We don't know if this is a real scoop and if this is the very first interview with Jozef Skrzek made by an Italian magazine, but we are indeed proud and honoured for having obtained these opinions and remembrances by such a historically fundamental person for Eastern Europe Prog. Jozef has always been, as many people (but not enough) know, the leader of the over-30-years-old Polish band SBB, a band which, just like the most important western ones, can't absolutely lack in any collection of every Progressive Rock fan.
One of most important phases in your career has surely been the period of Grupa Niemen; how did the collaboration with Czesław Niemen started?
Niemen will forever remain in my memories. There were certain conflicts in the past, we were struggling with the communists trying to manipulate our characters, but he will always remain a Great Person for me, very close, to the very end. We were in contact till the end. In spring, the year he died, we still had the opportunity to play at St. Petersburg.
With Niemen you recorded 4 album, how much and in which way were you free to express your ideas in Niemen's compositions?
There was great understanding between us, we had a great intuition both when it came to writing music and as friends, simply. The best time was I think 1972, when we started to record "Strange Is This World".
His loyalty was best shown when we were to play our first foreign tour in Germany, with Jack Bruce. They refused to give me passport and didn't permit for my leaving to Nurnberg. So together with our European agency Niemen gave the ultimatum to the Polish government: they would either give me passport or pay huge damages money for canceling the tour… and we won! Later some spies tried to ignite conflicts between us, these were the times of total invigilation….
We sang a few songs together, which was a great achievement for a young musician, and we wrote a few compositions together. During our cooperation we were great artistic Partners. There were conflicts on other fields, I explained what was causing them…..
Why did you decide to part your careers?
Several circumstances caused that, problems with managers, separation inside the band, financial misunderstandings, red tape problems, some personal verifications and the constant interpretation, this is the main "star" and they are just the accompanying band….
How was working with Niemen like? What kind of person was him? Do you remember any particular episodes connected to your cooperation with him?
There are many such situations… Rehearsals in beautiful Lagow, first world tours with such artists as Jack Bruce and Cream, Mahavishnu Orchestra, John McLaughlin, Charles Mingus, gigs at Jazz Jamboree, at Zak club in Gdansk, recording session at the famous Music Land studio in Munich, with Mack, who was just starting his career as a producer… Concerts in Scandinavia, where I met Pekka Pohjola and other fascinating Artists from all around the world.
We remained friends till the end, together we wanted to found Independent Artists' Society, which would promote many different forms of music, other then pop and disco-polo.
We talked on telephone one week before Czeslaw's death. He was optimistic and had many plans…
How happened that the Rock Blues of the Silesian Blues Band and Tadeusz Nalepa's Breakout became what we know as the music of SBB?
In Silesian Blues Band we started to rehearse blues "exercises", these were the very beginnings of the band. We all come from different Music backgrounds. I studied classical music, at the same time playing at jazz clubs, writing first compositions. Apostolis and Jerzy played in more amateur way, they came to rehearsals after school, after work. We were united by the same passion… which was Blues!
Which were your main sources of inspiration in the beginning? What kind of music was then listened to in Poland? Which keyboard players were you inspired by?
There was always music in my family. I remember my mom singing lullabies, first "concerts" at school, discovering the world around - "peeping" at the organist playing church organs... I listened to a lot of different music. Most of the times I was inspired by Nature, acoustic phenomena, personal experience, and of course Human. I started with the piano, I played my final exam with the symphonic orchestra, then pipe organs, violin... and then finally bass. I was inspired by many splendid Artists, like Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, then Oskar Peterson, Ramsey Luis, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Animals, Silesian folklore...
For you the concept of freedom has always been important; this word often appears in your songs. How was the situation in Poland when you started? Did you have any limits to your artistic freedom? Did you ever have any problems of censorship?
There were several difficulties in the beginning, e.g. the authorities refused to give me passport... But that was nothing compared to financial swindles and the total chaos when it came to copyrights etc. There was a silly system of "equal wages" for the Artists, it assumed the same rates for a concert at Congress Hall in Warsaw and for playing at a wedding. And the communists stole our money, because to play a gig abroad you had to bribe them... once in Warsaw and then in Prague, or wherever you were to play... So actually, our "career" for the first 10 years was a mockery. Fortunately, we managed to sign the contract in Germany. Most probably they cheated us too, because we didn't know a lot about "business"...
