Melodifestivalen 2015 #2

I’m quite a fan of the Swedish pop singer, Magnus Carlsson. To be precise, Magnus who was in Swedish pop bands Barbados and Alcazar, not Magnus Carlson (one “s”) who was in Swedish indie band, “Weeping Willows”. I even met him once, briefly, at a bar in Stockholm (see photo below). Although his obsession with recording Christmas albums is something I still don’t understand (beyond the fact they sell well), he can be relied upon for really great pop tunes. His self-titled solo album remains a firm favourite. Along the way, he has released songs in both English and Swedish, and has competed in Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading to Eurovision on several occasions. Thus, when I heard the news a few months ago he would be competing again this year, I was pretty excited.

His song this year, “Möt Mig I Gamla Stan” (Meet me in the old town (part of Stockholm)” is “classic” Magnus Carlsson, and although I like it, and it has made it through to the final, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a bit “old school” to make it through to Eurovision. Over the last decade, with one or two exceptions, the Swedes have tended to vote for younger, more contemporary sounding singers and songs than the classic “key change schlager” songs they’ve been known for many year.

Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm
Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

Aside from Magnus, there were two other songs which stood out for me this week for completely different reasons. Even though they were a bit off tune in their performance, and there’s nothing much to the tune, I thought “Groupie” by Samir and Viktor is a bit of fun, with a lyric that declares the end of the “selfie”. Totally forgettable, of course, but they had a good energy, even if the song was pretty rubbish and they couldn’t really sing. I also really liked “Forever Starts Today” by Linus Svenning, who competed in last year’s contest with “Bröder” also. It’s one of those rousing Eurovision sing-a-long numbers with a killer hook. Linus is a young guy with tats who, in Australia, probably wouldn’t be caught dead competing in a Eurovision pop song contest, but who in Sweden is totally at home.

Other competitors this week were: Emelie Irewald with “Där Och Då Med Dig” (a nice enough ballad); Neverstore with “If I Was God For One Day” (a fairly dated sounding 80/90s power ballad); Marie Bergman and Sanne Salomonsen with “Nonetheless” (a pretty song with lovely harmonies); and Mariette with “Don’t Stop Believing” (pretty good song, powerful, and with a slight Tory Amos feel to it).

Christmas Music and Sweden

Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm
Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

Over the last few years I’ve written a couple of blog posts about the proliferation of of “Christmas Music” on the Swedish pop charts at this time of the year.

The first post was in 2009 when I mentioned that…

One of my colleagues, half-Australian/half-Swedish, asked me today if I had any Swedish Christmas music she could borrow. “Of course I do”, I told her, promising to bring some in to work. She said she was feeling a little homesick. I don’t quite understand why “Christmas Music” is so popular in Sweden. Perhaps it’s the snow? In the same way that we so strongly associate this time of the year with summer, perhaps the Swedes, with their dramatically contrasting weather, feel as strongly as we do about the season, but for completely different climatic reasons?

And then last year, I wrote about it again, noting…

THE leading nation for Christmas music has got to be Sweden. Every year at this time their charts are dominated by Christmas albums and singles. It’s quite a phenomenon. I remember a couple of years ago when something like 6 out of the Top 10 CDs were Christmas-themed. Check out swedishcharts.com and you’ll see with words like tomten (santa) and jul (xmas) there are currently about 10 albums in the charts which are Christmas albums. Even Benny from ABBA, with his group, BAO, has a Christmas album this year.

Today I was asked to come on the 702 ABC Sydney Drive show and have a chat about this… (Scroll through to the 32 minute mark to hear Agnetha Faltskog and Magnus Carlsson, as heard on Australian radio.

Christmas Musik

Signs of Christmas in Sydney

When it comes to public opinion, “Christmas Music” can be a real conversation divider. There’s a radio discussion forum I participate in , for example, which seems evenly divided at the moment by those who quite like or are indifferent to “Christmas Music” and those who absolutely loathe it.

I must admit years ago I fell into the latter camp. It was mostly because I worked at Coles Supermarkets and had to “endure” weeks and weeks of “Christmas Music”. What made it especially unbearable was the limited loop and predictable nature of it all. As I used to take lunch at exactly the same time every day, I quickly noticed the same songs were played at the same time every day. It was handy in a way, because as soon as I heard “Silent Night”, I knew it was time for lunch, and when “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” came on, I knew it was time to come back.

As much as those traditional numbers have endured, it’s great we now have a few modern day classics like “Last Christmas” and “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” which have re-invented the genre somewhat. But the interest in “Christmas Music” in Australia, and other English-speaking countries seems to come nowhere near the interest of the Swedes.

THE leading nation for Christmas music has got to be Sweden. Every year at this time their charts are dominated by Christmas albums and singles. It’s quite a phenomenon. I remember a couple of years ago when something like 6 out of the Top 10 CDs were Christmas-themed. Check out swedishcharts.com and you’ll see with words like tomten (santa) and jul (xmas) there are currently about 10 albums in the charts which are Christmas albums. Even Benny from ABBA, with his group, BAO, has a Christmas album this year.

But it’s not all “silent night” and seriousness. They also have good fun with Christmas music and these are two of my favourites….

The first is by the group Happy Hoes. One of the singers was in the 90s band, “Army of Lovers” and had an affair with the King of Sweden. The male singer is a drag queen. One of the other singers delivers a “classic line” in the second verse about she deserves great presents… which is “I deserve some diamonds and some gold, stuff that i can sell when i grow old…” CLassic!

The other is my Magnus Carlsson, a singer I met once who last year released a whole box set of his previous Christmas albums. I love this song where he delivers the line… “it’s christmas in a week and a day and i don’t know what to give away, so i might just wrap myself in paper for you baby”.

