of two very special people who clearly love each other dearly as friends. And in the light of the unhappy news of that day’s theft incident: if there was one thing this gig taught us, it’s that material possessions, and the convenience and diversions they afford us, constitute only a tiny fraction of what it is to be a human being. Tonight Markéta Irglová might be several physical possessions lighter thanks to some dipstick’s misdemeanour, but she remains one of the spiritually richest – and most creatively talented – individuals on the planet.
And no one can steal that from her.
Markéta Irglová’s official website: http://marketairglova.com
MARKÉTA IRGLOVÁ is performing two concerts in the UK this week.
The Iceland-based Czech singer/composer appears at LONDON Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush on Thursday 19 March.
She then headlines the LIVERPOOL ACOUSTIC FESTIVAL at the Unity Theatre on Saturday 21 March.
The gigs are part of her world tour promoting of her latest album Muna.
The support act for the London gig will be Icelandic singer/songwriter Svavar Knútur.
Irglová will be appearing solo, without her band The Swell Season.
Below is a selection of some of Markéta Irglová’s finest songs…
Tickets for LONDON Bush Hall (Thursday 19 March) HERE
Tickets for LIVERPOOL ACOUSTIC FESTIVAL (Saturday 21 March) HERE
If you want to see MARKÉTA IRGLOVÁ in London this March, act fast: the gig is already almost sold out.
The Iceland-based Czech singer will be performing on Thursday 19 March at Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush, as already reported on CzechHarmonies.
Advance tickets via the Bush Hall website have already sold out.
A limited number of tickets can still be reserved on the door by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are still a small number of advance tickets available for this gig on sale via the SeeTickets website, priced £17.
Markéta Irglová will also be headlining the Liverpool Acoustic Festival at the Unity Theatre on Saturday 21 March.
Tickets for the Liverpool gig, priced at £22 for Saturday’s entire nine-act bill, are on sale via the Unity Theatre’s official website.
The UK gigs, which are both solo appearances without her band The Swell Season, are part of her world tour promoting her latest album Muna.
Last week LENKA DUSILOVÁ & BAROMANTIKA played their first ever UK gig, a year after the multi-award-winning singer made her solo debut in London – and it’s no surprise that Bohemia’s classiest acoustic-electronic experimental band – and their charismatic frontwoman – are already winning British hearts. Here’s why…
“I’d never heard of you or your band before last night, but I was totally blown away! Amazing musicians, amazing songs! Very inspiring. Thank you!”
Not my words (though I too was blown away, amazed and inspired), but the words – posted on Lenka Dusilová’s Facebook page the morning after the night before – of a British convert to the magical soundworld of one of the Czech Republic’s most electrifying singers and performers and her elite quartet of silver-fingered maestros. That newly-won UK fan is certainly not the first to succumb. And he certainly won’t be the last…
Of course, if you have already had the pleasure of experiencing Lenka Dusilová’s devastatingly expressive, emotionally rich voice, and Baromantika’s unique brand of left-field acoustic-electronic sonic alchemy (even if only virtually via the internet) you will have known that the band’s inaugural British concert – made possible by support from Mama and the Czech Centre London, who also promoted Dusilová’s first ever UK solo concert at London’s Highbury Garage a year ago – was never going to be anything but a swirling, towering success…as far as the performance itself was concerned.
But would Hipsterville, London N1, actually get it? Anyone with two discerning, functioning ears to rub together can see and hear that Lenka Dusilová & Baromantika are more than good enough for Britain – notwithstanding that Dusilová’s vocals are mainly in Czech, her English is limited, and her minimalist between-song banter makes few linguistic concessions towards the UK natives beyond the words “We hope you understand us”.
But is Britain good enough for LD&B? Would the smart set that frequents Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen actually be smart enough to listen outside the box and give these exotic strangers from the banks of the Vltava the respect and acclaim they deserve? As the band launched into their mesmeric, eclectic set circa 10pm, we were perhaps an hour away from knowing the answer.
