FolkWorld Issue 38 03/2009; Article by Eelco Schilder

Mats Edén & Groupa
Part 1: The Early (Pre-Groupa) Days

In 2008 the Swedish band Groupa released its ninth album. Ever since their debut LP in 1983 the band has played a leading role in modern Swedish folk music and they are still an inspiration for many other musicians. Next year it will be exactly thirty years that the band was founded. One of the founding fathers was Mats Edén, who is still part of the trio format that Groupa is today. This trio recently recorded their latest work, Frost. Mats Edén tells about the pre-Groupa period, his field research, how he became riksspelman and many other things.

I have always been interested in a musician’s first musical steps. Has (traditional) music been a part of his/her life since early childhood or did he/she get acquainted with folk music in another way? This was also the first question I asked Mats Edén.

Music has always been important in my life, even as a child. I remember how grief-stricken I was when I accidentally dropped my first (78 rpm) record and it shattered on my aunt’s porch.


Groupa @ FolkWorld: FW#7, #12, #17, #22, #38

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When my mother married my step-father in 1966, my family moved from the small East Värmland town Filipstad to Karlstad, which is the "capital" of the province of Värmland. In 1968 I started taking violin lessons at the local school of music. I was taught by Sigvard Stenberg, who had been trained to be a violinist at the Tchaikovsky conservatory in Moscow, from 1968 to about 1976. I often listened to Swedish folk music by, for example, Björn Ståbi and Thore Härdelin, but there was not only folk music in our house. My step-father Sven was a great lover of classical music and all of us, Sven, my mother Beata and me, regularly went to concerts given by the local Karlstad orchestra. At home I often listened to Sven’s classical record collection: Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Domenico Scarlatti, Vivaldi and many other composers.

Why did you choose the violin as your instrument?

I took up playing the violin because my step father, Sven Edén, also played the instrument. He was chairman of the regional fiddler association called the Värmlands Spelmansförbund. There is one spelmansförbund per region and most of them are affiliated with the umbrella organization called Sveriges Spelmäns Riksförbund. Sven was chairman from 1966 to 1976 and, as I went to several meetings with him, I met many old and a few young fiddlers. In the beginning I liked playing all right, but I did not feel a special connection with the instrument. But as time went by, I became more and more fascinated by the sound and possibilities of the violin. Then I laid my hands on some old books with collections of old fiddle tunes. I looked at the photographs of the fiddlers and tried to imagine how their music would have sounded. In 1972 or 1973 I got the chance to hear the sounds I had imagined, because then a record with phonograph recordings from 1910-1920 was released. This album included famous fiddlers, such as Hjort Anders Olsson, Gössa Anders Andersson and Höök Olof. They were all born around 1860 and it was very interesting to listen to sounds and tonality that are so different from what we are used to nowadays. I also remember hearing the Norwegian Hardangerfele for the first time and just falling in love with this instrument there and then. I started collecting Norwegian music and studied old tapes and LP’s. I got more and more interested in the different ways of tuning that could be found in Sweden and Norway, especially in the basic collection of Swedish music called Svenska Låtar. This project started around 1890/1900, ended in 1930 and consists of 24 books with music from different regions.

How did you get involved in the Swedish folkwave of the seventies and how did this lead to the idea of starting Groupa?

Those days, in the early 70's, were the days of flower power and what we in Sweden call the ‘green wave’. People disliked the consumer society they were living in, moved from the cities to the countryside and wanted to become farmers. They tried to adopt alternative life-styles and started playing folk music. In 1971 there was the first summer camp ever in Värmland for kids who played folk music. There I met my friends Mats Berglund, Leif Stinnerbom, Lars Warnstad and some other musicians who are all well-known musicians now. The summer camp was situated in a small village called Ransäter. We practised and played for a week and at the end we performed at a festival called Ransäter Spelmansstämma. Many people attended festivals then and it was great to listen to all the musicians playing there. Unfortunately, quite a number of them are dead now, like Eric Sahlström, The Tillman brothers and many others. I had a small tape-recorder and would not stop terrorising musicians until I had recorded their tunes in order to practise at home or with my first fiddle friend Ulf Johansson. Groupa Ulf had also attended the summer camp in Ransäter. During the seventies I started playing more and more with Leif Stinnerbom and his wife Inger. Together we did a lot of field research from around 1975/6 to 1983.

Can you explain what you were researching, what you were looking for?

