Melodifestivalen 2015 #3

Even though I’m no longer part of the culture of “Friday Afternoon Work Drinks”, I do remember this stage of my life very well. You would go to the pub, talk about work, and then, as the drinks kicked in, you would turn to other topics, and before you knew it, you were in a dodgy karaoke bar singing “Dancing Queen”. Through your “beer ears” you thought you sounded okay, when it fact you sounded pretty awful. And what happened to remind you of this was the appearance on stage of your workmate (who had ditched his tie and jacket) and who suddenly revealed to everyone he had a really great singing voice.

That guy was a contestant in the third heat of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish competition which selects a contestant for the Eurovision Song Contest, and his name was Andreas Weise. When he appeared on stage, I thought he would be another boring old male blonde Swede who would sing something of little consequence, only to be forgotten about minutes later. In fact, his performance was one of the best in this heat.

Along the way there were other tracks such as “Insomnia” by Ellen Benediktson (good, though probably a little too similar to Loreen’s “Euphoria”); “För din skull” (For your sake) by Kalle Johansson (boring); “Living To Die” by Andreas Johnson (the songs title says it all, it’s time for Andreas Johnson to move on); “Don’t Stop” by Isa Tengblad (boring in my view, but popular with the tweens); and “I See You” by Kristin Amparo (gorgeous voice, though I can’t remember the song only half an hour after having watched it).

But my favourite of the heat was “Jag är fri (Manne Liem Frije)” (I am free) by Jon Henrik Fjällgren. He won Sweden’s got talent last year with a song about a friend who died. Though originally from Colombia, he’s part of the Sami community and works by day, seriously, herding reindeer. The song he sang was “rousing” and “catchy” and sung in “Joik” which is a traditional Sami form of song. A big call to make at this stage, since there’s still a further heat to go, and then “Andra Chansen” before the final, but I think he has a really good chance of representing Sweden at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

Unfortunately the video of his performance isn’t available online yet, but here’s the video from when he won Sweden’s Got Talent.

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).

Song Of The Year – Tove Lo Habits

Of all the new music I saw/heard in 2014, this was the one that stood out.

Yeah, of course it’s from a Swedish artist, and I love the fact she doesn’t try to hide that in her video clip (unlike a lot of other Swedish artists these days who are doing their best to hide their Swedishness by filming their clips in the US).

I love the song musically, as it has a good melody and lyrics.

But I really love the video clip, as it captures both the elements of “the selfie” and the self-destructiveness of youth culture.

I also really love the vulnerability she shows in the clip. Hopefully honest.

Can’t go home alone again
Need someone to numb the pain

PS… Here’s another song from her with lots of Sthlm scenery.

The Vinyl Lounge

As I entered the room (a few minutes late) they were playing some early-70s rock music from Rod Argent. Shortly afterwards, they played some Captain Beefheart. “Oh dear, this is not my kind of music”, I thought to myself. But I decided to stick around, because I thought it was such a cool idea: a once a month vinyl records “party” in a theatrette at the National Film and Sound Archive.

Although I grew up with vinyl, and am aware of the recent re-discovery of vinyl by the “young folk”, I don’t really look back with fondness to the days of scratches, crackles and records getting stuck. I don’t remember thinking as a ten year old I love the sound of the scratches and crackles : it was the nightmare scenario that meant I would often buy two copies of a record I really loved: one to play and one to keep “for good”. I also don’t really buy the argument vinyl sounds better than CD. I don’t even think it sounds as good as a high quality mp3. But there are two things vinyl has going for it over modern musical formats: the large format album covers and the mesmerising quality of watching the album go around and around.

And that’s what I did for a while. And then the music changed: there was some Georgie Fame, there was some Louis Prima, there was Tina Turner singing “River Deep, Mountain High”. Now those albums really did sound good on vinyl. I suspect it’s because the artists and producers were working to the vinyl format, and thus their attitudes towards recording and production were informed by the format. That’s when I stopped watching the vinyl go round and closed my eyes and listened to the music being played a couple of massive old Tannoy speakers. They must have weighed a tonne.

I also really loved the passion evident in the room, as those attending (forty or fifty people) were asked to introduce their vinyl selection. Even though I really hated the Captain Beefheart track, you could hear from her voice that the young woman who introduced it really loved it. The woman who introduced Louis Prima wasn’t as articulate in the words she used, but you could also tell she really loved her track also. Canberra music legend, David Kilby was also there. I worked with David twenty years ago and would have loved to have said hi briefly, though I wasn’t sure if he would remember me, and he was pretty much surrounded by “groupies”, so I wandered on.

The last track to be played was one of my all time favourites, Rattlesnakes, a track from Lloyd Cole’s first album. The guy running the afternoon told how he had bought the album in a three way split with friends back in 1984. It was an album that accompanied me through my days at university. I still vividly remember lifting the needle and dropping it on that album, as I spent my days in a small room apartment on campus. I have the album on both CD and mp3, and it sounds much better now, to be honest.

