Scandinavia and I go back a long way. That makes me sound like some sort of Nordic warrior. I wish. At least then I might have hung on to more of my hair. But seriously. I first went to Sweden in 1991 on a sort of mild lads’ holiday (read that whichever way you like) and I’ve basically been shuttling to and fro ever since. Naturally enough, lots of it has been linked to music. Even on that first trip I was forging something of a pop career out there. Okay, I’ll admit it: I won a Cinzano T-shirt singing “Careless Whisper” in a karaoke competition on the island of Öland. (It was a nice T-shirt, FYI. Heavy cotton. Still got it somewhere.)
Such was the awesome impact of my karaoke victory, ripples were sent through the Swedish music scene to the point where I could next be spotted a couple of years later, busking with my colleague Richard on Storgatan in the feels-northern-but-is-actually-quite-central town of Sundsvall. We pounded out mean versions of Pearl Jam’s “Alive”, The Wonder Stuff’s “Don’t Let Me Down, Gently” and, ahem, a few golden oldies, to the Saturday shoppers, earning about three hundred kroner* in two hours. Then we came back the next day and earned bugger all. Those fickle Sundsvallers; always chasing the new thing.
Fasting-forward, as we probably should, my next significant encounter was when Fink bassist Guy and I auditioned a seventeen-year-old, long-ginger-haired drummer for our “post-Britpop” project Prankster in 1996. He turned out to be from Aalestrup, Denmark, thus heralding all manner of Danish jaunts over the next few years: hurtling over to the Jutland peninsula in a Transit van for gigs in places called Holstebro, Randers, and a village I still cannot properly spell but whose name is pronounced “arse”; an appearance at a regional Danish TV channel’s office party where we managed to clear the room with record-breaking speed; and a couple of shows in Copenhagen where we earned our first ever encore and mingled with what passed for Danish rock glitterati. We thought we’d made it. Then our drummer got called up for military service (in fact, he became a fireman for a few months) and it was all over.
Copenhagen stayed with me, though. Or rather, I stayed with Copenhagen: for about six months in 2000 I lived in the Danish capital, having formed a band with some local talent. Things kicked off wildly for us. Unfortunately I don’t mean salivating A&R men and buzzing journalists. At our first gig, someone let off a smoke bomb in the audience and the police rocked up, cancelling the rest of the show. Still, I didn’t mind: I had a great day job over there. Or night job. Along with a few other no-hoper expats, I delivered a Danish daily newspaper in the small hours, trudging along in the snow and sometimes earning enough to buy a couple of pølser. Often I’d combine this mission with sticking up our band’s stickers outside rock clubs. Hand on my heart, I used to pass Pumpehuset on Studiestræde some nights and think, “Hmm… perhaps I’ll get to play there one day…”
Returning to Britain, I joined another band and hey presto, two of the members were Swedish. Perplexingly we never got round to playing a gig in their home country, but we did manage to all go to a wedding in Stockholm which is the first and only time I’ve ever seen a wedding cake being thrown across a dancefloor. It ended up, quite literally, in the best man’s face.
So after all these fun capers, it gives me lashings of satisfaction to be able to return to two of my old haunts, Pumpehuset in Copenhagen and Debaser Medis in Stockholm, along with two other Nordic gems, Parkteatret in Oslo and Kuudes Linja in Helsinki, with Fink, to play some proper gigs. And by proper, I mean we won’t have a guitar case gathering change at the front of the stage, and the lyrics won’t appear on a monitor screen with a bouncing ball. Actually – that last thing is maybe not such a bad idea…
*enough to buy you a couple of beers and a plate of köttbullar.