Sunday, 28 August 2016

far og sønn

Luke arrived on the Monday before our flight to Kristiansand on the Tuesday. We had both been looking forward to this adventure for months. It was a fairly civilised departure time though we took off from Heathrow three quarters of an hour behind schedule. We missed the connecting flight at Gardermon Oslo, an airport under massive reconstruction and some how a bit depressing. It was hot and muggy. SAS gave us one hundred Norwegian kroner each as compensation for missing our connecting flight and had booked us on the next flight. One hundred kroner is about £10-00. Luke approached a bar and was told you have to have food with these vouchers so we ended up with a lager for Luke a sparkling water for me and some peanuts. Down the way you could buy a cheese burger for 130 kroner, about £13-00 so the SAS complimentary vouchers seemed just a tiny bit mean given the high cost of snacks and drinks in Norway. 

Finally we arrived in Kristiansand and we were met by my good friend Karen and Johan who drove us to town. Kristiansand is a lovely town by the sea and surrounded by a host of small islands and inlets. It was nice for me to be back and for Luke to see new sights.

Next day Karen had arranged a fishing trip and our friend Birger was very clear that we should have an early start. He had decreed there should be no sitting up all night talking. Don't where he got that idea from. Any way Karen prevailed, as usual, and we set off at a reasonable hour. After a short drive we stopped to meet Karen’s mom who is a very charming, spritely lady in her eighties. Later we met up with Roar and Per Gunnar Birkeland, our skipper, and loaded our picnic and other goodies onto the boat. Per used to be an F16 fighter pilot and now he flies civil aircraft for SAS. It was very generous of Per to take us out on the sea in his boat. We chatted briefly about his days flying fighter planes but I would like to have had more time to hear his tales. I shall remember the day forever. 

We set off through the harbour towards the open sea through a maze of very small islands and narrow channels bordered by tall rocks and cliffs. The area is called Ny-Hellesund. 

The weather was warm and we were glad of the breeze as we sped through the blue waters towards a pole in the sea with a cormorant sitting on it. Per and I dropped a line over the side of the boat and soon we had a nice collection of mackerel. Job done we headed back to the lagoons and rocky out crops on the shore line. We parked the boat and Birger produced cutlets and wonderful garlic sausage. Others had brought salad and other goodies. 
Soon a barbecue was happening on one of many steel grills provided by the local commune / council. Birger expertly coaxed the fire and soon we were all dining in the fresh air on a beautiful Norwegian summer day. Per produced some fine coffee at the end and I was beginning to wish we could live out there at our mooring for a few days. I was becoming deeply relaxed.

from left to right Karen, Birger, Roar, Per and Luke

Finally a trip to a little theatre in what used to be an old school house brought a close to our wanderings. Karen has been closely involved with the affairs of the Undervannsskjær theatre and worked with the previous resident actor. His successor Olav Grenstad carries on the work. The theatre houses a performance area for around 45 people swell as Olav’s living space, a kitchen and small cafe area. Olav’s daughter makes delicious cakes and others goodies for visitors to the theatre. Patrons arrive by boat, as we had done, and as tradition requires they are met by the resident actor and seen off by him from the jetty nearby. The theatre is a joy and one of the many special things to be found in this area of islands. Wonderful!

Luke wearing the hat that belonged to 
Karen's dad Peter. A special gift.

Luke commented that he would like to play a gig there. It would be perfect.
A short trip back through the rocks and inlets took us back to the mooring and soon we were driving back to Kristiansand. The evening was spent chatting and as is often the case when I stay with Karen the talking went on long into the early morning punctuated by a few glasses of cognac.
Next day was rehearsal day. Luke was staying just around the corner with Kiki a friend of Karen’s. He rolled up ready to go and after breakfast we set off up the road to Vaktbua where we had a run through the songs we were going to play together. They were Aerial, Hotel Room, Almost Dancing and of course, Evening Over Rooftops.

It was hot and sunny as we worked. Luke played his new song and we got through every thing we need to after Luke had reminded me of some of my own lyrics. He also put me right on a wrong chord I had adopted for Hotel Room when I changed the key from Cm to Dm. Oops! Thanks Luke.

Later Karen made what we called her Hunters stew. Luke had asked her what would be a typical Norwegian meal and this was the result. The stew was mostly reindeer meat in a brown sauce with boiled rice and salad. It was delicious and it was very kind of Karen to go to so much trouble for us. We shared the meal with Kiki and Joachim, a friend of Karen’s whom I had met the previous year. 
The meal was fine as was the company and another late night loomed large.
Next day was show time. 

