The Story of the Girl Band

The Story of the Girl Band named Plyn, Dybbuk, and Zuby nehty in the 1980s

The love of my life (except for the children), the band. First, in 1980, Plyn (The Gas). Marka, Hanka, and Pavla. Great friendship, such that only twenty years old are capable of, the kind that everyone longs to experience. Admiration and respect were the foundation. We wanted to be together all the time and so everything was a good excuse to spend time together. I traveled with Marka to Hradec Králové, where she was engaged in the theater, I sold the paper Evening Prague with her, and we went to visit Hanka in the camp of Charles University because we just could not be a week without each other. Beautiful birthday surprises, a great way to celebrate our friendship.

Were we feminists? I was, Marka and Hanka were upset about  feminism. At the time of the formation of the band, it was only friendship, there definitely was not even thinking about us as girls. As the 1980s progressed, I personally, got involved with feminism, and I projected my feminist thinking on the band, believing we were the proof of changing times, and also I believed we can shatter the stereotype of women’s rivalry and inability to work together. Nevertheless, the rest of the band did not share my feminist thinking. Thus, retrospectively, being only girls, I personally see it as a feminist act, possibly proto-rito grrrls. On the other hand, if riot grrrls were defined as sexually abused children who were angry at the world who hates girls, then we were not abused as children and had all the privileges of going to university. We were angry at the regime, but not at the world as such. My model was Patti Smith and I liked Siouxsie. The Raincoats and The Slits were not known, though.

 With Hanka, we tried to play our songs with guitars since the third grade in high school and we dreamed of having a band. Sitting under the cherry trees at Petřiny, playing guitars and singing was sweet. Marka joined us in 1980, and we were amazed by the power of her imagination, her piano playing, and singing. All lyrics that hatched in our heads seemed a revelation. Sen, or The Dream: I want to sleep, I know it's going to be a tough dream ... dizzily beautiful, musically. Or another song, about Kilgore Trout! And then the first prolonged practice in the summer of 1981 at Hanka's in Karlin. For a few days, we took control of the space and practiced and practiced. We practiced new compositions like  Tygr (The Tiger)! And then came Renata and brought the lyrics about Paní I (the Lady) with heavy earrings and the second lonely Paní II (LadyII) and it was sociologically deep and funny and dadaistic. And Marka wrote a song Smrt about Death, so authentic! We rehearsed a concert repertoire. We first performed at the Euridika student club at Petřiny and invited all friends, including Oldřich Janota, who taught me the guitar at that time and my beloved teacher from the translation department, Jarmila Emmerová. Our start up was Misha Glenny, who later became a BBC star reporter and writer. Marka switched between piano and bass guitar, Hanka drummed, and I played on the electric guitar Galaxis.

       The second concert was at the invitation of Ivo Pospíšil to support his band Garage at the student dormitory 007 Strahov. We didn't know anything about the fact that to perform in public, you need a permission from the authorities. And we also didn't know that Garage would have a lot of troubles for taking us in without the permit. Soon after we were invited to play in the student club in Ústí nad Labem, then to the festival in Ostrov nad Ohří, and so on. Sometime in 1982, we found an ad in the newspaper looking for a girl group to play in Austrian bars. We got excited because that's exactly how the Beatles started when they learned to play in the Hamburg bars. We went to the audition and were getting ready for the leap. But before the producer could arrange anything for us, Marka announced she was expecting a baby and so the Austrian bars fell through. But we kept on playing at home. The last concert just before giving birth, Marka performed at Petynka dressed up in a card board box, which was unforgettable. Our life stories continued, Marka's Sara was such a lovely baby, not an obstacle for playing and so we continued and suddenly Marka was expecting her second child, I got married and also had a baby, and Hanka married and had a baby, too. We were bringing the babies to rehearsals and performances, and it worked somehow miraculously. Then Kateřina Nejepsová joined us, fitting perfectly with her flute and saxophone, and with Hanka, they created a strong witty duo. As a quarter we performed at the great Vokalíza Festival at Lucerna, organized by the charismatic Jana Koubková. The desire to have a band based on friendship was still there and so I visited Kateřina and we played, and we set off on an adventurous trip to the Romanian Alps. We knew now that we needed a socialist organization which was back us for to play legally, and we were offered by the Socialist Union of Youth club in Kladno, Klubko, to cover us.

