My Prague – Adrian T. Bell
The frontman of Prague band The Prostitutes, Adrian T. Bell this year picked up the Apollo critic’s award for best Czech LP of the year for his solo debut, Different World. The Newcastle-born singer moved to Prague in 1993 and for most of the intervening period has lived just off Jiřího z Poděbrad square in the Vinohrady district. And it is there – beneath the shade of some trees on a sweltering day – that we begin our tour of “Adrian Bell’s Prague”.
“I was going to say we can go and sit here in the children’s playground, but two blokes in a playground looks a bit perverted [laughs].”
Tell us Adrian, why is “Jiřák” part of “your Prague”?
“I just live around the corner and it’s a great place. There’s stacks going on. There’s a farmers’ market that opened, what, three years ago, and it’s brought a lot of life.
“There have been satellite businesses that have come out of it. There’s a new bakers which does really good bread – there’s always queues in there.”
This is the famous Antonín (Antonínovo pekařství)?
“Yes, Antonín. Then there’s the farmers’ market itself. It sells organic produce, which is kind of trendy because nobody wants to eat shite anymore.”
How you would you characterise this area, if you were describing it to somebody who doesn’t know Prague very well?
“I would just say it’s full of life. I’ve only ever seen this kind of lifestyle in foreign cities, like Berlin, Barcelona and places like that, where there’s a lot of people around and they’re all taking part in the local community and enjoying the resources that are there.”
Years ago Vinohrady had this reputation as being an upmarket, kind of snobbish area, but today I think it’s not really like that. It seems to me that there a lot of young families around here.
“Yeah, I think it’s very middle class. It’s not working class but it’s affordable, I think, if you manage to get a mortgage in one of the flats around here.
“Vinohrady further down [toward the centre] is more expensive. But I think it this area, towards Žižkov, it’s still affordable to people.”
We’re by the well-known church designed by the architect Jože Plečnik [the Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord]. Have you been inside it?
“Yeah, it’s got a really awesome clock tower. It’s got an awesome design inside… I was brought up a Catholic but I sort of left it behind because I didn’t like the medieval preaching methods that they still use to today. But it’s a really nice piece of architecture.
“Recently we did a collection here for Yazidis children [who are being persecuted by Islamic State]. My wife got upset by some piece on TV – it was about a guy who had gone to Iraq with a lot of dried milk from Germany. His wife was Czech.
“We contacted him and we came here and asked the local priest if we could do a collection here and use the garden here for a collection point. They were very helpful and put posters up around the place.”
For me, knowing that Czechs are relatively unreligious, sometimes when I walk past here I’m surprised when they let out after a service to see a lot of young people.
“I think the older generation of Czechs aren’t particularly churchgoers. But I’ve noticed that as well – that a lot of young people are going.”
You mentioned the community aspect with having the collection here. Do you find that there is a sense of community around this area?
“It depends on the kind of people you talk to. The people who come to the market and enjoy the market on a Saturday morning… you don’t know them, but it’s there, the church is here or whatever. It does create that [sense of community] I think.”
And the people who go to the market are probably people who like the idea of a community as well. Like ourselves.
“Yeah, like ourselves… I love it here. It reminds me of the Italian markets. It’s always full of life and full of characters. It’s not as lively [here] as in Mediterranean countries, but it’s getting there, you know.”
The temperature outside really is overwhelming so the next stop on our short tour comes as a huge relief. The Billiard Club pool hall on the nearby Řipská St. is wonderfully cool and, in the middle of the afternoon, nice and quiet. It turns out Bell is a handy player to say the least.
“I love pool. I went to pool halls in the States when I was 20-odd. And there aren’t many around like this [in Prague].
“It’s got like 20 tables, you can get a beer, there’s air-conditioning here – and if its 36 degrees outside it’s quite nice.”
Do you play the Czech game “billiard” [actually carom billiards, which is not Czech]?