Swedish christmas music – my special subject. God Jul!

Meeting Magnus

Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

Over the last five years or so I’ve become quite a fan of the Swedish singer, Magnus Carlsson. Not to be confused with Magnus Carlson (one s, not two) from the band, “Weeping Willows”, it’s the dance band and pop singer that I really like.

I first became aware of him when he was a member of Alcazar. Though the story gets a little complex and there are conflicting stories on the public record, but it looks as though he and Alcazar mainstay, Andreas Lundstedt were in a relationship together. And while that relationship lasted, Magnus was a member of the band.

As much as I loved his work with Alcazar, I’m also a great fan of his Swedish language solo album which contains a bunch of my favourite songs by him, especially “Funnit min angel”. As someone learning Swedish, I really appreciate that he has really clear diction, which has allowed me to really enjoy the work and learn a little Swedish along the way.

His performance at Golden Times nightclub in Stockholm was terrific. In about 30-45 minutes (I lost track of time) he sang an extended “medley” of work from throughout his career, including a fair bit of Swedish language material which really went down well with the locals. Obviously, Barbados was a pretty popular band in its time here in Sweden. I was impressed.

Knowing that I was a fan, but also quite a shy person (yes, really), my friend Graeme grabbed him as he came off stage and asked if I could have a photograph with him. “Yes, but let’s do it over by the door”, he said.

Golden Times nightclub in Stockholm
Golden Times nightclub in Stockholm

With a buzz in my step it wasn’t long before I found myself on the dance floor. “Shall we dance?”, a middle-aged woman who was sitting nearby asked me. I didn’t need much encouragement, as I love to dance. Although it often takes me a while, and a few drinks for me to get on the dance floor, I love to dance, especially to Swedish pop music. Absolute joy.

“Golden Times is a real meat market”, I was later told by a woman living here. And yes, it was true. I think it may have been the Hard Rock Cafe at some point, as the bar was decorated with lots of pop music photographs and memorabilia.

The crowd was overwhelmingly straight, aged between about 20 and 50, and fitted into two categories: those looking for a shag and those looking to dance. Generally, it’s the woman who were looking for a dance and the guys who were looking for a shag. Still, the guys recognised they needed to dance if they were to have the shag. Fairly universal theme eh?

As one of about half a dozen gay men in the bar, I was clearly a “safe option” for a few of the girls who wanted to dance without someone trying to hit on them. Thus, I was asked to dance by three separate women all of whom I’m sure enjoyed the amusement of dancing with a gay bloke from Australia with a love of Swedish pop music, and who knew all of the words to the songs.

My only disappointment with the night was discovering all too late they had karaoke in the downstairs bar. OMG, I would have loved to have done Swedish language karaoke.

You know it’s Christmas in a week and a day…

Magnus Carlsson from Youtube
Magnus Carlsson from Youtube
Magnus Carlsson from Youtube

You know it’s christmas in a week and a day
and I just can’t figure out what to give away
So I just wrap myself in paper for you baby

“Wrap myself in paper” by Magnus Carlsson has been my favourite “Christmas song” for the last few years.

I discovered it at about the time I discovered the broader Magnus oeuvre and, although it’s camp and cheesy, I LOVE IT.

The music is fun, the lyrics are playful, and Magnus sings it in just the right tone.

In case you’re wondering why I’m posting today and not tomorrow – “it’s Christmas in a week and a day” – it’s because the Swedes mostly celebrate Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day. And since Magnus is Swedish, I’m assuming that’s the day he’s talking/singing about.

Here’s a super-camp version recorded at an “in store” by Magnus at a shopping centre somewhere in Sweden…

And here’s a full version on Swedish TV…

The jolly season is approaching fast
Giving us a reason to be happy at last
I just wanna give you
The best that I have got
And it’s yours to keep
Waiting under the tree

You know it’s christmas in a week and a day
and I just can’t figure out what to give away
So I just wrap myself in paper for you baby

And then the christmas is past and long gone away
I’ll be right in your arms with a card that says
That I love you –
Merry christmas to you baby

We’re far from strangers
You’ve got a special glow
When we’re making angels in the beautiful snow
I just wanna give you
the love of my heart
And it’s yours to keep
Waiting under the tree

Disco Ball

Disco on Parramatta Road, Lewisham
Disco on Parramatta Road, Lewisham
Disco on Parramatta Road, Lewisham

I thought for a moment I was in a Swedish disco tonight.

I’d just left the Lewisham Hotel which is my regular Wednesday night venue with friends.

As I walked towards the bus, I’d put my headphones on, and was listening to some Magnus Carlsson, one of my favourite Swedish pop singers. It was one of his louder disco numbers recorded in Swedish.

All of a sudden I found myself walking past a shop with a disco ball circling in the window, with the flashing lights making their way out onto the street.

For just a moment I was tempted to have a bit of a “disco dance” right there on Parramatta Road.

Who needs to go to Oxford Street when you can have your own little dance party right there? :)

The older I get the more childish I get some times, I think.

Gävle och Sandviken

Absinthe Bar at The Clarion in Gavle

I was almost late for the ABBA tribute concert tonight in Sandviken, near Gavle, north of Uppsala in Sweden. As much as I love ABBA, this wasn’t, however, the attraction to move out of Stockholm for a couple of days.

Rather, I was keen to see one of the participants, Magnus Carlsson. I discovered Magnus when he became a member of Alcazar a few years ago. Aside from “Crying At The Discotheque”, my favourite period in the band’s history was when he was a member. They had great songs and video clips during that time.

