The first thing you’ll likely notice about this post is the date. August 20, 1968. Wait… Wasn’t that the eve of the Soviet invasion? Yes. It was.
On the evening of August 20, 1968, the Soviets mobilized and struck like lightning. The initiated a massive invasion and by the morning of August 21, Prague alone had over 500+ tanks in controlled strategic locations and tanks with over half a million Warsaw Pact troops from Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria and the U.S.S.R filled the entire country.
So how did we happen to come across these images of The Moody Blues performing on the Charles Bridge in Prague on the very same day?
Seriously – on the very same day.
Here they are performing Knights in White Satin on the Charles Bridge in Prague.
It turns out that The Moody Blues were in Prague taping a television show entitled the Europarty. This episode was being taped in Prague. They were touring with Peggy Lee and others.
On the evening of August 19th, they performed with a local band in a nightclub in Prague and on the day of the 20th, they were on the Charles Bridge taping the show.
They also performed Voices in the Sky on the stairs leading down to Kampa.
They were due to perform a concert the next day, but the British government rushed them out on Air Force planes before that could ever happen.
The Europarty Television Series, Prague. Aired in France on August 21, 1968. It was a popular show at the time directed by Dieter Pröttel. The French, German and English speaking host is Albert Raisner and the others who appeared on this episode were: Shirley Bassey, Robert Cogoi, Françoise Hardy, Marta Kubisová, Manuela Manuela, Peggy March, and Alain Stephan.
For those who did have the privilege to enjoy the sight of the British rock legends playing on the Charles Bridge that day, we’re sure their memory was rapidly interrupted by the sight of the Warsaw Pact tanks rolling down Wenceslas Square.
If this interests you then you will love this…
Here is almost 10 minutes of the August 20, 1968 taping of the Prague Europarty show in Prague.
He continued, “The British Air Force very kindly got us out, and it wasn’t until we got back to England that we realized what was going on. It left a big impression on us – and not only because we never got paid! … We thought all that was over. It made a big mark, and then when we went to America…”
In another interview he was asked, “What’s the strangest gig you’ve ever played?”, to which he responded, “A Czechoslovakian club in Prague in 1968 as the Russians were arriving.”
But perhaps the best interview regarding his memories of the experience is this one, where Justin Hayward recalls the memories in an interview we’ve transcribed for you from Visual History TV.
Well, we were booked by a German promoter and the German TV company to do some gigs and some television in Germany and then we went on from there to do – ah, because this promoter had connections in Czechoslovakia – we went on from there to do a television show that was recorded on the famous bridge (The Charles Bridge) that you mentioned in daytime, and also we played a club in the evening the night before, too. And, so, it was really for television and promotion. But I remember it very clearly because of the events surrounding it and because we were asked – when we had done those gigs – we were asked to leave by the British Consulate and we were flown out by the British Air Force that were airlifting its own people, all the British people from the Embassies and things like that, out of Prague. And so, it was only, in truth, when we got home to London, that we realized exactly what’s going on in Prague, because we couldn’t learn that in Czechoslovakia. There was no media connection or stuff that was broadcast on television and told us what was happening.
Our hotel was taken over by the Russian generals. Well, some kind of Russian command, and, of course, we had no information at all, nor did the people that we’re working with. But, we were taken to the airport, or a airport, where there was probably – well I don’t know – an airfield in a bus with a lot of other British people who knew that we had to leave, and nobody was quite sure what was going on. And then we were put on British Airways, er – British Air Force plane – to go out of there. I think a lot of countries staff were airlifted out of Czechoslovakia on that day.
We noticed when we were there that, because the rock and roll music wasn’t a part of people’s growing up and culture, then their feeling about music was very different. We played with a Czechoslovakian band on the night before, in this club, and their equipment was very dated and their costumes were very dated and it wasn’t like ‘flower power’ or any of the things that had happened in the west. It was very different, and their amplifiers weren’t so good and they wanted to buy our jeans and our shirts. Those were the things we noticed. But it was only when we got home to London airport that people said to us, “Hey, you’ve been all over the news!” and then we realized what had happened.
But when we started to set up for the television show when we were there, we had no where to change and we had our clothes with us and we said to the director, “We need somewhere to… Is there anywhere to change? Just somewhere, a tent or something like that.”
“Oh, nope, okay, come with me!” and they had a representative from the government there, I suppose, with us and they went and marched off the bridge, down the steps and to the first block of flats and (motions knocking) knocked on the door and a woman answered and “Yes, yes…”
And we were saying “No, No, don’t disturb these people,” and again he, “Yes, Yes, you must come, you must come like this…”
And the guy was in bed. He must have been working nights, and they threw him out of his bed and we’re going, “No please, please, no! No, don’t do that!”
And again, “Yes, yes, you want somewhere to change. Come here.” And they were made to stand outside while we changed and we felt so, so bad. And it’s only recently in the last few months that I’ve seen this film. You can see it on YouTube now, and we don’t look too happy. But it was a very strange experience for us. One other thing that I have to mention was the power of radio through The Voice of America, the station – I don’t know whether that was a military thing, or a propaganda thing, but certainly Voice of America broadcast all the time into the, behind the Iron Curtain and the BBC World Service. And I know from both of those things that our music was regularly on both of those broadcasts.
Well, it was an education because I realized how truly, truly beautiful this city was then and how – tragic is probably the word – it was then that it had been cared for. The hotel they put us in was very, very beautiful, but it was – they gave us two rooms, two rooms connected – with an arch, but all six of us were in there. Five people in the band and the roadie. When one of us didn’t sleep in there because he was sleeping with one of the technicians from the television company, with a girl – so at least there was only five. But when we arrived in the room, the bath was full of water. And Graham, our drummer, unplugged the water and let the water go and then later in the day we went to have a shower or a bath, because there is no shower, and we turned on the tap and there was no water. And I went down and I say, “Listen, there is no water in the bath,” and he said “Look, you had your water. It was waiting, it was in the bath. (Smacks himself in the forehead) “I don’t know that.” I guess, (laughs). We went on up and said, “You stupid thing, you know, you let the water go.” It was a – I’ve just remembered it was such a beautiful city and we had a wonderful welcome there and we couldn’t have been, amongst better friends at the time.”
It’s so surreal and unbelievable to see them performing in their hippie clothes on the bridge one moment and in the next moment, the tanks rolled in.