Even at the risk of alienating some of my regular readers (those that haven’t been alienated by my long absence around here already), this is the start of a longer series, many parts of which have already been completed. The reason is very simple, really, What I’m about to expand upon, I’ve had first-hand experience with, lots of it, and if one really starts researching what’s available on the topic, there is either laughingly little (inaccurate at that) or only highly fragmented information available online. I kid you not when I say that about some of my favorite music, there’s hardly any information to be had whatsoever.
On the one hand, what I’m going to write about here can hardly be called essential listening for anyone outside of Denmark, none of it is relevant in an earth-shaking manner, nor does it belong into the must-have category for international collectors, but on the other hand it made up a huge part of my musical life for quite some time and, as I will try to show, a lot of it was and/or is of the highest caliber. It is also the core experience that turned me into a collector, into a musician and into someone who has since then always tried to get to know new music, outside of the commonly trodden paths.
It seems ages ago that I wrote about my guilty pleasures (9 parts of which I have yet to complete). Still today, that post seems to be one of the most popular ones, next to the ones discussing shelving options we brain-damaged collectors like to rely on. What you are about to read here falls into the category of those guilty pleasures, although it really depends on your own environment and musical background if it really does.
As many of my regular readers know – especially the ones that also frequented many of the sites I ran previously, sites which have since disappeared into the noise of bits & bytes that is the Internet, I not only lived in Denmark for many years (mid-Seventies until the early Eighties), but I also kept ties for virtually three decades (and I still do). If you add up the weeks and months I spent in Denmark after I relocated to Germany, you’ll probably come up with a couple of additional years, and still today it is a daily routine to read up on what’s happening in Denmark, consulting the many online newspapers, reading music sites, checking out reviews of new releases, haunting the various first- and second hand online stores and altogether keeping my knowledge of the music scene alive. As a direct result of that, my collection of Danish pop music from within the time frame indicated by the subtitle above spans something like 3 meters – plus some – and my jazz collection is interspersed with a load of Danish releases. I think it might be safe to say that I have the largest collection of Danish pop and jazz music outside of Denmark and, with the many rare releases which are difficult to get a hold of nowadays, I think I might even have a bigger collection of 80s and 90s releases than many Danes.
And that’s just the CDs.
Now, we all know that music is (the only) universal language, but if we are honest, most of us don’t really care. We’ve gotten with the international English-speaking program and what we listen to might be a mix of local releases from our own countries and the usual fare of more or less intelligent English or American music. Yes, I know that there are a lot of collectors who dig into East-German jazz, Polish jazz, Venezuelan folk and African township choirs, but if we are honest, we are a small group (and we hate being lobbed in with that “World Music” crowd).
If you’ve had the privilege of enjoying an international life such as I have though, perhaps you were able to develop a taste, a passion or outright love for music that was part of your life wherever you lived for a while or, for one reason or another, you were drawn into a local music scene that suddenly opened up your horizon(s) and both helped you to get a greater understanding of music or, like in my case, the mentality, the language and the character traits of your “adopted” country.
This is a somewhat difficult series for me to write, and I will (have to) leave out a load of bits and pieces here and there. Suffice it to say that my ties with Denmark, for more than 20 years, were a lot more intimate than this post will reveal. Still, there’ll be enough biographical detail in here to perhaps keep a larger group of my regular readers around. After all, aren’t we all nosy as hell? No? Well, I certainly am.
It did not take me long to fall in love with Denmark, the people and their music. Whenever I think of Denmark, I think of open-minded, welcoming and all-out friendly people, calm and relaxed, sometimes aloof (mostly in a positive way); inviting, somewhat gregarious, opinionated and outspoken, liberal and easy-going people that – although I was and am German – never held my nationality against me (openly). Not once, in more than 20 years. If you are not aware of Danish-German relations, you should at least remember that Germany invaded the country, that Denmark put up a strong and rather effective resistance movement against the tyranny forced upon them and that despite that fact (if you read closely and study widely) the “resentiments” have always been kept to a bare minimum. In my experience, especially the generation that had to suffer under (relatively short-lived but nevertheless rather ruthless) German rule did hold grudges (and rightly so), but never paraded those in front of German visitors or guests.
