16 December 2020

Reupload - Petr & Pavel - Laska/ Wencelas Square

  Hopeful 1968 Christmas protest single from Czech defectors

Label: Page One
Year of Release: 1968

It's interesting how often the late sixties are regarded as a period of "love and peace" and frequently represented by film footage of hippies idling around in fields clutching flowers. The period was, in reality, anything but. Ignoring even the obvious spectre of the Vietnam War hovering over everything, the USSR was also mobilising itself to the detriment of many lives.

Concerned about the increasing liberalisation of Czechoslovakia, where censorship and "secret police" interventions into daily lives were about to be lifted, the Warsaw Pact - consisting of USSR and its Eastern European allies - invaded the country to assert control, killing 108 Czechs and Slovaks in the process, and wounding 500 more. It was a heavy-handed display of appalling brute force which sent a flashing warning message out to all other Communist bloc countries - express yourselves freely and pay the price.

Petr and Pavel are slightly elusive, mysterious characters now, but at the time the story went that they were Czech entertainers who escaped by "stowing away on a jet plane" out of the country to Britain where they remained as defectors. There's no easily obtainable information about how they managed this feat, or what they did in Czechoslovakia before (the country had a booming beat scene, as we've already explored on this blog) just some Page One orientated propaganda about their escape and subsequent signing to a British record label. It's all very shady to say the least.

Top pop songwriters Alan Blaikley and Ken Howard got their mitts on them, and wrote this single which got issued the same year just in time for the Christmas sales rush. "Laska" was the only effort of theirs to get a release here, and seriously ramps up its Eastern European feel for the British market, combining the strident folk rhythms and "heys!" with an actually quite touching lyrical message. Throughout, the pair sing about being cut adrift from their homeland, alone in a strange land, but begin to speak in Czech at one point. This segment translates roughly as "My dear friend, we must learn to live in the New World - memories are good and bad - and look forward to peace and love". It's pure novelty pop, of course, but a quick search online reveals many people who were deeply moved by the record during those uncertain times. It was a heart-warming early winter tonic to many, an emotional cocktail of both defiance and loneliness beneath the blaring production.

Whatever anyone thought, Petr and Pavel clearly didn't release anything else here, and faded from view not long afterwards. I'd appreciate further information, and I certainly hope that everything worked out well for them in the end despite their lack of a hit single. This was, however, a festive release of which I can just about approve - it's both sentimental and hearty, and if I ever find out that the story about Petr and Pavel stowing away on a jet together is a record company lie (note - this seems very unlikely)… well, Larry Page had better watch out, that's all.
If you're struggling to play the previews, go right to the source to hear the tracks. 


Sam Beckwith said...

Radio Prague, the English-language service of Czech Radio, have a bit more information about Petr & Pavel on their website:

Now, as all Radio Prague’s reports stay on the internet, sometimes people from around the world stumble upon a story several years after it was first broadcast and send us their comments.

This particular story goes as far back as October 2002 when our listener Marisa Churchward from Canada inquired about a late 1960s record by the Czech duo called Petr and Pavel featuring their songs Láska and Wenceslas Square, released in England after the two emigrated from Czechoslovakia following the Soviet occupation of the country. The first response came almost five years later, in January 2007 from Josef Svoboda from the Czech Republic who was trying to track the songs down. Then in April 2008 Mark Valentine from the UK got back to us saying he owned the record and would be willing to try and find out more about the mysterious duo. Finally in March 2013 Neil Critchley sent us a couple of YouTube links so we were finally able to listen to the songs and shortly afterwards Alan Blaikley shed more light on the issue, telling us the song Láska was written by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley and released before Christmas 1968. But he didn’t know what had become of the two men either. Most recently, we were approached by Francoise Vodrazka from France. This is the English translation of her email:

“You mentioned that you were looking for information about two singers from 1968 who released a record in England called Láska. Their names are Petr Seifert and Pavel Kováč and they were military deserters from Pardubice. If you need more information you will find in the British Newspaper Archive based in London in the Daily Express from 1968.”

Darryl W. Bullock said...

According to the Sunday People, Petr Seifert and Pavel Kováč arrived in Britain in November 1968. The pair were seeking asylum, having stowed away in an aeroplane to avoid the Russian occupation. Other research tells me that the pair, both aged 20, absconded from the Czech air force on 19 October on a stolen military motorcycle. Kováč was reported to have been carrying a submachine gun at the time. Seifert had attempted to go AWOL three times before finally succeeding and had been punished for his attempts.

23 Daves said...

Wow! Thanks for all the additional information - this is a fascinating story and it seems very likely that this pair were a little bit more prepared and hardcore than I previously supposed. I'd love to know that they're still safe, happy and well.

R.A. Zdybrow said...

Is it just me that thinks it sounds a LOT like “Do They Know It’s Christmas"?