“No, I can’t stand it. I can’t see the point of knocking something about without putting it in a whole. Maybe I’m just being too male, I don’t know [laughs]. It’s like foreplay without the actual, you know!”
When I first moved to Prague somebody told me there was only five or so snooker tables in the city. Have you ever seen snooker here?
“That’s the only one I’ve seen, behind us. I haven’t seen snooker here at all.”
Do you play for money? Or do people play for money here?
“I’ve never played for money. Once I did but I lost so I stopped.”
Were you hustled?
“Actually I was. There was this guy in Florida who had one arm. It was like something out of a Hollywood film or a Wes Andersen film – he had a crook in his arm that he played through.
“He bragged that he could beat anybody in the room. So me drunk, I said, of course you can’t, you’ve only got one arm. And of course he slaughtered me.”
I see they have darts here too. You were telling me before you used to be a bit of a darts champion?
“When I first came here I played in the Czech Open steel darts tournament and I came third in the country. Mind you, there were only 25 players, but still.
“A year later I came back and didn’t do anything. They caught on very quickly, the Czechs. The darts world took off here. But I played in a league for a couple of years.”
From Billiard Club it’s about a five-minute walk to one of the hubs of the neighbourhood, Palác Akropolis, a complex comprising a pub, a café – and one of Prague’s top music venues. Solo and with The Prostitutes, Adrian Bell has trodden the boards at “Akráč” many a time.
“I’ve played here, I don’t know, about 10 times, I think, over a number of years. It’s just a great social… part of the fabric of the city.”
Do you go to the pub here at Akropolis, or just to the venue part?
“When I first came here, 20-something years ago, my wife used to come here with a bunch of her friends, and we used to go and see gigs downstairs and then come here for a pint as well.”
What other bars in Prague do you particularly like?
“I don’t particularly like the bars in town. There’s one bar in Prague 6, Veverka, which sells great Plzeň [beer] – it’s probably the best one I’ve had here.
“Otherwise I just like sticking around where I am. The beer’s virtually the same every pub you go into, so it doesn’t really matter. It depends on the people you mix with. There are a few bars I go to.”
What about other venues? What have you found to be good places to play in Prague?
“Actually the Akropolis is my favourite, simply because it’s about 100 metres from my home and I usually get out of bringing the gear back to the rehearsal room because I live so close.
“Rock Café I’ve played a few times, when we were starting out, but I don’t like it that much anymore.
“I actually like playing outside. Down on Náplavka they have a summer season when they invite bands along. There’s usually stacks of people. It’s got a good atmosphere.
“I played on a ponton last week. That was fun.”
I saw photos of that. Where was it?
“It was on Střelecký ostrov [island]. The magazine Headliner invite bands to go and play.”
I guess it must be pretty secure – it’s not moving around too much.
“No, it’s stuck to shore. It’s a really nice place with a really nice backdrop of Charles Bridge and the National Theatre.
“Malostranská Beseda has always been a nice place to have a gig… There are a few. But there’s not really any super, super venues for medium-sized, smallish bands, places for three or four hundred people.
“That’s why I like it here so much, because the set-up is great for smaller or bigger bands.”
What about for sound? As a musician what venues do you find the best?
“Again Akropolis is good. I hate Lucerna Music Bar. We played down there a few times. Some people like it but I can’t stand it.
“You stand on stage and there’s a wall in front of you. People are hiding behind concrete pillars and stuff. It’s good for jazz bands but not for bigger bands.”
I think it’s good in terms of view. You can see people quite close up. But as for the sound, it can be a bit of a sludge there all right.
“I’ve talked to many sound engineers and they say that it can sound good, jazz bands can sound good, but once you get to…”
Is it a question of volume?
“I think it is. When you get a rock band in there it echoes off everything. So it’s difficult to control the sound.
“If you’re standing in front of the stage, if you get there first, then the sound’s good. But if there’s a bigger band and you’re around the side, it’s always difficult.
“I like a normal-sized venue with a space in front and people go and watch the concert.”