Tuesday, July 31, 2018

GUNDER HÄGG / BLÅ TÅGET – Albums 1969-1974

One of the most emblematic bands of the progg movement, and crucial to understanding the spirit of progg. Not only did they fully embody the 'everybody can play' ethos, they initiated it. They had a couple of professionals in the band, such as the always excellent Roland Keijser, but most of the members were musical novices. Mikael Wiehe once said that he thought Gunder Hägg sounded so horrendous that he felt compelled to start Hoola Bandoola Band. (In defense of Wiehe, it has to be said that he later admitted that Gunder Hägg/Blå Tåget in retrospect was way more musically progressive than ever Hoola Bandoola Band.)

The band emanated from the Stockholm arts, theatre and literature circuits, with band members Leif Nylén, Torkel Rasmusson and Mats G. Bengtsson already being published authors. Heavily inspired by American underground band The Fugs (although it could be argued they were closer in spirit to The Fugs' ESP-Disk' label mates The Godz), they decided to start a band combining performance art and music. They went by a couple of different names (Tjalles Horisont, Sound of Music) before deciding on Gunder Hägg, after the legendary Swedish athlete by the same name who objected to being related to the band, why they choose Blå Tåget instead in time for their fourth album.

GUNDER HÄGG – Tigerkaka (MNW, 1969)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, English vocals

It's easy to understand Mikael Wiehe's frustration with Gunder Hägg's ineptitude when hearing ”Tigerkaka”. The vocals are off, the English lyrics are demolished by bad pronounciation, the playing is clumsy, the songs are amateurish. Wiehe was right: ”Tigerkaka” really sounds terrible. But that's not the point. The mix of styles – trad jazz, singer/songwriter, semi-psych, cabaret etc – is daring to a band that seemingly didn't know the difference between a guitar and a hubcap, and ”Tigerkaka” is a statement of much greater importance than sheer capability: A proof that you can get something across even if you lack craftmanship. Instrumental insuffiency can make an album disastrous and unlistenable, but if the band chemistry's right, it can also make an album work in a way that professionalism not necessarily can (there are several examples of both). And ”Tigerkaka” works. Torkel Rasmusson's title track is wonderful, as is Mats G. Bengtsson's ”I hajars djupa vatten” – one of Blå Tåget's best songs ever. Not only is it a good album on its own terms, its symbolic value simply can't be overrated.


GUNDER HÄGG – Vargatider (MNW, 1970)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals

Visual artist and film maker Carl Johan de Geer began showing up at Gunder Hägg's rehearsals. He brought his trombone with him, without really knowing how to use it, insisting on playing with the band. They weren't sure if it was a good idea (with their lack of musical comprehension, how could they tell anyway?) but de Geer kept coming back and was soon a self-appointed member. He didn't really elevate Gunder Hägg to a higher level of aptitude... That ”Vargatider” sounds a bit less disjointed than ”Tigerkaka” has probably more to do with the band having played together for a little longer. ”Vargavinter” is an overall more powerful album, highlighted by the two very Fugs inspired tracks ”Alienation” and ”Tio svarta pantrar”, the latter with some great sax from Roland Keijser.



GUNDER HÄGG – Glassfabriken (MNW, 1971)
International relevance: **
Swedish vocals

Their last album before the name change is their most professional sounding up until then, which of course is a relative thing when discussing Gunder Hägg/Blå Tåget. The Fugs' impact on their music was less notable, and instead the album makes extensive use of musical pastiches giving it a stronger cabaret feel that I'm personally not very fond of. The best song by far is the Rasmusson penned title track. A classic track, head and shoulders above the rest of the material here.


BLÅ TÅGET – Brustna hjärtans hotel (MNW, 1972)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals

With four increasingly self-assured songwriters in the band, a double LP was destined to happen, and it coincided with Gunder Hägg's forced name change to Blå Tåget. Nylén, Bengtsson, Berger and Rasmusson had all developed their own songwriter personalities, and that makes for a rich and varied album. There's still a couple of pastiches here, but they're fewer and blended in with other songs, and work better in this context than on ”Glassfabriken”. There are so many good songs here that it's no wonder ”Brustna hjärtans hotell” is considered a true progg classic. And ”Den ena handen vet vad den andra gör” is perhaps the ultimate progg anthem, and later perhaps the ultimate punk anthem as well when Ebba Grön retitled it ”Staten och kapitalet” and released as an equally classic 7” in 1980. That ought to settle the argument that progg and punk were two entirely different and separated phenomena – they weren't! Punk was simply progg's unruly offspring. I stand by that.