Before the band fired up their instruments, the singer took off her sweatshirt to reveal a sleeveless white top sporting the motto ‘Grey is the new black’. Which, whatever her motivation, could be interpreted as hilariously ironic, not only because there is nothing remotely grey about either Baromantika’s music or Lenka Dusilová’s charismatic stage presence, but also because this fiercely individualistic creative artist is in no way, shape or form a slave to glib fashion directives, either sartorially or musically.
For those lucky enough to have already discovered the wonders of Baromantika, there were a few surprises tonight, the first of which became apparent before the band had even played a note of music…
Surprise No 1: Enforced personnel reshuffle…
Besides Lenka Dusilová herself, Baromantika had, until recently, four permanent members: Beata Hlavenková and Viliam Béreš (both keyboards), Martin Novák (drums), and Patrick Karpentski (bass/guitar/programming). Karpentski is now a floating member, having also assumed bass/guitar duties for Albert Černý’s new band Lake Malawi. In the event of a clash between the two bands’ live schedules, new recruit Matěj Belko replaces Karpentski for Baromantika’s live shows. This we already knew. The question was, as Černý’s exquisite dreampop combo had a gig in Karlovy Vary the night after Baromantika’s London show, would we be seeing Karpentski or Belko tonight in Hoxton?
Imagine therefore my raised eyebrow when both Patrick Karpentski and Matěj Belko took to the stage, with Belko assuming keyboard duties… and Viliam Béreš nowhere to be seen.
While there was no formal interview with the band tonight, I gleaned from Patrick post-gig that Viliam Béreš had had to withdraw for health reasons (get well soon, Viliam). And Patrick would be having to get up at four in the morning to fly back to the Czech Republic for Lake Malawi’s Karlovy Vary gig. Ouch!
Surprise No 2: An unlikely starter…
I would never have had ‘Epitaph’ (the penultimate track on Baromantika’s latest album ‘V hodině smrti’) down as a set-opener, but it worked: Hlavenková’s muted, pulsing piano chords and Dusilová’s hushed vocals combined to shame the chattering audience into reverential silence; then other instruments converged and built to an orchestral crescendo, itself the cusp of a taut instrumental workout where harmony and dissonance vied doggedly for supremacy. Hipsterville was generally stopping what it was doing, looking stagewards and giving these central European dark horses their undivided attention. One-nil to Baromantika.
‘Epitaph’, and the slow-and-spiky ‘Tětiva’ which followed, were two of seven tracks from the most recent Baromantika album, released last September, being aired tonight. The other five numbers in the set (not counting encores) were from the band’s 2011 debut, a lush soundscape where, as a listener, you are plunged slow-motion into a dreamworld in which, one moment, you are drifting through a garden of bittersweet remembrance (‘Baromantická’), the next, you are enveloped by the infinite depths of the ocean (‘Brother’), before eventually being hammered by ebulliently expansive rock rhythms and earsplitting dubstep stylings (‘Valerie’).
Surprise No 3: ‘Czech dumplings’ can be people as well as food…
A few years back, in a Czech web article, Lenka Dusilová described herself as a ‘český knedlík’. Literally, this means ‘Czech dumpling’. Czech dumplings are one of the country’s quintessential foodstuffs: down-to-earth, unpretentious – and proudly Czech. But the phrase ‘český knedlík’ is also used to describe Czech people with comparable attributes.
What Dusilová was essentially saying was that, however successful she might be in the music industry, she still sees herself as a simple Czech homegirl keeping in touch with her roots, rather than some international jetsetting prima donna. And what was a nice touch, when describing herself and the band to the Hoxton crowd, was that she translated the phrase literally into English: “We are Czech dumplings.” If that had been true literally instead of merely figuratively, the entire band would have been eaten alive on the spot – in the nicest possible way of course…
Surprise No 4: Wot, no Justin Lavash?
