Olympic - 40 years on stage

Olympic, photo: CTK

It may seem unbelievable, but the Czech "dinosaurs" of rock-music, probably the most famous Czech band, Olympic, are celebrating 40 years on stage. You can't talk about the Czech rock scene and not mention this group.

Olympic,  photo: CTK
Several generations have emotional ties to their music, including the young, such as these people whom we asked whether they had any idea how long Olympic have been around.

"About forty years."

"For forty years."

"At least twenty years, thirty maybe."

"I think about forty years."

"More than forty years."

"Forty years."

If only for the sheer length of time they've been around, Olympic are indeed legendary. The band got together in 1963 and started as a backing group, playing with pop singers at the Semafor theatre where many famous Czech musicians and singers began their careers. In the days when Beatlemania was in full swing around the world, Olympic realised they could do without outside singers and guitarist Petr Janda became the band's leader and singer. Soon their first hit was born, called "Dej mi vic sve lasky" or "Give Me More Love".

In 1968, the band released their first album, called Zelva, The Turtle. The songs mostly featured slightly awkward lyrics and charming Beatles-like melodies. The Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia found the band on holiday in France. Immediately a lot of offers came their way chances to record albums and tour in the West. But the guys decided to return home. A year later, another album was out.

In the early 1970's, the band underwent many line-up changes and almost split up at one point. Practically abandoned by its fans, the band tries for a revival in 1977 and records an album sung in English, called "Overhead". There were a number of them to follow in the coming years.

In 1978 the band celebrated their 3000th concert after fifteen years playing together, at the famous Lucerna concert hall in Prague and the band's fan club was founded. In 1979, Olympic came third in the national "Zlaty slavik" or "Golden Nightingale" contest. And better times were ahead. A year later, they grabbed the silver and in 1981 they were voted the best Czechoslovak band in the Golden Nightingale competition.

At the peak of their fame, did they imagine they would still be playing together more than twenty years later? Did they think people would still care about them in two decades? My colleague Dean Vuletic went to a music shop in the centre of Prague for a little inquiry.

Can you tell me, do you know about the Czech band Olympic?

"I don't like this type of music."

"They are quite good."

"They played quite well."

"The Olympic are a classic band, I like them very much, because they represent the years when my father was young and it's part of the history of our family."

"Although they are very old, they are pretty good."

"It think they're old and it's not my style."

"No, I don't actually."

"No, because I don't come from here."

Although they've recorded a number of albums in English, and played many concerts abroad, their fame did not really cross the Czechoslovak borders.

In 1983, after twenty years together Olympic won the "Golden Nightingale" for the third time in a row. In the 1980's they had a steady following which did not expect any major musical surprises. The band got a lot of space on TV and radio but started losing the younger audience maybe because of an increasingly conventional musical style but maybe also because front man Petr Janda was already in his forties.

After the end of communism in 1989 the band re-released some of their old songs banned under the old regime because they featured lyrics written by Pavel Chrastina who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia. In the first years after the fall of communism, Czechs had plenty of other musical attractions and did not care much about a band which for some was a symbol of the 1980s' communist pop-culture.

In 1992, front man Petr Janda decided to break up the band after 30 years of their existence and immediately, clubs and concert halls filled up again. Seeing the enormous success, Petr Janda had second thoughts, but the band broke up anyway.

Not for long however, in 1995 the musicians got together to record an unplugged album. And although they formally did not exist anymore, they were voted the best band again in 1996. The itching to play was getting hard to bear and in 2000 Olympic set off on their first American tour.

"Hello, my name is Petr Janda, I am the leader of Olympic who are celebrating forty years together. I want to say hello to all listeners of Radio Prague."

More concerts in the United States followed, the last one this summer when the floods were ruining Petr Janda's house and office.

Preparations for their 40th anniversary are well underway. The band are preparing a big anniversary tour, which will take in three huge concerts in Ostrava, Brno and Prague, where they will play to around 13,000 people. The tour will feature all the band's current and previous members, and they promise to play songs from all eras of their 15-album career.