Monday, September 24, 2012

PUGH – Ja dä ä dä! (Metronome, 1969)

International relevance ***
Swedish vocals

Ranked #9 on the blog's Top 25 list

If the words ”legendary” and ”classic” were invented for a reason, then ”Ja dä ä dä!” is that reason. Generally considered the first proper rock album entirely sung in Swedish, this is where the whole Swedish progg music really began. True that bands like Baby Grandmothers and Hansson & Karlsson had been going on prior to the release of Pugh's debut, but this album took it all one step further. If not three steps further. Because there had never been an album like this before, not in Sweden, and not internationally.

It's an utterly groovy album (groovy as in ”groovy, man!” and as in organic, swinging, moving rhythms), recorded after Pugh escaped mandatory military service. The playing is top notch, loose and free and yet with excellent discipline. It's amazing how richly textured a trio can be, but then again, the musicians are among the very finest Sweden had to offer at the time. Janne Carlsson is the Karlsson (note the change in spelling!) in the aforementioned Hansson & Karlsson, while Georg Wadenius, popularly known as Jojje, later had fame in Made in Sweden, fortune in Blood, Sweat and Tears, and sheer excellence on the children's album ”Goda' goda'”. He's best known as a guitarist so it's curious to hear him pounding away on the bass on ”Ja dä ä dä!”. Guitars are in fact played by Pugh himself; wild, stoned, crazy guitars at its finest. In many ways, the trio is closer to jazz than rock music. No wonder, as Carlsson was a jazz drummer from the beginning.”Ja dä ä dä!”.

What makes this a Swedish classic is of course the lyrics. Not only because it was the first time we had a rock album sung entirely in Swedish, but also because Pugh had a very original way to use the Swedish language. No one has every written lyrics in a similar fashion as Pugh. They are deep and naive at the same time. At a first glance they might appear as simple banalities, but nothing could be further from the truth. There's a whole lot of depth beneath the surface of the playful sentences, and it's a pity that this is lost on a foreign listener not familiar to the Swedish language. (He even touched on homsexuality in the song ”Du tände lyset Andersson” – not a common topic in 60's lyrics.) But don't let the language put you off, because even if you don't know a single word of what Pugh sings, the music speaks on a level that can be fully understood by anyone with a heart and a soul. The great playing would mean nothing at all if it wasn't for the excellent songwriting. ”Ja dä ä dä!” doesn't have a single weak track.

"Här kommer natten", released as a single, also in 1969.
  
But it does offer some favourites. ”Här kommer natten” is one of the best songs ever to emerge from the pen of a Swedish songwriter, and ”Små lätta moln” is summer at its most romantic. The cover of Kurt Weill's ”Surabaya Johnny” (in Swedish, of course) slips effortlessly in with the original numbers. When speaking of classic debut albums, this is among the very best.

A curious fact is that US label Vault licensed this for an American release in 1970. Vault obviously specialized in albums with no commercial potential whatsoever, but even by their standards, ”Ja dä ä dä!” (renamed ”Ja da a da!” for the domestic market – as if that would make any more sense!) is among their very weirdest releases. The vocals weren't overdubbed with English lyrics, but the back cover sported English translations of the words, complete with some unintentional humour to Swedish readers. (”You switched the light on Andersson” just doesn't sound very catchy in English.) If the lyrics was a mystery even translated, one can only imagine what troubles Pugh's name might have caused over there. Pugh's real name is Torbjörn Rogefeldt, and even that would have been a better name when trying to market his album to non-Swedish record buyers. I mean, how do you pronounce Pugh? Like ”Pew”? ”Pewg”? ”Puff”? ”Pah”? The correct answer is something like ”Puhgg” but who could tell?

I have no idea how many US copies were pressed, but it's a safe bet that the lion's share of the edition were shipped to Sweden. Every once in a while US copies turn up for sale here, and I've seen more of these than of Swedish originals over the years. (The album has since been rereleased many times. Those who take notes of sleeve variations, originals have the title in black lettering, whereas later copies are in white. It also comes with a foldout cover with an orange lyric sheet stapled to the spine inside. Also, blue record label.)