After leaving the band, he has released a few singles and a couple of CDs including far too many Christmas CDs, but they’re always quite popular here. I like both of his proper solo CDs very much, though possibly preferring the Swedish language album, as it’s one which has been quite helpful for me in my Swedish language studies: he sings with good diction, making it easier to follow.

I was also interested in seeing a little more of Charlotte Perreli, Sweden’s Eurovision winner in 1999 and contender in 2009, however she called in sick and was replaced by two other singers, including Anna Sahlene (who I really like).

The train from Stockholm to Gavle only takes ninety minutes and, if you choose the right time, can be reasonably cheap.

Trying to book online though is frustrating. Before leaving the hotel this morning I tried unsuccessfully to book a ticket. The system asks you for both a credit card and a phone number. My conclusion at the end of several attempts was the system either doesn’t like one or both if you’re from Australia.

I tweeted about this while waiting for the train and received a few similar frustrated responses. One bloke I know mentioned on one system you could get A and A…. but not Australia. A friend mentioned he was having similar problems trying to book tickets in Italy.

And then I remembered trying a few months back trying to do the same, having the same problem, and finally using the telephone operator system. It’s much easier to go to Central Station and use one of the kiosks I’ve found. You select your route, you put in your credit card, and out pops your ticket.

The train today was quite full. In second class, at least. Lots of American backpackers choosing the cheap option which gets you a ticket, but not necessarily a seat, so there were a few of them sitting in the stairwell.

In stark contrast to central Stockholm where much of the snow and ice has been removed from the roads and footpaths, the countryside between Stockholm and Gavle remains blanketed in snow. As I looked out the window, I felt very Anna Karenina.

Along the way you pass through Arlanda (where the airport is) and Uppsala (not terribly impressive from the railway at least) before finally arriving in Gavle, a town of about 100,000.

Before arriving, I tried to find some useful tourist information about the town, but there wasn’t much to be found. There was mention of a Railway Museum. But mostly the recommendation was to use the town as a point for exploration of the nearby area.

Hotel Gavle isn’t anywhere near as glamorous as the accommodation I’ve been enjoying the last few days. But it’s clean, has a bathroom (no shared facilities), and since I paid for it a few months ago, it’s kinda like having a couple of nights of free accommodation.

I haven’t seen all that much of Gavle. As soon as I arrived mid-afternoon, my main priority was to get to nearby Sandviken for the ABBA tribute concert by the local symphony orchestra.

As you catch the bus between Gavle and Sandviken you get a real sense of the countryside. Even though it’s only 20km by road, you get the sense you are really in a rural part of Sweden. “We’re not in Stockholm anymore, Toto”, I thought to myself at one point.

Unfortunately it’s been a day for losing my sense of direction and any ability to speak Swedish, it seems. Even a simple phrase like “I would like a white wine” (which I used a couple of times) tonight drew blank faces on the locals. Do they speak a different type of Swedish here? Or is my accent too thick to make sense?

So although I made it to Sandviken, I went to the wrong venue. I misread the ticket. Although it was promoted by the Folkhuset, it wasn’t actually there. Feeling a sense of frustration at being totally lost, I went into a local shop. Yes, I think it might have been a video shop. They apparently still exist in these parts. Thankfully, the woman behind the counter was very helpful, and even dialed the right number for a cab into my phone.

I made the show with just seconds to spare, and boy was I excited since it was ABBA songs sung by one of my favourite singers.

Unfortunately, the bloke next to me, who STANK of alcohol. He also insisted in singing along with just about every song. The passive aggressive soul in me stopped me from saying, “I’ve come all the way from Sydney in Australia, via Stockholm. I’ve paid a lot of money to hear this show. And you think you sing better than Magnus?”.

I refrained from saying this because there was a creepy quality about the guy next to me. He had a SIGNIFICANTLY younger girlfriend (which in most cases is quite okay), but in this case had a kind of “dueling banjos” quality about it. At interval, thankfully, he moved to the row below, leading to a sigh of belief for all of us closeby.

The show was pretty good, though not great. Magnus, of course, was tops. I was particularly impressed with his versions of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “When All Is Said And Done”. He also did an excellent version of “On & On & On” and kept the references to picking up men in bars, not changing the gender. Good onya Magnus.

There were times though when you though they may have contracted Frida as their lyrical consultant for the show. Non-ABBA fans may be surprised to learn Frida was notoriously bad for remembering the lyrics and often fluffed them. There were times tonight when the show resembled karaoke, unfortunately.

But hey, they had a couple of last minute stand ins for Charlotte, which Magnus mentioned on at least two occasions. I also think I saw him sigh, somewhat, when one of his co-stars got the words wrong.

It was fascinating, however, to go to a country town and to see a show in an arena like this. Once in a lifetime, eh?

As I walked back to the bus stop in Sandviken I felt an incredible urge to have a wee. If I was in Australia, I would have walked off the road-side, hidden in a bush, and done my business. But in Sandviken there was still a lot of snow, and the trees had no leaves. Thus, I had a wee, for the first time in my life, on a roadside in full-view of traffic. The people of Sandviken will probably never sleep comfortably again.

On arriving back in Gavle, I got lost again. I couldn’t find my hotel, so I wandered aimlessly. Along the way I saw a group of young people in two old American 50s/60s cars, barely roadworthy, driving around town. That was a highlight.

Finally, walking into the Clarion Hotel and asking them for directions, I was soon sent in the right direction.