We simply enjoyed Life and didn't care about the above mentioned matters, what could we do anyway... Freedom With Us led us above all these dirty tricks....
Since the beginning you always proposed a complex kind of music, free from schematisms, nevertheless you had a big success, especially in Poland. How do you explain this success?
The explanation is very simple for people from here.... We were fed up with communist s**t about being equal or whatever. SBB sang about the real needs of people from Poland, USSR, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary.... Dignity, Truth, Honesty, Freedom, Right to Live, Independence... These were the most important issues for us and them. SBB answered people's needs and matched their sensitivity. It also re-opened Love and Meaning of Life, with its Music full of Energy as clear as Spring Water. Our success was a success of all People of Good Hearts around us, they almost carried us on their hands!
You always have had a big "live aptitude", testified by your numberless concerts and live albums. Why such a predisposition?
Each Concert has Two Sides - the Artist and the Audience... We always had great Audience, and we played many magical concerts, with metaphysical feedback... I think what people, especially Young people, appreciated about us was the fact that we were ordinary, modest guys who never aimed at commercial success.
Why did you choose to release a live album as debut album?
It was Franciszek Walicki's idea - he was a famous promoter at that time, and he helped us a lot, both in Poland and abroad, with his foreign contacts. He actually still perceives SBB as one of the best Polish rock Bands. This record was a perfect musical fulfillment and it was enthusiastically received by the Listeners!
One of the songs that we find several times in your concerts and that today you still play is "Zostalo we mnie". What's so special in this song for you?
This was the first song that was appreciated on a broader scale, it was also the only song for which we were awarded at Opole Festival. And music-wise, the arrangements in this songs were so original, that we wanted to try to play it in many different variants, e.g. Apostolis played his guitar using a bow etc.
How did you get the necessity of tying each other the songs of "Nowy Horyzont" with piano parts?
I've played piano since I was a kid, so I always liked to start writing a new composition with the piano part. Due to technical reasons, during multi-track recording I often recorded piano part in the end, almost like a solo player at a concert, and I guess that's what happened on "Nowy Horyzont". By the way, this album was to be sang and instrumentally enriched with violins, and in this new form re-released in Germany. These plans were never realized, however.
Why, in your opinion, you never managed to have the big success you deserved in Western World, despite your lofty career and your unique style?
We did a lot in Art, recorded a lot of important music. The only difference is that we didn't earn as much money as similar artists in the World. If we had the same possibilities, the right Law and Human Rights... Let the History judge...
Maybe the weakest album before your 1981 split up was "Welcome", where, for the first time, you released an album made by short songs. Was that album an attempt to get your music more commercial or what? Did the return to the past you made with "Memento" represent a sort of repentance?
The length of the tracks we played didn't make a real difference because everybody already knew we were "Avant-garde band" anyway. To this day media are scared to promote us because we are Different! And when don't understand something, they think they will never sell it among the loads of commercial breaks and advertisements. So we play for the pleasure of real and authentic Fans, with great happiness for Art and Truth about Freedom of Independent Music. Memento is proof for that, it was also appreciated at New York all-time charts.
What's the album to which you feel more attached and why?
New Century is our last Work, it perfectly illustrates our maturity and the bond between us. Apostolis, Paul and Mack were fantastic, and the Time of recording will remain a Special Moment for us forever, perhaps for someone else too...
With the joining of Wertico SBB of new millennium was born: what do you think this drummer added to your music?
Paul refreshed our new Time, he appeared in the right moment for SBB. We were in the moment where we had to find a Partner for our Trio, and Wertico inspired us perfectly. He also wanted to do something new for him, so we synchronized our Clocks for the right Moment. Now, after festival in Mexico, after recording a few albums and playing a couple of fantastic concerts, I can tell that our Time together makes Sense. Let's hope it will continue like that...
Do you think that new SBB still have much to say to young people of newer generations? What does going on making music with SBB mean for you?
SBB is getting into a full swing now... but of course, there are moments when we press hard, and then we need time for our Private life... This is for us the most Honest way and it gives Chances for the further Progress of the band. So... see you soon...