Czeching out the riffs

Wandering through the twisting, narrow streets of Stare Mesto, the medieval hub of Prague, you’d be forgiven for thinking the city hosts a permanent jazz festival. Until, that is, you realise that the multitude of ‘jazz clubs’ (there are at least two on each street) are simply bars with blues bands chugging out covers. Not that this is a bad thing, but considering that despite the worst efforts of the Nazis and the communists the Czech Republic (specifically Prague) has enjoyed a long history of jazz (of dzez as it's sometimes written), you’d think the capital could do better than old men chugging out blues riffs. As it happens, Prague can. After some fruitless searching I hit the jackpot in Nove Mesto, Prague’s shopping and business district, much of which looks like Princes Street or Sauchiehall Street (take your pick). Not the most aesthetically pleasing part of this otherwise extraordinarily picturesque city, but for the ‘dzez hunter’ it has the AghaRTA Jazz Centrum. Probably Prague’s most famous jazz club and located off the top of Wenceslas (as in the good king) Square, the AghaRTA attracts local and international acts and, much the opposite of the trad jazz belt and braces old boys who can be found all over the city, also programmes more contemporary performers (electro, hip hop, nu jazz).


The jointlis jumpin’ at Karmelitska 23

But what I really want is a cellar. One with a tight modern outfit riffing off everyone from Miles Davis to John Coltrane, and maybe throwing in some of their own improvisations too. And I want tables with candles and much gloom and a jumping bar out back where I can hear spirited conversation behind the blowing of horns and tinkling of ivories and swooshing of brushes on drum kit.

As you’ve no doubt guessed, I found all this (and more). Across the Charles Bridge (lined during the day with old trad boys) at U maleho Glena, lies an unassuming little club beneath a pub at Karmelitska 23 in Mala Strana, the picturesque district of winding streets set beneath the city’s castle. We is talkin’ jazz (sorry, dzez). Five men (tenor sax, guitar, upright bass, drums, piano) crowded onto a tiny stage with an ancient picture of a naked woman wishing all a happy birthday. Some way into the set, another woman squeezes onto the stage and begins belting out standards: Billie, Ella, etc.

After being locked into the jazz joint with the pianist and the bass player and rather too many jugs of Staropramen (more of which I sampled the day before during a tour of the city’s brewery), l stumble back across the Charles Bridge (now lined with lovers) to my apartment off Starometske Namesti (Old Town Square). To coin a cliche, it was happenin’. (Miles Fielder)


I“ where, the trick is to "

Excess baggage

Festivals, flights and fabulous fares

I LOTS OF NEW TRAVEL books are filling up the shelves at the moment. A brand-new title from Rough Guides is The Rocky Mountains. and there are also revised editions of the Greece. New York, Jordan and Sicily guides. Gay Times has launched two titles. both out in May: guides to Amsterdam and London which cover the clubs. pubs, saunas. cruising grounds and accommodation facilities within the cities. Log onto www.gaytimes. for more details. Finally, all-new guides from Lonely Planet include Libya, Dublin (condensed), Chiang Mai and NOrthern Thailand. and Cycling USA (west coast).

I IF YOU PREFER TO be out there doing it rather than reading about it, how about a short break across the water in Ireland? Two cities vying for your attention in May are Derry and Belfast. The Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival runs from 1 to 5 May, and features artists like Black Umfolosi and Courtney Pine. Meanwhile, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival runs in Belfast from 2 to 12 May, with participants


ranging from authors lrvine Welsh and Nick Hornby to comedians Daniel Kitson and Rich Hall.

I lT’S NOT TOO LATE to take part in a home- grown festival of a different kind: the West Linton Walking Festival runs until Saturday 27 April, with led treks letting you in on the history. culture and wildlife of the area. More at wwwscot-

I lFYOU'RE determned‘ to leave the country then STA might be able to help. It’s promoting a range of city breaks, such as Brussels from £79, Home from £160 and Dubai from £331. Find out more at www.statravel. or call 0131 226 7747.

I IF YOU’VE BEEN inspired by our London feature. log onto new website wwwgreat Iondondealscouk. which features a huge range of hotel and shOrt break offers as well as discounts on visitor attractions.

I WE LOVE THE NEW Little Language Series of phrasebooks from Michael O’Mara Books. At only £1.99, these pocket-sized guides contain the real essentials for a trip: ‘My friend is paying,’ ‘are you married?’ and “sorry, you’re not my type.’


ANNIE CAULFIELD Show Me The Magic (Penguin/Viking $312.99) 0...

incl iii lllE music

It always feels like a bit of a cop out when you are in a foreign city and you hire a taxi driver to show you round the place when you should be slumming it with the proletariat in the local air conditioning-free public bus. Annie Caulfield doesn’t think so, she has written this very funny book about travelling all round the tiny (well the same size as the UK anyway) West African country of Benin with a control freak taxi driver called Isidore.

Caulfleld, a scriptwriter (This Life, The Lenny Henry Show) is alone, single and at the mercy of her taxi driver who insists on telling her when to eat, drink and sleep, as well as showing the high and low lights of his voodoo-centric corrupt culture. It is a fascinating dynamic between these two oddballs and Caulfield milks it for all it’s worth, working her well honed gag writing skills around the most genuinely frightening of moments. (Paul Dale)

1’5) Apr l.) Mm; Qi‘i‘l’ THE LIST 115