A proof that you don’t have to look for interesting artists very far. My first interlocutor is Mariusz Migałka. On the one hand, he revives the tradition of bards, singing songs about dragons, knights and drakkar voyages, on the other hand, he doesn’t keep off playing rock music full of energy. If you haven’t known him yet, read the interview, listen to the music and wait for his new albums. Photos by Edyta Migałka.
Remote Talk: What does being a bard mean to you? Who can be called a bard today?
Mariusz Migałka: For me the word “bard” has always had very romantic connotations going deep into the past. It infallibly reminds me of the most sincere kind of playing music and the most intimate form of contact with an audience. I imagine the bard as a kind of lone wolf, someone who has something intriguing to show to others, who can, even on his own, grip the listeners with his story, make them slip into reverie. The element of loneliness is always present in my music, no matter which band I write for. I always compose my songs in such an intimate way – just me and my guitar. This kind of work helps me later on, letting me play every piece of music even with the accompaniment of only one instrument. I think that I have something interesting to say, using interesting means, so I consider myself a bard. Who is a bard nowadays for me? Well, the world has changed a little – and the bards have changed too. However, the needs are still the same – we still look for guides, for the answers to the primeval questions or simply good tales. In a sense, every artist is a bard, if his work is of any value.
Take a feather and be a poet
Do you remember when for the first time you “took up the quill”, wrote something and thought, “I can show it to people” ?
Ufff… it’s a difficult question. I think it never happened in such a trivial way, like “I have hereby created a great work, let me show it to the world”. It all happened in a normal way and, luckily, it took me many years. Every musician has his musical nursery. I also started very early, but my first compositions weren’t the best ones in the world and, thank God, disappeared into the depths of the past. However, that didn’t stand in my way as far as taking part in festivals was concerned. So, looking for an audience turned out to be something natural – something connected with making music from the very beginning. Probably every artist looks for his or her listeners. Whether a certain work is worth plaudits is a totally different question. I can only add that I started to compose my own pieces of music in about 1997 and I think that the demo of my high-school band Sham-rock, even though naive and imperfect, when you look at it after all these years – may be treated as my first work worthy of attention.
The song will remain
Which contemporary pieces of music would you like to save the most? Imagine that you can record a CD with the pieces that you would like to leave to descendants. What songs would be on such a CD?
Hmm… If you mean my own music, of course I would like the album “Tales” to stand the test of time and become something special. I’m also very proud of the last achievements of Mr. Hyde – I mean our EP “A New Direction”. We put a lot of effort into it and making it we raised the bar high for ourselves. Recording that material demanded a lot of courage, because in a way these songs are in a newer style from previous. On this mini-album you’ll find a lot of good music worth the listener’s attention. I have too many new songs, so I can’t say I would like to concentrate only on my old pieces. A lot of artists have this problem, I suppose. All the time you are creating something new and you would like to show it, because in your opinion it’s the best at the moment. It’s the same with me, so my album for the descendants would probably include the freshest songs because they represent the current state of my mind. As they say, “today you are wiser than yesterday”.
And what about songs by other artists ?
Well, there are many. But if I had to choose a few pieces that I think should be buried in a time capsule, these would be, among others, “The Bard’s Song” and “A Past And Future Secret” by Blind Guardian, “The Mummer’s Dance”, “The Mystic’s Dream”, “Beneath A Phrygian Sky”, “Santiago” by Loreena McKennit (I would probably include her whole discography there), “Ghost Of A Rose” by Blackmore’s Night, a lot of pieces by Clannad with “Robin (The Hooded Man)” on top of the list, plus many rock songs – it’s hard to enumerate them all here. I will just mention “Tears Of The Dragon” by Bruce Dickinson, my beloved “Out To Every Nation” by Jorn or the immortal “Holy Diver” by Dio. It’s impossible to limit my choice just to one genre or artist. My list would be invidious to some of my favourite artists – the list of the best songs of all times should be very long. What is more, I’m still discovering new music all the time.
Circle of Bards
Imagine that you can sit by the fire together with other bards, other creators of the kind of music that Circle of Bards play. Who would appear in such a circle of bards?