Although the band performed ‘Brother’ – co-written by long-time Baromantika guest vocalist and Prague-resident Brit Justin Lavash – the man himself was conspicuous by his absence. Apparently it was too expensive to fly Lavash over just for one song – even on home soil. Instead, Martin Novák assumed the singing-drummer role, accompanying Lenka Dusilová with an impressively assured rendition. And if you thought Matěj Belko acquitted himself very well in the coda supplementing Beata Hlavenková’s liquid evocations of subaquatic currents with his own shrill splashes of pianistic colour, he positively excelled himself stepping into Viliam Béreš’s shoes on the achingly romantic piano solo in ‘Ricardo’.
Surprise No 5: Wot, no ‘Smiluje’?
It goes without saying that when a band release their second studio album, some tracks from the first album will inevitably disappear from the live set to make room for the new stuff. But…’Smiluje’? And ‘Wspomnienie’? Two of the most potent weapons from Baromantika’s live arsenal have been unexpectedly dropped from the set.
The deselection of ‘Smiluje’ was all the more surprising, not just because of its enormous emotional impact (it is the glowing, glistening jewel at the heart of the ‘Live at Cafe v Lese’ CD/DVD, released in 2013), but also because, in hindsight, Lenka Dusilová has led us a merry dance by uploading to Facebook an informal promotional parody video (-of-the-video) of ‘Smiluje’ in anticipation of this eagerly awaited gig, in which she chants ‘Londýn! Londýn!’ over the usual ‘Call me! Call me!’ chorus. Then she brings her band to ‘Londýn’ – and doesn’t even perform the original. Shame. Now, would Baromantika still have enough firepower up their sleeves to win the battle of Hoxton? Of course they would…
‘Takafei’, the lead single off ‘V hodině smrti’, rolled along so effortlessly you felt you were being freewheeled away from fear and darkness to a land of sunshine and candy-floss where Everything Is Going To Be Just Fine. Not even Dusilová’s only vocal error of the night (a minor lyrics-out-of-sequence moment from which she promptly recovered) could negate this image. And then, once the oceanic majesty of ‘Brother’ had been navigated, Baromantika, never a band to play it safe, just had to drag us all – without even a break for applause – into the aural armageddon that is ‘Duszo Moja’. Dusilová’s anguished Polish-language soliloquy of lost love and choked-up desolation set us on edge for the ensuing blizzard of frazzled electronics that syphoned the very fibre of our being up to the ceiling, then back down with a series of thuds.
Surprise No 6: Dancing to a 7/8 rhythm is not straighforward…
And the fresh ammunition just continued reigning down, this time in the form of ‘Indiánky’, where the winner of seven Anděl Awards (the Czech Brits, if you will) was in her element looping her vocals ad infinitum, wordlessly wittering, then crooning, then whooping, then soaring and finally screaming to a tribal beat that turns out to be not quite as danceable as it first sounds. I have to say it was fun watching punters trying to boogie in 7/8 time, suddenly having to reconfigure their swaying hips every other bar. This also applied to ‘Mrazy’ (another of several Baromantika songs featuring a 7/8 rhythm – is seven Lenka Dusilová’s lucky number or something?), and ‘Ricardo’, which is even more off-the-wall in its beat count. ‘Ptáci’ almost felt like light relief, sandwiched as it was between ‘Valerie’ and ‘Baromantická’, both of which channelled coruscating dream-rock energy through Hoxton’s hippest venue. Unfortunately the technical gremlins now had their little moment in the limelight during the affecting intro to ‘Baromantická’, as the normally unflappable Dusilová was momentarily visibly perturbed by a couple of deafening crackles that gatecrashed the PA system. Earlier, she had fought a running battle with an excess of dry ice, repeatedly batting it away with her right hand. But Dusilová has always been a coper, and the gremlins have got nothing on her, or her high-voltage creativity…
Surprise No 7: Abandonment guilt is a merry topic, apparently…
Lenka Dusilová’s fetching array of effects boxes obviously includes a sarcasm pedal, as she then introduced the set-closing ‘Dvanáctá’ as “a happy song!” on the strength of the rollicking drum prologue. It is not a happy song. Lyrically, it is a somewhat fraught number, with an allegorical feel, about a lone seafarer struggling with choppy waters and abandonment guilt, and generally dying inside. Sure, Baromantika’s music may be consistently intense, intermittently austere, and occasionally harrowing, but its creators are no dour troupe of sourpusses. Minutes after the end of their triumphant set (to which they added, by way of encores, ‘Noni Jam’ and ‘Pro Tebe’, two old standards from the Lenka Dusilová solo back catalogue), the band emerged to mingle with a gaggle of Czech mates and freshly-snared UK fans, held court with great humility, signed some CD sleeves, and were generally lovely. One fan appeared to be hitting on keyboardist Beata Hlavenková, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she is married to guitarist Patrick Karpentski, whom she eventually introduced to him as her husband, with undisguised glee.
