Living with…The Ukrainians…for a week
Even the DJ had deserted me
Last weekend the good people of the UK emerged from winter hibernation to realise there could be sunshine and warmth. There was an outdoors that could be enjoyed.
All except me.
Sadly locked indoors trying to work through ‘stuff’ I had my radio for company. Jarvis Cocker seemed a good choice. A little bit different. It shouldn’t be too predictable. Except he kept reminding me – this is PRE-RECORDED. Jarvis is not actually here. Jarvis is out in that sunshine stuff outside doing sunshiney type of things. And he kept saying this is PRE-RECORDED. OK. OK.
I get the point – you’re out there and I’m stuck in here with this laptop and an empty screen.
And then some musical magic.
Ah, The Smiths I thought. That’s great. What difference does it make? Except it’s not.
It’s The Smiths in Ukrainian. Yes! The Smiths in Ukrainian.
Now I was paying attention. It’s record shop day and an ancient EP entitled Pisni iz The Smiths has been re-released. Jarvis muttered something about The Ukrainians at the end so I knew who my musical companions were for the week now.
“the world’s foremost Cossack punk-folk ensemble”
That pretty well sums it all up. The Ukrainians were spawned as a love child of indies band The Wedding Present and John Peel in 1990 when the BBC Dj asked guitarist Peter Solowka to record some Ukrainian inspired material for his show. Borrowing various people along the way they duly delivered a few songs that turned out to be very popular not only with John Peel but a much wider audience. So they recorded an album. And toured. And another album and so on. Their sound is a mixture of traditional East European – accordion, mandolin, trumpet with the aggression and humour of British punk. Sometimes the songs are traditional adaptations, sometime their own material. The consistent theme is have a good time! Dare I say, The Pogues gone east.
My favourites from a very random tour of their songs is Olenka (wonderful chanting amd an hypnotic circle of folk), Diaspora, and UkrainAmerica (pronounced Ooh Crying America) a bleaker more 21st century cut on Ukraine folk. I don’t think I can quite grasp all the politics that is obviously lurking in some of this material but I’ve never set out to do that.
I confess, I have one musical weakness (unforgivable in some quarters) and that is I like a good cover version. Lurking in my half-finished blogs is the ABBA Metal jaunt(it will come out one day!); two of my favourite musical moments in the last couple of years have been Polyphonic Sphere’s cover of Nirvana’s Lithium and Finnish buskers Porkka Playboys performing Motorhead’s Ace of Spades in the nude (in a sauna). Need I say more.
Which means, despite all their original material, it’s the Ukrainians’ cover versions that do it for me. And there are plenty.
Firstly a four set of The Smiths with Bigmouth Strikes Again (or Batyar to his Ukrainian mates) as the standout although the Eastern chanting at the beginning of The Queen Is Dead runs it a close second.
Here are links to youtube versions:
In 2002 The Ukrainians tributed the Godfathers of Punk the Sex Pistols with several covers – Pretty Vacant, God Save The Queen and Anarchy in th UK. Each to their own, but Pretty Vacant still sounds pretty filthy in Ukrainian. And anarchy is the same word, as far as I can gather in both languages.
Again, youtube links here:
Their version of Venus in Furs by The Velvet Underground is particularly touching – Чекання. And although it takes time to get in to their covering T-Rex’s Children of the Revolution, I got there in the end
But my favourite,although so different from their usual is a song they recorded for the tenth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster which is a cover version of Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity – think Pet Shop Boys Go West meets Enigma meets eastern folk meets a Cossack male choir and you might be close. There’s nothing over the top about the song, just a great fusion of sounds and already clocked up as one of my musical discoveries of the year.
So a great week out east. thanks for the fun!
Будьмо (Budʼmo) – Cheers!
PS. In my quest to find the word for cheers in Ukrainian (see Будьмо above) I discovered a few other useful expressions that may be of use on the streets of Kiev. If you can just jot these down or store them on Evernote for future reference. Armed with these we’ll all go far.
Now we go shopping to buy you clothes
(My poidemo do magazynu i kupimo tobee odyag)
This gentleman will pay for everything
Цей пан платить за все (Cej pan platityť za vse)
My hovercraft is full of eels
Моє судно на повітряній подушці наповнене вуграми
(Moje sudno na povitrianij podušci napovnene vuhrami)