On my first solo visit to Kristainsand I had visited HAPPY DAYS a project for people with disabilities and where Karen works. I had a great time there and so Luke and I decided we would visit and play a couple of songs. There is a very strong musical theme to the project. They present a festival every year where musicians work with disabled musicians and singers for a public performance. So cool!

@ Happy Days

@Happy days

After coffee and delicious brownies Luke played drums while the group performed their stuff. It was great and Luke made a better job of things on the electric kit than I had done a couple of years previously. Luke sang a couple of his songs as did I and we left the group who had a meeting scheduled. I know Luke had a ball and it resurrected my idea of making a YOIK CHOIR for the festival at some time. I have it all worked out in my head ha ha!  

Later Luke and I had a good sound check well in advance of doors open. last time the weather had forced me inside the gig after we had originally set up outside. It poured non stop. Any way this time around we were blessed with lovely weather and the gig was to be outside, in the garden at Vaktbua.
After the soundcheck Karen had made the most wonderful crab dinner with fresh crab from the nearby fish market. It was stunning and again also enjoyed by Kiki, the very amusing Joachim and a documentary film maker called Stefan. A very interesting man.

The gig went very well. Luke kicked it off with a great set. He soon had the audience listening and I was so proud to see how they took to him instantly. He rocked. So it was my turn and the audience was very warm and in good humour. I still marvel at the level of understanding shown by the Norwegians and how they laugh in the right places. I was thrilled to see some of the young people I had met at the previous years show. I noticed that they were very taken with Luke's show. It was great to see him making new fans and friends.
I enjoyed my set immensely and it moved up a notch when Luke joined me for the last songs. What a lovely audience and what a lovely crew. Special thanks to Harald Hempel for a great onstage and out front sound and Kristin Evensen who took time and care to light the stage for us.

We had previously met up with Jarle and Ingve our friends from Stavanger. They had come for the Vaktbua show and to take us to Stavanger for the show they had arranged. We agreed to meet up at 11.30 next morning for the four hour drive to Stavanger. 

It was so nice to hook up with Elisabeth again who runs Vaktbua. It is always a great pleasure to play at her venue and a privilege to be asked to play for this diverse community. As usual the after gig party at Vaktbua was a lively affair with Elisabeth firing up the DJ cd decks with a set of rootsy grooves. Vaktbua is a special place run with the help of the public and the community of artists, musicians who use it. It is interesting to see how it all works and how it's aims and objectives always incorporate different and innovative ideas and a healthy, inclusive ethos.

And so to Stavanger along a road that that takes you through some of the most dramatic scenery imaginable. Water is every where in the form of great salmon rivers and fjords. Through tunnels carved through the mountains by waterfalls cascading into the great waters we sped on towards Stavanger and the next gig.
Ingve drove. Luke sat in the front passenger seat so he could take in the sights. I slept a little as we travelled. I can sleep almost any where and frequently do. It is some thing I learned to do on the road in the early days.

Stavanger quayside

On our way we met some of Jarle's and Ingve's friends at a roadside cafe. They were a very nice bunch of people. I have been invited to play for them at a sixtieth birthday party in June. So I shall look forward to that.

We arrived at Jarles house where Kirsten had made a curried chicken soup with nan bread. It was delicious and I commented that food wise Luke and I had been spoiled to bits. Soon after Luke and I left for Ingves house where we met his wife Mette and their son Kristoffer. Luke and I got ready for the gig. I had a shave and Luke put on his usual make up of blue green stripes. So off to the sound check. The sound check went well, quick and easy. Perfect. The sound guy Arne Kolstad is the local blues and music guru and he did a great job at the soundcheck and later during the gig. The sound was perfect.

Luke began his set and again it didn't take long for the good folk of Stavanger to tune in to his music. It went very well and I was so happy for him. He has worked so hard to get his set together and it has been a joy to watch him develop his thing. I am biased but the fact is he touches people in a lovely way. I have only just reached the stage where I can bear to stay in the room and listen to his song The Letter but I still shed a tear when he sings it.
One guy asked me, in a good natured way, how did I intended to follow that? He meant Luke's set. I smiled and said that I thought I could manage that and I did. The audience was so nice and listened to every thing including my stories which have become quite a feature in Norway.

The onstage sound was so good and it always lifts a performance. I gave it every thing. When Luke came back on stage to join me we had already improved our way of performing together over just a couple of days and it all worked out very nicely. I would like to have played an encore but the way we ended with Evening Over Rooftops was so emphatic we left it there.

