At the end of my two months in Denmark, I can even claim to have seen some folk music over here, although being based in a relatively non-folk area in mid-Jutland. Maybe you can find anywhere folk music - you just need to find the right sources to find out about it...
But let's start with real Danish culture, as in these days before Christmas
you often wonder if it were the Danes who have invented Christmas. Everywhere
there is this special atmosphere, without having a commercial feeling about
it; all the towns just look like being ready for Father Christmas to arrive.
And that even before the Danes have started to put on the Christmas stuff in
the streets. And even before those mysterious "Jule Frukost"
events would start - it looks like any Dane have to take part in as many of
those "Christmas lunches" as possible. These "Lunches" start
sometimes at lunchtime, sometimes in the evening, but it is said that you can
be sure that the Danes will stay late into the night (no matter when the lunch
started), and are then not in a condition to come home alone...
Still, Christmas starts in Denmark already at the beginning of November, when posters will tell you from every corner: On the 10th of November at 9 p.m., there will be the first snow. Now don't expect that the Danes are perfect meteorologists - as it of course did not snow already in November... But it was an important day for the Danes anyway, as the 10.11.2000 9 p.m. was the first moment when the Tuborg Christmas beer 2000 was available in the pubs, joined often by a big party. Well if you want to know what Christmas beer is - it is Danish beer, just a bit stronger and quite a bit more expensive than the normal "øl"...
To find a concert of Danish folk music in Denmark is actually relatively good luck, although there are enough exciting Danish bands around. Well I had the luck, visiting a concert of the avantgarde folk band Phønix in Århus, Denmark's second biggest town. Finding out that the gig would be in the same venue where they recorded also their live CD, the expectations were high to find a rather big concert with a fan base in the audience. But the concert showed especially one thing: That even the high quality, better known folk bands playing at their own home base will attract only some dozen listeners to a concert...
The place where they played - the student pub Æsken - was an experience
in itself: Up on the third flour, you would find a bar in a kind of ski hut
or youth club design of the eighties. Those maybe 50 people who would fit into
this small pub under the roof, were also there for this concert when it finally
started at 10.15 on Thursday night.
This was actually a rather superb gig of a very special band, that I enjoyed from the first minute to the last (well not the very last, because my company wanted to leave before the encore at 1 a.m. - well that's the thing when you have to work the next day). Phønix combine in their music Danish traditional music with Jazz and Rock music, and the result is indeed special. The band features three girls playing flute, bass clarinet and fiddle, plus two guys playing accordion and percussion. The music grooves a lot; especially the combination of clarinet with fiddle works extremely well. Phønix have found their very own distinctive sound, placed among the many other great innovative Scandinavian roots bands.
Their new addition was at this concert a singer, a youngish girl singing traditional Danish songs. It was quite obvious that she has not sung often with Phønix yet, as the singing was not perfectly integrated in the Phønix repertoire. Still there is a lot of potential.
I left the concert that night thinking how lucky I had been, seeing one of the best Danish bands in live during my short period here.
The Copenhagen Irish Festival was without doubt the (Folk Music) highlight of the autumn. Wonderful concerts, sessions etc. in a terrific warm atmosphere. But not much more about it here - there is a full article at another space of this issue...
Another special experience was to get tickets for that concert of Ivan Drever & Duncan Chisholm in the small town of Kibæk on the West Coast of Jutland. I asked a colleague just to call quickly at the venue to reserve tickets. This "quickly" became half an hour, as the venue said: "You should call either Mikael or the hairdresser for tickets." My colleague got the number of the hairdresser, and she talked quite a while with him, and found out after 15 minutes that the hairdresser was sold out, and she should call either Mikael's Children's Wear or the local bookshop. At the bookshop, finally, she would - after another 20 minutes talk - find out that there still tickets available there...
Sounding like a very local community concert, I was surprised to find a full house of several hundred people in the place, already 20 minutes before the concert would start. And this very concert started with a support act, the Overlærer Madsens Orchester. Mmmmh, four oldish Danish guys singing Dubliners songs slower than the Dubliners would do, and without being very good at their instruments, and with the Overlærer Madsens himself with his accordion looking like a sixth Dubliner himself... well I guess for a living room band quite original, but as a support of top class folk music? Maybe a question of taste. Quite a few people in the audience seemed to enjoy it, so well...
Ivan and Duncan were already quite happy and relaxed when they started to play after this one-hour set of the Overlærer and friends' set, as those two Scots had been sitting with the organizers and a glass of Gammeldansk and another of Tuborg in front of them, and those glasses would always fill up automatically. Still, it had been well worth waiting for the set of the two lads; they were once again in quite a brilliant shape, and the background stories to the tunes were totally different to those they have told in spring to the same tunes. So even for fans some new items in the concert...
Bo Stief One Song III is a different story. A concert organized by the Jazz Club in Viborg, this concert was a combination of World and Roots with Jazz music, featuring a Danish double bass player, an Italian pianist and a Gipsy accordionist. Quite wonderful stuff actually, and the comments of the Dane must have been amusing as well - if you knew Danish....
Special features on folk concerts in Denmark are definitely the distinctive
Danish "hygge" or coziness at the concerts. Even if the venue would
in itself look absolutely ugly, the Danes manage to turn this room into a living
room, with the help of candles and communication provoking seating. Quite impressive
Another typical feature is that if you want to listen to a concert, the first half is the better one. In the second half, after a couple of (Christmas and normal) beer, the audience relaxes more and more, as you can easily hear in the amount of talks in the audience. It is not that they would not enjoy the concert - the atmosphere is still great, maybe even better than in the first half. But at times the talks become louder than the music... But this happens not at every concert; the concert with Bo Stief at the Viborg Jazz Club stayed completely quiet the whole concert long. Is this because of Danish Jazz fans behave differently than the folkies???
Finally, a few remarks on Denmark and Europe. Europe is always big in
discussion, and the Danes are not sure at all what to think about the European
Union and the EURO. Still, most of them believe that the future of Denmark will
be with EURO and in the EU anyway - as the overall system will force Denmark
into it, like e.g. the credit card system will bring the EURO on a longer term
automatically into Denmark.
Another sign in the direction of Europe is that in March 2001 the borders between Denmark and Germany will finally be opened, making it easier to cross. Denmark will become part of the Schengen area, as will the rest of Scandinavia. And this without any referendum; the only reason why these countries were not in Schengen was that the EU did not like the idea of a non-EU country (Norway) in the Schengen area, and the Scandinavian countries did not want to be split by this matter. By now the Union has made their homework, and found out that of course all Scandinavian countries control their outer borders and their airports very well.
No reason to leave Scandinavia out of the united Europe. For folk music fans, it will get even easier to get across the border; for Germans to visit all the Danish festivals, for Danes to go across the border to see some concert in the Northern German cities... And for folk musicians to combine tours of Denmark and Germany.
Scanfolk 3 will move further north, into the darkness of a Swedish January. Watch this space!
Further Reading and Info on the Danish Folk Music Scene:
Photo Credit: Photos by the Mollis: (1) Den Gamle By in Århus (2) & (3) Phønix in the Aesken in Århus (4) Ivan Drever & Duncan Chisholm in Vigo (Spain) (5) Danish "hygge" at the Copenhagen Irish Festival.
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