So yeah, a sweet way to spend an hour this afternoon in Canberra. At the end of the event, the host said they’re moving to the first Friday of every month, with drinks from 5.00pm, and vinyl from 5.30.

Monica Z

The last couple of weeks have been reasonably busy, and so I haven’t managed to immerse myself in the Scandinavian Film Festival as I’d hoped. There was one film, however, I definitely wanted to see on the big screen, having previously seen it only a small screen: the movie about the life of Swedish jazz singer, Monica Zetterlund.

I’d first heard about Monica twenty or thirty years ago, as Frida from ABBA had described her as one of her idols. The story of a jazz singer from a small country town who, in 1960s Sweden, has to find a balance between career and family is a theme in both their lives.

In the time since, I’ve come to know and really enjoy Monica’s work. I think my favourite song of hers is her Swedish language version of “Take 5″: it’s a great tune, sung with passion and energy. The film explains this particular song, and many of her others, comes from Monica’s desire to sing (mostly in Swedish) about things in her life. The film details a meeting with Ella Fitzgerald, where Ella, quite directly tells her not to sing about New Orleans and other such things (the staples of 1950s and 1960s jazz), but about stuff she knows.

Monica’s own experiences of travelling to New York are documented in the film: an early disastrous performance where the show was shut down because her backing musicians were black; and a later more successful show that brings her family and friends to tears. The film documents a difficult relationship with her father who lives in the small town of Hagfors. “Do you have any idea where that is?”, I whispered to Grant. Later, over a drink, we looked it up, locating it in the middle of Sweden, towards the border with Norway. There’s a really funny scene in the movie (which I won’t spoil) about Monica’s personal vow never to return to Hagfors.

I really loved this film. It’s a great story. Great music. Features great performances. And has beautiful cinematography which deserves the big screen. I really hope the film gets a broader cinematic run in Australia.

PS: After watching the movie we went out for a drink and a chat. We joked we should have played the “Monica Zetterlund Drinking Game”. It’s the game where you watch the film and have a drink every time she does. You would end up pretty sloshed pretty quickly. She liked a drink or 25,000, it seems.

Walking In The Rain

I first heard/saw the song “Walking In The Rain” when the video clip of Grace Jones performing the song was first played on Countdown. I was about seventeen years old at the time and was completely blown away by the clip. In particular, the strong androgynous imagery of Grace Jones echoed by the song line “Feeling like a woman, looking like a man”.

For me, Grace Jones’ version has always been the definitive version, even though it was first performed (and written) by the Australian group, “Flash & The Pan”. But today on the radio, I heard Doc Neeson’s version. I’ve never been a big fan of Doc Neeson and his band. “The Angels”, but this version really stood out. It has a Nick Cave feel about it. Also a later Johnny Cash feel to it. I love the brass, I love Doc’s deliberate style.

So, I thought it would be worth sharing these three versions (that I’m aware of) with you.

1979 – Flash & The Pan

1981 – Grace Jones

2014 – Doc Neeson

Musical Favourites for 2013 – The Year of Oskar Linnros

As I’ve sat down to look at the most commonly played tracks for the year, I’m kinda surprised it’s the song “Plåster” by Oskar Linnros. Not that I dislike the song, but I kind of imagined there were other songs I’d played more often the year.

That said, I’m using last.fm as my guide, and while it’s pretty good at picking up the music I’ve scrobbled, it’s not an entirely accurate guide to my listening preferences for the year.

That qualifier aside, these were the Top 4 songs I listened to in 2013.

1. Oskar Linnros – Plåster

2. Agnetha Fältskog – Dance Your Pain Away

3. Oskar Linnros – Hur dom än

4. Oskar Linnros – Det är inte synd om dig

For me, the real musical discovery of the year was Jonas Holmberg.

I wrote a blog post about him in August, saying…

After a couple of listens, I bought his two albums of Swedish language versions of jazz and pop classics, and they have been barely off my music player over the last two weeks. I’m listening again tonight. He has a beautifully clear voice and diction (good for improving my Swedish), sings with passion, and is backed by some wonderful instrumentation. Even if you don’t speak Swedish, his two albums are really very, very listenable. I’ve recommended him to my friend Grant (also a Swedophile) who was mightily impressed. From what I can see, Jonas performs semi-regularly around Stockholm, and occasionally has appeared on Swedish television. Hopefully the next time I visit Sweden, he’ll be performing somewhere, as I’d love to hear him perform live, and not only on recordings.

If I’d discovered Jonas before August, I’d guess this would have not been the year of Oskar Linnros after all.

Another great “discovery” this year was Carmen McRae’s version of Sounds Of Silence. Not a new song, or a new version, but I heard it for the first time in an ABC Shop, and it quickly became a firm favourite.

For pure sentimental value, this was another favourite from 2013.