O brother, where art thou?

Mick may tour the world's biggest stadiums, but Chris Jagger has taken his band to a village church in Poland. It's only rock'n'roll, but they seem to like it
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The Independent Online

Even the old GDR looks pretty prosperous these days: town centres are tarted up, roads and sewers have been rebuilt, and good burghers in the old West can complain about how much it all cost. Driving across the new checkpoint at Zasieki from Deutschland, you see how far Poland has yet to come. We are the only vehicle in the 20 lanes. We drive through the green light, only to be shouted at and have to reverse back for passports to be inspected. Border patrol must have lost a few personnel since the start of last month, when Poland joined the European Union.

Even the old GDR looks pretty prosperous these days: town centres are tarted up, roads and sewers have been rebuilt, and good burghers in the old West can complain about how much it all cost. Driving across the new checkpoint at Zasieki from Deutschland, you see how far Poland has yet to come. We are the only vehicle in the 20 lanes. We drive through the green light, only to be shouted at and have to reverse back for passports to be inspected. Border patrol must have lost a few personnel since the start of last month, when Poland joined the European Union.

The trio I play with are heading to Zielena Gora, just 50km from the border in what was Grunland and a German territory until 1945. The town has little remaining industry - apart from the vodka factory. Unemployment is running at about 20 per cent, a figure that matches the price increases that have been slapped on goods since Poland's entry into the EU, my friend Krzystof tells me.

It has taken Krzystof many months and e-mails to arrange this one gig in Poland with the help of the promoter from Blues Express, the local bar-cum-music-venue in Zielena G. But it's not that simple. Nothing here is. We are actually playing in Letnica, a village outside the town. The venue is an old church: the town bar is too small, and they want to open up new territory.

We are part of the biggest event in Letnica since the Russians left, and much is expected as we set up our equipment in the cold dark church, formerly neglected but hoping to serve as a new focus for the community. No doubt EU money will come in handy here: wires hang from the ceiling and there are no toilets. But there is a stage, a sound system and bags of enthusiasm.

Down the street, stark iron railings surround the properties. People peer out from behind net curtains as I am shown into a vast empty room that serves the community and has that cold institutional feel left over from the Communist days. I sit and read a book and, like almost everyone else, mark time as they have in Poland for years.

I am the big "star" from afar, brother of the famed Mick Jaggera (the final "a" being obligatory). Why am I here? A question many asked, including me. Perhaps it was fate, a detour on the German tour. Certainly you wouldn't find many German musicians coming here, and even I could probably have made as much money playing down my local. Charlie Hart, our fiddle-player, wanted to come because his father's family had emigrated from here to England in the 18th century after an anti-Jewish pogrom. He was on the lookout for anyone bearing the Zadik name.

Showtime rolled around and the place was packed as we made our way to the stage after 10 minutes of speeches: after all, why use one word when a hundred will do? The three of us slip into gear, and it sounds good with Ben Waters pounding the keyboards to my right while Charlie slides in fiddle lines. I struggle with the singing as I threw up two nights ago and am not 100 per cent, but I've kept my energy for this gig. I took a tip from my brother, who does as little as possible before a show, lounging around like a tart in a brothel with no customers. Neither of us is a spring chicken.

This is definitely the boogie set tonight: Charlie picks up the accordion, a familiar instrument here, though not as he plays it. We launch into "Blue Drag", a tune I copped from the swing violinist "Stuff" Smith, and it has a European, Django Reinhardt quality. They like it. Then we let Ben loose on "Teenage Wedding", and he rips the place up like Jerry Lee in his prime, his soft fingers flying across the keyboard, rendering our contributions almost superfluous. They love it and roar approval. Thank you, digital pianos.

I ask the audience to move forward across the 30ft gap between us. They respond instantly and rearrange the chairs, the village kids in the front grinning up at us. I make faces at them and they laugh. Not knowing the Polish for "here endeth the first set", we leave the stage unceremoniously. Some punters think it's the end of the show and leave, though most remain. It is a Tuesday night, after all.

We have been followed about by Romak, a man who is arranging a festival of one-man bands and is something of a novelty act himself, playing a number of kazoos around his neck into different brightly coloured trumpets. He is threatening to join us, so we select a suitable old Jelly Roll Morton tune and give him space to honk away.

Our sponsor Krzystof joins us: he's a fine guitar-player, and the crowd love it when one of their own gets in on the action. I'm wondering how to bring the show to an end and look up to see another guitarist plugging in his amp on the side of the stage; meanwhile, the kazoo man returns, while from the sound desk the engineer is wanging away on the fiddle. I pick up the old Louisiana washboard and skip about the church, making sure the congregation has been properly converted.

It's a party, all right, so there'll be encores for sure. One lady gives me a sweet-smelling bunch of lily of the valley from her garden, and another some red roses. More speeches are made, and frothy beer is passed around. We are asked to return.

If the EU is about anything, then this stuff should happen, not just dudes in suits meeting in smart hotels, arranging construction contracts. But there are thousands of villages in Poland, and it would be exhausting to play all of them. "My mother has lived in this village for 20 years and never seen anything like this," one man told me.

The caretaker arrives as we are clearing out and shouts that the chairs have been placed on a cross laid in mosaic on the floor right in front of the stage. I had thought about this, but whatever symbolism it might hold, there was no bad intent.

We return to Germany the following day, and I persuade our driver to take the scenic route. He is anxious to return and curses the potholes. Although he lives but 40km from the border, he had never previously crossed it and is constantly worried that our gear may be stolen. The border town is a little Boulogne, with cheap cigarettes and petrol. There's not a lot else on offer - unless you like vodka or jamming in out-of-the-way villages.

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