Spent five happy days in London as a birthday present for myself. Urban vacations are so much more fun now with Google Maps! And a cotton tote bag was my entire luggage.
Desertfest 2022, a three-day doom metal festival in Camden Town. Well organised, good venues in fun surroundings, enthusiastic musicians, friendly and polite audience. There were about 80 bands to choose from, most of them quite obscure. I heard at least a few songs by 14 bands, but I only really enjoyed five: 1000 Mods (Greece), Earthless (California), Elephant Tree (UK), Parish (UK), Truckfighters (Sweden). My main complaints about the other nine bands was a) a lack of variation in tempo and loudness, b) tortured screaming. Part Chimp made me curious to hear some of their recordings, but their gig was so loud that I had to flee.
Visited Cousin E who is studying maths at Imperial College, going to lots of classical concerts, playing the piano, playing Magic the Gathering, making friends and generally enjoying life!
Enjoyed Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Battersea Park and (for the first time) the magnificent Kew Gardens with its Victorian glass houses.
Checked out the little UCL Art Museum, the Museum of Freemasonry and the overwhelmingly vast Victoria & Albert Museum.
Visited book stores and DVD stores: FOPP, Forbidden Planet, Waterstones Piccadilly, Foyle’s, Skoob Books. Bought a single book and three DVDs, about which more in future blog entries. Strictly stuff that I can’t get easily online.
Bought a cap at Laird for this autumn.
Drank lots of tea and had many nice meals.
Stayed in a tiny worn room at an affordable hotel, conveniently located near Paddington Station, with nice breakfasts.
Walked a lot, rode the subway, rode a double decker bus.
Watched the movie All Is True (2018). Star-studded Ben Elton-scripted family drama about Shakespeare’s last few years in Stratford after he left London and the stage. Gorgeous Tudor sets and costumes. Grade: good!
Saw an amazing exhibition of Travel To Scandinavia posters from 1900-1969 at the Nordic Museum. Highly recommended!
Attended a great gig with The Blind Boys of Alabama plus Amadou & Mariam at Stockholm Concert Hall. It was sold out and everyone was super enthusiastic. Gospel and blues stars teaming up with afrobeat stars, excellent musicians, good stuff!
Had a waffle and talked to a charming newlywed young Lesbian couple at my friend’s birthday party.
Cycled and walked a lot in the sun.
Played Orléans with gaming buddies in my dad’s guest house on a scarp by the sea.
I recently reviewed Mattias Dristig’s card game NätTrollz. A man of many talents, he is also a band leader, and I have received three CD:s for review. There are 16 tracks total on these discs, which would in the age of vinyl have made them EPs unless some tracks had been super long. Much of the following will only be comprehensible to people familiar with Swedish folk rock, but I guess it’s never too late to go down that rabbit hole.
Dristig, I would guess, is a typical Swedish 19th century military name. When 300 new recruits showed up all named Svensson, Larsson or Nilsson, officers needed to be able to tell them apart. They would give the men short new surnames, many of which were manly adjectives. Dristig is an archaic word for ‘brave’. And his band Drabanterna are the ‘bodyguards’ or ‘henchmen’. So this band is pretty much named Braveheart & the Bodyguards.
A pair of musicians perform on all three discs: Mattias Dristig writes all lyrics and most tunes, sings his heart out and plays rhythm guitar; Kristoffer Åberg plays lead guitar, bass, banjo and more. Camilla Hederstedt sings backup beautifully on two of the discs. (Somebody give this woman a record deal!) Other members come and go, doing a fine job too.
The musical style is called progg in Sweden. It’s a 70s style, but it has nothing to do with virtuoso prog rock, odd time signatures or scifi cover art: it’s folk rock with politically progressive lyrics. On the 2017 sleeve, Dristig identifies four main enemies: neofascism, capitalism, patriarchy and the middle class! A graduate of Saltsjöbadens Samskola, your reviewer hunkers down a little self-consciously and becomes acutely aware that he’s a member of Sweden’s non-revolutionary Left.
I would compare this music primarily to Lars Winnerbäck, Stefan Sundström and Ulf Lundell, which may just be a sign of a life lived in Stockholm. Dristig & Drabanterna are based in Gothenburg, where the obvious references may be other ones. I don’t know the genre very well, so the reader beware: this is not an expert review.
2008’s Kinesisk demokrati (yes, they appropriated the G’n’R album title) has four songs. #1 is about homelessness and sounds like The Clash. #2-3 are folk ballads in triple time, one about insomnia and depression, the other about media exhibitionism and quite similar to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”. #4 is a piano ballad about depression and mental care facilities. Some fiery guitar solos here don’t recur on later discs.