But not before I had a drink. I mean, it was that kind of day. So I settled down for a glass of white wine in the Absynthe Bar of The Clarion. It was fascinating to watch the locals, and especially to see some Swedes get totally smashed. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen that on this trip. It was also fascinating to watch some small-town goings on. Who’s sleeping with who and all that kind of thing. My lips are sealed.

After so many mixed experiences, it was great to have a couple of glasses of wine after a long, long day.

Artister spelar för livet

The grand finale
Alcazar
Alcazar

My love of Swedish pop music actually predates ABBA.

Even though I didn’t know it was Swedish at the time, one of my earliest favourite songs was “Hooked On A Feeling” by the band, “Blue Swede” featuring Björn Skifs.

I only discovered the Swedish link when Björn appeared in “Chess” the musical by Björn and Benny from ABBA, and I started looking into the back catalogue of the various artists.

And that’s when I discovered the Swedish connection to one of my favourite childhood songs.

Tonight, I saw Björn Skiffs sing “Hooked On A Feeling” live in concert. It sounded just as great tonight live as it did on the radio almost forty years ago.

Björn was “the headline act” for Artister spelar för livet, a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis. They raised over 1-million kroner, by the way, from tonight’s concert and auction.

But he wasn’t the reason I bought tickets. I was there primarily to see Magnus Carlsson and Alcazar, as well as Charlotte Perelli and Jessica Folker.

Charlotte was the opener, performing her two big Eurovision hits, “Take Me To Your Heaven” (the English version), and “Hero”. In between she also sang what she called, “a woman’s struggle song”, “I Will Survive”.

I have only ever seen her perform once before, at Stockholm Pride in 2008, but was suitably impressed tonight. The host for tonight made a few jokes about her legs (which went all the way to her navel) which she seemed to take with good humour.

I was less impressed with Jessica Folker. She seemed unprepared – she was appearing late on stage – and performed without much passion (IMHO). One song she sang reading the lyrics from a piece of paper.

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The two acts I was there to see were excellent.

Of the three songs he sang, my favourites from Magnus Carlsson were “Kom hem” (a song he did with his previous dance band/boy band Barbados) and “A Little Respect” (a cover version of a song by Erasure)”. He describe the second song as coming from the 80s, a decade of big hair and shoulder pads, but great music. Magnus both sings and moves around the stage really well.

Alcazar also managed to get most of the audience to their feet as they sang their hits, “Headlines” and “Stay The Night”. Although I instantly liked “Headlines”, it’s become more of a grower for me over the last few days and I’ve found myself singing or humming to it as I’ve been walking around Stockholm. Andreas made a few jokes here and there about not making it to the Melodifestivalen final this year, by the way.

The photographs should give you an idea of the energy of their performance.

In addition to the music, there was also a fair bit of chat and a comedian

Oh my Lord, I thought, how am I going to cope with comedy in Swedish? But since the bloke did a funny routine with an audience member, a fake mask, and ventriloquism (do I really need to explain?) I actually managed to follow and laugh in the right places.

That said, I only understood about 10% of what was being said tonight.

I did understand, however, most of the song introductions. And I did understand a few of the amusing asides from the musicians.

For example, I picked up on Björn Skiffs comment during his act when he picked up an earing from the stage, and saying “it must belong to Alcazar. I’ll give it to Andreas later!”.

Swedish Concerts

Magnus Carlsson playing at Patricia, Stockholm during Europride 2008.

There’s a fabulous new clip on Youtube of Helen Sjöholm singing “You Have To Be There” from the musical Kristina.

It’s a song I first became aware of in the mid 90s as a the Swedish song “Du Måste Finnas”, literally, “You Must Exist”.

It’s in the musical – based on the Vilhelm Moberg books – about a group of Swedish immigrants who move to the United States in the 1900s and who find life difficult there.

At the climax to the show, the lead character, Kristina questions the existence of God.

It’s a wonderfully dramatic song, sung with such passion in both Swedish and English.

All of the English versions I’ve heard have never really lived up to the passion of that original Swedish version which Helen did back in the 90s until now… until now that Helen has performed it in English also in a great clip from Swedish TV, SVT.


Helen Sjöholm – You Have To Be There

So yeah, after a long and fulfilling day at work, I came home tonight, had a bite to eat, and then spent a few hours in front of the ‘puter watching music clips on Youtube, including quite a few by artists I’ll actually be seeing live in Sweden in a few weeks time.

I’m especially excited about the Helen concert.

But I’m also excited by concerts involving Sarah Dawn Finer, Magnus Carlsson and Alcazar amongst others.


Stockholm by Morning by Sarah Dawn Finer live on Sommarkrysset.

I’m still in two minds about going to see Kent in either Linköping or Göteborg. I like the band very much, but I’m just not sure if I’m a “rock concert” kinda guy.

Wisdom will prevail, I’m sure, as the countdown continues…

Jul Musik

Sanna Shirley och Sonja
Sanna Shirley och Sonja
Sanna Shirley och Sonja

One of my colleagues, half-Australian/half-Swedish, asked me today if I had any Swedish Christmas music she could borrow.

“Of course I do”, I told her, promising to bring some in to work.

She said she was feeling a little homesick.

I don’t quite understand why “Christmas Music” is so popular in Sweden. Perhaps it’s the snow?

In the same way that we so strongly associate this time of the year with summer, perhaps the Swedes, with their dramatically contrasting weather, feel as strongly as we do about the season, but for completely different climatic reasons?

Actually, if you take a look at the Swedish album charts at the moment, you’ll find SEVERAL Christmas albums.