During the ”Brustna hjärtans hotell” recordings, Blå Tåget lost original member Roland Keijser. Keijser remembers:

- I play on a mere three tracks on the LP, all of them taken from the radio play ”Fallet Ramona” that we made in the autumn of '71. ”Winges vals” is the only one of the four ”Ramona” tracks actually recorded at the Swedish Radio, the others are new studio recordings made in early 1972. The original idea was to release them as a mini LP, but that never materialized. New songs were added, and when studio work resumed in May and the beginning of June – by then, yours truly was gone.

 Photo used by kind permisson of Carl Johan De Geer

- You know that picture [by Carl Johan De Geer] where Blå Tåget sits at a table at Winbergs Café in Vaxholm? There's an empty chair up front to the right which I just had left... I'm pretty sure the picture was taken during the ”Ramona” recordings in early 1972.


BLÅ TÅGET – Slowfox (MNW, 1974)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals

After their double disc tour de force, it took Blå Tåget two years before making what would become their final original album. Sometimes considered a disappointment following ”Brustna hjärtans hotell”, and I guess it's fair to agree – but how could you follow up an album such as ”Brustna hjärtans hotell” maintaining the same quality level? ”Slowfox” is a decent enough album, but the spark isn't quite there anymore. Although it feels a bit dutiful, it does have a couple of fine songs, especially ”Under antaget namn” and ”Mannen på verandan”, the latter written by Torkel Rasmusson together with original and long standing Blå Tåget member Kjell Westling who took over all horn duties when Roland Keijser left the band. 


Blå Tåget disbanded in 1975 but they have reunited several times over the years, also releasing a couple of albums with newly recorded material (the first of those being the half-decent 1981 live album ”Blå Tåget på Fågel Blå”). A partial reunion came already in 1977 when Torkel Rasmusson, Tore Berger and Leif Nylén formed Stockholm Norra who released one underrated album in 1978.

Special thanks to Roland Keijser for shedding some light on his departure, and Carl Johan De Geer for letting me use his classic picture.

ROCKVATTNÄ – Rockvattnä (Ljudbarrikaden, 1979)

International relevance: ***
Swedish lyrics, instrumental

Dorotea is a small town in the far north of Sweden. Around 1980, population was a little less than 4,000. Today it's around 2,700. Still they had Rockvattnä, a dirty-handed blue collar rock band with political lyrics that are far more credible than anything Fria Proteatern ever did. Rockvattnä's gritty and hard-edged blues rock sound rich with aggresive guitar work and a reliable beat gives the lyrics even more oomph. Singer and flute player Jörgen Sundqvist has a slightly weathered voice that fits the overall sound well. Somehow this album has flown below the collectors' radar and can still be found fairly cheap, maybe because people are suspicious of the blues rock tag and the late release date. It's a bit uneven but still good enough to deserve a greater acknowledgement than it gets.

GÖRAN PERSSON – Blir jag sen spelkarl (MNW, 1972) / Hundliv (MNW, 1974)

International relevance: ** / **
Swedish vocals

Singer/songwriter Göran Persson made those two albums with a session backing band comprising members of Blå Tåget, Gläns Över Sjö Och Strand, Nationalteatern, Jason's Fleece, Arbete & Fritid and others. Such names make Persson's albums appear interesting at a first glance, but neither of them lives up to the expectations. The playing is fine enough, but Persson's voice makes me think of Bernt Staf, Jan Hammarlund and Blå Tåget's Torkel Rasmusson all at once. He sings in a constrained and piercing way that very soon gets hard to bear with and his odd phrasing, like a Dylan out of breath, makes the songs feel a bit out of shape. Which is a pity, because they're quite good if you can ignore the vocals. Which takes a lot to do, more than I have to offer.

”Blir jag sen spelkarl” is better than ”Hundliv” thanks to a looser feel, but I can't really recommend any of the albums.

Persson made another album in 1996, ”På Siljan”.

”Blir jag sen spelkarl”  

”Hundliv”

Monday, July 30, 2018

ZAMLA MAMMAZ MANNA – Familjesprickor (Silence, 1980)

International relevance: ***
Instrumental, Swedish vocals

After the tour for Samla Mammas Manna's Greg FitzPatrick composed ”Snorungarnas symfoni” released in 1976, the band took a break which led to guitarist Coste Apetrea leaving the band. As influential as he was to Samla's style, it was inevitable that their sound would change with him out of the group. Eino Haapala filled the void, and as the band took on a more improvisational approach, they also changed the spelling of their name to Zamla Mammaz Manna. The first album released as such was the confused double set ”Schlagerns mystik/För äldre nybegynnare”, and it wasn't until 1980's ”Familjesprickor” that the new line-up had matured. By then, drummer Hans Bruniusson had left as well – he appears only briefly on ”Familjesprickor”, with Vilgot Hansson now mainly handling the drum sticks.

