FolkWorld Live Review 8/2001:

Hoven Droven, Garmarna

& Hildegard von Bingen

Swedish folkrock a little bit unplugged

By Michael Moll

It is always an experience to see those bands you know from playing in your home country playing in their own country. I was glad to see in April both concerts of Hoven Droven and Garmarna, probably the two best known Swedish folk bands, in Stockholm. Offering a few surprises, the bands proved once again how kicking and alive Swedish folk music is.

Hoven Droven 1998 in Germany, photo by The Mollis"Hoven Droven Unplugged" - this was what the Stallet, Stockholm's premier folk music venue, promised for their Easter party. What happens if a folk rock band wants to play unplugged? Does that mean folkrock without rock? Or what?

In the case of Hoven Droven, it means Folkrock, maybe a bit more quiet than usual, but quite the same business as usual. On their very new CD, you will find in the CD-Rom part a little video with the following dialogue during the CD recording, with a mixing computer labtop in the screen: "Aren't we supposed to make an unplugged album?" - "This is unplugged, believe it or not. This is an unplugged computer!" So well, you just need to bring along your labtop to produce an unplugged album...

Hoven Droven 1998 in Germany, photo by The MollisAnyway, Hoven Droven know their business very well, and it would be a shame if they really would go unplugged, being a folk band without electric instruments. During the last year, the band became smaller, as Jan Strömstedt with his Hammond Organ left the band due to other commitments. This does not have an impact on the quality and happiness of Hoven Droven's music though. They still manage to combine in a successful and powerful way folk, rock and jazz music, to combine Swedish fiddling with saxophones, guitar, bass and drums. They play a mixture of self composed and traditional music, one of their trademarks being the regular changes of rhythms in one tune, the other being the all time happiness of their music.

Hoven Droven 1998 in Germany, photo by The MollisHoven Droven's gig was not too well visited, regarding that it is a rather popular band playing in Stockholm. But probably most Stockholmers were at the Easter weekend away from Stockholm in their stugas (summer houses); actually during the Easter days Stockholm was as deserted as at no other time. But those folkies who were still around went to see this memorable concert.

Traditionally in the Stallet venue, the first half of a gig is concert with sitting audiences, while in the second part the band is supposed to play to traditional Swedish dancing of the audience. Hoven Droven posed quite a challenge even for the experienced dancers in the audience, playing their wonderful music as always, with all the rhythm changes and improvisations. The dancers in the audience tried their traditional dances the whole time of the second half, often without too much success (actually quite fun to watch!). Still everybody was having a great time, especially the band who became happier and happier. Wonderful stuff!

Garmarna, photo by The MollisJust two weeks later, Garmarna were about to release their new album in a concert in Stockholm's Kulturhuset. Having thought that Garmarna are already quite a biggish name in the Swedish scene, I expected quite a large crowd at the CD release concert in Sweden's capital. It seems that often you have wrong ideas about the popularity of bands in their home country; at least to the concert in the Kulturhuset came not more people than to the last concert in Germany (in Bochum) that I saw them, maybe a hundred people.

Another novelty for me was that lack of Swedish punctuality. Normally, when a concert is announced to start at 7 p.m. it will start at 7 sharp. Well here we had to wait 1 1/2 hours for the concert to start. The audience sat down on the ground, and to another surprise, when finally the band arrived on stage, the fans did not jump up, but just stayed asit. Only after the first number, when being told so by the band, most people stood up...

In fact the audience and also the concert was generally speaking in no way different to a German Garmarna audience, maybe the audience being a bit more stiff (well that might be due to the fact that summer had not yet arrived), and, major difference, the band announcements obviously being in Swedish. Another proof that it does not depend on the nationality on how the music is received....

Garmarna in 2000, photo by The MollisYou might have been wondering, after having presented Hoven Droven and Garmarna, who Hildegard von Bingen is. Well Hildegard von Bingen lived in the 12th century in a convent, being nun, teacher, scientist and also poet and composer. In 1998 Garmarna were asked to do a tour project on Hildegards music, and after some considerations the band decided to do the tour. On their next CD, you could find one Hildegard von Bingen song, "Euchari". But this should not have been the end, Hildegard and Garmarna were still waiting for a full album to be recorded, and this has come out now, and it is the release concert of that very CD I am talking about.

Roughly half of the numbers played in the concert were from the CD, Latin songs and melodies of Hildegard, mostly having some clerical atmosphere. While on the new CD, these songs often lose the typical Garmarna feeling - probably due to the producer -, in live also the Hildegard von Bingen songs work very well, although they are different to what we are used to from Garmarna. In live, these quiet and mostly slowish songs let not only shine Emma Härdelins voice, but featured really excellent and exciting solo violin parts of Stefan Brisland-Ferner. Most of these songs have in live a bit of a Garmarna-unplugged feeling (much more actually then Hoven Droven's unplugged concert sounded unplugged); as did have the whole concert, as the loudness of the music was very reasonable, which was for me actually very enjoyable.

Although these songs provided highest musical quality, the audience was especially waiting for their old and loud favourites from earlier CDs, presenting Garmarna in their typical form: Swedish traditional songs, sung by the clear voice of Emma Härdelin, while around her the band is rocking with fiddle/hurdy gurdy, guitar and e- guitar, drums and programming. A dark and hard Swedish sound. Which probably is in the end Garmarna at their very best.

After these two concert I am left with the question: Are Garmarna and Hoven Droven not much more popular in Sweden than in Germany, or were these two concerts unusual co-incidents???

Both bands have just released new albums; Hoven Droven's being one of their best so far, while Garmarna's lacks behind their former recordings. See our CD review section.

Further infos available at the bands' homepages: and

Photo Credit: 3 photos of Hoven Droven in Germany 1998; Garmarna in Stockholm; Garmarna in FolkWoods 2000. All photos by The Mollis

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