First and foremost, the ones who don’t refuse a sip of good beer, he he … And seriously, as a musician, I think I wouldn’t have enough courage and enough skills to invite myself into such a company, but I would gladly see such a dream team. It would be nice to hear how such artists play together: Ronnie James Dio weaving his ballad about dragons or Bruce Dickinson emblazoning Jerusalem to accompaniment of Clannad.
Fight the dragons inside us
What are for you the most dangerous monsters that a beginning artist, a musician has to face?
There are too many of them to number. First of all, a beginning artist must face himself or herself. He or she has to understand how much self-determination and strength he or she needs to do what he or she loves to do. Nothing comes easily and one success isn’t always followed by another. What is more, so-called show business doesn’t create a friendly environment for artists. What’s the biggest demon of this business? If you want to remain true to yourself, do what you really want to do, play the music that is in your heart, you often have to face rejection, criticism and the lack of understanding. Personally, I think that if what you do is something really meaningful, you should do it, no matter what the circumstances and others’ opinions are. The latter may be especially demotivating – often unsupported with any proof, venomous – this is probably the worst kind of monster.
Probably at the moment most of the listeners associate you with Circle of Bards, but this is neither where your musical work begins nor where it ends. Could you remind us, especially for those who are just beginning to listen to your music, what bands have you played in so far? Could you also in a few words say what each of those bands gave you?
My adventure with music began in about 1996, but Circle of Bards turned out to be a turning point in my career. However, before the idea to create Circle of Bards was born, there were other bands in the meantime. I’ll just name a few. In 1999, I recorded my first original composition with a band called Sham-rock – the name I’ve already mentioned. In 2004, I joined a group Solveig from Lublin. Later on its name was changed into Mr. Hyde and the band continues to play under this name. Until recently, I was also a member of Acute Mind from Lublin. Besides, I took part in different other musical projects, like a song “W drodze” (“On the way”) that was written as a part of the refugee assistance programme prepared by the Volunteer Centre. I appeared in the music video for this song too. I also appeared as a guest on the album “The Oratorio of the town Lublin” alongside such artists as Krzysztof Cugowski and Magda Welc, in the song “The Bernardines”.
You don’t only sing, write lyrics and compose. You are also a graphic designer. Is there anyone or anything that inspires you in this art?
I’m a philologist by education and I’m a big fan of fantasy and sci-fi literature too. If I can say that something inspires me, that would be it. I’m a fan of the artists making the covers of albums, like Felipe Machado Franco, Andreas Marschal or Paul Gregory. I am the author of a few covers myself and there’s no denying that this kind of designing work is what interests me the most. There are a few more things that inspire me, like the book covers, CD covers, already mentioned here, and movies. For many years I’ve also been a comic maniac – I was reared on the style of Janusz Christa, Grzegorz Rosiński and Papcio Chmiel.
Have you discovered any interesting graphic artist recently? Is there anything fresh you can recommend?
I must admit that my latest discovery is Salvador Dali – as you can see, it’s never too late to delve into the past. For me, his works are fresh and new. I recommend them to everyone who hasn’t discovered them yet.
Going back to Circle of Bards – as far as I know some changes were made in the band. Can you say something more about it? How does the line-up look now?
At the moment Circle of Bards works temporarily as a duet: Mariusz Migałka and Jakub Kotynia. The genesis of this situation is long and complicated. Playing a concert during this year’s WOŚP (Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity – a very big charity campaign in Poland) we discovered that it gave us a great amount of fun and we saw big potential in this kind of playing live – vocal-instrumental band consisting of two people, amazing atmosphere and, above all, great fun. We received a very warm reception and got a lot of offers for concerts in such a line-up. We decided to take a risk. Of course, it’s possible that CoB will come back in a bigger line-up. At the moment, however, we get a lot of joy from playing in this narrow circle and we’d like to use it to its maximum potential.
In one of the interviews given about the time of releasing the album “Tales” you mentioned that on the next album you wanted to include more songs in Polish (“Tales” included songs mostly in English). Do you keep this resolution? Could you let us in on the secret and say what we can expect on the new album when it’s finally released?
Yes, I keep this resolution. I have a dozen or so compositions in my drawer, some of which are destined for the next album of CoB. At the moment I can say that half of them comprise lyrics in Polish. I’m still working on my English though, because we don’t completely turn away from it. A lot of people reproached me for bad pronunciation on “Tales” and I must agree with them to some extent. It wasn’t too good. In my defence, I can say that English wasn’t the main priority at the time. Singing in English just fitted the demands of that time. However, I’m an ambitious person so I concentrated more on improving my accent. I hope it’s much better now, but I don’t want to stop at this point, I want to keep improving it.
