Julmust - Swedish Christmas Drink

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.

Signs of Christmas in Sydney

Christmas Musik

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 Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

Meeting Magnus

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.

Magnus Carlsson from Youtube

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

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 on Parramatta Road, Lewisham

Disco Ball

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.

Absinthe Bar at The Clarion in Gavle

Gävle och Sandviken

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.

The grand finale

Artister spelar för livet

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!”.