We got some old manuscripts via Anders Rosén, master fiddler of Malung in Dalarna. The tunes had been collected in the late 1890’s by Einar Övergaard, but were filed away into the Uppsala archives and forgotten. These tunes were played by a local fiddler called Magnus Olsson. The whole Övergaard collection was published in 1983 and includes music from a large area: mostly from the western part of Sweden, north to south, and also from Norway. The tunes we worked with form just a small part of the entire collection. At that time we didn't know who Magnus was or how to play these tunes. However, after years of studying the dances and music, interviewing lots of old people and visiting archives in Gothenburg and Uppsala, we had learnt a lot more.

In 1977 we recorded an album with this music, named Lika många fötter i taket som på golvet. It also contained a lot of textual information about Magnus Olsson, who was born in 1820 and died in 1910. We believed we had discovered the way he himself had played, with lots of drone playing and open fiddle tuning and a rhythm that has been a guide-line for many young fiddlers. When we were looking for old music and songs, we visited many old people that still played or sang the old tunes. But apart from the older repertoire of polkas, such as those by Magnus Olsson, we discovered other kinds of music as well. This was more like western folk music from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, such as polkas, waltzes, schottis and mazurkas.

In 1979 you became riksspelman; I am curious what kind of music you played and how it was received.

One of the musicians we visited many times was Oskar Andersson, who was born in 1898 and died in 1986. He played the one row accordion, lived in a small village called Mangskog and had collected a lot of local dance music and songs. Leif started playing the music after him on the accordion and I followed, which was a great way for me to master this instrument. In 1979 I signed up to play for the Zorn Jury, whose members bestow the title of riksspelman. The jury’s name refers to the Swedish artist and painter Anders Zorn. Leif had suggested I would play the accordion and I did so, which was a kind of revolution as the accordion was not an accepted folk instrument in traditional Swedish music in those days. Nevertheless, I played Oskar Andersson’s tunes on the one row accordion and to my utter amazement I won the title of riksspelman.

Do things change when you become a Riksspelman?

Well, gaining this title did not actually change much, but it did make me feel more accepted as an artist. I did not make any more money, but it certainly boosted my self-confidence. Contestants are required to play three tunes in front of the jury, who decide which artist wins the title. By winning the contest and having passed through these gates of judgement, you earn respect and prove to yourself, the media and the audience that you are special. Groupa Even today my having won the title still encourages many of my students to work hard in order to become riksspelman one day. Since I became riksspelman, many other musicians on accordion and mouth organ have followed. In a way, however, I was the one who broke the ice.

Slowly but surely we arrive at the point that Groupa was formed. When did the idea for such a band first enter your mind?

While we were still working with traditional material, we also frequently listened to music that combined tradition with modern instruments and sounds. So we drew our inspiration from different sources. One of these sources was the Norwegian band Slinkombas with, amongst others, Kirsten Bråten Berg, Hallvard Björgum and Gunnar Stubseid. Our contacts with Café Charbons from France were very important as well. Marc Perrone, Jean Francois Vrod, Dominique Paris and Marc Anthony, who were touring in Sweden in the beginning of the 80's, were an inspiration for us all and inspired me to compose new material for the accordion.

We also acquainted ourselves with the work of some Norwegian jazz musicians, who played traditional songs in a way that was completely new to us. The fact is that we were certainly not the first group to experiment with folk music. Already in the early 70's the famous fiddler trio Skäggmanslaget performed together with a rock band named Contact. And the great 70's rock band Kebenikajse were also very important in paving the way for the new music of the 80's. One thing that really got us started was the LP Forsens låt by Anders Rosén and Roland Keijser. For the first time we heard the combination of a saxophone and a violin with 2 resonance strings, which was really nice and inspiring. Both me and Leif Gothenburg had a classmate who played the soprano sax and the guitar. His name was Thomas Fabiansson and he joined us. Later we asked another friend to join us: Bill McChesney, who also lived in Gothenburg and played the recorder. So we started from scratch and tried to make some music together. Our first-line up as Groupa consisted of Leif Stinnerbom - violin, Inger Stinnerbom - vocals, Thomas Fabiansson - sax and guitar and Bill McChesney - recorder and bass clarinet. And that’s how it all started.

With the announcement of Groupa’s first line-up, the first part of this interview ends. In our next issue you can read everything about their early years, how their music changed, their cooperation with Lena Willemark and Sofia Karlsson and much, much more.

Photo Credits: Groupa: (1),(3) Groupa website; (2) The Mollis.

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