CDs by three generations of Burian family released this month
This month, most unusually, three new CDs are being released by three generations of the same very well-known Czech family. EF Burian died almost five decades ago, but a new collection of his works has just hit the shops. His son Jan Burian (53) has just brought out a new double album, as has his son Jiri. Jiri goes by the stage name Gregory Finn and leads a rock band called Southpaw. At a joint launch of all three CDs at Prague's Archa Theatre, he told me a little about his famous grandfather.
"My grandfather EF Burian was a big composer, he owned a theatre, in which we are sitting right now, he played drums also and he was a famous writer for the National Theatre. He was kind of an icon for his age."
EF Burian was also involved with the Liberated Theatre of Voskovec and Werich, wrote the first Czech book on jazz in 1928, and set up a then ground-breaking vocal ensemble called Voiceband, which combined the spoken word with song. During World War II he was interned in a concentration camp; like many of his generation, his politics turned left after the war.
"He suffered a lot in the camp. And then he turned into a communist, because he thought it was...after the war it was classic, it was one of the only ways out, I think. Then I would say communism nearly killed him. He really believed in that system, but he did it just to save the theatre."
"He was kind of popular as well as a singer against the system at that time. It was really anti-politics. He had to play under cover to get his music to the people. So it was hard, but it was a very good time singers for folk singers like that."
I read on his website that he played something like 2,500 concerts. But was he able to release records in those days?
"It was very hard for him to release a CD. He did finally in I think 1985, called Hodina duchu, the Hour of the Ghosts. That was after 15 years of playing, but finally - towards the end of the communist system in 1985 or 1986 - it happened."
Jan Burian's latest release is called Divci Valka (Girl War). He has taken the unusual approach of having 19 women sing his songs, arranged by his second son, also called Jan. The 19 include actresses, such as Eva Holubova, and vocalists ranging from veteran pop star Hana Hegerova to relatively unknown young singers.
Jiri Burian, Gregory Finn, also collaborated with his father on Divci Valky. Playing with his dad is something he clearly enjoys.
"It's a great feeling to play with my brother and my father, we've been doing it since I was 8. We co-operate a lot. It's a very nice feeling to play together, especially at gigs, because it really works."
As to why Gregory Finn chose that English stage name, he says it's partly because he didn't want people to think he was taking advantage of the family name.
"I didn't want to have any protection. It was also because the name sounds really great and we were always trying to do the music not only for a Czech audience but also for the rest of the world. Which we're still trying to do."
Why Gregory and why Finn?
"I've always liked Huckleberry Finn and Gregory Peck, so I put those two names together. And my original name means George, so it's similar. It's kind of fun also."
Like Jan Burian, Gregory Finn and Southpaw have just brought out a double album.
"It's called Heartdisk. One of the CDs is romantic and soft, and the other one is harder, less emotional. It was a big challenge for us to make a double album that would be interesting from the beginning to the end and mixing styles together, and using some guests."
Where did you learn your English and why do you sing in English?
"I spent four years in Malta when I was a teenager. That was the time when I really started writing songs, and the music that I admired was the British scene, mostly. So that's why I started to sing and to think in English when I'm writing. I still hope it's going to get worldwide, it's going to get to Europe, much more than the Czech Republic, which is only a small part of the people I want to reach with my music."
The websites www.southpaw.cz and www.janburian.cz have some information in English.