The Celtic band from the Czech republic is keeping the world under a spell…
Irresistible spirit, frisky optimism and Gypsy charm-all these elements meshed into patterns that make Poitin really worth you ears. I’d say, without my curiosity then this band would be something on an album cover or a magazine-interesting to hear or look at but never definable. Talking to the band’s lead man Jeremy, gave me a glimpse not only of the band but the personality of the one who help shape it, the little things that make up the albums interesting and yes-that dear little goblin!
Personally I subscribe to their newsletter a year ago. So that gives me up to date news as to what they will be doing next. The country Czech Republic has always been a source of curiosity to me–from Franz Kafka, Dvorak and other colorful personalities, I also have a friend who lives there but we lost contact through the years. I wish he comes across someday -like a message in a bottle. Here’s the wonderful Interview I did with the band’s frontman Jeremy. Enjoy!
1. I love your approach in traditional music. It is energetic,brave and it has a lot of mix on it. how did you develop this sound?
Glad you like the energy, Baxter. The energy comes from the musicians as much as the music, I suppose. Irish dance music naturally has a lot of energy in it, but it’s important to not let the energy and enthusiasm take over from the rhythm and melody. That energy needs to be focused, and when it is, and everything comes together there’s nothing like it. Each of us brings his or her own influences to what we play-Kuba (guitar) and Honza (bouzouki, banjo, whistles) actually have a background in traditional Czech folk music and dance, and Honza really likes Eastern European melodies and rhythms, so most of our albums have at least something ‘Slavonic’ or ‘Balkan’ tucked away in there. The title track from Bofiguifluki is a good example of that-it’s actually made of two tunes written by Kuba and Honza respectively, finished off with a traditional Eastern European tune. It’s got everything apart from the kitchen sink in there-sax, darbuka, bouzouki plus the more traditional Celtic instruments. We had a great time putting that set together and it always surprises me how all these different instruments complement each other so well.
2.Czech republic is a country bursting with literary, artistic and musical talents. What is it about your country that brings out the best in her people?
It’s true. And the Czech Republic is also a country bursting with artistic talent, too! It’s a small country with a complex history, so some people aren’t sure exactly where it is or what it’s called (some think it’s still Czechoslovakia). I mean, when I first headed out this way from England, I wasn’t sure exactly where it was either! Maybe because the Czech Republic is in the centre of Europe it is a mixing pot of cultural influences. It has Germany and Austria on one side and Slovakia and Poland on the other and it’s not far north of Italy. All of these countries have rich cultures and I guess it’s inevitable that some of this should be seen in Czech culture too. The Czech Republic also gave birth to the term ‘bohemian’ which has all kinds of connotations, mostly good!
3.You play a number of instruments. What’s your favorite?
I only play the bodhran and sing, but it’s true the band uses and has used loads of different instruments-harp, accordion, banjo, bouzouki, whistles and flutes, sax (alto and soprano), guitar, fiddle, didgeridoo…I’m sure there’s more. I don’t have a particular favourite, although I do have a soft spot for the bouzouki-I love the bell-like tones that Honza gets out of it.
4. Tell us about your current albums and anything we can expect after this year?
The two albums we have out now are Jiggery Pokery and Bofiguifluki. Jiggery Pokery was released last year as an introduction to the band and looks at what Poitin has achieved since it got together back in 1996. It takes tunes from all our previous album releases, ‘Poitin’, ‘De la Basse Bretagne’ and ‘Hot Days’ plus some new experimental remixes by DSPI. I think it shows how the band has changed and developed and evolved really well over the years; the raw energy of the first album with accordion and harp, the melancholic and haunting second album with Neige our French vocalist and her Breton influences and the third album where Helena’s saxophones have a strong role in the whole feel of the album. I think that the new album Bofiguifluki combines all of these feelings and emotions and is a great expression of where we are now as a band. We’re already talking about recording a new album for the end of next year, which is great. We’re always getting new ideas, and as you’ve heard, we’re also experimenting with DSPI and celtic electronica. This week we’re debut-ing a live set incorporating acoustic instruments and DSPI remixing live on stage. I’ll let you know how it goes!