Zamla Mammaz Manna soon became a vital part of the Henry Cow initiated Rock in Opposition movement, and ”Familjesprickor” shares some features with for example Belgian RIO outfit Univers Zéro. While their music still had some of the energetic playfulness that made the earlier Samla Mammas Manna favourites among some, the album revealed new and darker undercurrents. The music sounds threatening even in its most cheerful moments, as if it leans towards the listener slightly from above, mouth half open as about to tell you something unsettling or simply chew you up.

If you ignore the fact that ”Familjesprickor” pretty much is a different band and count Samla, Zamla and later Von Zamla as one, the album comes in as second best after their brilliant eponymous 1971 debut album.

Full album playlist

BERITS HALSBAND – Berits Halsband (Forsaljud, 1975)

International relevance: ***
Instrumental

First ever release on the eclectic Forsaljud label who released both folk rock and punk. This however is a fusion album with a basement feel and a certain level of non-detracting amateurishness that sets it apart from the typical genre efforts and makes it a lot more interesting than most of them. The whole album is strangely 'off' with a fair share of semi-psychedelic guitar improvising and krautish flute work. All four tracks are interesting in their own way, never boring, and the album is an unusually refreshing example of an often emotionally numb genre.


PYRAMID – First Stone (Sfinx, 1978)

International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, English vocals

A hard rock band from Gothenburg with a horn section atypical to the genre which makes ”First Stone” fairly original despite the unimaginative songs. The lyrics concerns environmental issues, such as ”Sista chansen” that deals with consumerism and is also the album highlight. ”You and Me” is another OK track.

I understand why ”First Stone” comes with a pretty hefty price tag when offered for sale. After all, it's well performed and eloquent, especially for private release, but the music never quite sparks my enthusiasm.

Surprisingly enough, I find no evidence of any of the players having embarked on a career in music after this album except trombonist Ove Larsson who appears on several albums beyond ”First Stone”, and singer Christer Mentzer who showed up on a couple of heavy metal albums in the 80's.

MÅNS MOSSA – Måns Mossa (Great Music Production, 1979)

International relevance: *
Swedish vocals, instrumental

Very bad album of mainly mainstream rock. It also has a couple of disco touches, as expected from an album of the period. The reason why some people try to trick you into believing this is progg related or even progg is the last track ”Autron” but the closest it gets to progg is being instrumental. You can get much better albums of Swedish late 70's pop rock for a lot less than what some crooks want you to pay for this crap. Avoid!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

ARCHIMEDES BADKAR & AFRO 70 – Bado Kidogo (MNW, 1978)

International relevance: ***
Instrumental, other languages

Considering Archimedes Badkar's serious interest in African music, it was a logical step to work with Tanzanian band Afro 70 for their final outing in 1978. Afro 70 was centered around singer and guitarist Patrick Balisidya, and the band's popularity in and around Tanzania grew from regular touring and a number of 45's released in the early 70's.

Archimedes Badkar trumpeter Tommy Adolfsson sheds some light on how the two bands got in touch with each other:

– It was me who met Patrick Balisidaya in Dar es Salaam in 1978. I was a student at Tomelilla Folkhögskola [Tomelilla is a small town in Skåne in the south of Sweden] then. Krister Malm at Rikskonserter [Concerts Sweden] gave me the names of [Tanzanian] musicians, including Afro 70. I met Patrick and played him Archimedes Badkar's ”Tre” that was brand new at the time and he got all excited by what he heard. It was in February 1978, and Patrick told me he was invited to Sweden by Krister Malm, and that he would come over. I told him he had to get in touch with Archimedes. Upon my return to Stockholm, they had already recorded most of the Archimedes Badkar/Afro 70 album. I overdubbed some trumpet parts, got in touch with Sweden/Tanzania Friendship Association who granted us money, and then we went on a fun tour around Sweden!

The two bands blend well, although it's somewhat more of an Afro 70 album thanks to Patrick Balisidiya's vocals (plus backing vocals from Dick Unga and Sophie Nzuki-Balisidiya) – hardly a problem.

”Kila Mtu” makes for a strong opening but the very best moment is the album's final 12+ minutes of Ghanaian funeral music, ”Darafo/Darkpen” with saxophonists Jörgen Adolfsson and Christer Bothén blowing hard and free before the rest of the band works up an irrestistable groove around Bengt Berger's xylophone and Per Tjernberg's percussion.

”Bado Kidogo” isn't as stylistically sprawling as Archimedes Badkar's previous efforts, but it's a very fine effort rounding off their all too short discography in a most honorable way.