Another funny anecdote regarding Pugh is that the politically questionable writer Michael Moynihan in his book on the Norweigan black metal scene, ”Lords of Chaos”, stated that Pugh was the guy behind Swedish black metal pioneers Bathory. I can hereby clarify that this is NOT the case...

Hopefully, time has turned for the better as regards this album's international appeal. What must have been nothing more than a confusing curio on the international market in 1970 ought to stand out as a striking masterpiece some 40 years later. Given the ever growing interest in international progressive music, this should be hailed worldwide as the true masterpiece it is. Like I said, there never was an album like it, and I'll even go as far as to say there never will.

By the way, the title means ”Yes, it is!” and is spelled in the dialect of Västerås, the town where Pugh grew up. 

(whacked out demo version of "Små lätta moln", not on original album)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

MIDSOMMAR – Midsommar (Moondisc, 1972)

International relevance ***
Swedish vocals

Midsummer is one of the most cherished holidays in Sweden and many people celebrate the midsummer night out in the country. We eat traditional food and drink ”brännvin”, a special kind of alcoholic beverage, often enhanced with spices and flowers. Celebration often starts in the afternoon and continues until early the next morning.

Midsummer is ”midsommar” in Swedish, and the name seems highly appropriate for the band who chose it as their name. Their lyrics often deal from with topics closely connected with ”the old Sweden”, sometimes in relation to the so called progress of modern times. Nature, traditions and life in the old days are common subjects. The lyrics are political in a broader sense in pointing out the flaws of modern society, but they're kept in a general mode so just anybody suspicious of greed, commercialism and environmental issues can agree with them.

Midsommar is best known for their hard rocking debut ”Belsebub är lös”, one of the earliest examples of rock music with Swedish lyrics. Their second one, the eponymously titled ”Midsommar” veers towards a softer sound, sometimes akin to folk rockers Contact. ”Midsommar” still has some heaviness to it, but the song types are mellower in general. This isn't bad at all, because Midsommar were good songwriters, at least in terms of music. Lyricswise, they are somewhat naive even if the subject matters are important (which hardly will bother any foreign listener). Having said that, ”Midsommar” is more uneven than ”Belsebub är lös”, and a few of the songs here are actually downright bad. That goes for ”Killen och bostadsbristen” which comes across like a heavier version of some Swedish dance band of the 70's, and ”Reklamdjungeln” (although I'm genuinely sympathetic to the anti-commercialism message of the lyrics).

The opening track ”Illusionen av en färdigutbildad akademiker” is probably the best known track on the album since it was included on the 4 CD box set ”Pregnant Rainbows for Colourblind Dreamers” which was released in conjunction with Tobias Pettersons excellent ”Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music 1967-1979”. The choice of this Santana inspired uptempo track might give the wrong notion of ”Midsommar”. Songs like the decidedly Contact sounding ”Sedan urminnes tider”, the semi folksy ”Balladen om Belfast”, the heavy organ led ballad ”Naturen kämpar” and the rural ”James Lindberg Hughes” is far more typical to the album in general. To my ears, songs like these outshine most of the material on ”Belsebub är lös”, but given the unevenness of the album as a whole, ”Belsebub” probably gets the thumbs up over this one in the end. Also, it's worth pointing out that the vocals on ”Midsommar” sometimes have a bit of a crooning nature that isn't as obvious on the debut album. I have no problem with that myself, but some listeners might have so it's worth mentioning.

Over the years there has been a debate over the actual release dates of both Midsommar albums, and many people were uncertain if this one or ”Belsebub” was the first album. No year of release is printed on any of the albums. The arguments seem settled now though, and ”Belsebub är lös” is considered to have been released in 1970 and the follow-up in 1971. As far as I know, none of the Midsommar albums have been reissued, but "Midsommar" is easier to find than "Belsebub".