Some authors of the comments on YouTube wrote that your pronunciation was very bad. As an English teacher, I can say that my impression was completely different. If we compare the album by the Circle of Bards with the work of many other Polish artists singing in English, I think there’s really nothing to be ashamed of. By the way, it’s interesting that there are so many experts on English pronunciation on YouTube.
It’s very kind of you to say so. I’m aware that people cavil at my pronunciation on “Tales”, because from the perspective of time I realize some things that I can cavil at myself. Nevertheless, I received a lot of positive feedback on that album, including the ones concerning my English pronunciation. A lot of people from abroad were delighted by the fact that my singing in English was understandable. In Poland, however, the reviews and comments took no prisoners. I must admit that for me this phenomenon is a little strange, but perhaps it comes from our Polish character.
Speaking about the reactions of the fans, we must mention that Circle of Bards has fans not only in Poland, but also abroad, all over the world. How does the situation look now? Where do your fans come from? Which countries are on top of the list? Your music has been played on international radio stations, right?
You’re right. Circle of Bards has quite a big group of fans abroad, and, if we are to trust the statistics, it’s abroad where the sales of our CDs are best. It’s difficult to talk about the “leader” among fans. We receive a lot of e-mails and comments from different parts of the world: Italy, Germany, Ireland, USA, UK, Spain, Slovakia and Hungary, but also from Australia, Moldova, Brazil, and recently Norway – to mention only a few. These are various, sometimes exotic, countries. It’s always a great pleasure to read letters from our fans. At the same time, it’s a little sad that we don’t have a strong manager who could let us showcase our music to the world. I’m convinced that Circle of Bards would return victorious from such international voyages. Our music would be shown to be good enough. The proof of that can be found in the fact that foreign radio stations often play our songs.
Will the new songs – the ones that weren’t included on “Tales” but that we can now listen to on the concerts – appear on the new album?
First of all, I must say that I would really love to finally make this album. All the new compositions that we’ve already added to our concert repertoire, would appear on it. As I’ve already mentioned, at the moment we have a handful of pieces arranged for the recording. We are working on the rest of songs – temporarily as a duet. I’ll admit that the face of Circle of Bards has undergone a delicate change. I’m not speaking here about the fact that we play in a duet, but rather about some novelties we would like to introduce in the music of Circle of Bards. It will be the sign of the musical development of the group. There will be more rock ballad kind of sounds. Still, I promise there will be also dragons, sea stories and fantastical tales.
When we talked last time, we were looking forward to the film version of „Hobbit”. Now we are after the premieres of the first two parts of the film trilogy. What were your impressions after going to the cinema?
I’m totally satisfied. Once again Peter Jackson enchanted me, he took me on a journey to Middle-Earth. I’ve heard different comments on both parts of “Hobbit”, sometimes very critical. I can only tell the ones that are disappointed to take a deep breath or simply stop at the stage of reading the book and not to go to the cinema for the next part. I personally give the creators of “Hobbit” two A’s. The first part whetted my appetite, the second left me a little unsatisfied. I put it down to its being the “middle” film. I watched both parts at the cinema – each of them twice. Let it be my final comment.
And what do you think about the songs promoting the two films – the first one by Neil Finn and the second one by Ed Sheeran?
As for the first one, the song itself is amazing. I can say the same about the main theme that appears in “Unexpected Journey” now and then. Having heard it, you can’t stop crooning it. It’s one of the best themes – both from “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” and my second favourite, just after the theme of Edoras. However, I must say that the version by Neil Finn doesn’t really convince me. As for “I See Fire”, for me it’s a way-out song. The work of Ed Sheeran isn’t really my cup of tea, but this song is awesome.
Thank you very much for the talk.
I’d like to thank Mariusz Migałka for agreeing to be my first interlocutor. Many thanks go also to Edyta Migałka for letting me use her photos. Last but not least, special thanks to Siôn R. Williams for doing the proofreading. Short quotes in italics are taken from the album “Tales” by Circle of Bards.