Darafo/Darkpen

Although being outside the time span of this blog, I'd really like to mention two Archimedes Badkar related albums. The first of them i ”Trancedance” (Organic Music/Urspår) by Christer Bothén featuring Bolon Bata, released in 1984, with a massive line-up of former Archimedes Badkar members such as Bengt Berger, Jörgen Adolfsson and Tommy Adolfsson and numerous other progg illuminaries. A fantastic, hard swinging, afro inspired feast of an album. The second album was released in 1987 by Bengt Berger lead Bitter Funeral Beer Band's ”Praise Drumming” (Dragon) and features several of the people who made ”Trancedance”, and follows along the same lines albeit broadening the stylistic range even more. Another must for Archimedes Badkar fans.

Special thanks to Tommy Adolfsson for kindly taking the time to straighten some things out!

EGBA – The 1970's albums

Sweden's leading fusion band of the 70's, founded in 1971 and active through the 80's, with one stray album released in 2004. Their name stands for Electronic Groove & Beat Academy but they're exclusively refered to by the acronym EGBA. The band was centered around trumpeter Ulf Adåker and had a changing line-up over the years, at one point or another including guitarist Jan Tolf, Göran Lagerberg, Amadu Jarr, pianist Harald Svensson (Resa, Häxmjölk), drummer Åke Eriksson (Wasa Express) and Per Tjernberg (Archimedes Badkar). A reformed EGBA is still performing.

EGBA (Grammofonverket, 1974)
International relevance: ***
Instrumental, other languages

Their first album presented all of the band's characteristics, jazz fusion inspired by the likes of Miles Davis and Chick Corea, with funky grooves providing the foundation on the heavier tracks, with a distinct African influence to boot, most notably on”Gbinti”. ”Capsiloni”, written by drummer Claes Wang, veers towards Archimedes Badkar. ”EGBA” is one of the finer examples of Swedish fusion thanks to its diversity and inspired playing. Great cover too.

Full album playlist

Jungle-Jam (Sonet, 1976)
International relevance: ***
Instrumental, other languages

EGBA's second album adds a bit of Latin music to the mix, and takes the funk one step further. The album unfortunately lacks a lot of the charm that makes their debut enjoyable. This is pretty much a standard funk fusion album with the urge to explore and discover largely substituted with technical precision.


Live at Montmartre (Sonet, 1977)
International relevance: ***
Instrumental, other languages

Better than ”Jungle-Jam”, probably because it was recorded live, with EGBA feeding off the audience at the Montmartre jazz club in Copenhagen. Here they expanded their palette of styles to include reggae on ”Satobe”. Still not on par with their debut however.


Amigos Latinos (Sonet, 1978)
International relevance: ***
Instrumental, other languages

Just like the title suggests this is an album with a stronger emphasis on Latin influences. It's also an excruciatingly dull album, with fusion meaning a mathematically precise show-off. I find it extremely hard to sit through without a steadily increasing level of irritation.


Bryter upp! (MNW, 1979)
International relevance: ***
Instrumental

A literal translation of the album title would be ”breaks up”, and while not exactly true, it saw EGBA change to a smaller line-up and also a new label. The title also suggests the band was taking off in a new direction which is partly true as ”Bryter upp!” is less hysterical than ”Amigos Latinos”, a little more reflective. It still fails to satisfy unless you have a high tolerance for their kind of music.

”Progglådan” features two EGBA tracks recorded for the Swedish Radio in 1972, and three more from a 1978 session.

I can see why they're highly regarded by fusion fans for their passion and skills making them much better than many of their peers, even if they're not to my liking.

LOTUS – Vera O'Flera (SMA, 1976)

International relevance: ***
Instrumental, Swedish vocals

Second album from this technically driven outfit that grew out of Asoka, housed in a striking cover. During the two years that passed since their debut they changed their rhythm section, with Lerker Allgulander taking bassist Stefan Berggrenssons place, and Henning Öfverbeck handing over his drum stool to Håkan Nyberg (who later teamed up with Mikael Wiehe). It didn't change things for the better Lotus' debut was a pretty boring effort, but this one is even worse. It's tight and complex enough to get prog rock and fusion fans going, but it bores me to death. It's all about show-off and minutious precision. Their humour extends to an idiotic rock version of Swedish children's song ”Bä bä vita lamm” (the only vocal track on the album). Too bad it's not funny in the least. To make matters worse, the album was reissued on CD in 2004 with two previously unreleased tracks.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

RAGNARÖK – Ragnarök (Silence, 1976) / Fjärilar i magen (Silence, 1979) / Fata Morgana (Silence, 1981)

Like Kung Tung, Ragnarök came from Kalmar (Ragnarök guitarist Peter Bryngelsson has played in both bands) but their sound is vastly different, with the latter at best creating a web of lyricism and introspective mystery. They were founded in 1972, turned professional in 1975 and appeared at Alternativfestivalen, the protest manifestation against the Eurovision Song Contest that year.