Right now, for example, the Top 40 features the following…

# 7 Lotta Engberg with Jul hos mig
Lionheart Records / Universal UNI LHICD0095

# 10 Andrea Bocelli with My Christmas
Universal / Universal UNI 060252720642

# 13 Sissel og Odd with Strålande jul
Universal / Universal UNI 060252724410

# 14 Magnus Carlsson with Christmas (a box set)
Freestar Music / Universal UNI FREE005BOX 2

# 16 Carola with Christmas In Bethlehem
X5 Music / Universal UNI X5CD100

# 25 Bob Dylan with Christmas In The Heart
Columbia / Sony Music SME 88697573232

# 26 Sanna, Shirley, Sonja with Our Christmas
Lionheart Records / Universal UNI LHICD0067

# 39 Georg Wadenius / Arild Andersen / Jan Lundgren with Jul på Svenska
Emi / Emi EMI 509994578442

And although it seems like a lot, it actually doesn’t seem as much as last year.

And yet there are contraditions. ABBA, as a group, for example, never recorded a Christmas CD.

Agnetha and Frida recorded songs individually, but always in Swedish. Frida also did a Christmas medley in English a couple of years ago.

Agnetha also recorded a Christmas CDwith her daughter, sure, but ABBA never recorded even a single Christmas-related song. The closest they got was “Happy New Year” and its Spanish version, “Felicid”.

I suspect it was part of a broader corporate strategy about “neutrality”. Or perhaps it was because Bjorn, as the main lyricist, has loudly declared himself an atheist?

So yeah, here it is December 23 and I’m auditioning some Swedish Christmas music so I can take into my colleague to hopefully help make her feel a little less hemsjuk.

LIfe could be worse… :)

It’s Christmas in a week and a day…

Magnus Carlsson from Youtube
Magnus Carlsson from Youtube

The jolly season is aproaching fast
Giving us a reason to be happy at last
I just wanna give you
The best that I have got
And it’s yours to keep
Waiting under the tree

You know it’s christmas in a week and a day
and I just can’t figure out what to give away
So I just wrap myself in paper for you baby

And then the christmas is past and long gone away
I’ll be right in your arms with a card that says
That I love you –
Merry christmas to you baby

We’re far from strangers
You’ve got a special glow
When we’re making angels in the beautiful snow
I just wanna give you
the love of my heart
And it’s yours to keep
Waiting under the tree

Or you can see the full version on Daily Motion.

Best Swedish Christmas Song Ever?

Magnus Carlsson from Youtube
Magnus Carlsson from Youtube

Swedish class was a lot of fun tonight.

It’s two weeks since I’ve been due to holidays and just not feeling like it last week, but things still went okay.

I was anxious about the class due to the homework which was an exercise involving reflexive pronouns and reflexive verbs. My goodness, I didn’t know what they were in English, let alone Swedish. So late this afternoon I looked them up on Wikipedia, and guess what?

I think I understand them. And that’s what I said to Grant when we met at the pub tonight. Whereas Grant is great at grammar, I am, by my nature, naturally inclined not to study grammar. I was part of that generation which was experimented on, and aside from nouns and verbs, we weren’t taught much else.

But by the time I’d gotten to class, and realised I had a vague idea of what I’d missed, thinks went quite well.

Everyone was also in a good mood. And the class was large and cheerful tonight. We had lots of fun.

And I even managed to make a Swedish grammatical joke. We needed to find a word to associate with the word noggrant which means carefully and thoroughly. When Grant suggested a word, Marianne ummed and ahhed and said that wasn’t quite right in Swedish, I leant over to Grant and said, “So that’s no Grant”. Crazy eh? :)

But at the end of class I’m left with a dilemma.

Next week is our final class for the year, and as well as well as bringing along some Swedish food, it’s a probably good idea that we should translate a Swedish Christmas song as part of the class.

I mentioned to Grant my favourite Christmas song remains “Wrap Myself In Paper“. And although it’s by Magnus Carlsson it’s not in Swedish.

It’s very camp though.

I’m preparing to sing this for my work Christmas Party of course :) But, it’s in English so I can’t really translate it for Swedish class, can I?

So of course I’d like to translate a Swedish Christmas song… but do I go traditional… or do I draw upon the vast genre of Swedish Christmas albums.

And let me tell you, every Swedish singer has a Christmas album under their belt…

But which one should I do?

Dansbandskampen

Dansbandskampen
Dansbandskampen - Gamblers

So how did I spend my 44th birthday?

Well it was a Monday, so I went to work, and dealt with some of the more mundane aspects of my job.

And then after work, a couple of colleagues and I went out for a drink (or three).

Then I came home to watch Dansbandskampen, a Swedish television program.

It’s a bit like “Idol”, it’s a bit like “X-Factor”, it’s a bit like the “Got Talent” franchise, but it’s also uniquely Swedish in many ways because it features “dansbands”.

I found dansbands described on the interweb in these terms…

They’re middle aged, often bald, in male majority and with a horrible taste in both cloths, stylisists and music. They are Swedish Dance Bands. Flourishing during the 70’s and 80’s the music genre of dance band, in Sweden, is now just an odd memory of past days. All that remains are hundreds of LP records, made by obscure little local dance bands, depserately trying to make it to the big stages.

Famously, Dansbands were celebrated on the Audioporn Website and on The Top Ten Website, mostly because their photographs and album covers look so incredibly ridiculous with hindsight.

According to the Wikiweb…

The contest aims to bring dance band culture in the media light again, after that, during much of the 2000s the first decade played a more modest role compared with the tailwind during the 1990s.

Amongst the many Dansbands featured on the program I watched was a band which did a cover version of the faux-techno hit, “Boten Anna” by Basshunter.

As they sang along, a group of middle-aged dance and swing enthusiasts danced to their performance.