I am aware of the recent (that’s for a couple of years now, for those who don’t keep watch) conservative and neo-conservative as well as nationalistic backlash in the country, but having experienced the positive and welcoming reception offered to basically any foreigner for many many years, I am still today likely to write off any negativity to a political arena veering off course. With my outright positive experience in the country, I would never even dare state that the Danish people themselves have changed. Obviously, the political climate certainly has.
When my dad came home one evening in early 1977 and let the family know that we would be leaving Germany the same summer to permanently relocate to Denmark, I was perhaps the only one that screamed “YEAH!” inside … but otherwise remained calm. I sucked at school in a school system that hasn’t improved substantially since then (I’m a teacher within that same system today) and to be offered another chance, a way to start over, was perhaps the best present I have ever received from my parents. So, that summer we packed up, stuffed every possession into several moving trucks and headed north. I was to attend an International School there, something that made me a bit apprehensive but also made me rejoice because I could finally remove myself entirely from the suffocating treadmill that was the German school system.
First (surprise) encounter:
It wasn’t until about a year and a half later that I had my first encounter with Danish music. Until then I basically participated in ghettoizing myself in an international community of young kids from around the globe that seemingly kept to itself and had little outside contact. My grades improved substantially, my circle of friends grew steadily and, after as little as 6 to 12 months, I had changed fundamentally. But that’s not the issue here.
My first encounter with Danish music that I remember came one summer night in 1979 and was courtesy of my (unknowing) older brother (who, I think, has never ever looked at this very site here) who has since that time become a Dane, for all intents and purposes. He’s lived there ever since 1977 and, whenever we meet, I see all of the above-mentioned Danish qualities in him.
What happened that one night? Well, one evening, when my brother was away and my parents had left Denmark for an extended trip, I – as was and is customary for teenagers of that age – invited a load of my friends to stay over, spend the night(s) and get down and party with me. At some point, which is very difficult to pin-point for me today (we were holed-up in my room for the night, after a day of stupidity in the sun and tons of fun that was the Copenhagen of that wonderful summer), I went into my brother’s room to get some music. Anything really, as we had heard my at that time rather small collection just one time too often.
You have to understand that my older brother and I had and have strongly opposing musical tastes. Because my friends and I had heard everything I called my own a million times over, we thought it might be fun to get some of his stuff to give it a spin. We actually wanted to laugh about what he was listening to, be all self-righteous and call it crap, etc., but what we ended up with was a record by a band called “Shu-bi-dua“.
That name in itself turned everyone off because we were “cool”, “in the know”, opinionated and whatnot about the music we were listening to: music, that can essentially be summed up by the labels “Heavy Metal” (especially TNWOBHM) and/or “Hard Rock“. “Shu-bi-dua, on the other hand, was a band for “old farts”, people who liked to drink a case of beer before a concert and then get down to a bunch of songs that were easy to sing along to, had humorous lyrics and were, altogether, negligible. Fun pop. Geezer stuff, and absolutely not of the Buttler type.
There is one more piece of information you need to understand what happened next.
Most of my friends at the time were either budding musicians or people as much into music as I was. There was the occasional person outside of that circle, but all in all these were all people who could at least appreciate musicianship, a good tune and talent. I had taken to the drums, Soeren had bought himself a Gibson SG, Aage played guitar better than anyone I knew at the time, and there were others who later became my band mates.
So, that evening we put on “Shu-Bi-Dua 6 (Brdr. Gebis)” and it didn’t take more than the fraction of a minute to realize that despite the totally different music we were hearing, this band was just oozing talent, musical ears and brilliant songwriting.
To quote Monty Python blurbs on a Monty Python soundtrack (Holy Grail) I call my own: “We laughed … until we stopped”.
We were prepared to laugh our rear ends off, to ridicule the adult and ridiculous fun pop we were expecting to hear, the stupid lyrics and the outright infantile compositions but what happened was simply this:
Aage said: “Man, this is funky.”
Soeren said: “Jeez, did you hear those Bee Gees’ harmonies?”
Don said: “I can’t understand shit, but this stuff sho’ is groovy.”
It was a number entitled “Rund Funk” which, roughly translated, comes out to be “Radio”, followed by a number called “Broedrene Gebis”, which comes out to be “Brothers Teeth” (=the Bee Gees). Add to that a number called “Huckleberry Finn”, with a rolling drum beat and a near perfect rock & roll encasing, and what we ended up with was one full night of repeated “Shubidua” sessions, briefly interrupted by whatever teenagers do when they aren’t grouped around a record player. Catchy stuff, to boot.