Ragnarök (Silence, 1976)
International relevance ***
Instrumental

This is a thing of beauty, different in style but related in mood to Bo Hansson's albums post ”Sagan om ringen”, sometimes even Anna Själv Tredje although not as dark. ”Ragnarök” floats in a beautiful mind sphere, with lightly soaring guitars and transparent flute leading the way to inner paths through sunlit birches and beeches. A tranquil excitement permeates the album, and the effect is soothing but never in a cheap new age kind of way. Instead: dreamlike, with lovely colours infused by a sense of sweet synaesthetic hyperreality Evocative.

Full album playlist

Fjärilar i magen (Silence, 1979)
International relevance: ***
Instrumental

After the elevated beauty of ”Ragnarök”, the band returned with ”Fjärilar i magen” and an opening track to tear you right out of the relaxed state of their debut album. ”Adrenalin” sounds like something out of King Crimson's oeuvre circa 1973. Actually a reference valid to the rest of the album as well – it's much heavier than their previous release. Sometimes ”Fjärilar i magen” makes me think of what Kebnekajse could have been like had they been closer to prog rock than folk rock. Even the softer parts of ”Fjärilar i magen” have a greater density than the lucid debut album. A very good album, although not as captivating as their debut.


Fata Morgana (Silence, 1981)
International relevance: ***
Instrumental

Two years further away from ”Ragnarök” and the sound has become even more prog rock with more instruments, including synthesizers and saxophones. There are even some fusion moves to drag ”Fata Morgana” down below the usual Ragnarök level. It's OK for a 1981 release, but after one excellent album and one very good one, this is ultimately disappointing.


Ragnarök made another album for Silence in 1983, the partially vocal ”3 Signs” (steer clear of that one!) before disbanding in 1984. They have reunited several times after that, and are currently active. They've released several albums after their reunion. Selections from two Tonkraft shows for Swedish Radio were released as part of ”Progglådan”, and there are at least four Tonkraft sessions of various length from 1974 to 1981.

IBIS – Ibis (Grammofonverket, 1974) / Sabbas Abbas mandlar (Dragon, 1980)

International relevance: ***/*
Instrumental

Ibis evolved out of the excellent Vildkaktus but has very little in common with pianist Gösta Nilsson's and guitarist Olle Nilsson's former band. The music on their debut is jazz fusion, albeit with a much dirtier edge than the genre usually allows. Sometimes during the noisier parts they remind me a wee bit of French band Magma but possibly only because the tenstion they create from time to time.But ”Ibis” do indeed has quite a few more progressive moves than their far more academic Swedish fusion genre fellows. While I prefer the splendour of Vildkaktus, ”Ibis” is an interesting piece worthy of several plays.

Their second album with an untranslatable pun on Samla Mammas Manna for title didn't appear until six years later, and features a vastly different line-up with only Gösta Nilsson left from ”Ibis”. The personnel change obviously prompted a change in style, and ”Sabba Abbas mandlar” is a straight post bop jazz record with only a few contemporary fusion tinges on ”Summer Eyes” penned by new member and jazz legend Bengt Ernryd. An OK album but keep in mind it collects few progg points.

”Ibis”

”Sabba Abbas mandlar”

DENNIS PETTERSON – Motalapromenaden (Barrikaden, 1976)

International relevance: **
Swedish lyrics

Insignificant local private pressing by television factory worker Dennis Pettersson (later known as Dennis Renfors). It's singer/songwriter with a rock backing including some names well-known from Solen Skiner and Blå Tåget albums Pettersson is somewhat similar to Kjell Höglund but his political lyrics lack Höglund's observational flair. Höglund may not be a great singer in the traditional sense, but he sings with an urgency that makes him interesting to listen to. The same can't be said about Pettersson. The blues rocking ”Ställer upp som aldrig förr” is passable but ”Motalapromenaden” remains a parenthetical release at best.

Friday, July 27, 2018

SAN MICHAEL'S / KAIPA / ROINE STOLT – The 1970's albums

Kaipa is one of the most cherished Swedish progressive bands. They grew out of the fertile progg soil of Uppsala, but their roots go back to 1964 and cover band The Shakemen with future Kaipa keyboardist Hans Lundin in their line-up. The Shakemen soon changed their name to St. Michael's Sect and released a few singles before making their album debut in 1970 with their name shortened to San Michael's. As such, they also appeared as a tour band for a few popular artists.

SAN MICHAEL'S – San Michael's (California, 1970)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

For their first and for a long time only album, the band dropped the 'Sect' part from their name. It's an organ driven album with pop sensibilities and Swedish lyrics. The playing is tight but the album isn't too interesting in a British Procol Harum and The Fox vein with unimpressive vocals from Hans Lundin. ”Drömliv” most obviously points to the band's Kaipa future with multiple time signatures and an extensive use of dynamics, and is the best track in this lot.



