In June 1992 the Czechs had sent a magnificent, all costumed, all singing, all dancing, all talented folk ensemble to Bridgwater. In July, less than a month later, the Bridgwater Twinning group knocked together a motley crew of singers, actors and musicians largely drawn from the band ‘The Spanners’ . 7 of the 10 travellers took the county minibus test (thanks to Derek Wooton) and shared out the long drive ahead.
The pioneers of the first Czech tour were Brian Smedley (driver/guitar/accordion) Matt Bartlett (driver, bassist) Andrew Napthine (driver/juggler/guitarist) Gary Di Campo (driver/drummer) Nigel Carter (driver) Keith Painter (driver/sound engineer) Jo Cox (driver/vocalist) Mac McCausland (vocals) Dave Hanna (traveller) Amanda Jones (traveller) . Unplanned, the pioneers were joined by Richard Gaskell, who was not at all part of the trip but joined the group in Prague and squeezed onto the bus and into the arrangements for home hosting.
The tour covered 4313 miles of which Smedley drove 1,244 Bartlett 561 Carter 542 Di Campo 523 Cox 500 (the UK legs) Painter 499 and Napthine 444.
The cost of the trip was £2040 of which the travellers paid £1670 and this was supplemented by grants from the British council (£300) and SDC (£170)
Sun 5th July the band left Bridgwater at 5pm with Jo Cox driving the bus to Kent stopping at Watchfield to pick up a barrel of Ritchies cider
Mon 6th July Travelling overnight Dover to Ostend, Smedley drove the bus onto the continent changing at the German border to Bartlett then at Frankfurt to Carter. The group stopped overnight at the Jugendherberge in Nurnberg where they liberated a crate of German beer and the tone of the trip was set with a shaving foam fight between Bartlett and Cox,
Tues 7 July Napthine drove the bus to the Czech border at Rozvadov and then on to Prague where rendezvous was made with Gaskell at the Strahov college dorms. The band went on the town and started with the most famous touristy pub U Fleku. Meanwhile Amanda had started to develop a limp and some crutches had to be loaned from a hospital.
Wed 8 July With Keith Painter driving eastwards the band reached Uherske Hradiste early afternoon and had food waiting at the flat of Marta Bobkova. Then…with the organisation already creaking..the group went to the town hall for a reception…where the Mayor also fed them. However, the band weren’t staying in UH they were billeted in Vlcnov. That’s where they headed to next for an evening of wine tasting which quickly turned into slivovice tasting and the members rapidly turned into gibbering imbeciles.
Thurs 9 July The hungover morning was dog haired by a visit to the Jarosov brewery. Then the first gig..a country and western bar in Uhersky Brod called U Rochu
Fri 10 July This day saw 2 rather strange gigs. One up a mountain to a summer camp full of children. They danced, but Andrew managed to also entertain them with his juggling skills. Then in the evening a gig in Uherske Hradiste pub U Koruna where the audience sat in large beer barrells to watch.
Sat 11 July a rather disturbing 10am concert in a shopping centre in the spa town of Luhacovice kicked off this day followed by an even dafter gig in the Jan Amos Komensky museum in Uherske Brod. The day ended with a party in the Vlcnov hills in a series of blue and white painted cottages called the ‘Vlcnovske bouda’-apparently ‘Vlcnov naughty house’. People got very very drunk but kept playing music until the sun came up at 4am. An elderly social democract called Dragomir joined in but had to take his false teeth out..only to find them in a jar of pickled gherkins the following morning.
Sun 12th July was thankfully a quiet day. The travellers moved hosts to Uherske Hradiste and the only gig was another strangely inapropriate one in the grounds of the Buchlovice chateau..irritatingly next to a peacock that screeched louder than the PA system.
Mon 13th July The Czechs had arranged a party at Antonins mountain cottage and the Brits had invited a group of Czech girls from across the country. Eva from Plzen, Iva who was an au pair in Bridgwater but had been rescued and returned and Dana from Brno. They were joined by 2 random Dutch passers by, Mark and Anette. During the day the group were taken for a terrifying aeroplane ride where the comical pilot pretended the engine had failed. Smedley & Bartlett had wisely instead chosen to drive to Brno to pick up the girls…..On the drive to Brno they picked up a hitchiking Radana Orsagova who was to remain friends for the next 30 years.
Tues 14 July After a days wandering on the White Carpathian hills and forest the band moved back to Vlcnov where there was a major gig at the Kultury Klub. Mostly yet another night of being totally wasted.
Wed 15 July Most of the band couldn’t even wake up to go to the mayors reception so Smedley and Bartlett went and took Eva and the 2 Dutch along and made them pretend to be English. Which worked.
Thurs 16 July The band headed back to Prague and to make a change, all went out and got drunk.
Fri 17 July The band returned via the northern route with Di Campo and Bartlett doing the bulk of the driving and stopping in the German town of Erfurt
Sat 18 July the bus continued to Amsterdam with Smedley doing most of the driving. Amsterdam seemed a good place to break the journey..even though it was quite a bit out of the way
Sun 19 July Heading back via Holland and Belgium the group returned back to Bridgwater at 3 in the afternoon