My Brno – Tomino Kelar

Tomino Kelar, photo: Ian Willoughby

Tomino Kelar runs Brno’s top independent music venue, Kabinet Múz, as well as drumming with the band Midi Lidi. Kelar is from the Moravian capital but actually lived for several years in Wales and at one point was a member of Mountaineers, a group that were on the Mute label. Our tour of “his Brno” begins at Kavárna Praha, a cool, shoe-box shaped space in the grounds of the city centre Moravian Gallery.

Tomino Kelar, photo: Ian Willoughby
“This is one of my favourite cafés. It’s connected to a lot of my friends.

“It started about three or four years ago.

“At that time it used to do quite adventurous concerts and since then it’s kind of mutated.

“It’s done theatre. It’s a gallery. It’s connected to Moravská galerie, but it’s independently run and therefore it’s a little bit more adventurous than what some might consider Moravská galerie to be.”

I guess it’s called “Praha” café because it’s connected to the Pražák Palace [Pražák being, as a well as a surname, a slang term for Praguer] here?

“Exactly. I think the idea when it started was that it would confuse people and therefore that would be like a positive PR tool to get it out there and get people to know the place.”

This is slightly off the point, but how deep is the antipathy that Brno people have towards Prague and Praguers?

“I think because it’s a student town it’s not really that noticeable.

“But when you delve deep down, it’s just like the second city: every second city has some sort of paranoia or an inequality complex, where it starts competing.

Interior of Kavárna Praha, where the bar can be moved to allow for different events, photo: Ian Willoughby
“But I think that’s more 10 or 15 years back.

“People don’t really care anymore because Brno’s really found its way and found a character of its own, recently.”

What has changed here?

“I think people are a little more confident, generally.

“Lifestyles are better, more places have opened up, it’s a little bit more liberal.

“That’s kind of precipitated that whole feel and the city is more focused on itself and moving forward on its own, really.

“And now and again obviously something crops up where Prague becomes a focus, but it’s very rare.

“I think that’s more with sporting activities, recently.”

Apart from Praha, what places do you most like to go out to?

“There’s quite a lot.

“I go to [the pub Výčep] Na Stojáka, like everybody else [laughs].

Kavárna Praha is located by the Pražák Palace, home of the Moravian Gallery, photo: Ian Willoughby
“But I don’t tend to spend that much time there.

“Lots of people get stuck and tend to drink five or six beers there and forget themselves.

“I’m more of a ‘have a quick beer and then move on’.

“Then there’s Scala, Kino Scala – that’s a quite nice place to go to.

“Maybe U Alberta, which is a really nice, small pub, just underneath the Castle on Pellicova St.

“I would also probably invite people to go to Bajkazyl, which is a really punky, indie type venue. People who live in Prague probably know the sort of place I mean – we have one in Brno as well.

“And I suppose I would probably invite people to go to Medlánky airport, which has a really nice restaurant and beer garden.

“You can watch little small, light helicopters take off and land with your beer.”

This way for Kavárna Praha, photo: Ian Willoughby

The next port of call on our jaunt around “Tomino Kelar’s Brno” is the wonderful new courtyard at the theatre Divadlo Husa na provázku. Our guide’s mother, Ida Kelarová, is a famous Romani singer, but she in fact started out as an actress at the theatre, which is now on the bustling square Zelný trh but then was based at a top local art venue.

“It’s kind of changed quite a lot in the last year or half a year.

“The whole artistic side of things has changed a lot and the direction has changed a lot.

“And with that it’s actually cosmetically changed quite a lot as well.

“So it’s an interesting place that I’d recommend people to go and visit.

“It looks completely different inside than it used to do – at least the courtyard where we are now, that’s changed quite a lot.

“It’s a nice place to sit, with a lot of greenery, a nice bar and lots of very friendly people.

“So it’s a pleasure to sit here at the moment.”

Tell us something about the history of Divadlo Husa na provázku. It was from the ‘70s?

The recently opened courtyard at Husa na provázku, photo: Ian Willoughby
“It was an alternative theatre. I think it started in the ‘70s – the late 70’s or ‘80s, I can’t quite remember [actually 1967].

“But it’s connected with me as well, and the family.

“My mother used to be an actress there. It used to be in Dům umění [House of Art], which was an art gallery in Brno throughout the Communist regime.

“It was an alternative theatre that now and again actually got permission to sort of leave the country and go and represent Czechoslovakia at alternative festivals, let’s say.

“Therefore the regime was very frequently quite panicky about it and sent some delegates with the touring party, who the theatre company very, very quickly got drunk and then did whatever they wanted to do in Denmark, for example, or in other countries.

“So they were very, very persuasive, the whole company: the actors, the actresses, the production lady, Truda, and all the other members of the company.

“They always had a lot of fun. They were a bubbly theatre company and they just got away with a lot of things that other theatres didn’t get away with.

“Since then they’ve moved to this place, which is on Zelný trh, and for a long, long time it was a theatre that kind of remembered that period and used it as the driving motor of its current existence. Or at least its existence until two or three years back.

“And now it’s changed quite a lot, in terms of the people that run it now.

“They’re completely different. They respect the history of what it used to be, but they’ve really taken that bold step – at last, finally, a group of people have managed to take that bold step and take it in a completely different direction.”

Did you spend a lot of time around the theatre as a kid?

“I grew up in the theatre.

“I mentioned this production lady, Truda, and basically I was like a little dog when I was a small boy – I used to sleep underneath her table.

“I had a little bed under the production table and that’s where I used to sleep, because my mother obviously was in rehearsals or performing, and so on.