Later, they were judged by the likes of Magnus Carlsson, who before joining his alleged boyfriend in Alcazar, was once part of one of the most famous Swedish dansbands, Barbados.

The program I watched also featured a Swedish radio producer and a singer, Lisa Williams, who alternated between English and Swedish in her comments.

Yes, I know it sounds bizarre. But it was also a very entertaining program. And if you have some time, I’d suggest you check it out on http://svtplay.se/, as it’s great fun.

And even though it’s in Swedish it’s still reasonably easy to follow.

It was a fun way to spend my birthday, although I’ll probably also do some more exciting stuff later in the week.

Loud Headphones

Magnus Carlsson Christmas Album
Magnus Carlsson Christmas Album

“Oh God, what have I been listening to?” was my response when I realised on the bus tonight the headphone plug on my phone was loose, and that I had been giving everyone else a taste of my musical collection.

It was then I realised I’d been on a Magnus Carlsson “fest”.

Magnus is a Swedish pop star who was previously in the bands Barbados and Alcazar and who now performs solo. At the moment, he’s my “most played artist” according to Last FM. I think he’s great!

Along with Peter Joback and Andreas Lunstedt, he’s also fast becoming one of Sweden’s most famous poofs, having married his partner. As part of Swedish homework this week, we’ve all been given a gossip magazine to translate, and I’m translating an article about him.

So of course, I’d been listening to “I’m Happy, I’m Carefree And I’m Gay”, “Walking In My Shoes”, and his wonderful duet Swedish version of Donna Summer’s “On The Radio”.

All very camp, you must admit, though it was possibly “Wrap Myself In Paper” from Magnus’ Christmas album that sent me over the edge.

Or here’s the full song…

You know it’s christmas in a week and a day and I just can’t figure out what to give away So I just wrap myself in paper for you baby

Don’t you just love him?

No one on the bus seemed to object to the noise, though, which is a good thing.

Love Life by Alcazar

At the risk of boring you with more Swedish pop, here’s min favouriter at the moment. I’ve loved the song for ages, but have only just discovered this clip on the youtube thingy…

Rest assured, the song is in English. In the introduction Magnus Carlsson from Alcazar basically says here’s a song from England, and it’s from their new album and single, and it’s written by Pet Shop Boys…

To be honest, it’s all a bit two gay boys dancing at the Midnight Shift (too old for Stonewall) with female friends somewhere vaguely in the background dancing along. This is especially at the end where there’s some pseudo male to male flirting going on between Magnus and Andreas. Where are the girls then?

Still, I think it’s a great song, and a great performance, and I guess that’s why I love it so much.

And when it comes to Magnus and his still evident sexy hairy-chest…. “can I be the one?”.

Can I be the one
To share your love life
To share your love life

You live a life alone
and so do I
Don´t you ever get lonely
and do you wonder why?
May I propose a new solution?
A revolution
for you and me?
Oh

Can I be the one
to share your love life?
(Share your love life)
Can I be the one
to share your love life?
Can I be the one
to share your love life?
(Share your love life)
Can I be the one
to share your love life?

Why don´t we share a place
the two of us?
Just a quiet life
without much fuss
With our love
we´ll make the
most of it
You must admit
You´ll agree
Oh.

Can I be the one…

I´m tall and presentable
Well-dressed and clean
With a good sence of humour
Non-smoking
Non-scene
I like walks in the country
A film or a play
A couple of beers
or a glass of Chardonnay

To share your love life
To share your love life

Can I be the one…

Sunday Before Christmas

Cranberry, Raspberry and Strawberry herbal infusion
Cranberry, Raspberry and Strawberry herbal infusion
It’s Sunday night and I’m having a cup of tea of sorts. Well, not so much a cup of a tea, more a herbal infusion, whatever that means. And even though it’s called a “herbal” infusion I’m sure it can’t be all that healthy. I mean, it tastes so good, it couldn’t possibly be healthy.

Five months ago I was on the other side of the world having a wonderful time, blogging about my adventure. And here I am on a Sunday night, blogging about a cup of tea. It’s tragic, eh?

Though this particular one does remind me of Sweden, as it’s a combination of Cranberry, Raspberry and Strawberry. I never really “got” the cranberry thing until I went to Sweden this year, and there they have it with just about everything including meatballs. And now I’m hooked.

After an early morning call to go to the hospital – Colin is still having some problems, but they seem to have sorted it out now – I haven’t done all that much today.

I stayed up far too late last night listening to music. Yeah you gussed it, lots of Swedish pop. Alcazar, Magnus Carlsson, Shirley Clamp and Robyn to name but a few. And so I ended up having an early afternoon nap.

And I’ve been working on my “Year In Review” post for December 31, something I’ve been doing every year since I started this blog in 2002. So far, it’s been a real pleasure to work on, as I feel I’ve actually made some progress on my life this year.

Last year I wrote about how much I was looking forward to 2008…

As I sit down to write this “year in review”, I’m conscious that I’m more interested in what’s ahead in 2008 than what occured in 2007. Not that it was a bad year in my life, it’s just that I’m approaching 2008 with a great deal more excitement than I approached 2007

Ironically, I’m feeling much better about life, much happier about myself than I was this time a year ago. There were some “dark times” along the way, but at least I had the travel goal which got me through.

As I’ve been working on this year’s post I’m conscious that, at the moment I have no great goal in mind for the next year. I have something in mind for the year after, but next year remains a little uncertain for me. I suspect there might be a few changes for me at work, and something for the better. But yes, no great plan.

Maybe the cup of tea and a good long walk before dinner tonight will help with inspiration?

