A history lesson with Erlend Øye
Time: 21st of August 2011
Place: Chateu Neuf, Oslo, Norway
A bit of a mess sets this rainy Sunday evening in motion. There is a misunderstanding about the time, and the few of us that showed up early must wait an hour for Erlend to get on stage. He has arrived and all, so as far as I am concerned, there's quite a bit of excitement in the air. Whatever is this business about history lessons? He did this when he played at Træna earlier on, but I didn't quite grasp the concept from the media coverage.
The location is Chateu Neuf, the main hangout for many Oslo students, and their organisation Det Norske Studentersamfund, 198 years old. A bunch of us gathers at one of the entrances, which turns out to be the wrong one. Even with that, I manage to get a front row seat next to yet another alone goer. Not easy to get company to a Sunday concert when all your friends are students or working. And also, they have hardly heard about this whimsical character in the glasses. But I'm fine. I'm sitting in my seat, which is placed a bit from the stage, staring at that simple guitar with some tape on it, a chair and a microphone. In the background there is a bright red wall, with some pictures of beach life. And there is a white door. Altogether it feels kind of homey.
The masses are chatting and rumbling, and the butterflies in my stomach are fluttering as they see fit. Strangely enough, I notice this older man. He must be the oldest one in the crowd, which mainly consists of youth in their twenties, maybe early thirties. He must be about sixty or so? He wears nice clothing, a bit dressed up, with a sports coat and everything. He even wears a scarf covering his neck, and he's let his hair grow a bit long. With slightly large glasses, he looks like a quite distinguished gentleman. Actually, I had to try drawing him. I really wanted to share him with the world, and I'd fear it would be even more rude to take an actual picture of some random fellow. So, forgive me, Sir, for portraying you in this manner, but it's all I had.
A bit after the concert was said to start, Erlend appears on stage, to the thrill of the audience. Our Sunday concert commences. He picks up the guitar, tells us about his history lesson. It's a new thing of his. He's somewhat nervous. But he will start by playing a song written in 1962, by a boy very much in love with a girl that went to Italy and decided to stay. The song is an old classic, one of my personal favourites; Don't Think Twice, It's Alright (Bob Dylan). I start tearing up the moment he starts strumming. Beautiful.
(Video taken from another concert, but just to give you an impression)
He lays out the ground rules. With the song, he will tell us a bit about the political and social ongoings of the world the year it war written, as well as a bit of background of the song. Due to his English speaking audience, who seem to follow him, he starts speaking English. I find it appropriate to mention here the reason why he does not speak the Bergen dialect of Norwegian (such as Mr. Glambek Bøe does), seeing as how he was in fact raised in Asker (where they speak quite close to the general Oslo/eastern dialect), after moving from Bergen at an early age. When he returned to Bergen, he kept speaking in the manner in which he had been taught. So here you go, good people. He's tired of being asked; spread the word.
Moving on, still with love in mind, Erlend tells us a little story on how his mother and father got together. They were at some political rally in Bergen. It was the sixties and they were youth in revolt. Erlend plays Norwegian Wood, by The Beatles.
(As I myself had trouble getting good footage with my camera, I've had to rely on the generous people uploading their capturings from the concert - much appreciated to be able to relive an amazing concert).
During the mentioned rally, protesting American support to a political couple in Latin America, his father recited a poem to the crowd, Du må ikke sove (You must not sleep), by favoured Norwegian poet Arnulf Øverland;
Du må ikke sitte trygt i ditt hjem
og si: Det er sørgelig, stakkars dem!
Du må ikke tåle så inderlig vel
den urett som ikke rammer dig selv!
Jeg roper med siste pust av min stemme:
Du har ikke lov til å gå der og glemme!
Tilgi dem ikke; de vet hvad de gjør!
De puster på hatets og ondskapens glør!
De liker å drepe, de frydes ved jammer,
de ønsker å se vår verden i flammer!
De ønsker å drukne oss alle i blod!
Tror du det ikke? Du vet det jo!
Jeg roper i mørket - å, kunde du høre!
Der er en eneste ting å gjøre:
Verg dig, mens du har frie hender!
Frels dine barn! Europa brenner!
Erlend recites the first few lines of the poem; emphasising some of the first lines:
Do not tolerate with such ease
That injustice that does not affect your self
All of a sudden, a man joins in from the audience, reciting several verses from the poem by heart. Meet Peter, Erlend's father. The older man I noticed before. I knew there was something about him!
So. He got the girl back then, impregnated her later on and and everything. It was quite the outrage, seeing as how she had a young child with another man from before. Thusly, Erlend was kept in the dark, believing that this "Peter" was just a friend of the family.
Romance was still growing strong, as Erlend starts singing an old Blue-Eyes song, which the man himself is rumoured not to care too much for; Strangers in the Night. Not long after, reflecting on the song's length, being not much longer than a minute, and wondering how Sinatra would arrange it, sing it several times in between the orchestra's magnificence, he continues to sing a Peter Sarstedt classic, namely Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)? This song has a lot more verses. Erlend doesn't sing them all, and once again we are surprised by Peter in the audience, yet again filling out the blanks with some singing.