Ida Kelarová, photo: Adam Kebrt / Czech Radio
“My parents had divorced so I spent most of my time with my mother and that’s the place that I spent my time in.

“It was very adventurous, being behind the scenes with the actors and directors and costume makers and so on. It was exciting times.

“That’s where I lived, more or less.”

What’s the programme like today? Is it a mix of classic plays and new works?

“I think the programme is finding its feet, definitely.

“But it’s making a lot of very, very adventurous steps.

“I’d definitely recommend just going on to the website and getting in touch with what’s all about.

“The best way to do that is actually to come here and have a coffee or have a beer and talk to people.

“Because they’re very, very open. And get a feel for it, because it really is moving in a different direction.”

This space here in the courtyard is really fantastic looking, very impressive. Who made it like this and when was it redone?

“I think it was about three or four months ago, finally.

“And it was Martin Hrdina. He’s an interior designer and architect and has done quite a lot of bars and cafés in Brno, including Café Alfa and Café Tungsram.

“I think this is his work.

“Apart from that, it’s got a main room behind us here and a small stage in the cellar.

“Now and again they put on performances and plays actually in the courtyard as well.

“I think it’s supposed to be a Victorian, kind of Shakespearean stage, this courtyard – that was the intention.”

So I guess we’re actually sitting on the stage now, because we’re on a kind of raised area here?

“Yes. They’ve started actually putting on DJs and bands here as well, so they will surprise you.

“Just come and see the place and you’ll probably find something that you like.”

Husa na provázku courtyard, photo: Ian Willoughby

From the theatre we take a short stroll to Sukova St. and Kabinet Múz, the very impressive alternative arts venue and café-bar that Kelar has been running for several years. It was previously home to HaDivadlo, before the theatre moved to another space a couple of blocks away. Amid the lunchtime hubbub, Kelar explains how he found the location.

“HaDivadlo escaped and moved to a much larger venue.

“Since then it was kind of laying empty and dormant, not doing anything, and at one point I went past the place and was looking in and seeing if anything had changed and then all of a sudden a telephone number appeared.

“So I called it and basically signed the contract and started running a venue which was slightly different to just a straight up theatre format.

“It’s predominantly a music club, with occasional films and plays.

“But it’s predominantly music. In terms of genre, it’s pretty much anything goes, as long as it’s got an opinion and it’s not bog-standard mainstream music.

“We have a vegan bistro and I think that’s not going to change.

Kabinet Múz, photo: Ben Skála, Benfoto, CC BY-SA 4.0
“Maybe in the future the music might change, or there might be more theatre – it just depends on the people who are involved.”

What have been some of your standout shows here over the years?

“To me, Shabazz Palaces, which is an absolutely amazing band, or at least their show here was absolutely amazing.

“It was the beginning of their tour in Europe and they played for I think three hours and nobody got bored.

“Everyone was just mesmerised – it was fantastic.

“Young Fathers – that was a really good show as well, about two years back.

“And then the cabaret kind of feel of Tiger Lillies, which was absolutely amazing.

“I’m not a big fan of make-up when it comes to bands, but they seemed to pull it off [laughs].

“The songs are great and they’re absolutely amazing musicians.

“So those three really stand out.”

Recently I noticed that The Warlocks were playing here and I instantly went to see when they would be playing in Prague, if they were also playing in Brno. But there is no Prague date. How does that happen, that you get a band playing here that isn’t going through Prague?

“That is really, really rare, it really is.

“But recently it seems to be working. I think we might have somehow made a name for ourselves abroad and people are prepared to take routes, let’s say Vienna to Warsaw, and don’t want to play Prague any more.

“They probably have played Prague, let’s say, two or three times and they want to take a break.

“Black Lips, for example, which is a ramshackle punk band, very much like Libertines used to be, they just avoided Prague this time round.

“And a lot of people from Prague came down to see them here.

“It was a sold-out show and it just suited the routing.

“Whereas in years gone by, that would probably not have happened.

“It’s a good thing, it’s a positive thing – not for Prague, but for Brno [laughs].”

How do you get a sense of which bands will be big enough to draw enough people for you to book them? How will you know for sure that it’s worth booking some band?

Brno, photo: Štěpánka Budková
“It’s a combination of things, I suppose.

“Social media really helps now.

“There’s that one particular button called ‘the like button’ and it still seems to offer a lot of information to a lot of promoters [laughs].

“So that’s one thing. Instagram also obviously tells you a lot.

“And then the history of the band – have they been here before, have they not been?

“Also, and predominantly, is it a band that I really want to do?

“I don’t mind for a gig to be slightly in the minus, losing money, as long as it’s something that you’re enjoying and people are enjoying.

“Because in the future it might be that the band will come back, and if word spreads it’s actually worth doing.

“The relationships that you build with the band at that particular first gig, where you’re risking a lot, always seems to kind of be fruitful the second or third time round.”

Do you have any sense that audiences are different in Brno from in Prague, or is it the same everywhere? In some cities audiences tend to stand back and are like, Impress me.

“I don’t think there’s a big difference, like there is in Britain.

“If you go to a London gig, to a venue somewhere in London, there’s a lot of very, very spoiled people, or very critical.

“There’s that critical eye in London – it was always really difficult to play there.

“That isn’t so noticeable here.

“But, you know, Prague offers a lot more gigs, so therefore people make the choices that they make and they make them more consciously.

“They have three or four choices, they make a choice and if the one they’ve chosen out of those four wasn’t a good show, then they probably would be a little bit upset [laughs] that they made that wrong choice.

“Here in Brno the situation is still that we’re grateful that there are things that we can go and attend.

“Although there’s a lot of it at the moment.

“I mean, five years back it used to be a lot worse.”