Wednesday, July 18, 2018

NORRLÅTAR – Albums 1975-1980

Folk music was a big deal in Sweden in the 70s. It connected well with the progg ideals of a locally cultivated music against the American influence on Swedish culture that was often declared an example of US imperialism. The importance of Swedish folk music is obvious when listening to bands like Kebnekajse, Contact and Arbete & Fritid, but there were several bands that took it one or several steps further, such as Skäggmanslaget and Norrlåtar.

Norrlåtar evolved out of Lulelå's ever-changing musical collective Anton Svedbergs Swängjäng and were situated in Norrbotten, a large area in the northernmost of Sweden bordering on Finland to the east. Despite being important to the national economy due to the mining and forest industries, a lot of Sweden's Northern areas weren't properly recognized politically, slowly exposing them to the risk of being depopulated regions. This caused alarm especially among the people living there, generating a sense of protectionism of the local communities. Several progg bands addressed these problems, such as Fria Proteatern and Norrbottens Järn. Norrlåtar dealt with it in their own way, trying to preserve as much as possible of the regional music, including making field recordings of the local musical traditions. Being geographically close to Finland, Norrlåtar's music has a strong Finnish strain, including several songs sung in the Finnish language.

Folkmusik från Norrbotten (Manifest, 1975)
International relevance: **
Instrumental, Finnish vocals

Norrlåtar's first album was aptly titled ”Folkmusik från Norrbotten”, ”folk music from Norrbotten”. It's a straight up traditional album of dance tunes predominantly performed on fiddles but also includes a few vocal tracks in Finnish. Perhaps an acquired taste to many, but tracks like ”Visa från Erkkiheikki” and ”Lanna-Villes schottis” have a transcendent mournful and touching quality about them.

Meikäläisiä/Folk som vi (Manifest, 1976)
International relevance: **
Instrumental, Finnish vocals, Swedish vocals

The bilangual title means ”people like us” in English and further emphasizes Norrlåtar's concern with their native region. The instrumentation is augmented by bass and acoustic guitars, possibly making ”Meikäläisiä/Folk som vi” more accessible to people unfamiliar with Swedish traditional music. In a way a more fluent and upbeat album than the previous one, but still with dashes of fine melancholy in ”Ringlek från Övertåernå”, ”Emigrantvisa” and ”Visa från Roknäs”, the latter sung a capella by Maria Rosén.

Urminnes hävd (Manifest, 1978)
International relevance: **
Instrumental, Finnish vocals, Swedish vocals

Similar to Meikäläisiä/Folk som vi”, and again the elegiacal songs are the most touching tunes – ”Trälens sång”, ”Astridin Valssi”, ”Sorgmarschen”, ”Maa un mustta” and ”Farväl till Jokkmokks skogar”. With more songs of that feel than previous albums, this might be Norrlåtar's best album.

Framtidshopp (Manifest, 1980)
International relevance:
Instrumental, Finnish vocals, Swedish vocals

”Framtidshopp” is the last and weakest Norrlåtar album for the Manifest label. While the style isn't much different from their previous outings and a decent share of sad and beautiful tunes, the album just doesn't sound as inspired as the ones before it. 

Mention should also be made of ”Dans på Sörsidan” by accordion virtuoso Börje Zettervall. While not a progg album (although some people want you to believe it is), it was released by Manifest in 1979 and features several Norrlåtar players, including key member Hans Alatalo.

Norrlåtar continued releasing albums in the 80's and 90's.

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Om IB på Gamla Riksdagshuset (MNW, 1974)

International relevance: -
Swedish vocals, spoken word 

Featured artists: Sture Källberg / Björn Granath / Narren / Klararevyn / Finn Zetterholm & Hasse Alfredsson & Tage Danielsson / Gösta Ekman / Lena Nyman / Monica Zetterlund / Lilla Klara / Gösta Bredefeldt / Dramatiska Teatern / Olof Buckard / Robert Karl Oskar Broberg / Fria Proteatern / Jan Myrdal

Journalists Jan Guillou and Peter Bratt caused great upheaval in May 1973 when they exposed a Swedish secret intelligence service, IB (most often refered to as Informationsbyrån, ”the information bureau”), unknown even to the Swedish Parliament and Social Democratic prime minister Olof Palme – or so he said... IB kept files on citizens with left-wing affinities, used spies in foreign countries, was responsible for a break-in at the Egyptian embassy in Stockholm, and had ties to CIA and the Israeli intelligence service Shin Beth. The disclosure soon took on the size of a scandal, comparable to Watergate only with Swedish proportions. Guillou, Bratt, journalist Håkan Isacsson and photographer Ove Holmqvist were arrested for espionage, and the three writers were sentenced to jail – itself a remarkable turn of events. There were so many irregularities and odd twists that it's impossible to give a sensible brief summary of the so called IB affair that remains one of the biggest political scandals ever in Sweden.Needless to say, a lot has been written about it ever since and it still surfaces as a hot topic every once in a while.

