"It all began as a lighthearted, one-off bit of fun," the Ukrainians wrote of their beginning, and truer words were rarely spoken.
Who would have thought that the Ukrainian songs the Wedding Present played as a joke would turn into a full-fledged band with four albums to their credit? Leeds-based band the Wedding Present already had their reputation as the Energizer Bunnies of British indie rock by 1988, when they started playing the traditional Ukrainian song "Hopak" at rehearsals. It had been brought in by second guitarist Pete Solowka, whose father had emigrated from the Ukraine. Playing a session for BBC DJ John Peel, the band decided to add it, more for fun than any serious purpose, little anticipating the reaction it would bring. Adding singer/violinist 'The Legendary' Len Liggins (a student of Slavonic languages who was a friend of Solowka's) and authentic Ukrainian mandolin player Roman Remeynes, the band recorded three more Peel sessions of purely Ukrainian material, which was released as Ukrainski Vistupi V Johna Peela, a disc that sold 70,000 copies (reissued in 2000 with extra tracks as The Ukrainian John Peel Sessions), and was promoted by a national tour. The acceptance whetted Solowka's appetite to do more with the music, so in 1991 he left the Wedding Present to form the Ukrainians with Liggins and Remeynes, releasing the single "Oi Divincho," an NME Single of the Week, followed by their self-titled debut (much of it original compositions), after which they toured throughout Europe. Their particular band of post-punk stridency meshed well with the emotive and hard-hitting Ukrainian music. It was rough, raw, and ready -- but it could also be fun, as they proved at the beginning of 1993 with their EP Pisni is the Smiths, four glorious Smiths covers in a Ukrainian style that connected the dots between Manchester and Ukraine. That same year brought Vorony, more self-penned material with their vision of Ukrainian music, as well as a loaded version of the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs," a song that had always had a Mittel-European flavor anyway, heavily accentuated in this cover. Voted Album of the Month by Vox, it led the band on a 110-date world tour, which even brought them to the U.S. for the first time, playing Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival. 1994 meant another studio album, Kultura, which offered more of the Ukrainians' magic, plenty of insanity, and good times, as well as amending the Smiths EP for extra value. After supporting the record with a tour, the band cut back drastically on its schedule to the point where they virtually ceased to exist for several years. However, the 2000 release of Live! Drink to My Horse! On their own Zirka label did herald a rebirth, with a few English dates scheduled in 2001, and, for the summer, a Best Of set (also on Zirka). In 2002, the Ukrainians put together a covers album of traditional Ukrainian music and two Sex Pistols songs called Respublika. ~ Chris Nickson