[by Ken Hunt, London, updated 18 February 2017] It is a warm, sunny afternoon in September 2004. I am sitting on the steps outside Brno’s railway station scrutinising each tram because one will bring my interpreter, Irena Přibylová. Trams come and trams go. As always, I am writing and observing. I scribble “The drunks hang round the station/Each begs his ‘daily bread’.”
It is now late July 2014 and I am crossing the tram and bus station outside Vienna’s Praterstern station. I start doing something I have never done in my life before. I start singing one of my own songs. It begins, “The drunks hang round the station.” That song – Paper Cone – represents a ten-year journey. In Brno I was sitting on those steps as a music critic specialising in improvised and non-Western classical music about to interview Iva Bittová. Her intoxicating music has engaged my brain since the late 1980s. At her home her hospitable enquiry about tea or coffee results in her and the non-Czech speaker – that’s me, friends – trading one-word wordplays in Czech. Mine ends with sýkory (titmice in British English or chickadees in American English) and Iva bursts into birdsong.
It is now October 2006 in Prague. Iva and I meet the morning after her appearance in Don Juan in Prague – its title is in English. Each tells the other what we are doing, about what’s happening with our families and our plans. I tell Iva about writing lyrics for several rather good (litotes, litotes, litotes) musicians. Those brown eyes of hers ask whether. That afternoon at U Osla v Kolébce (At the donkey on the griddle) over lunch and three beers I write the lyrics for our first two collaborations. It marks the start of something new. A body of songs specifically for her in English.
So Paper Cone (although my fuller title is Paper Cone of Cherries) is a favourite child. It is the lyric I started before I had any suspicion that Ivuška [an intimate form of Iva] and I would ever compose together. She is the sister I never had. As we say in Indian classical music, she is my sister in music. Who could ask for anything more? Who could ask for anyone better? Trust me, I’m not biased in any way.
Paper Cone figures in the live repertoires of Eviyan – the trio of Bittová, Gyan Riley and Evan Ziporyn – and the Czech band Čikori. It appears on Eviyan Live (Les Disques Victo, 2013) and Eviyan (Animal, 2015), as well as on Čikori’s At Home (Pavian, 2016).
The Czech-language version of this article appears in the 16 September 2014 issue of the Divadelní noviny (‘Theatre news’).
The photographs of Iva Bittová are © Santosh Sidhu/Swing 51 Archives and were taken during the back-to-back interviews for fRoots and The Strad on 10 September 2004.
A recommended source of all Czech and Slovak music (and nothing else) “at Czech prices” is: http://www.cdmusic.cz/ or if you’re in Prague, stay on the 22 Tram until the Pohořelec stop and go to Široký dvůr, Loretánské náměsti 4, 118 00 Praha 1 Hradčany. The shop is convenient to the castle. The shop is close to the Klášterní pivovar Strahov or Strahov Monastic Brewery http://www.klasterni-pivovar.cz/ and a place where I have written for decades, U Zavěšenyho Kafe (‘At The Hanging Coffee’), down the hill in the direction of the castle (Hradčany) at Loretánská 13, 118 00 Praha 1 (meaning ignore obsolete references on the internet to the address it used to be at: Úvoz 6, 11800 Praha 1).