The 2012 offering Fru K har kommit hem (“Mrs. K has come home”) ranges quite widely in style: it has two boogie tunes (#1, #4), two Swedish folk songs / visor (#3 in triple time, #6 in quadruple), one Greek-style folk song (#2) and one pop tune that reminds me of The Kooks (#5). Lyrical themes are anti-capitalism, alcohol, lost love, class hatred, environmental politics and childhood summer memories. Song title #5 translates as “The need for new environmental policies”, which is magnificently progg. Reminds me of the Norwegian metal parody band Black Debbath’s excellent tune “Åpent brev til sporveisdirektøren”, “Open letter to the director of public transport”!
The 2017 disc Kallt (“Cold”) with six tunes is the band’s latest release apart from two singles, as far as I can tell. It has two boogie tunes (#1, #5), three folk ballads in triple (#2, #3, #6) and one folk rock song. Lyrical themes are diminishing social solidarity, missing your loved one, loyalty to friends, political protest and breaking up.
All in all I’ll say that though it’s not my genre, I believe I recognise this as quality stuff in its genre. There’s a lot of boogie, a lot of folkie ballads in triple time and a lot of political agitation. I’ll be happy to buy a ticket the next time Dristig & Drabanterna play Stockholm.
Most of the band’s catalogue is available on Spotify and Deezer. As for information about them, they haven’t got a super focused internet presence, but you can check Dristig’s publishing website for news, and you can thumbs-up the band’s page on Facebook.
Povel Ramel (1922-2007) was a huge presence in Swedish entertainment for half a century from his first hit song, “Johansson’s Boogie Woogie Waltz”, in 1944. Here’s a song of his from 1968, performed by the beloved comedienne Birgitta Andersson (born in 1933). As it spoofs Gothic horror, it will be interesting to see how my high school pupils react to it as part of our horror fiction course. Chances are they aren’t familiar with either Povel Ramel or Gothic horror.
Deezer, the streaming music service I use, suddenly offered me an almost ready-made blog entry. Here are 40 songs that I’ve added and listened to frequently in the past year. The asterisks mark the tunes with the least general popularity on Deezer right now. You can take that to mean either that they’re the worst of the lot, or that they’re the choicest, deepest cuts that you need to listen to first. Or you can simply note that two are Swedish acts that aren’t widely known abroad.
Tell me which of the tunes you like! And merry Christmas everyone!
Alice in Chains: The One You Know
Allah-Las: Seven Point Five
Alvvays: Archie, Marry Me
Andrew Bird: Capsized
Arctic Monkeys: Arabella
Black Keys: Hell Of A Season
Black Keys: Tighten Up
Brian Jonestown Massacre: Panic In Babylon
Bright Eyes: First Day Of My Life
Connan Mockasin: Charlotte’s Thong
Delorentos: Secret *
Ebbot Lundberg & the Indigo Children: Where Are You Now? *
Elephant Tree: Wither
Elton John, Leon Russell: If It Wasn’t For Bad
Eurythmics: Aqua *
First Aid Kit: Fireworks
Florence & the Machine: Shake It Out
Foster the People: Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)
In 1995 the surviving three Beatles recorded “Real Love“, a song that Lennon had written and recorded in 1979. They used his vocal takes on the new recording and sang harmony with him. McCartney played a vintage double bass once owned by Bill Black who played the bass in Elvis’s original mid-1950s trio.
This choice of instrument is what archaeologists call symbolic re-use. It’s when runestones are found built into the walls of later churches. Or when Napoleon’s imperial coronation outfit referenced designs from the tomb of Childeric I. People reach back in time to take part of the essence of great ancestors.
“Real Love” is a pretty decent Beatles song, certainly not one of their weakest outings.
The Royal Technical College’s orchestra and several combined student choirs from Sweden and Finland performed Giuseppe Verdi’s 1874 Requiem, an intricate and operatic farewell to fellow composer Gioachino Rossini and poet Alessandro Manzoni.
Gig with King Khan and the Shrines. Imagine a tall, psychedelic, semi-nude, portly, Canadian Wilson Pickett of Indian extraction belting out soul rock with a band consisting of extremely enthusiastic Germans. First time I’ve seen a horn section playing to a microphone stuck down the front of the lead singer’s hot pants.
Played Elfenland and Plato 3000.
Watched the 1955 Brando-Simmons-Sinatra-Blaine movie version of the 1950 musical Guys and Dolls. Impressed by Brando, didn’t know he could sing. Ugly sets and boring dialogue though. The reason that we watched it was that Jrette is playing Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an upcoming school production. Made me want to read some Damon Runyon.
Gig organised by Undergången with three unsigned Swedish psych acts. Space Whale are four very young and very strong musicians with excellent songs. They really blew me away! Besvärjelsen are a heavier and more metal-oriented quintet that I would really like to hear studio work from. And the Magic Jove trio are basically Cream. Extremely proficient musicians!