Back to Ingves for refreshments and we fell into bed. I slept like a log and awoke to find Luke already up. We both tucked into an english breakfast that was a treat. Later we went out on the water with Ingve in his boat. I dropped a line or two but there wasn't lots of time for fishing. How ever the trip was special and Luke I got to see a side of Stavanger not seen from land. In the distance and high above the shore line, great mountains rose up in a cloudless blue sky. It was magic.

When we returned Ingve prepared a Russian crab. The thing was massive and delicious. It was as good a crab as I have tasted and the amount of meat on it was astonishing. It was a lovely afternoon and a very pleasant way to end our visit as we sat together in the sunshine, chatting and getting to know each other.

Soon it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes to Hette and kristoffer and Ingve drove us to the airport. I soon realised I had left my wallet in the car. Ingve found it , raced back to the airport and managed to get a woman, who worked for security, to get it to me on the plane, just three minutes before take off.

The joyless experience that is Oslo airport followed and eventually we were on the plane to Gatwick. The rain that fell as we landed couldn't diminish the fact that this had been a great trip and that it is always good to be home.

Special thanks to Karen Valeur for looking after us so well. Karen is one of those people who some how connects every one together and makes the best things happen.

Thanks to Kiki and Jarle, Kirsten, Igve and Hette for their splendid hospitality and every one else who made it happen. Thank you Elisabeth and Jarle and Ingve for putting the shows together.

We will never forget the trip to Norway when we played together acoustically for the first time. Thank you all for being our friends.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

back in the north

the view from my room

After my happy days in Sweden I had high expectations of the coming Norway gigs. I had previously played in Inderoy, a small community near Trondheim in the north. So I knew I would be meeting up with old friends and that is always some thing to look forward to.
I was met by my host Erik at Trondheim airport. My guitar and luggage had arrived so that was good. I always have a little concern about that. The hour and half drive to Inderoy was interesting. Erik and I had plenty to chat about and I think we always would have. We have much in common by way of interests in History, politics and technology. Erik has an amazing command of the english language and the time passed by in absorbing conversation. The night sky was laden with blue and black clouds but the northern sun shone through the gaps in the expansive sky providing an atmospheric pale light. I thought of Viking ships setting out down the fjord on a moody night, on an ebb tide towards the open sea.
The landscape is covered in huge stretches of water where ever you go and it is easy to see why and how the ancient norse men, and shield maidens became so adept at building ships and sailing them to the new worlds.

Erik dropped me off at Husfrua an exquisite country farm hotel high on a hill over looking the Trondheim fjord. The hotel is entirely furnished and decorated in the style of the 1860s. We arranged to meet on the following day for a fishing trip and I began to settle in.

  my room

I slept very well and late so I was very refreshed and ready to fish when Erik picked me up from the hotel. We headed out along the edge of the fjord towards Eriks home which nestles a little way back from the shore line where he has a very cool boat moored to a jetty on the fjord. The water is a two minute walk from Erik and Venil's home. After a late breakfast and a cup of tea that tasted divine we were ready to fish. As I stepped down onto the boat I noticed the rods that Erik had set up were designed for big fish with strong multiplier reels and heavy braided line. I was very interested by the plastic lures attached to the traces and the weight required to get it all down to the bottom of the fjord. I ended up with a 500 gram weight.

Erik preparing the boat

We fished for a while a short way from the shore and then decided to head to a huge suspension bridge that crosses the fjord. It was here that we had our success.We fished in between 70 and 120 metres of water and the fish were there. We could see them on the boats fish finder. Soon we were hauling fish up from the dark depths and we caught four nice fish each. Erik had the largest fish but not by much. I was thrilled by the catch and we were only fishing for an hour and a half or so. Marvellous. I could very easily get used to that.

two of the best

After a little exploratory cruise around the shore we headed back with our catch. I was very satisfied and very grateful to Erik who had promised to take me fishing when I was last in Inderoy. It was especially pleasing to know that our catch would feed quite a few people.
It was time to get ready for the gig in Steinkjer. Stig Leinan picked me up from the hotel and after a very nice pause in his garden with family and old friends we all set off for the gig, a short drive away.

Steinkjer is a small town that is built almost entirely in the style of the fifties. This is one of many Norwegian towns destroyed in the second world war. It is quite strange to see a whole town with few old buildings and to see how a complete rebuild affects the ambience of the place.

The gig was in a pub. The Kulturpuben Vårt hjem is a very well appointed place, smart and very comfortable. I was warmly greeted by staff and introduced to my sound man for the evening. His name is Robert and he is as good as it gets. I noticed a chair was already on stage. A box was placed to the right of the chair for my drinks and towel. The microphone was already in the correct position and two very pro looking stage monitors were place exactly where I would want them. I noted that when I took out the lead I always use for my guitar Robert removed the lead he had put out for me. Impressive. But it was when I stroked the strings of my guitar and sang a line or two into the microphone that I realised Robert had set the whole thing up perfectly before I had even arrived. The little church reverb I like on my vocal sound was spot on.Top man! 

