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Polish Band Plays The Censorship Game

March 14, 1985|DENNIS HUNT | Times Staff Writer

Lady Pank, an intriguing new rock band, has a misleading name.

First of all, there are no ladies in this Polish group, which has the distinction of being the first from its country to sign with an American record company. The members, ranging from age 24 to 30, are Jan Borysewicz (guitar, vocals), Janusz Panasewicz (lead vocals), Edmund Stasiak (rhythm guitar), Pawel Mscislawski (bass) and Jaroslaw Szlagowski (drums).

Also, Lady Pank is pronounced "Lady Punk." But it's not a punk band. Its music is hard-edged pop-rock, mostly propelled by reggae rhythms, making the band sound like a Polish version of the Police.

The name was inspired by a song, "Little Lady Pank," written by guitarist Borysewicz and lyricist Andrzej Mogielnicki in May, 1982. And the group was inspired by the song; after recording the number, the two decided to form a band. On the strength of just two albums, Lady Pank apparently has become the top band in Poland. With the relaxation of foreign travel restrictions, it's now trying to extend its popularity in the West.

Currently in town on a promotional tour, members of the entourage talked about--among other things--coping with censorship in Poland. Censorship of lyrics is arbitrary, lyricist Mogielnicki, a nonperforming member of Lady Pank, noted. As the most fluent in English, he's become the band's unofficial spokesman.

"It's hard to know what they won't object to," he said. "It changes from day to day," he added. "They object to one word and the whole song is censored."

But, like others, Mogielnicki has found ways to get around the censors.

"A song on one of the albums was censored," he said. "It was a song about the problems in the country. It's a game. We've got the play the game. To get a message through in a song you often have to conceal it."

Censors also rule radio and try to control concert material as well, Mogielnicki said, but it's tougher for them to monitor live shows.

"You submit your program of songs and if they object to the lyrics, they make you drop the song. But the punk bands don't go along with this. They do what they want. They submit a list of songs with safe words but in the show they sing something else."

Guitarist Borysewicz, interpreter Greg Kuczynski, the other band members and Tom Carraba, part of the American management team, stayed in the background, listening.

Carraba briefly stepped in to explain how the band got an American record contract. One of his associates was given a Lady Pank tape a year ago at the annual music convention in Cannes. Certain that the band could make it in America, the management company interested several companies in the tape. MCA eventually signed the group.

"There were no problems with our government or their government," Carraba said. "There was just a lot of red tape from our government in getting them in the country for this promotional tour."

Lady Pank's first album, "Drop Everything," has just been released here by MCA, with the Polish lyrics translated into English. The instrumental tracks are basically the same as those on the Polish version, with just a few changes.

"We had to change it some for the English audience," Borysewicz explained. "There's more drums. There's accent on guitars. Slight touches are different."

Lady Pank, Borysewicz said, has progressed beyond this album. A follow-up has already been released in Eastern-bloc countries.

"The second album is more sophisticated," Borysewicz explained. "There's not as much reggae. There are different arrangements and some extra instruments--keyboards and saxophones. It's a better album."

Because vinyl is rationed in Poland, Lady Pank's second album will be available in limited supply, as its first was. Three-hundred thousand copies of the group's first LP were printed; all were sold, as were all 200,000 tapes released.

The Polish pop market is different from the free-form American market in other ways too, group members said:

--Polish popular charts are totally based on phone calls to radio stations rather than sales figures.

--The average album costs $4. A Western black-market album costs about $30.

--Polish fans usually have to resort to the black market to get American albums because record stores don't stock them. American albums also get into Poland by mail or via Poles who travel to the West.

--Though American albums aren't easily available, Polish radio stations constantly play American music.

--There are no long-term recording contracts. Artists sign for one album at a time; the next album may be with another company.

--There are only three or four good recording studios in Poland and artists are constantly battling for studio time.

Despite these drawbacks, the band is apparently happy with its situation. Defection, Mogielnicki insisted, isn't in the offing for Lady Pank.

"We all have families and friends at home. We want to go back. We love Poland. Life isn't too bad there if you're in a No. 1 band."

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