Surprise No 8: In the Czech Republic they too drive on the left, apparently…
All smiles in the end, though. And there is generally no shortage of humour in the Baromantika camp, as evidenced not just by the amount of laughter going on post-gig, not just by some of the mildly daft pics and videos uploaded to Lenka Dusilová’s Facebook page over the past couple of years, but also pre-gig by their road manager Miroslav Helcl’s gently satirical Twitter post (in Czech) on his home country’s motorway etiquette, which translates as: “The UK’s motorways are like ours. Everyone drives on the left. Occasionally someone drives on the right.” He’s obviously never taken the M4 from Slough to Heathrow in the silly season. There, everyone drives on the right. Occasionally someone drives on the left.
Surprise No 9: Wot, no agent?
And so: Lenka Dusilová and her valiant troops win the battle of Hoxton and on the next day fly from London back to Prague with their heads held high, their star rising, and a good two or three hundred giddy hearts wrapped around their little fingers. Yes, Lenka, the punters understood you alright, and not just the sizeable London-resident Czech contingent who shouted “Ještě jednou!” at encore time, but also the Brits who don’t speak a word of Czech. Because (and here comes the cliche) music is an international language, and music this powerful, this soul-searching, this spiritually uplifting, is a language anyone can embrace within minutes.
Britain has now tasted a spoonful of Baromantika-flavoured honey, and soon Britain will want to gorge on the whole jar. When I sounded out the singer post-gig as to what were the chances of a full UK tour in the foreseeable future, Dusilová’s reply was simply a shrug of the shoulders and that wistful four-word phrase: ‘We need an agent.”
Right then. Calling all reputable and savvy UK agents: the Czech Republic’s classiest left-field acoustic-electronic experimental band, and their indomitable frontwoman, might have a little job for you…
Lenka Dusilová & Baromantika’s official website: http://www.lenkad.com
As already reported on these pages, LENKA DUSILOVÁ & BAROMANTIKA will be playing their first ever UK gig at HOXTON SQUARE BAR & KITCHEN in LONDON on Thursday 29 January .
Here’s a taster of what to expect, from their live Czech Television appearance on 26.9.2014:
Tickets at £10 (advance) are available HERE.
The renowned all-female Czech vocal group, whose repertoire is entirely self-composed, describe themselves as ‘sound illusionists’ whose music floats lightly between jazz, soul, funk, RnB, reggae and world music.
Their lunchtime set starts at 12.25pm in the Kings Place foyer. Admission is free.
The group formed in 2005 and have released five albums in total. Their tight-knit vocal harmonies are often accompanied by improvisations from onstage dancers.
Yellow Sisters will also sing at the Triple Crown pub in Richmond on Sunday 1 February, where the first half of the performance starting at 6.30pm will be baby-friendly. Tickets are on sale from £9 here.
Further video can be seen here on Yellow Sisters’ official website.