Hallwyl House: Swedish logging magnate’s daughter marries Swiss count and has some of 1890s Stockholm’s best architects and artists build them a town palace, no expenses spared, which she proceeds to fill with Early Modern art and craft objects. All of this remains in place and is now a museum, large parts of which is free of charge, and which is located a short walk from the Central Station.
Dinner at Tbilisis Hörna, a Georgian + Greek + Italian restaurant. Service was slow and unsynched but the food was great. The deep green tarragon soda in a bottle with almost exclusively Georgian script on the labels added to the sense of not being anywhere near Stockholm.
Gig at the Globe Arena’s annexe with psychedelic Australian genius Kevin Parker and his band Tame Impala.
Chinese banquet cooked by my wife and sis-in-law, to celebrate the end of the Year of the Wooden Goat and the beginning of the Year of the Fire Monkey. I got out my old mini steam engine and oversaw Jrette operating it with her cousins.
Visited the museum in the basement of the northern wing of Stockholm’s Royal Castle, to learn more about its Medieval predecessor that was torn down after a major fire in 1697. Not very informative, mainly a lot of 17th century sculpture fragments. A few Medieval coins were in a tiny, poorly lit glass-topped depression in the floor where you could barely make them out. But one wall of the basement is the castle’s 13th century perimeter and the other is 15th century building fronts, so that’s something. This level was the ground floor at the time: the closest you can get to visiting the Medieval castle.
A buddy of mine tagged me on Facebook to post a good song every day for a week. Here’s what I came up with.
2000s. Robert Plant’s (once of Led Zep) beautiful 2002 cover of ”Song To The Siren”. The original was first performed by Tim Buckley (Jeff’s dad) in 1968. Pay attention to the lyrics by Larry Beckett. Plant butchers them slightly, singing “unfold” for the actual “enfold”, and obscuring the fact that the lyrics are a dialogue between the poet and the Siren. She’s an unpredictable yes-then-no-then-yes woman who leaves poor 20-y-o Beckett “a foolish ship … broken lovelorn on your rocks”. This is an unabashedly literary piece of pop lyrics, referencing the Odyssey’s song of the Siren. I particularly like the lines “I am puzzled as the newborn child / I am troubled as the tide”. Note also the guitar solo by Porl Thompson, with effects and style straight out of the band he played in from 1983-94, The Cure.
1990s. Here’s a really good & heavy Norwegian metal tune from 1999 in the tradition from Black Sabbath. If you don’t know Scandy, then that’s all the song will mean to you. But if you do, you’ll realise that the lyrics to “Åpent Brev Til Sporveisdirektøren” are a complaint in Bokmål about the time table of a bus service. Apparently the buses don’t synchronise at all with the Vippetangen ferry! The band is named Black Debbath and the song title means “Open Letter To The Director Of Public Transportation”.
1970s. Here’s a psychedelic Turkish rock tune from 1975: “Gönül Sabreyle Sabreyle” (My Heart — Endure, Endure). The band consisted of the three Hürel brothers, who called themselves Üç Hürel, “The Three Hürels”. This is great musicianship: just listen to the darbouka drum fills. Awesome. And youngest brother Feridun Hürel not only sings his heart out, he also plays the fuzz guitar solo and the electrified saz solo on the same two-necked instrument (1975, remember), and wrote the song.
2010s. Here’s some romantic pop from 2014: “Places” by the up-and-coming Atlanta duo The Electric Sons.
1950s. “Rocket 88” from 1951 has often been pointed to as the first rock ‘n’ roll song. It was recorded in Clarksdale, Mississippi by the Delta Cats, a band consisting of black teenagers including Jackie Brenston (who sings), Ike Turner (yes him, playing the piano, and who would later have a baby with Tina Turner) and Raymond Hill (who plays the sax and would also later have a baby with Tina Turner). And it’s got Willie Kizart playing one of the first fuzz guitars ever recorded (here doing rhythm duty), achieved by means of an amplifier broken during touring.
1980s. Here’s “Brick Is Red“, a 1988 tune off of the Pixies’ first full-length album. Two minutes of sheer indie genius!
1960s. Here’s a pretty deep nugget of 1968 folk-psychedelic gold: ”April Grove” by the one-album-only band Chrysalis. They were students at Cornell and their main song writer James Spider Barbour was a member of Zappa’s circle. He can be heard on the latter’s album We’re Only In It For The Money drawling “The way I see it, Barry, this should be a very dynamite show”. And he’s a biologist. So here’s a song of his about insects, sung in inimitable beautiful style by Nancy Nairn.