The next step in legalizing the band was to play in front of a committee of communist culture workers in Kladno. We did that and first, it looked very promising, but then I got a call from one of the ladies from the district committee who said our lyrics were too pessimistic that after reading them she felt like she had to drink a bottle of wine and jump off the bridge. It is not possible to spread such an ideology among the youth of Kladno, she concluded. True, we had a song about death, but it was a victorious in the end. True, we had songs about elderly ladies, lonely and waiting. But most of the songs were fun, about hope, about dream, about flying, about the meaning of life. That is why I was shocked and vainly argued that beauty has been a complicated term since Baudelaire. But she said, I understand it's much harder to write merry songs, but you cannot play in Kladno until we you have merrier songs. Thus we got on the list of unwanted groups. We decided to change our name, like all the other blacklisted bands, and because we met at the time Vendula Kašpárková, a great keyboardist and a composer who later became famous in Stromboli, we used her Dybbuk's proposal, according to the crazy spirit she found in the book by Joseph Heller. As far as optimism is concerned,  Marka brought in her song Radujme se a buďme šťastni ( Let's Us Rejoice and Let´s Make Merry), which was meant ironically, but it could also be taken seriously.

And then we met Eva Trnková, a wonderful guitar player who said she always wanted to play in a girls' band and we were five and it was great. It was a powerful when the five of us stood on the stage and started playing; the two guitars were fabulous. We played quite frequently, often at Chmelnice and Opatov, and also went to a tour in Moravia, with some of our babies. In 1985 we got to be, together with twelve other alternative bands, on a film Hudba 85 (Music 85), an underground release which was released only in 2005 and until then distributed only among friends. In 1987 Panton label started its series Rock Debut and we were invited to record five songs in a studio. These were released on a small album. We were very happy, also for the fact that we were selected, for reason unknown to us, to open the long series. The biggest hit of the EP was Petr a Jan (Peter and John), which was about the apostles running to find Jesus´grave empty. Originally it was named Hrob byl prázdný (The Grave Was Empty), but to use that title was possible only later in 1990s.

                After this peak of Dybbuk´s existence things started to look bad for a change. A rival girl band Panika appeared on the scene and offered three of our members professional conditions for playing, equipment, big halls, good pay, travel abroad to Spain and Cuba. And so Kateřina, Hanka, and Eva quit Dybbuk. For a time they thought they could do both bands, but Marka hated that thought and decided to make a definite end to Dybbuk. And so it ended.

                Shortly after that, though, Marka and Pavla started playing again, adding Naďa Bilincová, a poet. Pavla switched to bass guitar so that Marka could fully focus on piano, and Naďa played the guitar. Marka´s husband Tomáš and Michal Pokorný played the saxophones and Honza Lorenc the drums. It was Tomáš who had the idea to call the new band Zuby nehty (Tooth and Nail). First we rehearsed in a cellar in the Metro passage under Národní street, then at the Drama Academy building at Řetězová, and later at Marka´s home. Soon we started to have concert, including a huge festival of the Film Academy magazine Kavárna AFFA at the Lucerna. The girls of the band decided to dress up for the occasion so that they would look old and fat. We thought that kind of image was a hilarious and original idea. But here we are leaving the 1980s and are moving into the 1990 when Dybbuk was resurrected for a while to record the old songs in a studio and release them as an LP. During the recording time it became clear all of our Panika girls want to come back. And so it happened. By 1991 Zuby nehty started performing in the old Dybbuk set up and the adventure could start again, this time in the new conditions of freedom and open borders. But that is another story.

Pavla Jonssonová

September 6, 2017