Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the release of The Wedding Present’s three legendary Peel Sessions, The Ukrainians’ new album ‘Summer in Lviv’ is based on guitarist Peter Solowka and vocalist/fiddle player Len Liggins’s experiences in western Ukraine last summer, where they discovered the rejuvenated, modern, vibrant and forward-looking city of Lviv, whose official motto is ‘Live, work and enjoy yourself’.
Living in the west but with half the band having a background rooted in the cultures of Ukraine or eastern Europe, The Ukrainians have enjoyed huge success over the past three decades, not only winning the adoration of mainland Europe but becoming the only band to ever enter the official UK charts with a Ukrainian language track. Furthermore, their music is infused with an excitement that draws on both Ukrainian folk music and western rock music, which together create a sound that is fresh and exciting as traditional instruments interweave with pounding drums and zizzy electric guitars.
Inspired by the band’s holiday experiences and conversations with people in the city, ‘Summer in Lviv’ deals with themes that reflect the Ukraine of today: conflict, populations on the move, immigration, and a struggle for identity. The album reflects on the benefits and pitfalls of freedom, and the delicate balance between asserting a national or ethnic identity and denying it to others. If this balance is achieved, it can result in diversity and acceptance – increasingly the case in Lviv; but if not, it can lead to war – as in Ukraine’s Donbass region. This is the serious side, but ‘Summer in Lviv’ also celebrates Ukrainians’ natural exuberance and love of life, and the high place that folk song and dance holds in Ukrainian culture.
Examples of some of the subjects raised on ‘Summer in Lviv’: – “Lito u Lvovi (Summer in Lviv)” reflects the excitement you can feel in the air just walking around the city:
“Ancient squares, picturesque streets, summer festivals / here live poets, musicians, students and artists / everyone is working towards a brighter future / live, work, enjoy yourself! / summer in Lviv will last forever.”
“Dyadko Zenko (Uncle Zenko)” celebrates the passing of culture from generation to generation through the art of storytelling:
“Uncle Zenko told me tales when evening came / how he danced the Hopak like a Cossack / how he ran with the flag and defended his village / he told me tales about life”.
“Zvidky Vy? (Where Are You From?)” reflects the experiences of some Ukrainians working in the West:
“I left my family to look for work / I’m an honest person and a steady worker / I’m a human being just like you / but still you say to me “where are YOU from?”
The Ukrainians created their intoxicating cocktail of traditional Ukrainian music and British Indie pop even before the term ‘world music’ had been coined. A jam session during the rehearsals for a Wedding Present Peel Session which saw the band, inspired by their Slavophile guitarist, Peter Solowka, playing a Ukrainian folk song, caught the ear of John Peel who suggested an entire set in the same style. Recruiting friend of the band and fluent Ukrainian-speaker, Len Liggins to contribute vocals (relegating Gedge to backing vocals and guitar), they formed a musical partnership which enthralled indie fans. Such was the positive reaction, The Wedding Present recorded two further John Peel Sessions of Ukrainian music for the BBC in the 1980s, resulting in the first and only release of a Ukrainian language record by a major record label. This record was released exactly three decades ago and reached number 22 in the national album charts. In a way unthinkable in the modern musical age, Solowka and Liggins’ fully-fledged band which sprang from this chance occurrence now celebrates 30 glorious years.
A 30th anniversary re-issue, The Complete Ukrainian John Peel Sessions is being released on CD and 12-inch vinyl LP in April 2019.
The Ukrainians will be touring Summer in Lviv throughout summer and autumn 2019.
15.06 – Muzikantes Festival, Leeds (The Wardrobe, Leeds)