SAN MICHAEL'S – Nattåg (Transubstans, 2009; recorded in 1972)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

San Michael's became a rather popular live act in Sweden and Norway, and in 1972 they recorded their second album with touring member Nane Kvillsäter now a permanent guitarist. However, the album went unreleased at the time but was unearthed almost 40 years later by Swedish label Transubstans. It's a more mature effort than ”San Michael's” showing that the band benefitted from Kvillsäter joining the band. The songs are better overall and the performances are heavier than on their debut. The thin vocals are still the weakest link though. All in all, it would have made perfect sense releasing ”Nattåg” in the early 70's, as intended.



KAIPA – Kaipa (Decca, 1975)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

In January 1973, San Michael's split up and Hans Lundin formed a new band with San Michael's bassist Tomas Eriksson, and drafted Thomas Sjöberg as a drummer. As Ura Kaipa they released the ingratiatingly catchy 45 ”För sent”, closer to San Michael's than later Kaipa in style, with The Nice/ELP inspired instrumental ”Bay-E, Bay-O” on the flipside, both originally recorded for San Michael's aborted second album. The original Ura Kaipa changed as Sjöberg was struck by cancer, and Ingemar Bergman took his place, and adding guitarist Roine Stolt. With a new line-up, Kaipa found their vision and the conditions to formulate it. With Lundin being a fan of Merit Hemmingson, ”Kaipa” displays a penchant for traditional Swedish folk melodies, tastefully incorporated with the band's strong symphonic leanings, most notably on ”Ankaret” and the beautiful ”Skogspromenaden”. Symph rock more often than not becomes unwieldy with its overblown ambitions, but ”Kaipa” is a nicely balanced piece of work that stands out as the band's best album. Reissued on CD with two bonus tracks.

Full album playlist

KAIPA – Inget nytt under solen (Decca, 1976)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

”Inget nytt under solen” shares many of its characteristics with Kaipa's debut, but something has decidedly changed here. ”Skenet bedrar” is a side long suite and that sets my alarm off. And yes, it's as pompous as the scope suggests. Synthesizers crop up everywhere on the album, and the album lacks freshness that made their first outing as appealing as it is. ”Inget nytt under solen” sounds dull and calculated and the rare fine moments drowns in the pretenstiousness that is the album's hallmark.


KAIPA – Solo (Decca, 1978)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

”Solo” (curious titel for a band effort) is as appealing as coming home from a five day trip realizing you forgot to take out the garbage before you left. You want to open the windows and let some fresh air blow into the music. If ”Inget nytt under solen” felt calculated, this is even worse. ”Solo” is cerebral to the max and the production is lifeless and stale. A textbook example of bad symph prog.


KAIPA – 1974 Unedited Master Demo Recording (Decca, 2005; recorded in 1974)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

Released as part of the 5CD Kaipa box set ”The Decca Years”, and recorded as demos in the summer of 1974 prior to their debut LP, with plenty of tracks unreleased elsewhere. The songs were recorded to two-track but it doesn't matter that the sound quality isn't professional because Kaipa never sounds this fiery on any other release. It's a pity this has never been released separately.


KAIPA – Live (Decca, 2005; recorded in 1976-1978)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

Another box set exclusive compiling selections from three Swedish Kaipa shows and one from Copenhagen, Denmark. It's better than both ”Inget nytt under solen” and ”Solo” but only marginally. Not a reason enough to fork out piles of cash for ”The Decca Years”. 


ROINE STOLT – Fantasia (Svenska Love, 1979)
International relevance: ***
Swedish vocals, instrumental

Kaipa's rising popularity lead to extensive touring in the late 70's, in turn creating conflicts within the band. A failed attempt to write new music in 1979 led to Roine Stolt's and bass player Mats Lindberg's departure. Stolt soon began working on his first solo album which appeared in 1979. While the restructured Kaipa moved into radio friendly and sometimes semi new wavish territory with two absolutely horrendous albums ”Händer” and ”Nattdjurstid” in 1980 and 1982 respectively, Stolt stayed closer to the symphonic area with ”Fantasia” but with equally bad results as his former band. Appalling symph synths, underwhelming songs that sometimes sound like TV themes and a production so unhealthy sounding it needs medical care. Ugly album cover, ugly music.


A live Kaipa session recorded for radio show Tonkraft in 1978 was included in ”Progglådan”. Further Tonkraft recordings from 1974 and 1978 can be found in great sound quality on the Japanese bootleg ”Stockholm Symphonie”.

Kaipa reformed in the early 00's, and Roine Stolt has led a successful career, performing with for instance The Flower Kings and Kaipa off-shoot Kaipa DaCapo. Hans Lundin released two solo albums in the 80's and has one album out as Hagen with folk fiddler Anders Rosén.