Or maybe that’s just the way life is…

Almost Swedish

Mamma Mia screening in the window of a real estate agent in Sydney.
Mamma Mia screening in the window of a real estate agent in Sydney.
As I walked home tonight past the Goulburn Street Police Centre, I noticed “Mamma Mia” (the movie) was screening in the window of a real estate agent, opposite. “How odd”, I thought to myself, as it was on one of those screens normally reserved for real estate advertisements, where they have replaced the traditional photographs and cards with a multi-media extravaganza.

I have no idea why they were showing “Mamma Mia” on the screen, but it was an interesting distraction as I walked home from Swedish class listening to my current Swedish favourite, Bo Kaspers Okester.

It was our final Swedish class for the year tonight, and we celebrated with some food and wine. There were herrings, there was crispbread, there was chocolate and there was champagne. Our teacher, Marianne also made Janssons Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation), a traditional Swedish favourite made from potato, onion, cream and anchovies. It’s kinda like a salty potato bake and it was very very yummy.

Unfortunately, our next class is not until February 10. I’m gonna really miss the class over the next few months, as it gives me a great routine around which to base my Swedish language studies. Without it, I’d probably just sit and listen to Swedish pop music and think “that’s learning Swedish”. But the routine of the class challenges me to go that little bit further. I need to work out how I can progress on my own over the next few months.

But it won’t be completely isolating. There’s a Swedish Fair at the Lutheran Church (aka Swedish Church in Sydney) this Saturday which I plan to attend. It sounds like fun. The bazaar begins with an Advent Service, and afterwards there are stalls with traditional Swedish decorations, Swedish foods & refreshments and a music programme by “Nordic Voices”. And my “Facebook Friend”, Matt is back from his time in Europe with a truck-load of Swedish pop, with the possibility of a catch-up to dance around listening to our common favourite, Magnus Carlsson.

You will tell me, won’t you, if this Swedish stuff starts to get a bit freaky? Or is it already too late?

Melancholy Baby

Playing at Patricia, Stockholm during Europride 2008.
Playing at Patricia, Stockholm during Europride 2008.

I don’t exactly know how it happened, but it’s happened: sometime in the last week or so I became addicted to Swedish pop-jazz-rock group, Bo Kaspers Orkester. This, of course, replaces my previous week’s addition to the work of Swedish pop singer, Magnus Carlsson. One of the things I really love about Magnus is his perfect diction. As someone who is currently learning how to speak Swedish, it’s really great to be able to listen to music where every word is clear, and thus easier to understand. Although they’re both very quite different artists, Bo Kaspers Orkester and Magnus Carlsson have one thing in common: a touch of “melancholy” in their work.

Despite the perception most Swedish pop is happy, light, joyous, there’s an inherent sadness to much of it also. I remember, for example, Bjorn from ABBA being interviewed once in which he said there was a certain “sadness about the Nordic people” (or words to that effect). He said that sadness was clearly evident in ABBA songs, especially some of the later post-divorce tracks they recorded. But I think it’s also evident in some seemingly happy songs as well.

Take for example, West End Girls. They’re two young Swedish women who record cover versions of Pet Shop Boys. “Domino Dancing” was a sad enough song when sung by Pet Shop Boys. In the hands of a couple of young Swedish women, with a certain “deliberateness” in their delivery it’s even more sad… “I’ve seen you look at strangers too many times…”

Interestingly, the driver in the West End Girls video clip is Andreas Lundstedt whose band, Alcazar recorded one of the saddest happy songs of all time, “Crying At The Discoteque”.

One of my all time Swedish favourites is the song “Stockholm i Natt” by singer-songwriter, Peter Joback. On the surface it’s a celebration of life/a love song about Stockholm. But then you listen to the lyrics which, for example, make reference to the final day in the life of Swedish Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh (the day before before she was assasinated)… “Det var September 2003…”

And then you have Bo Kaspers Orkester, a band which loves those minor keys…

It’s not all sad though… take for example the work of Linda Bengtzing… a wonderfully joyous song.

Maybe that’s why I “get” Swedish music. At one moment, it’s joyously happy, the next it’s mournfully sad.

Sorry, no Swedish homework today. I’ve been composing a couple of sentences in my mind, but nothing’s come to fruitition. Too busy listening to Bo Kaspers Orkester…

Holiday Soundtrack

BWO perform at Allsang pa Skansen

You know how when you’re on a holiday you hear a song and it gets stuck in your head? These are the songs for me…

They’re either current tracks I’ve heard and have really liked, or they’re oldies which have come into my mind for more obvious reasons.

Place: Stockholm
Song: Live Forever
Artist: Magnus Carlsson
I loved this song before I arrived and was pleased when I got it stuck in my head in Stockholm.

Place: Stockholm
Song: Bells of Freedom
Artist: BWO – Pride Theme
The official song for Stockholm Pride. Keep an eye out for the Agnetha/Frida kissing sequence.

Places: Stockholm and Tallinn
Song: Cry For You (You’ll Never See Me Again)
Artist: September
As well as hearing the song in a number of locations, it’s also been a bit of a theme song. Just when I’ve wanted to do something slightly inappropriate or too touristy for words, I’ve thought… “They’ll never see me again”

Places: Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga and Paris
Song: Ella Elle L’a (official music video)
Artist: Kate Ryan
A song about Ella Fitzgerald that’s very catchy, sung in French. The video clip is also great.

Places: Tallinn and Riga
Song: Closer
Artist: Neyo
A great dance song with a catchy chorus.

Place: Riga
Song: Russian Reggae
Artist: Nina Hagen
This is a flashback song that kept coming into my head in Riga. It’s about the Soviet Union and stuff.

