Escape to the blues

WA blues musician Lez Karski’s family history would make a riveting book or movie.

Shortly after Germany and Russia crushed Poland and launched the Second World War, his father Tadeusz Kryska-Karski was rounded up with thousands of other defeated Polish soldiers, police officers and intellectuals and put on a train destined for the Katyn forest.

He managed to escape the train, and the subsequent massacre of 22,000 of his compatriots by Soviet secret police on the orders of the tyrant Joseph Stalin, and made his way to France where he joined the remnants of the Polish army to try and fend off the Nazis.

Meanwhile Karski’s mum Halina Wszolek and her sister had escaped the hell of a Siberian labour camp, walking through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Palestine where Halina lied about her age to join the Polish army. At 16 years old she drove munitions trucks and convoys of wounded soldiers across North Africa.

But it was back in Italy she met her future husband, who was hitchhiking back to his unit. After the war, the couple married in the UK, where Lez Karski was born.

When he was eight years old the family moved to Germany, but times were still tough. There were race riots in the army school he attended and fighting on the streets.

The experience forged an alliance of boys from ethnic minorities, and as teenagers they formed Karski’s first band, The Peasants.

The family again relocated to the UK, but it was now the swinging 60s and Karski attended Ealing Art College with classmate Fred Bulsara (Freddy Mercury).

The music scene was awash with blues guitar greats and Karksi soaked it up.

His band Raw Silk supported Black Sabbath and Motorhead and the Yardbirds at the legendary Crawdaddy Club,

AC/DC

Joining Liverpool soul band Supercharge, he toured the UK, Germany and Holland, supporting Queen twice and in turn being supported by AC/DC and The Sex Pistols.

After the touring, Karski quit Supercharge and started recording his own music in Kilburn, London, but a year later set off with his wife on a round-the-world trip with a small bag and a mandolin. They stopped in India, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Malaysiua and Singapore before the trip came to an unexpected stop in Sydney.

At 29, and with his experience behind him, Karski found work in Australia as a record producer, working with Flash and the Pan, the Elks, Nick Cave, The Triffids, Angus Young, and Yothu Yindi.

His production of Midnights Oil’s early album Head Injuries album won him an Ampex Golden Reel Award, and he went on to produce Bird Noises for the Oils and four albums with Sydney’s Spy v Spy, earning a gold record for their AO Mod TV Vers in 1987.

But studio work couldn’t match the adrenalin buzz of performing live and he joined several different blues bands, including The Hippos, before forming the Bondi Cigars in 1989 with bassist Alan Britton and Shane Pacey. The Cigars were relentless tourers, and gained a reputation as one of Australia’s top pub bands.

Emotional

Moving to WA in 2000, Karski and former band-mate Ace Follington and Dave Hole formed the Nervous Investors.

And at 57 he visited Poland for the first time; “a very emotional experience”.

While there Karski played at the Wroclaw May 1, Thanks Jimi guitar festival helping to beat the Guinness Book of records for the number of guitarists playing the Hendrix classic Hey Joe.

More than 10 years on the Nervous Investors are still regulars at gigs around Perth, often with long time mate Dave Brewer on guitar.

You can catch him at the Folk and Roots Club at the Mt Lawley Bowling Club on Rookwood Street, Sunday August 27. Doors open 5pm.

by JENNY D’ANGER

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