There is also an album by a band called Jukebox who released on album on Marilla in 1975 with three of the Midsommar members present. Organist Dan Pihl later produced Swedish comic character Ronny Jönsson (by actor Claes Malmberg) as well as single by disco queen Tina Charles! Saxophone player Reg Ward later joined for instance Dimmornas Bro, Mörbyligan and Magnus Uggla for session work. He also teamed up with Ulf Lundell on his Nature backed live album ”Natten hade varit mild och öm” recorded in 1976.

Illusionen av en färdigutbildad akademiker

Saturday, September 22, 2012

WASA EXPRESS – Wasa Express (Sonet, 1977)

International relevance ***
Predominantly nstrumental

Let me get this straight: This is progg at its most unlistenable worst. Yes, it's true that they are technically driven musicians; Åke Eriksson for instance is one of Sweden's most skilled drummers. But that's all there is to it. It's all about technique. The whole point with the music is showing off. Nothing else. To further stress how incredibly competent they are, they add ”humour” to their instrumental perfection. Thing is, it's not funny. It's just silly. ”Does humour belong in music”, Frank Zappa asked, and I see no reason why it shouldn't, at least under controlled circumstances, but when it is used only as an excuse to make things more complicated than they need to be just because they can, I just say grow up, guys.

If you need an example how funny they are, take a look at the cover. Yeah, funny. Send in the clowns. Oh, they're already in.

Stylistically, we're talking fusion. There's a whole slew of jazz in there of course, some funky moves and a bit of stupid rock music. The absolutely worst example of the latter is the cover of ”Cadillac”. Why? To show how connected they are to their rock'n'roll roots when they're so far removed from anything rock'n'roll whatsoever? So it's hard to decide whether they are at their very worst when they ”jokingly” throw an old rock standard into the mix, or when they go for extreme jazz rock gymnastics. In both cases it's so dull that it takes fifteen gallons of coffee to even stay awake.

Maybe the most disgusting thing about Wasa Express is the cheesy, studio ”funk” synthesizer handled by Bo Hallgren. His keyboard runs could outdo Usain Bolt anyday in terms of rapidity. That kind of speed might be impressive in sports, but not in music. In music it's nerve grating, plain and simple.


This, their debut album, was in its original LP format of standard album length but it feels as long as a week. And remember, this is their best effort. I don't know what crime the general public had collectively committed to get punished with three further Wasa Express albums during the 70's, all of them gradually worse. As if it wasn't enough, they even reformed briefly in the mid 80's, then again in the 00's. They still perform and have released two albums with the new line-up. Have mercy on our souls.

Prior to their first album the band was called Klara Express and they made some never released recordings. They are now available for free download at Åke Eriksson's website (along with loads of other material), and although far from being any masterpieces they are at least better than what ended up on vinyl.

Eriksson was also in fusion band Egba, and later on he played the drums in Attack who scored a major hit in Sweden with the stinker ”Ooa hela natten”.


MR. BROWN – Mellan tre ögon (Fly Khan, 1977)

International relevance: ***
English/Swedish vocals

Information on Mr. Brown is hard to come by. What is well known however is that they released a privately pressed symphonic progg album held in high regard among collectors of the genre. The album cover is one of the weirdest in the entire progg genre and suits the curious title well, which in full reads ”Mellan tre ögon med Mr Brown” (”Between three eyes with Mr Brown”).

The obvious point of reference is Pink Floyd - ”Dark Side of the Moon” and ”Wish You Were Here” in particular - with nice folksy touches in a Jethro Tull vein. The Tull influence is particularly clear when the flute enters the otherwise piano oriented sound, as in ”Kharma 74” and the only proper track sung in Swedish, ”Liv i stad utan liv”. There are also pseudo-classical moves, mandatory to an album in this ilk. But Mr. Brown never falls into the pretentious traps. They keep it low-key and the emphasis is on highly lovable melodies and a lush, clean sound. Considering this is a private pressing, the album is even more impressive. The production is appealing and with all the beautifully crafted melodies, it should attract even the toughest symph skeptic.

