The ban on the activity of Prague Selection lasted for four years. After that, he returned to the scene as Výbár and gave the same name to his second album, which was released in 1987. These days, a supraphonic reissue of it is coming to the market. Singer and keyboardist Michael Kocáb revealed more about that time.
That record was created under dramatic circumstances. What preceded it?
Compositionally, ideologically and philosophically, it belongs to the film Magpie in a Handful. These two projects were created immediately after each other. When I recently watched Herz’s film, I discovered with great surprise that it contains the foundations of some songs that later appeared on the album Selection.
We were in shape, so to speak. But in 1983, after our concert in Hradec Králové, there was a ban that stopped everything. At first we marginalized him a little bit, but when I look back at that time today, I have to say that it was a tough fight.
Already at the concert in Kaplice, which took place before, we had the National Security Corps and probably secret policemen hanging on us. Their presence was hard to recognize because they were in civilian clothes and were among people, but in Kaplice there were police with dogs and a lot of suspicious people. The Essenbáci even stopped some trains with fans and searched them. It was just quite sharp there. We knew something was up.
When we then arrived in Hradec Králové, the atmosphere was quite heavy from the beginning. The organizers of the concert treated us well in the first phase. But the hoteliers already accommodated us in such a strange way. They told us, for example, who should sleep on which bed, and only later did we realize that the rooms were probably bugged.
I remember trying to counter it and saying I was going to lie down. But they answered that no, that they had prepared the bed for me in such a way that it would be as comfortable as possible, and that I could not sleep anywhere else.
When we started the concert in the hall of the current building of the Royal Hradec Philharmonic, I noticed that a cameraman was moving around the auditorium with a betacam, then a new camera model. I knew we didn’t have betacams at that time, but I thought it might be some foreign reporter. He filmed absolutely everything.
The concert was then interrupted by the police sometime in the second part. We returned confused to the dressing room and heard the news that the fans were being kicked out of the hall. Some then told us that they were passing through the alley between militiamen and Essenbäcks with clubs. Secret agents broke into our dressing room and immediately took us away in antons for questioning. In costumes. They didn’t even allow us to change clothes.
They blamed it on the illegal production of posters. I have to admit that it was a good reason because we actually made the posters in Germany. From today’s point of view, there is a rather funny story connected with it, when our bassist Vilém Čok decided to repeatedly lie about the exact numbers.
However, he came up with a different one every time. So at the first questioning he said that we produced three hundred and sixty-eight posters in Germany, and at the next he said seven hundred and twenty-one. The Estebacians understood that they would not get to the truth in this way. Even after the interrogation, I hoped that this event would not be final for us, but after another inspection by Public Security when leaving Hradec Králové, I understood that it was serious.
In March 1983, the article New wave with old content was published in Tribuna magazine. He described amateur rock musicians as an instrument of ideological diversion and called on cultural workers not to organize concerts or grant them permission to play. He started the persecution of the Czechoslovak music scene, and the Prague Selection was one of the affected groups. What happened?
We were banned and promptly fired by our founder at the time. The Prague cultural center took away our musical qualifications and we were on the pavement. I was even worse. A file was opened against me at the State Security and so-called prophylactic measures were introduced…
This was a measure derived by the Soviet KGB from agricultural measures. In those, it was about isolating the defective piece of pig from the others. This then translated to people. Of course our State Security took it over from the Soviets and for me it meant I lost everything. I couldn’t do anything in music at all.
A record called Straka v hristi, which was ready for release, was immediately banned. However, her recording was leaked from Studio A of the Czechoslovak Radio, where she was filmed, and it was taken out by the sound engineer there, so it was distributed among the people in a samizdata format. At one time it was said that there were about a million copies on cassette tapes at the time. It officially hit the stores in 1988.
The album Selection was released in 1987. How come it was already possible after the big ban?
From the second half of the 1980s, the so-called perestroika, a total restructuring of the political system, spread from the Soviet Union, and since it was taking place there, even our comrades had to respect it with gnashing of teeth, even if they did not want to participate in it at all. At that time, we decided that if there could not be a group called Prague Selection, we would just call ourselves Selection.
Personally, I think that based on the pressure of the editors of the then magazine Mladý svět, an agreement was reached in 1986 that the album Víbrák would be released. Those editors were mostly communists too, but very young and quite different. They took it lightly and put pressure on their editor-in-chief at the time, Olga Čermáková, who had a high position in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
She finally appreciated you, didn’t she?
Yes, in 1988 I received the White Crow Award from her, which the Young World awarded for a creative and committed act. That was the oratorio-ballet Odysseus for me. However, Čermáková came under the radar of the StB because of this, because it was incomprehensible to the Bolsheviks that she appreciated me like that. But the reconstruction went ahead and the album Selection was released.
How do you rate him from today’s point of view?
I think it’s a good record. Compared to our previous recordings, there are no more texts by František Čech, which were so cutely twisted. Some I wrote by myself, some with the other guys in the band. I focused on the Bolsheviks in them and gave them to eat it up in rather sharp jino-secrets.
Our big hits are also on that album, whether it’s Tatrman, Śnačivce, Žnáčivce, Žálá dudy, Smolář, Sbal si to svý morningo or Chavastoun. It was sonically modern for that time, our sound became denser and stylistically closer to rock. I think that it characterizes the uniqueness and originality of the work of the Prague selection. I still like him to this day.
Did the Selection return to the stages?
Yes, but to a limited extent. We were still under the control of the State and the Government, i.e. the party and the government, and we could no longer do any big concerts, any abroad, a minimum of radio or television. But with our own weight and great popularity, we again established ourselves until in 1988 we performed in the Manéž Bolko Polívka and in 1989 we played in the sports hall at the Exhibition Center and started filming the Barrand feature film Pražákóm tem je tu hey.
It culminated in an appearance at the Děčínská kotva festival, where I declared that every nation has the kind of government it deserves and unleashed another political mess. They were upset that I demanded the return of freedom and human rights to the country.
However, this was already in June 1989 and it had the opposite effect than I expected. Instead of further persecution, the then federal prime minister Ladislav Adamec caught on, and preliminary negotiations were started on the gradual admission of dissent to the government table. So it happened that the Prague Selection also figured, I emphasize the word also, at the birth of the Velvet Revolution.
How does it look today with a possible new record of the Prague selection?
Good and bad. Partly cloudy. We’ve had some material for a long time, but we can’t agree on the dramaturgy. I’m going to try to speed it up a bit this year.
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