Erlend then starts telling us about this guy who at thirteen watched The Beatles on television, and realised something about rock 'n' roll music. At twenty he went on to write one of my personal favourites when it comes to adolescent love. "Won't you let me walk you home from school?"
(I do apologize for the quality of both video and audio; but it was all I could muster with my cellular phone camera - it seems no one else has posted a video of his rendering of Thirteen, so I guess it's better than nothing)
From that, Erlend revisited his own year of birth; 1975. I started noticing how the classics were magically piling up. We make a visit in the world of oddities and Pink Floyd; I Wish You Were Here. Unfortunately, this lacks video coverage. We move further into the seventies, rastafari and the life on Jamaica. Redemption Song. Previously covered by pop artist Rihanna that very same week, with Erlend being slightly bothered by her "taking all his wind". But after some thought, he decided on sharing this tribute to Bob Marley with her.
We arrive at 1986, the age where a number of young men were growing up in homes of feminism, which featured a grim outlook on men in general. Here this pale and puny guy from Oslo, singing songs with a most uncommon singing voice, gave Erlend some hope of turning into an okay guy after all; not just some misogynistic bastard, like all men were prone to.
This song also had another meaning to Erlend. With the events on July 22nd, this was the song that came out when he picked up the guitar that day, and started playing. Strangely enough, it comforted him. It is a song that I much enjoy myself, about life in Oslo.
I can't find any videos of Erlend's version, so I leave you with an acoustic piano version of the original song:
We enter the nineties, and would you believe it, he's covering Prince - out of all people. I found that rather amusing for some reason. Money Don't Matter 2 Night (1991). We are getting closer and closer to modern day. I believe it was in 1991 or 1992 Erlend took his first guitar lessons.
Moving on to Erlend's music career. He enjoys a selection of British bands in the brit pop period, and he even moves to London, and forms his own band. Now who do you think of when I mention brit pop? That's right. "'Cause after all, you're my wonderwall".
(Erlend, the nachspiel king - for you guys that doesn't know the phrase, it is sort of an afterparty)
So. Erlend disbands, and reconnects with Eirik. They want to create something that kind of represents the feeling of their home country, Norway. What they do end up with, is I Don't Know What I Can Save You From - written in the middle of the nineties. Their very first song.
Eirik is studying in Britain for a while, I believe it was Sussex, and Erlend is stuck in London, working hard to make ends meet, selling clothes on commission in a market. He spends the last of his pounds on a demo tape, which he sends to a festival in Manchester. "I'll lose some sales, and my boss won't be happy, but I can't stop listening to the sound, of two soft voices, blended in perfection, on the reels of this record that I've found".
Finally, they get to play the festival, and play a few shows together. They are the Kings of Convenience. But it will still take some time to get a record deal. Eirik wants to play safe, and pursues a degree in psychology. Erlend moves on to Manchester, and builds his contact base. Then later, he move back home. The last Christmas of last century, the boys get a call from across the pond. They're being flown to England for a meeting with a new record label. And by golly, don't you think their album is well on its way in no time? It even gets prioritised broadcasting on a larger Norwegian radio channel; NRK P3. And when the album hits the market, they're a hit!
In the meanwhile, Eirik has met a girl, and is very much in love. They explore the city of Amsterdam together, and see this old man with a beard, padling in a canoe, "looks as if he has come all the way from the Cayman Islands". Eirik shares his experiences of the wondrous city with Erlend, and they end up writing a new song.
Eirik having his heart set on keeping his girlfriend and his steady life in Norway, some complications arrive when they are expected to tour in the time after the success of their album. Erlend wants to see the world, while with Eirik, music is much more something he does for fun, it seems. So Erlend goes knocking on windows, and at one point, he gets together with the two fellows of Röyksopp.
Now you're probably thinking I'm going to round this off, and say it was a wonderful Sunday concert. Well. The story isn't over.
Erlend discovers Berlin. I believe the videos will describe the event even better than I ever could. He calls out for fifty volunteers to the stage. And naturally, excited like a little kid, I really have to find out what this is all about.
(If you see the image at close, you could recognise an Erlend shaped figure in the back, but alas, the image renders some of the wildness that went on behind the scenes).
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright (1963, B. Dylan)
Norwegian Wood (1965, The Beatles)
Strangers in the Night (1966, F. Sinatra)
Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)? (1969, P. Sarstedt)
Thirteen (1972, Big Star)
Wish You Were Here (1975, Pink Floyd)
Redemption Song (1979, B. Marley)
Suser avgårde alle mann (1986, L. Stenberg)
Money Don't Matter 2 Night (1991, Prince)
Wonderwall (1995, Oasis)
I Don't Know What I Can Save You From (Kings of Convenience)
Homesick (Kings of Convenience)
Cayman Islands (Kings of Convenience)
Remind Me (2001, Röyksopp)