Three of the tracks are entirely instrumental, and it is these that reveals the Jethro Tull leanings the most. Mr. Brown often take a simple, melancholic melody and build a whole song around it.
”Resan till Ixtlan”, named after Carlos Castaneda's book, even hints at Leonard Cohen's ”Bird on a Wire” wrapped in that semi-classical robe so elegantly worn by the band.

The most curious track is the album closer, ”I'll Arise”, which puts all symphonic aspirations aside in favour of what can best be described as a Lou Reed pastiche! It's not far removed from the style Reed adapted in the years from the Velvet Undergrounds third LP up to his first solo album. A suprising ending to an oddly addictive and overall excellent album!

Rumour has it that Mr. Brown reformed a couple of years ago for live gigs but skipped the style of their sole album altogether to play only 60's covers. A weird move it seems when you hear what kind of original quality material this seven piece was churning out on ”Mellan tre ögon”. One Anders Giselsson stated on progg.se that members Anders Nilsson (keyboard) and Håkan Andersson (guitar, mandolin, vocals) were still writing songs together as late as 2005.

Four of the original band members have been affiliated with other progg acts over the years, such as the obscure Östan Sol Västan Måne, Bluesblocket, Blå Schäfer, and the strange ”anti-progg progg” rightwing singer/songwriter Carl-Anders Dexter, none of them anywhere near Mr. Brown in neither style nor brilliance.

Friday, September 21, 2012

BLUESET - Rock Machine (KMB, 1974)

International relevance: ***
English vocals

UPDATE In response to my original post, VMarcoV provided me with the following information in the comments section below:

"
I don't know if the drummer is still alive, but when Micke was I know that he lived out in the Lidingö area somewhere. Towards the end of Micke's life they used to get together in his house and play records etc. He was pretty much straight and didn't want to play anymore (unlike Micke who had various bands such as 'Long Time Survivors,' 'Bad Boys' and 'The Works' (his last band.)

Blueset: Consider that Micke was from Lidingö and 99% of his friends were from there and Östermalm/Gärdet. He got HIV from a woman called Lotta Bäck, who reputedly had 'Lidingös snyggaste häck.' She later had two healthy babies and moved to Egypt, so that's kind of extraordinary.

Micke didn't like alcohol and wouldn't want to be described as an alcoholic. He was prevented from smoking dope, which was what he wanted, because he was in the Methadone Program. We did acid together just a few months before he passed."

Also, Kent O added:

"I just want to tell you that Kenta Loong (Kenth Lång), who was my half-brother and was born in Karlstad 1952, died in 1987 in Södertälje. He suffered for many years of diabetes, which gradually attacked his eyes so that he eventually became almost blind. The diabetes also caused renal failure and he had the last few years to undergo dialysis several times a week and it was this that was the main cause of his early death."
 


Thanks to both of you for sharing additional on the fate of Blueset!
 

What follows is my original unedit review of the album.
 

The hardest thing about starting up this blog was to decide which album to write about first. I went for the ”local colour of my youth and childhood” option, and chose a band which (partly) came from the town where I grew up: Södertälje. A few words about this town might be in its place as a backdrop to the music of Blueset.

Södertälje is situated no more than a couple of miles south of Stockholm. Back in the 70's, population was around 80,000 and many people living there worked for the car factories and the medical industry. Given the short distance to the Swedish capital, the city suffered from a kind of a capital complex while it was very keen to preserve its integrity at the same time. In the late 70's there were were several racial clashes between immigrants and the so called ”raggare”; young people with an interest in American cars of the 50's. They were often seen weekend cruising up and down the small town streets with loud rock'n'roll music bursting through the rolled down windows. Many, in fact most, of these clashes were instigated by the raggare. There was often an underlying sense of hostility in the city air because of this (and tragically, it lingers on until this very day when the neo-Nazi inclined National Democrats have taken place in the city council). But there are many stories of unprovoked violence aimed at just about anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There was something Chicago-like about the town in those days.