After a splendid meal I was ready to play and my welcome to the stage was all it took to shake off any pre gig nerves. I was so happy and as I ran through the set Robert made enhancing changes that were subtle and creative. I was in my element.

My audience was a delight. I played some old songs but the new ones worked best and they liked my stories. This was to be one of the gigs I have most enjoyed this year. I played almost every thing I have. The show lasted about one hour and three quarters. I played Ice on Fire as an encore for Stig. I know he likes it and so do I.

I had time before leaving to chat with fans and friends. A few folk told me it was the best gig they had ever been to. High praise indeed coming from young and old alike. I am now certain that my self re invention has worked and that I have an opportunity, for as long as I may, to reach a new audience and update my old friends in a current, relevant way. It is a very interesting and happy journey.
When catching fish and playing to my lovely Norwegian brothers and sisters is all contained in one sweet day I am a very happy boy. So it was.

a view from Erik and Venil's garden

Erik picked me up from the hotel and we arrived at his home in bright sunshine. This boded well for the coming outdoor mini festival that Erik had arranged. A cup of english tea and some grilled fish with salad and a local sour cream was a treat indeed. I had again skipped breakfast in favour of sleep so this was very welcome. Erik had grilled the fillets of pollack with a north African spice. The fish was delicious and fresh from the previous days catch.

The sound guys were preparing for the show so I headed off to Stig's home for a while. We chatted about all sorts including Brexit and the state of things.
We arrived back at the garden gig to find problems with the PA system. Eventually the crew agreed a monitor amp had failed and they set off to get a replacement. I have to say that things were never properly resolved and to some extent the out front and onstage sound suffered. Having said that I don't suppose this affected the audience very much at all. The folks who had accompanied me to the previous nights show were clear the sound was better there. I spoke with the guitarist from the blues band about the sound in Steinkjer and he asked me if the sound guy was called Robert. Enough said.

a wonderful venue

The large triangular covering over what was the area used as the stage is actually a sail. It looked so right under lighting and offered good protection should the weather change. The sail partly covered a swimming pool and the overflow runs down the front blue granite wall making a calming and relaxing water feature. The whole house is full of innovation and Erik likes his toys. I had a demo of the robot lawn mower that mows the garden when the family is else where, re charging itself as and when needed. 

As the hours passed three generations of friends and their children congregated in this wonderful space. The atmosphere was delightful. The garden had lots of tables and chairs and benches in front of the house. Small braziers were ready, filled with wood for burning when the evening grew cooler.
The food on offer to the guests and we musicians was excellent and as the audience grew I began to look forward to getting on stage.

A choir of six men opened proceedings with some very nice singing. We were still waiting for the replacement amplifier so they sang with out amplification. It was lovely. One of the guys sang a song about football. It was obviously hilarious though I hardly understood a word. I found myself laughing at the gestures and acting out of the song. The singer had obviously got this down to a fine art over time.

With amplification The Bjørn Alterhaug Quintet took to the stage. A very fine jazz quartet with some humour and they swing.
Next was me. What can I say? The audience was so warm and attentive. They travelled with me through the songs and attached stories. It felt special for me and I was pleased for Erik that it was going well after all his work to make this a special day for every one.

Next we were treated to a short performance by two Norwegian opera singers and their pianist. It was very interesting to watch and as one would expect it was a very professional and stylish performance.
Last onstage was the Jolly Jumper & Big Moe with The Jimbo Jambo Band. A local rock blues band that plays blues through the genre. Dirty old blues with that nice shambling feel that tells you they have really studied this and they love it. Young Daniel, the pianist is exceptional. The real deal with attack and the coolest feel.

What a fantastic day this had been. Tired now I set off with my friends to my drop off at the hotel. I slept like a log and woke refreshed and ready for the trip home. Eric picked me up and I spent some more time at the house staring out across the garden to the fjord beyond. Eric had planned that we might have some play time with an underwater drone. It is a project in prototype stage he is involved with. Prototype software problems meant we couldn't do this so it was about loafing around in the garden chatting and drinking hot tea until it was time to head to the airport. 

my lovely hosts Erik and Venil

I think by now, most of you know I have very real affinity with Norway and the Norwegians and so, it will be no surprise when I tell you this was a very special time for me. I just feel so at home there and grateful for their friendship. You know who you are. Thank you all.