Years ago, I wrote a one-off TV drama on a fast track programme for budding UK writers, headed by Jane Tranter, then at Channel 5.
The story of an up-and-coming actor stalked by a crack smoking South London cabbie was loosely based on real events. Tranter described it as “dark, disturbing and violent.” And I thought, that sounds good to me. But she felt it was not something she could develop. In fact, it scared her half to death, she said. So much so, that she would “never go to Brixton again.” And that was that. My chances of a career as a budding screenwriter spent. In a later redraft, I changed the location to Notting Hill Gate–in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where I lived. But I never sent the script out to anyone else.
What I remember most about the session is that we were a varied group of ten writers each selected from across the country, based on some degree of success writing for theatre. Their ideas for TV ranged from the return of a lesbian Boadicea charging naked through the streets of England to a crop of gangland shootouts across London’s East End, and the usual bog-standard sitcom concepts that barely drew a chuckle from me. Reading them one-by-one in the comfort of my home, none of it felt real to me at all. No authenticity of people, place or time. But whilst I could talk to them intelligently on any subject and offer my constructive criticism of their writing when asked, they all remained eerily silent in return when it came to any discussion of my work. It was a collective “silent treatment,” as if they didn’t want to help or contribute in any way to my success. I was puzzled at first. “Is that all you have to say?” I’d ask. But nothing. Silence.
Their faces remaining completely blank as if they’d just read something in English when they only read and understand French. It was the same experience years later, on an MA degree in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Being the only non-white student in the entire English department based in ethnically diverse New Cross, my peers listened intently as I discussed the merits of other people’s writing, but had few comments to offer up about my own or the work of any black authors. The same silent treatment had caused me drop out of a BA degree course in Theatrical Arts at University of Birmingham many years earlier. At least this time around, I actually managed to complete the master’s programme. It was really only six months, one day a week, thankfully. Any longer, and I might have got bored.
Can you relate to being on the end of the silent treatment from colleagues or friends? How did you handle it?
Better known in Poland as one half of the duo, Przytuła & Kruk, Bartek Przytuła is worthy of attention in his own right as a blues vocalist, rebellious rascal, undisputed blues fan, and interpreter of all types of music that might make you shiver.
With the accompaniment of a guitar and harmonica, he very quickly gains your attention, and although the blues may be considered a monotonous and even boring genre by some folks, his performances are always original, due in part to his rye sense of humour and an enormous amount of unbridled musical emotions flowing straight from the heart. His music is inspired by Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, BB King, Buddy Guy, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Dixon, Big Joe Williams, and Robert Lockwood Jr–to name just a few–and this too adds a certain texture and mesmerizing context to his performances on stage.
Working with Tomasz Kruk on guitar, their performances over the last three years have notched up an impressive array of awards in every contest they have entered. So far this year alone:
Victory on the small stage competition of the Rawa Blues Festival and a gig on the main festival stage of biggest Poland’s biggest blues festival in 2010. First prize at the VI Galicia Blues Festival in Krosno and a recording session in Studio OTD (2010). Winners of the Power Flower Festival in Opatów (2010). Runners-up in Olsztyn Blues Review competition in their first joint appearance (2010). Second prize and a Audience Award at the festival Las, Woda i Blues in 2010. President of Nowa Sól Award for vocalist Bartek Przytuła at the V Solówka Blues Festival (2010). The Audience Award at the XIX Blues Nad Bobrem festival (2010).
Fresh from Katowice with a shaved head and a significant new win at an important gig on the main stage of the Rawa Blues Festival, we caught up with Bartek Przytuła to find out what makes him tick.
What drew you to the blues?
Generally, blues gives me a thrill, makes me high. It makes me shiver, and for me, it’s a quest and a pleasure to give it to others through my gigs. I remember when first heard the blues: it was John Lee Hooker’s “Boom, Boom” and I was then 10-years old and heard it on some kind of commercial. I didn’t realize that there was a whole category of such music.
What blues musicians inspire you and why?
The things that I truly admire in music are originality and emotions, no matter what kind of music it is. That’s why I really love listening to Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, BB King, Buddy Guy, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Dixon, Big Joe Williams, and Robert Lockwood Jr.
How did you learn to play guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was more into rock and heavy metal at around thirteen or fourteen years old. I was being taught by my older cousin. I stopped playing systematically after some time because of a temporary loss of interest in music, and later I started to learn how to sing. For a year, I was being taught by a professional opera singer, and since then, I’ve never stopped singing—just fell in love with it! A few years later I came back to guitar just to have an opportunity to be independent when needed.
Can white men sing the blues?
White guys very rarely really can sing the blues. To me, it seems that most white people are more into diligence; accuracy and versatility while black musicians are more innovative and great at feeling the music. These characteristics often make whites fine instrumentalists but vocals should be primarily emotive. That in my opinion is why black people are better vocalists in general.
But as always, there are some exceptions such as Dr. John and Randy Newman—it’s the feeling it invokes, that’s what makes it the blues.
Is blues music as popular in Poland as reggae?
Well, no, neither genre is very popular in Poland. Blues mostly appeal to older people while reggae is for young ears.
What kind of gigs do you normally play in Poland, and are you looking to bring your music to London?
In Poland, I play in duet called Przytuła&Kruk where we play old Delta music and songs of our own. We’ve taken part in a number of contests and have been fortunate to get some kind of award in every competition we’ve entered, even winning two of them, Galicja Blues Festiwal in Krosno and Flower Power Festival in Opatów. We’ve also recently recorded our first album and hope that it will be available to buy in Poland by the end of the year. I can’t wait to play a few gigs in London but I see it as an opportunity start playing as a solo artist.
For more information about Bartek Przytuła and upcoming gigs, visit the website he shares with Tomek Kruk: www.przytulkruka.pl
Traffic Wardens are by far some of the most hated people in Britain according to recent reports. But have you ever wondered what it takes to be one? Meet the ‘bleached blonde black babe’ who patrols the streets of West London’s Notting Hill Gate.
Underneath Portobello Roads flyover lingers the stench of years of damp posters plastered on walls despite the signs proclaiming bill posters will be prosecuted. Excrements from homeless drunks, boxes to keep them warm overnight and empty beer cans are normally the only remains around 8 am on a rainy Friday morning. The traffic is heavy and nobody pays much attention to the drunk still sitting beneath the bridge watching the world drive by. His appearance is dirty and his hair hangs wild. He tries to hide his grimy face with a pair of dark sunglasses that have an eyepiece missing.