5.I noticed this little dwarf?elf/ in your band pic. What’s the significance?
Oh yes, that little goblin! Our first bodhran player, Tonda Mužík, is a sculptor and painter(yes, the country really is bursting with artistic talent) and we took the photo in the old vicarage where lives. As he wasn’t in the band any more, we wanted to have something that reminded us of him and this little guy happened to be lurking in the corner so we asked him to join us. I also just realised that in Czech, ‘mužík’ means ‘little man’, so it’s quite appropriate,really! He could also be a stand-in for Dick(the didge) Savage who couldn’t make the photo shoot-but Dick is a little more active on stage than the wooden goblin!
6. There are elements of fusion in your music. I hear a little bit of Gypsy,Jazz and other styles. So far this is working because a lot people nowadays are open about music. Do you see your band incorporating this in your future recordings?
I think we’ve always been influenced by other styles of music. Otik previously played jazz guitar before founding Poitin, and now he plays fiddle, so he’s bound to have brought some jazz with him, and there’s bound to be a gypsy/klezmer influence in there somewhere what with our central European location, especially when we’re incorporating instruments such as Helena’s alto and soprano saxes. And our latest experimentations have been with electronic sounds courtesy of DSPI. Thank goodness there are a lot of open-minded listeners out there! However, we had a Bob Dylan ‘Judas!’ moment the other day when we premiered some of our electrocelt material. Remember that famous live recording of Dylan when he played on an electric guitar and someone in the audience cried out ‘Judas’? Well, a similar thing happened to us, and Dick (DSPI) was booed by someone as he started his live mix with us. The majority though were really ecstatic at this development in the music and were really getting into vibe and dancing fit to burst! We’d kind of expected some sort of criticism, but I think music should not be static, otherwise it can stagnate, and if you don’t experiment, then you don’t evolve. Sure, you’re going to maybe make mistakes along the way, and upset a few people, but all of the greatest musicians upset people by taking their genres (and their listeners) to places they’ve never been before. I mean, it’s hard to believe that the Bothy Band, the Chieftains and Planxty were all considered revolutionary in their day, but now look at them, they’re thought of as being the ‘establishment’ nowadays. So, to answer your question, yes, we’ll continue to incorporate elements from other genres into our music and see where it takes us!
7. Do you think social networking sites such as facebook and twitter helped in spreading the music out there-the mediums which weren’t available 10 years ago?
Goodness, yes! When we started, back in 1996, nobody knew what the Internet was. We were still listening to music on vinyl in the Czech Republic! Oh, and cassettes, too. Nowadays it’s much easier to let people know what you’re doing by posting a YouTube video or uploading an MP3 to MySpace or any one of the myriad other music websites. And of course, unlike 10-15 years ago, it’s not just people in your own home town who get to hear the music; it’s people like your good self on the other side of the planet who we can have a dialogue with. I just had a look at recent CD sales on CDBaby-something else which wasn’t around 10 years ago- and people from the Philippines to Italy to LA have all downloaded our music-it’s crazy and wonderful! Having social networking allows us to have a relationship with our fans and vice versa wherever they are in the world. That must be a good thing!
8.It’s winter and I read about upcoming shows. How do you guys prepare yourselves for gigs?
Winter-right! It’s been a snowy and cold one so far in the Czech Republic. We’ve all been pretty healthy (apart from me-I’m suffering from a cold at the moment!), and we have a regular Tuesday night session in a very accommodating pub in Pilsen which serves as a rehearsal and a fun night out for everybody, including guests. No special preparation needed, just a love of the music, a warm coat, and maybe a drop of the rare old mountain dew to warm the cockles :-)
Thanks for the great answers.
You’re very welcome, Baxter-I hope they make some kind of sense! It was a pleasure. Thanks so much for being interested. All the best to you and thanks for everything you’re doing for Celtic music. Jeremy and Poitin.
www.poitin.cz (in Czech)
www.facebook.com/jeremy.poitin (Jeremy on FaceBook)