The song ‘Warsaw Ghosts’ from The Family Grave’s album Everybody Is Flawed is a tribute to the Polish capital, soaked in history and emotion. Here, its writer explains.
“And the ghosts are laughing, because this is Warsaw.
The vodka is cold but our hands are warm.”
Listen to the album while reading the text.
Everybody is Flawed
We recorded the basic tracks for The Family Grave’s album ‘Everybody is Flawed’ in a single session straight on to cassette at my friend Tom’s flat. We agreed we would just get the vocals and guitar down and not rework them, adding bass and keys later, so with only a couple of false starts we got started and recorded the whole collection in a single sitting on a chilly afternoon in March.
I had written all of the songs on the album just a month earlier so they were pretty rough at the point we recorded them. That’s the wrong way round, but the songs felt important and I wanted to get them down quickly. In the end it took the best part of a year before we were ready to release them.
This is Warsaw
‘Warsaw Ghosts’ was born from a short trip to the Polish capital a few years ago. I was blown away by the city, not just the people and the place but the sense of history and suffering, stories that it would be easy to remain oblivious to if they were not being told.
The history of the Nazi occupation during World War Two is a story of resistance that was ultimately overcome by an evil brutality.
“My coffee was hot but my heart was cold”
The Jews of the city, one third of Warsaw’s population pre-war, were imprisoned in the ghetto and eventually they rebelled against their occupiers but the uprising was crushed. Many of the city’s citizens died in concentration camps.
The Jewish revolt was followed by a rebellion in the rest of the city but that too was crushed. Following that, the Nazis literally bulldozed the whole city. Himmler famously said that “the city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth” and by January 1945 85% of the buildings had disappeared. The boundary of the Jewish ghetto is quietly remembered by metal lines laid into the pavement of the modern city. A single synagogue remains in the centre of Warsaw, but only because the Nazis used it as a stable to keep their horses.
After the war, Poland was aligned with Russia. The Communists thought that historical Warsaw was important and so they decided to rebuild it. It is not obvious now that the whole of the old town was reconstructed in the 1950s as it feels like those bricks have existed for centuries but it is genuinely new and yet beautiful and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its reconstruction is truly a remarkable achievement.
“They rebuilt a whole city from nothing and now it’s home to a million people…”
At the same time, the Government built new housing projects for the people and an array of other buildings in the post-war Eastern Bloc style, such as the Palace of Culture and Science that looms over the central city. Ultimately the new Communist regime proved inefficient and oppressive, resulting in the successful rebellion led by the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, free elections and a newly liberated Poland joining NATO and subsequently the European Union. Poland feels like it wants to forget its past now and a new generation has grown up in a free democratic country. But the past is important and we learn a lot from its remembrance.
The story of a city
And that is what the song ‘Warsaw Ghosts’ is about. The song lyrics tell the story of the city, recalling the dead as well as the living. Warsaw feels like a city of ghosts. But it is also a city of rebirth and a source of pride. History is omnipresent, part of the fabric of the city literally woven into its streets in “the lines around the city signifying the emptying of the city in wartime”. It’s impossible not to be moved.
That is Warsaw…
“A city haunted by its histories and its lies
but where humans take the cold
and make it come alive.”
The Family Grave, Category: Artist, Albums: Everybody Is Flawed, Singles: Please Don’t Go to University, Top Tracks: Old Country Road, It’s Only Sleep, Johnny Cash, Please Don’t Go To University, Everybody Is Flawed, Monthly Listeners: 191, Where People Listen: London, Manchester, Kingston upon Thames, Belfast, Birmingham