SKÄGGMANSLAGET – Pjål, gnäll & ämmel (Sonet, 1970) / Snus, mus och brännvin (Sonet, 1971)

International relevance: **/ **
Instrumental, Swedish vocals, Saami vocals

Skäggmanslaget was one of the best known folk music groups, partly due to their involvement with Contact, playing on their best known track ”Hon kom över mon”. They also worked with accordionist Leif ”Pepparn” Pettersson on his 1973 album ”Nää, nu jäsicken!” and others, and they released a number of albums of their own. They were serious about what they did, but had a more easygoing approach than, for instance, Norrlåtar.

”Pjål, gnäll & ämmel” was their first album and nicely demonstrates their abilities. Apart from core members Peter Logård, Thore Härdelin and Wilhelm Grindsäter, Kjell Westling joins in a couple of tracks, as do noted singer Marie Selander. Contact makes an appearance here, backing Skäggmanslaget on the excellent closing track ”Gråtlåten” – what a pity they never made a full album together!

”Snus, mus och brännvin” followed suit in 1971, again with a guest appearances from Kjell Westling along with Bengt Berger, Urban Yman and nyckelharpa player Ceylon Wallin. It's an even more self-assured album than its predecessor. A fun take on famous Swedish tune ”Trettondedagsmarschen” almost sounds like a cheerful Arbete & Fritid recording features tablas, as does ”Polska efter Nils Hägg” which rounds off the album in a nice way. 

”Pjål, gnäll & ämmel”:

”Snus, mus och brännvin”:

JÄRNGUSTAV – Tiden läker inga sår (Nackspärr, 1978)

International relevance: **
Swedish vocals

Gävle band Järngustav released this private pressing after only one year in existence, and you can tell they hadn't rehearsed enough in time for the album sessions – drummer Peter Östlund's sense of rhythm is less than perfect and Urban Nilsson's vocals lack personality. The songs aren't very interesting either, being mainly predictable mid-tempo rock. The side long title track bites off more than Järngustav could chew. Obviously the product of the idea that an album needs an overlong track, they struggle with even the simplest time signature changes that lack compositional logic to begin with.

Only a couple of hundred copies were made so copies are rare but that's OK.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

SOFFGRUPPEN – Greatest Sits (Nacksving, 1975)

International relevance: ***
Instrumental

You'd be hard pressed to guess that guitarist Clas Yngström appeared on Röda Ropet's ”Spänn bågen” the same year Soffgruppen released their sole album by listening to any of them, and there's certainly nothing about his later ZZ Top boogie with successful act Sky High to reveal his Soffgruppen past.

”Greatest Sits” kicks off with the free jazz title track before moving into more tranquil territories with the second track ”Jag tänker”. These are the two extremes ”Greatest Sits” darts between, with Yngström more or less constantly bouncing off against Matz Nilsson's jittery bass and Pierre Swärd's paroxystic piano and organ, all the while Anders Kjellberg provides volcanic drum patterns one minute and a steady and funky beat the next. Yes, they add some groove along the way, and some would perhaps define the album as fusion, and well, if you'd accept that description, insufficient as it is, then this is one of the most hard-edged and best fusion albums to come out of Sweden. It's also one of the few really worthwhile Nacksving releases. Ironically, it almost put the newly founded Nacksving out of business before they got it started, as few could relate to the uncompromising sounds within the wonderfully creepy cover.

THOMAS ALMQVIST – Nyanser (Mistlur, 1979)

International relevance: **
Instrumental

Often hired session musician Thomas Almqvist has recorded several albums of his own, the most recent one was released in 2009. ”Nyanser” was his first and reveals his appreciation for classical guitar. The music also incorporates elements of jazz thanks to Hans Peter Andersson's various saxophones, Elise Einardotter's Fender Rhodes piano and Peter Öberg's drum patterns. It's a soothing album with Almqvist's acoustic guitar to the fore, sometimes reminiscent of new age guitarist Michael Hedges, and sometimes in the style of John Renbourn's 80's albums. Pleasant for background listening but not very engaging when you turn the volume up.

ALTER ECHO – Alter Echo (Musea, 1993; recorded in 1979)

International relevance: **
Swedish vocals, English vocals

Synthesizer heavy soft symphonic prog with pop leanings that was unearthed by the Musea label in the early 90's. Some well played Genesis moves with weak adolescent sounding vocals on top makes for a terribly unengaging listen. Only for the most hardened symphonic collectors, but I doubt even those would listen to this very often. Unless the idea of a high school proto Marillion tickles your fancy.

The band appears as Alter Ego on Caprice's V/A comp ”Tvärsnitt – Collection of Ten Unreleased Young Swedish Jazz and Rock Groups in 1978”.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A CHILDREN'S PROGG SPECIAL

This post is different to other posts here as it contains no album reviews. Many – most – progg albums made with children in mind have no international relevance because they often feature too many spoken word bits, and the music usually isn't very fun to listen to as an adult. Therefore there's really no point in posting links to the albums. (A brilliant exception would of course Jojje Wadenius' ”Goda' goda'” be, basically a Made In Sweden album with fine lyrics by children's author Barbro Lindgren, but that album deserves a post of its own.)