Place: Prague and France
Song: Voyage Voyage
Artist: Desireless
This is an oldie getting a new life thanks to Kate Ryan cover. I heard this, the original three times in Prague. I guess the DJ at Valentinos likes it.

Place: Prague
Song: No Stress
Artist: Laurent Wolf

Place: Amsterdam
Song: Rotterdam or Anywhere
Artist: Beautiful South
This is a song about the universality of modern life. “This could be Rotterdam or anywhere”. But of course there’s the obvious reference too.

Place: Berlin
Song: 99 Luftballoons
Artist: Nena
This needs little explanation, except to say that it was a hit song in the early 1980s about the time I visited Germany.

Place: Paris
Song: Degeneration
Artist: Mylene Farmer
I bought one of her singles many years ago, but David introduced me to her new album while travelling around the Loiret Valey. I especially love this song. The video clip is very sexy.

I’ll be updating this post has more songs come to mind.

Melodifestivalen 2006

It’s Monday night and I’m at home watching my favourite “geeky” television show, Call For Help which screens on the “How To Channel”. Fifteen minutes into the program and they’ve yet to tell me anything interesting, but it’s generally speaking a very interesting program. Aside from watching television, the last week or so has been a combination of good fun (lots of socalising) with lots of work though not much in the way of “culture” as is my usual want.

Damo and I went to dinner on Thursday at Pello, a terrific restaurant on Stanley Street, East Sydney. I’ve been there twice, and Damien has been there once before, and we’re both agreed it’s a great place for dinner. Although the entrees are, perhaps, a little overpriced, the mains are well-priced, though at a premium restaurant level. For the entree, I had a delicious blue cheese dish, which unlike most of the blue cheese I’ve had before, was smooth and sublime. It was accompanied by figs, pork belly and white asparagus. On their own each had strong flavours; combined they were a delight. For entree, Damien had the chicken, squab & foie gras galantine, peach & salty pistachio praline, which was excellent. For the main course, I had the Kingfish, which cooked perfectly, maintained its flavour, but wasn’t overpowering. For mains, Damien had the the crisp tallabung (it’s near Gunnedah) pork belly, prawn colcannon, apple puree & cumin essence, which was also excellent. The service is also excellent and I’d highly recommend it for a special night out, without being over the top.

On Friday, we had “farewell drinks” for Kirsty from work who is going off to a new job, though hopefully not forever. Afterwards, I caught up with Paul and Graeme for a drink or twelve. Paul left for the UK on Saturday, so it was a fitting farewell that we should have damaged our livers in such a manner. Now that he’s gone, I’m going on a detox diet! No seriously, it was great having him here, as discussed previously on this blog, and I look forward to his return.

Actually, speaking of Paul, I blame him and Patrick for my current interest/obsession in Melodifestivalen. What? Melodifestivalen is the series of country-wide heats held to determine who should represent Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest. Last year when Patrick came to visit he brought his Melodifestivalen DVD with him containing ALL of the heats from last year’s contest and I became instantly hooked. So far there’s nothing quite as camp as last year’s “Drag Showdown” which included the oddest looking “Agnetha” I’ve ever seen in an ABBA tribute group. Go on, take a closeup look, you know you want to.

Anna Sahlene
Anna Sahlene

Unfortunately my favourite song so far, “This Woman” by Anna Sahlene has failed to make the Swedish final. The song starts off sounding like Donna Summer’s “On The Radio” before making its way into Cher “Strong Enough” territory. Although there’s a couple of good tunes, some of the other songs are just too appalling for words. If you’re a fan of bad pop, I’d draw your attention to “Oh Yeah” by Elephantz or “Kameleont” by the Electric Banana Band. And then there’s “Mi Amore” by Velvet which is a total Britney Spears ripoff (although contextually this is probably fine, since all of Britney’s songs were recorded in Stockholm with a Swedish writer and producer). If you want to listen to some of these songs or view the videos, there’s a terrific little website which I’d recommend.

One of the interesting aspects about Eurovision this year will be whether or not Magnus Carlsson makes it through with “Lev Livet”. Although I can well imagine enjoying this song on the dance floor, in my view it’s too cheesy for even Eurovision. But what would be interesting is that Magnus’ former bandmate in Alcazar, Andreas Lundstedt is in a band called Six4One, representing Switzerland. Alcazar broke up in a nasty fashion a few months ago with an acrimonious fallout. Magnus is a Linda Eastman, Yoko Ono kind of character, brought in to join the already successful Alcazar when he and Andreas began a relationship. But according to a report in Swedish newspaper, Expressen Magnus was interviewed by Expressen few days back, where he claimed that he had a field day playing around with the press in order to gain publicity. He said that he faked his relationship with Andreas Lundstedt just to gain publicity. Andreas Lundstedt, who was also a member of Alcazar, has told Expressen that he’s shocked by the comments made by Magnus. Andreas has told the tabloid newspaper that he used to love Magnus at one time, and he doesn’t understand why he’s made these comments. You can read more about this juicy tabloid story in English.

All of this, of course, and more, will be discussed at length at my annual Eurovision Party. The 2006 contest will take place in Athens on 18th and 20th May, with the usual Sunday night screening on SBS. Last year’s party was a hoot and I’m sure this year’s will be just as much fun. If you haven’t already, please mark it in your diary, and if you’d like an invitation to this exclusive event, drop me an email.

Anyway, nothing else to report. Working from home tomorrow, yes really I will be working, as I have a couple of major things to write and I need a quiet space away from the dailies and then catching up with fellow bloggers, Glen & Mark tomorrow night. Anyone else feel like a bevvy?