In December 1973, 4,000 people showed up at a manifestation against IB and the jail sentences, and for free speech and freedom of the press. An impressive amount of actors such as Gösta Ekman, Lena Nyman and Björn Granath, comedians and showmen like Olof Buckard and Hasse Alfredsson & Tage Danielsson, leftist debaters like Jan Myrdal, theatrical groups like Klararevyn and Narren, and artists such as Finn Zetterholm, Robert Karl Oskar Broberg, Fria Proteatern and world renowned jazz vocalist Monica Zetterlund appeared on stage during the five hour meeting that was recorded and trimmed down for LP release on MNW in 1974. While its value as a historical document is undeniable, the relevance to a foreign listener is minimal, due to lengthy spoken word sections and mostly uninteresting music.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

RADIOMÖBEL – Tramseböx (Chockskivor, 1975) / Gudang Garam (Chockskivor, 1978)

International relevance: **
Swedish vocals, English vocals, instrumental

Radiomöbel (sometimes known as Musikgruppen Radiomöbel) was formed in Lund in 1973 and their sound was once described as ”they sound as if they discover their instruments while playing them”. Uttered as praise, I still have to concede with it. Their two albums consist of painfully inept playing, nowhere near their level of ambition. You can be experimental breaking rules by knowing exactly what you're doing, and you can be accidentally experimental by having no clue whatsoever what you're up to but with the results more akin to harassment than music.

Their debut album ”Tramseböx” sounds like the first, maybe second, rehearsal by a school band who bribed their music teacher to get access to the instruments locked inside a room to keep them away from people like Radiomöbel. But it was in fact recorded in 'guitarist' Andre Kangro's basement in 1975. Yes: in 1975. That means they had two years to get their shit together after forming. And they failed so bad. Originally pressed in 250 copies, it's now a highly sought-after collectors' item. But I know for a fact there's been people out there collecting dogshit too.

Three years on, and ”Gudang Garam” appeared. Did Radiomöbel spend their time learning how to get anything decent out of their equipment? Nope. Some members left the band prior to the sessions, those who stayed were still as incompetent as ever before. New singer Carin Bohman didn't help much either, nor did their attempts to write more 'complex' and 'progressive' tracks although they were so musically dyslectic they probably couldn't get a proper sound out of a door bell.

Radiomöbel's not good bad in a Shaggs or Legendary Stardust Cowboy kind of way, just bad. These albums suck mammoth genitalia. Not quite as dismal as Malaria or Prefix, but way up high on the shame list.

Full album playlist

”Gudang Garam”
Full album playlist 

PANDORA – Measures of Time (SMA, 1974)

International relevance: ***
English vocals

Don't be put off by Pandora being label mates with the criminally boring Lotus, because ”Measures of Time” is beautiful slice of heartfelt semi-symphonic prog with well-rounded melodies and pertinent playing. Pandora sometimes reminds me of Traffic, possibly because of vocalist Peter Hjelm's occasional Steve Winwood moves. There's also a dash of Israeli psychsters Churchills to Pandora's music, which is a different way to say their music is very melodic with distinct late 60's shadings. There's not one bad track among the six on this terrific album. Thanks to a couple of more recent reissues the album is somewhat more obtainable now – originals are very rare and go for a lot of money. 

LASSE ENGLUND – Lila och orange (Metronome, 1980)

International relevance: **
Instrumental, Swedish vocals

After two albums for Kjell Höglund's independent label Alternativ (including the semi-classic ”Drakväder”) and one album with his then future wife Marie Bergman, experienced guitarist Lasse Englund with released ”Lila och orange” in 1980. Housed in an assuming cover, the music is a lot flashier. The album confirms Englund to be the technically brilliant fingerpicker already ”Drakväder” revealed him to be. But as with many a dazzling guitar player, the chops and brilliance gets in the way of songs. Englund's shortcomings as a songwriter are further demonstrated by the album's vocal tracks that are mediocre at best. Leo Kottke fans will be delighted, but others might just as well ignore this album.

Lasse Englund continued making solo records but his best known for his session work for countless of artists. 

GÖRAN SKYTTE & BIRFILARNA – Än svänger det... (Amalthea, 1978)

International relevance: *
Instrumental, Swedish vocals

Most Swedes probably remember Göran Skytte as a political journalist, but prior to his work for television and daily papers, and prior to turning to Christianity, he was an occasional Hoola Bandoola Band member and following their demise, he joined Mikael Wiehe in his then new band Kabaréorkestern. Skytte also performs on a couple of albums from the 70's and 80's. including this one with Birfilarna where he plays, accordion and nyckelharpa.

”Än svänger det” is an album recorded live at Restaurang Syd in Malmö. An unspectacular LP – there are far better examples of traditional Swedish music than this one.

Monday, July 16, 2018

OPUS III & FRIENDS – Opus III & Friends (Sonet, 1970)

International relevance: ***
English vocals

An album known as much for its rarity value as its musical qualities. Released in 1970, it's an early example of guitarist Jan Schaffer performing with flute player Björn J:son Lindh (one of the title's friends) on record, standing as Schaffer's first proper album.

The date suggests a transitional work between pop, psych and prog, and that observation is close to the truth. Fans of the earliest, endearingt progg years will be delighted. The songs are well crafted and melodic, sometimes with jazzy touches. Most of them stand up well, including the and the softly moving instrumental ”General Mojo's Well Laid Plan”. The musicians' interplay builds on harmony and responsiveness and not ego trips. Which is not to say they never rock out; ”Juice of Joy” and to greater effect ”Natural Thinking Boy” let it loose enough.

Perhaps not a 100% impeccable album but nevertheless a very good one, with the enjoyment further aided by a warm sounding production. Well worth getting, especially if you can lay your hands on the Record Story Day reissue from a couple of years back.