On the other hand, Södertälje was far ahead in terms of cultural matters. The city library was amazing and offered a varied collection of books and records – quite frankly, it was thanks to them that I had a personal cultural education on my own. Then unknown painters and sculptors were given a first shot in the city art gallery, artists that would become respected names in the Swedish art world.

Between these two extremes, the utterly bad treatment of immigrants and the amazingly good cultural atmosphere, that a lot of music was created in Södertälje. By the early 80's there were so many bands and solo performers playing that it sometimes seemed as if everybody was involved in music. The consistent and dedicated work of people to create a fertile music scene in Södertälje had started earlier in the 70's, and among the most notable bands at the time was Blueset.

Blues music was always very popular in Södertälje (further emphasizing the notion of Södertälje as Sweden's Chicago); whether Blueset was instrumental in creating this interest I can't say, but they were pretty renowned locally. They debuted in 1970, releasing two singles on the Efel label. In 1974 they had their sole LP out on the KMB imprint, pressed in an edition of reputedly only 600 copies. (KMB stands for Katrineholms Musikbolag – not sure if they ever released anything else but with catalogue number 740103, there might be at least two other albums on KMB. Unless the number simply stands for March 1, 1974 written in Swedish...)

The album is highly regarded by fans of hard rock and heavy blues. It rarely turns up for sale, and according to the useful Popsike site, it went for well over £300 two years ago. (There's also a bootleg reissue that's gaining in value.) Whether it's worth it depends on your income I suppose, but it is indeed an excellent album, rich with stoned blues and heavy jamming. Well actually, despite the band name and its reputation as a blues album, it doesn't contain as much blues as you'd might expect. The foundation is blues for sure, but also featured on the album is a folk medley of sorts, ”Vibrationer i folkton”, which combines a snippet of Beethoven's ”Für Elise” with Swedish folk tune ”Visa från Utanmyra” and portions of - ”Sunshine of Your Love”! They also have a stab at ”Trettondagsmarschen”, a traditional fiddle tune in the Kebnekajse vein. However, Blueset lack the distinguished elegance of Kebnekajse, but rather than detracting from the album's qualities, it adds to the listening experience. The Blueset guys were avid dope heads, and you can easily tell by listening to ”Rock Machine”. The whole album has a seriously druggy vibe. The playing isn't spot on tight at times, but they manage to create a highly appealing seedy basement feel that makes ”Rock Machine” a true underground classic. The loose feel may also be explained by the fact that the recordings originally were intended as demos. Stoned guitar excursions are featured in most of the tracks due to the band's Cream, Hendrix and Rolling Stones infatuations. The Stones influence is most obvious in the rock ballad ”Look at Me” that wouldn't have been out of place on "Sticky Fingers". ”Whiskey” is another gem in this collection, closer to US garage rock than any other song on the album.

Also in 1974, the band released another single, the atrociously titled ”Proud to Be a Rock'n'Roller”. I'm uncertain when Blueset disbanded, but I know that the come-let's-play-sitar-in-the-grass hippie duo Charlie & Esdor joined the band for a while in 1972, although they aren't featured on any Blueset recordings. I often wondered how the mellowness of Charlie & Esdor fit in with the rough hewn sounds of the loud Blueset outfit!

What happened to the members after the band eventually split up due to musical differences within the group is a sad tale. Their taste for illegal mind nutrition took its toll later in their lives. Guitar hero Kenth ”Kenta” Loong was said to smoke a pipe every fifteen minutes. Nobody seems to know if he turned to heavier stuff, but eventually he disappeared without a trace. It is believed that he died. I remember him being in a wheelchair after an accident; I saw him in the beginning of the 80's when he arranged a record fair in Södertälje. He's said to have had a ”difficult personality” and I remember his vibe being quite puzzling, if not off-putting. You could see him in his wheelchair in Södertälje City doing – I don't know, just hanging around? On his way to something? Who knows. Loong managed to get a new band together, Friends, and they released a forgettable single locally in the 80's.

Kenth Loong in 1970.

