(From the Prague Post, English-language Czech daily, 10 April 2003.)


A Really Big Show


by Matej Novak



Cechomor takes an orchestra on the road In a time when the recording industry is dominated, even overwhelmed, by dance pop and cutesy stars whose look and image are often more important than their talent, traditional folk music doesn't seem to stand much of a chance - at least so far as success and popularity are concerned. Yet somehow an act such as Cechomor occasionally manages to produce music that is adored and embraced by the masses - and deservedly so. Originally formed in 1988 under the clunkier name of 1. Ceskomoravska nezavisla hudebni spolecnost (The First Czechomoravian Independent Musical Society), Cechomor became a household name in 2001 with the release of the album Promeny (Transformations).

Helped along by the production and orchestral arrangements of Jaz Coleman, a founding member of the post-punk band Killing Joke, the album has gone twice-platinum, selling more than 70,000 copies by the end of last year. The band also took honors for Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Band of the Year at the Andel awards for 2001.

Following that success, the band members - violinist and singer Karel Holas; singer, guitarist and mandolin player Frantisek Cerny; accordion player and vocalist Radek Poboril; cellist, bagpipe player and vocalist Michal Pavlik; and percussionist Radek Klucka - appeared in and on the soundtrack of the Petr Zelenka film Rok dabla (Year of the Devil), again working with Coleman. The soundtrack went on to achieve platinum status, and the film took top honors at both the Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) International Film Festival and the Czech Lion Awards, also winning for Best Music at the latter.

Somehow, Cechomor also found time for a regular touring schedule, especially on the summer festival circuit, and released a live album earlier this year. Still, fans have had only a single opportunity to see Cechomor with the full orchestra that defined Promeny. And that was back around the time of the album's release, at the Rudolfinum. Fortunately, the band has decided to remedy this oversight with its current Czech tour. Traveling with the group is the 32-piece Czech Philharmonic Collegium under the baton of Ondrej Vrabec, singer Lenka Dusilova - who appears on Promeny - and an added percussion section. Each concert on the six-city tour is divided into two parts: the first, without the orchestra, is made up of material from the band's first four albums, while the second contains songs from Promeny.

Coleman, who is busy working on a new Killing Joke album and an orchestral project, will not be part of the tour. But the band is in talks with him to produce a song or songs on its next album. At a press conference before the tour, Holas said he was looking forward to performing the songs live in the full setting because they "became more alive among the people." With the audience recognizing and singing them, he said, it should make for a more dynamic performance from the band. And although the tour is a kind of capping off of the Promeny project, Holas said, "I wouldn't say anything is ending."

There are plans to record the shows, perhaps release an album of the concerts and maybe even perform with the orchestra again in the future. Cerny speculated at the press conference that Cechomor may have sold more tickets than the Rolling Stones - an impression corrected by the band's manager, who said that wasn't quite the case. But the band does have one edge on the Stones. As Pavlik correctly pointed out, "You're not going to be 60." At least not during this tour.

Matej Novak's e-mail address is mnovak@praguepost.com

Cechomor With the Czech Philharmonic Collegium and Lenka Dusilova

When: Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m.

Where: T-Mobile Arena

Tickets: 250 Kc (available at select Ticketpro outlets)