Peter Solowka, of the band ” the Ukrainians”, contacted Ukrainian Events in London after we posted a short ad of the band’s concert at the Ukrainian Club (18 October 2014). Within just a few emails he agreed to give us an interview candidly answering all of our sneaky questions. Moreover, he was generous enough to give away 2 FREE TICKETS to be shared with the readers of the Ukrainian Events in London webpage.
Now, the interview with Peter Solowka.
UEL: So what is it all about? What is “The Ukrainians”? What is so special about your team?
It’s a bit strange really – we’ve been around for so long, now we sometimes forget that not everyone knows our history. Here it goes with a few ‘firsts’ in the band’s history.
- The first CD of Ukrainian traditional music – 1989
- The first (and only) Ukrainian language album to reach the UK album charts – No 22 in 1989
- The first European tours by Ukrainian folk rock musicians – 1991 – 1994
- The first Ukrainian music to be used on a Nike add – 1993 – Sergei Bubka
- The first UK Ukrainian musicians to play in Independence Square Kiev- 1993
Well, we were certainly trailblazers in getting Ukrainian music popularised and part of the western world.
We did this full time till about 1996 when real life caught up and families took more of our time. Since then, we’ve been playing about a dozen shows every year, choosing our favorite venues and festivals.
UEL: Western band that sings Ukrainian songs. Why Ukrainian? Are you guys Ukrainian-born? There is no information about that at your website
Peter: Our band is a mix of different backgrounds, but the core is an interesting Ukrainian one. I had a Ukrainian father, grew up through the UK club system but was always a bit distant, never learned to speak, but loved the music. I write most of the tunes. Len was born in the East end of London, studied Russian at university and loved Eastern music. We met in Leeds – he learned Ukrainian, and we’ve worked together for almost 30 years now. Stef who plays the accordion has the same background as me, our drummer is from Scotland – our mandolin & bass players are from Yorkshire (with a bit of Russian in there too).
UEL: Your impressive band history at your website – with hundreds of concerts in various countries made me wonder – how did the audience react to the songs it couldn’t understand? Or your think understanding the words isn’t necessary? Is it the funky music that makes people like your concerts?
Peter: I think it helps to understand the words, but it’s not essential. Our music is quite emotional and can be enjoyed by any open-minded music fan. I like to listen to lots of different Eastern European and African music even though I don’t understand the words – and I know there are lots of music fans who think the same. I remember when we first played in Kharkiw, a fan came up to us and said “Your music is good, but if you want to make money, you should sing in English”. Great advice, it worked for Gogol Bordello, but then we would have lost something special.
UEL: Besides what’s covered in the history section of your band’s website, what has happened to the band in the last 4 years?
Peter: We’ve played some great festivals – Dauphin in Canada, Sines in Portugal, Czeremcha in Poland as highlights of many. We’ve released a few ‘greatest hits albums’, some vinyl releases. Most interesting of all though, we are working on a new release for the spring. Can’t tell you anymore about it except that it will be a unique album – well worth a listen.
UEL: What is this band “Dunajska Kapelje” that supports the concert? What will be their role in the gig?
We chose this band because of their fine Eastern credentials. They play ‘gypsy balkan jazz, which means that their music is from all over the Eastern Europe. Loads of interesting ‘slavic’ melodies to listen to. I think everyone will find them very entertaining.
UEL: What songs are you going to play in Ukrainian club on October 18? The best of? Some famous covers? Or one of your albums?
Peter: Nice try! We’ll not give away our set list at this stage. We have written and arranged so many songs now – nearly 100 to choose from. Rest assured that we’ll choose an interesting selection of trad songs, self penned and western covers to entertain as many as possible. Should be a great night!
This interview definitely made me personaly interested in attending the concert. I wish I could win the tickets, but I believe the organisers are not eligible for the contest. So good luck to everyone! Even if not with free tickets, make sure you come to the concert anyway. It promises to be a rare opportunity to celebrate Ukrainian culture in London.
Interviewed by Anna Morgan