Bassist Mikael Olofsson, known as Geten (”The Goat”) or Mike the Spike earned his latter nickname assumably because of his heavy use of heroin. He died of AIDS in the winter of 2004/2005 after having been infected by the HIV virus he got from sharing syringes. He was musically active in different bands into the 00's. Mikael was also in jail for a while after bringing a couple of kilos of Thailand heroin across the Swedish borders. Before facing the jail sentence, he managed to sell the goods and stashed the money from the transcations in his house wall. Later on he made a fortune on the 80's stock market but lost most of it when the market crashed. He ended his days an alcoholic in Stockholm where he spent his life.

Blueset in 1970. A shorthaired version of Ingemar Linder to the far left!
Whatever happened to drummer Claes Jansson is beyond my knowledge, but I briefly bumped into Ingemar Linder who played bass on Bluesets debut single. He was also one of those people you often noticed in the street – he had the longest hair I've ever seen on a male person! Recognizing each other, we exchanged a few words at the very same record fair mentioned above. He was extremely hungover, had a hair of the dog in the shape of a beer in his hand but he was the dearest person imaginable, soft spoken and very kind. I've often wondered what became of him.

According to a comment published on the progg.se website, no-one ever copyrighted the ”Rock Machine” album. If this is true, which it very well might be given that the guy who wrote the comment was close to the band, it is completely free for downloading. A quick googling will turn up MP3's for this remarkable album. However, here are links for the entire album, as posted on Youtube.


 1. Rock Machine
2. Look At Me

3. Whiskey

4. Trettondagsmarschen

5. Vibrationer i folkton (Suite): Für Elise/
Visa Från Utanmyra/Vibrationer/Heavy

6. Let's Boogie

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

AN INTRODUCTION

Hello fans of Swedish progg!

While searching for information on Swedish progg music on the web, I noticed that there is a conspicuous lack of blogs and websited devoted entirely the Swedish music of the, mainly, 70's. Over the last few decades there have been a few books written on the subject, but only Tobias Petterssons excellent ”Encyclopedia of Swedish Progressive Music 1967-1979” is in English, the others being in Swedish. While Pettersson's book is a mandatory read for anyone interested in this music, it is now out of print. Also, it doesn't feature actual reviews of the albums, and being both a music journalist and an avid fan of Swedish progg, I thought it was a good idea to bring all together, opions, information and goold old fan obsession! The idea behind this blog is to publish reviews of progg albums of different kinds, both those which fit in with the international definition of prog, such as Samla Mammas Manna and Fläsket Brinner, but also the political acts of Sweden in the 70's, such as Knutna Nävar and Blå Tåget. The political bands are mostly lesser known outside Sweden; no wonder since the lyrics are most often the main point of the songs. However, several of these bands have strong musical merits, thus deserving attention beyond Swedish speakers.

The main focus will be on albums and singles released between 1967 and 1982, opening to progg bordering on psychedelia on one end, and punk on the other. I will also use the expression ”satellite progg” now and then, describing albums that not obviously fit into the progg epitome, but still have some relation to it (say, for instance, the first two Ulf Lundell albums).

Remember that even though I will try to feature biographical info on the albums, at least to some extent, the posts will be reviews, i.e. opinionated and personal. I have my preferences and they will clearly show for sure!

Some people might be disappointed to learn that I won't offer downloads. While I think this music is perfect for sharing due to its often communal (and smore often than not ocialist) nature, Swedish laws are medieval in that regard. My mere point with this blog is not to breach anyone's copyright, but to share and broaden the knowledge of this music to anyone interested. However, there's a fair bit of Swedish progg up on Youtube, and where I see fit I will post clips to go along with the reviews. Other than that, it is up to each and all to go look for the music in whatever manner they like the best.

I will do my best to keep the blog updated, but after all, it's something I do when I feel like it, so updates may be irregular. Comments and suggestions are welcome. You may also follow the blog on Facebook – search for ”Swedish Progg”, send me a friend request and I will add you as soon as possible.

I hope you will enjoy your stay here, and most of all, I hope that I will help to trigger an interest in something that you haven't heard before.

All the best from Sweden!