Still this is a very important Swedish Progg Blog feature, as children's culture was taken very seriously in those days and it's necessary to consider it in order to understand the progg movement from a wider perspective. Many artists were involved in kid's television, theatre, music, literature etc, always with an intent just as serious as when they were creating for grown-ups. Children were taken as seriously as anyone else.


One reason was of course political – it was considered important to teach kids what the society is like and present to them a socialist solution to economic problems and eradicate the inequality of social classes. It's a popular opinion today that children's television in the 70's was politically indoctrinating, and upon looking back at, for instance, Nationalteatern's highly successful double album ”Kåldolmar och kalsipper” (”cabbage rolls and underpants” – no, I don't know what that's supposed to mean, and neither did Nationalteatern), and TV series such as ”Huset Silfvercronas gåta”, (”the mystery of the house of Silfvercrona), ”Ville & Valle & Viktor” and ”Kapten Zoom” (”Captain Zoom”) (both with Anders Linder as lead actor), you have to agree it has a definite left-wing bent. 


However, I've never met one single person who took damage from watching those or any other 70's children TV series... with the possible exception of Staffan Westerberg's very disturbing ”Vilse i pannkakan” (”lost in the pancake”), already mentioned in my Thomas Wiehe runthrough. I dare say that everyone I know that grew up during the progg era has become caring people with a keen sense of justice and solidarity. So maybe the socialist aspect wasn't that hurtful after all...

Sometimes an album corresponding to a certain TV series was released, some of these albums are now moderately sought-after in good condition. (Children aren't known for taking care of records too well, so most copies that turn up are pretty mangled.)

Regardless of what one thinks of the political views expressed and transfered to the young generation of the day, the socialist stance was that education is an all important thing. Insufficient education is disastrous to society in the long run (which is indeed true – the world as we know it today should explain why). The Social Democratic Party of Sweden invested a lot of money in ABF, the Workers' Educational Association, but basic knowledge had to start with the children. 


There were several 70's TV shows without an obvious political agenda making great use of the pedagogical possibilites of television. The most notable example is mid-70's ”Fem myror är fler än fyra elefanter” (”five ants are more than four elephants”), with music by jazz illuminary Bengt Ernryd and featuring actors Magnus Härenstam, Brasse Brännström and Eva Rameaus, the latter also active in Musikteatergruppen Oktober (an independent theatre group performing several plays for children) and Tältprojektet. ”Fem myror är fler än fyra elefanter” is acknowledged as one of the best shows ever made for children, and rightly so. In a fashion similar to the famed U.S. show ”Sesame Street”, it taught young kids to read and write in a very entertaining way and showing young and old alike that learning things doesn't have to come from just dull books with boring black and white photographs.

Eva Ramaeus was far from the only progg personality to get involved with children's television. Carl Johan de Geer of Blå Tåget co-wrote ”Tårtan” (”the cake”) with Håkan Alexandersson, and featuring Blå Tåget's Mats G. Bengtsson as actor. ”Tårtan” was an incredibly funny and anarchic fourteen part 1972 series about three unemployed sailors opening a bakery shop where absolutely everything goes wrong. Still a splendid watch today! The following year, the Swedish broadcasting company aired ”Mumlan” (hard to translate, but something like ”the mumbler” will do), a very entertaining show hosted by much loved actor Gösta Ekman and actress Lena Söderblom in which musicians such as Kjell Westling and Bengt Berger appeared.

There was a large number of children's books published during this period too. Some of them aren't very different to 'ordinary' kids literature, while others took the pedagogical approach maybe a little too far, with sterile documentary photos of mum's giving birth and the gynecologist having a look, and titles like ”Chairman Mao Is Your Uncle”, ”A Fun Day at the Kolkhoz”, ”Say Hello to the Soviet Farmer Building a Factory All by Himself”. OK, so maybe I made up those titles myself, but they could have been for real. (Swedish readers who want to investigate children's progg books further are advised to check out Kalle Lind's ”Proggiga barnböcker”. He's got a somewhat condescending narrative style but the book is informative and sometimes very amusing amd clearsighted. Swedes who'd like to delve deeper into children's television may also want to check out Göran Everdahl's ”Kom nu'rå! Barnprogrammen vi minns – eller helst vill glömma”.)

I realize that most of what's been mentioned here is of little interest to non-Swedish readers, but like I said initially, all of this (and a lot more) was a very important progg element and influential to kids growing up in during the era. Bringing it up in a post of its own will hopefully shed some further light on how multifaceted progg in fact was.