The Irish rock group The Frames first played in the Czech Republic in 1996 and since then singer Glen Hansard has been a frequent visitor, both with and without the band. He included such unglamorous places as Namest nad Oslavou, Liberec and Uherske Hradiste on a recent solo tour, and he often stays in the south Moravian town of Valasske Mezirici, called Valmez for short. When I spoke to Glen Hansard after a recent concert in Prague I asked him what were his favourite things about the Czech Republic, and if his impressions had changed as he learned more about the country.
"My love affair goes beyond Prague. Prague is somewhere I like but it's definitely the least of the central points of this country that I like the most. I like Valzmez, because I have friends who live there. And I like Moravia, I like Slovakia. The more time I spend here the more I get exposed to stuff like corruption and bullshit with cops. I've busked in every town that I've visited, I was busted by the cops in Valmez, and I realised pretty quickly that they just want money and I'm a tourist and they'll hit me for some cash. And I think it's wrong, you know. So there are certain aspects of the country that I'm not a fan of."
But playing music on the street isn't the only thing Glen Hansard has gotten in trouble for in the Czech Republic.
"Myself and Noreen got arrested because we climbed up on St Wenceslas, we got arrested by the police and spent the night in jail."
You mean on the statue of St Wenceslas (on Wenceslas Square)?
"Yeah, that was our first night in Prague."
Marek Irgl: "The first time I met Glen was two years ago, in May, 2001. He was playing at a small club in Prague."
Marek Irgl is a friend of Glen's and also acts as road manager when he or the Frames tour the Czech Republic.
Marek Irgl: "Since that first gig I was so sure, I was never so sure about any musician I saw before, that this is one of the biggest talents I've ever heard and seen. So then I started to be interested more."
Does he go and stay with you in Valasske Mezirici?
Marek Irgl: "Yes, we can say we became good friends. A month after the first gig in Prague he came to the festival which is called Valassky Spalicek and the whole Frames played there, and we established a special kind of friendship. Since that time I am more involved and I try to support Glen in the Czech Republic as only I can, including my family."
I think last year you helped bring out a Czech live album of the Frames, recorded here.
"Yes, it's another funny story, because it was a tour of the Czech Republic and Austria and before the gigs in Brno in the club Stara Pekarna, the whole of the Frames and some friends stayed in a wine cellar, and so we were really tasting Moravian wine the whole night. So then everybody was so tired, and just before the gig - two gigs in one day - in Brno, we made a deal to try and record it and see how it will be and so it happened. And finally we found that the music was good enough to make a record, especially because the Czech violin player Jan Hruby was involved. And it was so special that in the end the album Breadcrumb Trail was born as a special album for the Czech market and the Irish market."
Glen Hansard: "The guys at the venue had a recording system and so we recorded it and it was basically an elaborate bootleg. This company Indies asked us if they could put it out and we said yeah, come on, let's do it. I'm really proud of it, I thought it was lovely."
Earlier during the gig you mentioned the Czech film-maker Jan Svankmajer - are you much au fait with Czech culture?
"I'm becoming more and more. I loved Svankmajer's films before I was ever here, so to come here and to meet all his associates and to see where he works in Prague was pretty amazing for me. I hope to meet him some day - maybe I will. Having played with a few Czech musicians, I've become aware - and I've seen some Czech movies - I feel they're very like the Irish in a way."
That was one of my questions. Are the Czechs like the Irish, because many people say that?
"I feel that they are, they're very awake and they're really into their art and they're kind of irreverent, the same way the Irish are. They don't care what you look like as long as your tunes are good. I really like that, I really like the whole feeling the Czechs have, they're very cool people."
Glen Hansard has toured around the world with his band the Frames, and as we discussed his love of this region, he made a perhaps unusual connection.
"It's funny when I came here first I'd been to New York before I was here. I could never put my finger on what I loved about New York, and when I came here I could put my finger on it. What New York is, it's the capital of Europe, and the Eastern European influence in New York was what I liked most about it, and when I came here I got a purer taste of the same thing. I can't explain it, I can't put it into words, it's a taste."
How do you find the audiences here, are they similar to in other countries?
"I find them quite passionate. Having played around the whole country I find it fascinating that I don't sing in Czech and yet people come to see my play. I feel that whatever it is people connect with in the music it must be emotional, because they respond very clearly, and I love it. I love playing for Czech people."
Will you come back again do you think?
"Oh, I'm going to be back a lot, yeah."
You can find out more about the Frames at www.theframes.ie
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