To be quite honest, aside from the odd number here or there, I hardly ever listened to the band again in the many years since that summer evening because they were indeed mostly outside of my musical range, but that LP stuck with me until today and I can still hum and sing along to each and every tune on it. In fact, just the other day I stumbled across their most recent remastering extravaganza, a bargain-priced 10-CD boxed set including just about everything they ever recorded and just for old times’ sake, I jumped on it (also, because it cost about the same as any new single ECM jazz release). Talk about memories.
It all really (!) started one evening in 1980. I was out with some friends, later than I should have been, walking about the five central lakes in Copenhagen, enjoying what millions of teenagers around the world were probably enjoying that same evening: A warm Indian summer night outside with friends, beer and stuff, walking about happily but aimlessly, reveling in the togetherness and the camaraderie. At some point that evening, we ended up outside of a slightly run-down building just outside the center of Copenhagen, the “Saltlageret“, a wooden shed of larger proportions, at the southern end of the aforementioned 5 lakes, just across from my old school, the Copenhagen International School (which has since moved to the outskirts of town). “Saltlageret”, by the way, was torn down in and is today the site of the renowned Tycho Brahe Planetarium.
I had known that “concert hall” with a decidedly alternative twang to it from an early encounter with the “Stiff Little Fingers” (still today, to me, the best punk band that ever existed), at one of their soundchecks, the concert that same evening and the encounter with the members that afternoon and after the concert. We had also frequently used the venue for our International School drama productions (I have very fond memories of each and every one) and, to be quite honest, it was also a great place to hang around at during school time because, if needed, it shielded one from the headmaster’s view. The latter’s office was just across the road.
But that aforementioned night we ended up outside the venue, peering through the cracks and standing glued to the boards, listening to music that simply blew me away – and I’m not exaggerating. After five minutes of lingering about there, my friends wanted to leave and move on but I distinctly remember telling them to take a hike. I just couldn’t pull myself away from what I was hearing and, unfortunately, I didn’t have a dime to spend on maybe trying to get into the hall. I was flat broke, having spent all my cash on other stuff.
The band was “Sneakers“, which became perhaps the most-known Danish band just a tad later, a band which had just burst onto the scene and whose members I had encountered several times previously. I was listening to a young band which was playing on a superb musical level, including loads of invigorating and youthful energy, belting out tunes with unbelievably good solos, all of which resulted in exceptional and intimate band-crowd interaction. There was a hell of a concert going on inside, the heat produced was oozing through the cracks of that wooden shed and I was outside feeling sorry that I couldn’t be a part of what was going on inside.
The next day I bought their debut album.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Danish is a strange language. In the beginning – and basically every single day since then – I’ve been known to call it a “terminal throat disease”, always accompanied by a huge grin or the like to stave off harsh rebuttals, and I have been known to say that one – at any time – could achieve success in any shop by grunting or snorting (perhaps simultaneously) while pointing at an object of desire. Without fail, one would be served or sold the item of choice. Of course that take on the language was juvenile at best, and today I love the language dearly, but the sounds required to converse properly certainly take some getting used to, especially if you happen to be German. The language was perhaps the biggest barrier that kept me from enjoying the music for approximately the first two years, but ever since I got with the program, I haven’t looked back. On top of that, of course, it was the music that helped to remove any barriers fast, and still today I have the fondest of memories of diving head-first into a slew of recordings, of discovering a new culture I had kept at a distance from for too long as well as hearing and getting to know a seemingly endless stream of highly-talented musicians, many of which are still active today.
See, Denmark is a small country. In fact, with its five to six million inhabitants and its comparatively few big cities, if one was inclined to do so, it didn’t take all that long to get drawn into a music scene that consisted of a core of very talented musicians that was seemingly everywhere, jamming together and/or separately, one band supporting the other or one musician moving from band A to band B or leaving to start a new one. After a few months, when I had taken in most of the big acts of the time, I noticed that a whole number of smaller (jam) groups existed (mostly in extremely small venues) that were basically spin-offs of the core group and altogether one had the feeling after a few concerts that one was running into the same people over and over again, albeit in different groupings and settings.
As a result, one had the feeling that one was getting an intimate knowledge of a music scene fast, simply because it wasn’t all that big.
And I was in a hurry because I didn’t have much time left.
[to be continued]