This week I’m in Prague again. While reading the newspapers a couple of minutes ago I’ve noticed in the TV guide that today ČT2 broadcasts a new episode from Michal Prokop’s talkshow Krásný ztráty (Beautiful losses). His guests tonight at 20:00 CEST are organist Marián Varga (who already appeared on Funky Czech-In as a sideman of Pavol Hammel) as well as the rock journalist Vojtěch Lindaur. The drawback for many of you will be, however: no subtitles. Usually not much “third party” video material is being used, so it’s a plain talk only – knowledge of the Czech language is therefore required. By the way, in case you’d miss it tonight on TV, you can still watch the broadcasting anytime on ČT’s Krásný ztráty homepage.
An introduction to Czech and Slovak pop music from the sixties, seventies and eighties with a touch of funk, soul, disco and jazz.
The Framus Five – Hold On I’m Comin’
from album “Blues In Soul”, 1971, Supraphon 1130578
produced by Michael Prostějovský & Jaromír Tůma
1971 export reissue LP sleeve, on the left: Michal Prokop
Of the troika of my favorite Czech male rock singers, Michal Prokop is certainly my Mr. Soul (while the other two, Mr. Rock Jiří Schelinger and Mr. Blues Vladimír Mišík, will be featured on this blog very soon). Prokop, born 1946, co-founded the Framus Five in the early sixties. Initially they were devoted to the Mersey sound like the majority of other Czech beat groups but soon they added a horn section and switched to Memphis-oriented rhythm’n’blues. They performed at the famous 1st Czechoslovak Beat Festival 1967 in Prague where Prokop was (rightfully) declared the best singer of the event. They spent the following two years with successful touring all over the country and through Poland.
Hold On I’m Comin’, a Hayes/Porter composition originally recorded by Sam & Dave for Stax, is the closing song from Framus Five’s first album “Blues In Soul”, recorded in the fall of 1968. Although you can hear applause at the beginning and at the end, this is only a pseudo-live “audience” which has been overdubbed to “glue” the album tracks together. Oh well, that gimmick used to be fashionable all around the world at that time. Nevertheless, the song steams like a locomotive engine on the loose, and, even in direct comparison to the certainly soulful S&D original, it is right about to explode. Hold on, baby, Michal Prokop sho ’nuff IS comin’!
Blues In Soul delivers exactly what its title promises. Originally released in 1969 as Framus Five + Michal Prokop, it contains ten R&B and soul covers like Got My Mojo Working, I Believe To My Soul, What’d I Say or Chuck Berry’s funked up Around And Around – as well as Prokop’s instrumental title track. This is your ultimate Czech R&B long play album because it is in fact, besides Flamingo‘s first LP (a.k.a. This Is Our Soul), the only one. Unfortunately, in 1971 when this stereo export reissue was finally released, the Framus Five were already history. Besides Prokop who also used to play the lead guitar, the original members were Ivan Trnka on keyboards, Ladislav Eliáš on bass, Petr Klárfeld on drums, Ivan Umáčený on trumpet and saxophonist Jiří Burda who also wrote the arrangements.
Later known as Michal Prokop & Framus 5, the group gave up the horn section and – most likely involuntarily – the English lyrics and for most parts also the “pure” soul. After recording another single as a quartet, in 1970 they were joined by the blues guitarist Luboš Andršt. Soon they began to work with the young producer Hynek Žalčík and poet Josef Kainar on their next album Město Er (A Town Called R). However, the band already broke up in the middle of the production, mostly due to elementary problems like “how do I manage to feed my family while being a musician”; remember, the “normalization” of the real-socialistic society has just begun and rock music was among the first sectors to be “normalized”. But despite a few “fillers” on the b-side, Město Er, released in late 1971, remains one of the undisputed masterpieces in Czechoslovak rock history, thanks to the monumental 19 minutes title track where a prog-rock group meets blues poetry and a jazz big band.
Prokop spent most of the 1970s as a background singer with various Czech mainstream pop artists and in the ensemble of the renown Semafor theatre. At least, his superfunky Czech version of Edwin Starr’s War (Nač nám je válka) was captured in 1975 on an obscure “socialistic” anti-war compilation Slunci vstříc (Facing The Sun), making it probably the only Norman Whitfield song that has ever been recorded by a Czech artist. (Hm, I guess that’s definitely worth a separate Funky Czech-In post…) In 1978 he revived the Framus 5 trademark and recorded a rather puzzling disco-rock-soul LP Holubí dante (Pigeon’s Dante) in 1980. But his best work was yet to come: the “free trilogy” albums Kolej Yesterday (College Yesterday, 1984), Nic ve zlým nic v dobrým (Nothing For Bad Nothing For Good, 1987) and Snad nám naše děti prominou (Perhaps Our Children Will Forgive Us, 1989) all belong to the best Czech rock records of the decade. (You can trust me because generally I consider myself an “eighties hater”.)
In the 1990s Prokop has been performing only sporadically. He actively helped to build up the new democracy and worked a couple of years as a parliamentarian and even became a deputy minister of culture. Later he has been given the opportunity to host talk shows on Czech TV. The one named Krásný ztráty (Beautiful Losses) after a song from his 1984 album Kolej Yesterday – where Prokop intelligently interviews personalities from culture, sports and politics – is still up and running; even my 82 years old grandmother is quite a fan. (Coincidentally, one of the guests in the last friday issue is our “guest” from the previous Funky Czech-In post: ex-Marsyas singer Oskar Petr!) Prokop also released a new studio record earlier this year, his first after 17 years.
Blues In Soul and Město Er have been reissued on CDs including all 7-inch-only bonus tracks, so buy them, there’s lots of music for a few bucks. The 1980s albums reissues should be available as well. You can also check out the vinyl on
gemm.com or eBay: unlike Město Er (which I have finally found in Prague on vinyl only one year ago), Blues In Soul is not as rare as one might think.