>Flexible friends

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SSEES is visited by two members of the much re-constituted but officially legendary Plastic People of the Universe, the underground rock groups whose trial in 1976 spurred the formation of Charter 77: Vratislav Brabenec, one of the founding originals, and Eva Turnová who has been the Plastics’ bass guitarist since 2001. As this is, in Czech dissident terms, the equivalent of a royal visit, the current Czech ambassador to the UK, translator, Havel confidante, one-time politician – he led the Civic Democratic Alliance in its terminal breakdown phase in 1997-8, but enough of that – Michal Žantovský introduces proceedings in Masaryk Common Room. He sensibly sticks to water, leaving the red wine to the visiting Plastíci, chipping in the occasional translation, but like the good diplomat he is otherwise listens and doesn’t say much.
An array of armchairs and Peter Zusi’s relaxed and informal moderation give the event something of the feeling of an intellectual chatshow and we get a variety of observations and recollections: how the group was named after a Frank Zappa song, but, Brabenec later discovered, in exile in Canada slightly suggested the flexibility of a talking credit credit in aTV ad;
how records were smuggled in and traded on black market burzy in the woods near Prague in 1970s and 80s; how musicians made amps from electrical hobby kits; how boring the 1976 trial was; how capitalism is indeed the same as communism; how Brabenec fell over into middle of a performance at the National Theatre, but was forgiven.

The final question, from the Masaryk Society’s Michael Tate, who has brilliantly organized both this event and the Plastics’ concert in London at the South Bank in January, asks whether the group has not become too disneyfied as kitsch cultural icon. But it’s late in the evening and they need a cigarette, so all we get from Brabebc is a rather zen answer to the effect that the group’s credo is “Don’t be Stupid” – which would also make a good slogan for a university, I thought. Eva Turnová more straightfowardly explains that they are somewhat allergic to ageing hippies, who remember the group from 1970s and prefer to play for young people and international audiences. She can speak Chinese.

Brabenec was also interviewed this morning on the radion in the slightly unlikely venue of the BBC’s Midweek programme – listenable here.

Update: Tom Stoppard who was in the audience at the event (note to self: he was probably the bloke with the white manbag) and has played a big role in enabling the Plastics’ gig at the South Bank – has written a profile of the band and its music in the Times.

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One response to “>Flexible friends”

  1. MikeState says :

    >Thank you, Sean.

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