Still not much to do with steel guitar, except that I occasionally play lap steel during these episodes. Move on, steel guitar obsessive. Nothing to see here.
A cursory glance in my direction would suggest that I don’t have much in common with soul diva Randy Crawford. This however, we share; both Randy and I, in our different ways, enjoy the street life. In her case, Randy loves the ten-cent masquerade of 70s New York Disco. It’s the only life she knows. For my part, I love the equally intoxicating feeling of waking up alone in the drop-down bed of a well-appointed motorhome, parked daringly on the street outside the Egyptian embassy in Oslo. I’d like to think that if Randy Crawford and I ever met, we would silently nod at each other in unspoken appreciation of this shared bond. I would avoid mentioning Almaz, because I really don’t get that one at all, and have no frame of reference.
But that’s where you find me, pure and simple this morning, surreptitiously making tea on a gentle incline towards the glistening fjord which provides Norway’s capital with gravitational orientation. I wouldn’t be surprised to get a knock on the door from the world’s most glamorous police couple, but sadly, that knock never comes, despite me sitting on the kerb with my toast and tea and humming Rainy Night In Georgia quite loudly. I dress, I walk, I talk to Donald, and we make our way across to Karen’s flat for a breakfast of eggs and laughter about the meta-criminal activity and hilarity of the night before.
It seems that they do things differently in Norway, and the Walnuts devote the morning to getting under the skin of this excellent Nation in as much as you can by going to museums while nursing what may be the northern hemisphere’s most expensively acquired hangovers. Booze is prohibitively expensive in Norway, and yet last night there was no shortage. We are blessed with terrifically generous hosts and and audience who gave willingly to Alzheimer’s research. We have a morning at our leisure before we play a gig on the deck in the garden of Davie’s schoolfriend John ‘Ciggy’ Sterling, a couple of miles away in Hvalstad. We are determined to use it educating ourselves about Norway in an attempt to crack the Norse code. Håkon packs us into his magical Tesla e-car with flying doors and drops us off at our first stop, the Viking longboat museum.
It’s important not to underestimate just how long a longboat can be. Judging by these well preserved examples, it is both long and broad, but that’s not the main message to be taken away from this fine museum. It is this: life on board cannot have been any fun at all, open as it was to the elements. After rowing and blowing across the wild North Sea, it is a wonder the crew had any energy at all left for raiding churches and the like. It is clear from the outset that Davie is best suited to the role of Viking, and indeed there is evidence of strong Norse DNA. From there we move onto The Fram, the ship used by Amundsen and others to leave Norwegian flags in cold places just before British flags. The whole ship has been transported into its own museum, and you can walk around on deck, eating biscuits and pretending to shiver if you’re into the whole immersive experience. If the Fram produced one good thing it was Fridtjof Nansen, the champion skier/skater/explorer cum radical statesman/diplomat/humanitarian. After leading expeditions to cold places, he helped Norway achieve independence from Sweden and then invented the Nansen Passport for displaced persons, giving refugees a way to identify themselves. In short, what a dude. I don’t want to speak ill of our long dead tragic national popsicle Captain Scott, but he always came across as a bit of a sticky beak. Not so the Norwegians, who appear to be having a bit of a giggle as they conquer the globe, eating pancakes and mucking about in fancy dress. Winning isn’t everything. Having a laugh while you do it just might be.
Final stop before music was to see Thor Heyerdahl’s Kontiki boats. I’m not going to say much about these except that they make the Viking longboats look like The Queen Mary. Thor’s idea of a giggle, it seems, was to cross the Pacific on either a lightly stuffed warehouse pallet or a giant espadrille. I can imagine life was never dull with Heyerdahl. Conclusions about Norwegians? However much they may say they love their country, they seem to go to extraordinary lengths to get away from it.
It’s a hot day, and by the time we get ourselves to John Sterling’s house, I am feeling a bit wobbly, and have to have a little lie down. I am mocked mercilessly by everyone, both Scottish and Norwegian for this lack of stamina. Safe to say that I don’t have a great deal of Viking DNA and if I’d been on a longboat voyage, would have travelled unwittingly with a runic sign reading ‘EMERGENCY FOOD’ pinned to my back.
On which subject, John and his wife Gunn are introducing the hardier Walnuts to the idea of a ‘waiting sausage’. This element of Norse Code is a common sense approach to that moment in the barbecue process when your guests are politely starving while you burn their food. Norwegians fill this gap with a sausage in a wrap to make the time more easy passing – the Waiting Sausage.
It turns out this is just one marvellous idea out of many that Norwegians have embraced. Gunn also showed me her corner fridge, a tardis-like appliance with an angled door to fit in the corner of your kitchen and open out, providing acres of space in which to lose the mango chutney. Well done, Norway, well done.
Refreshed from my nippy nap, I join the throng and get ready to sing and play in the intense heat of a Scandinavian mid-summer. We have a support act in the shape of Andy, who does a neat solo turn supplying unsettling lyrics on board jarring chord changes: imagine Morrissey jumping on an autoharp. This is intended as high praise.
We climb on to the decking, as the sun finally gives up the sky and temperatures finally dip beneath Bridge On The River Kwai. We play well enough. Simon Walnut gives his usual, uncompromising performance of ‘Lulu’. I feel he also perhaps would have benefitted from a lie down. John Sterling, meanwhile, our generous host, becomes a freeform fifth Walnut as he peppers Davie and my carefully worked on-stage chat with his own contributions. Many of these focus on Davie’s height, which is, as you can see from pictures, that of the perfect travelling companion, in that he keeps his hat and shoes very close together to avoid losing them.
After playing we retire to the upstairs salon (the Stirling household is delightfully upside down. Norwegians!) where Ciggy talks us through his and Davie’s staggering basketball careers during the late seventies and early eighties. It appears that Cumnock Academy in Ayrshire was a copper-bottomed hothouse for legendary ballers during this period, producing seven members of the Scottish National team which beat England convincingly, and continuing its dominance until the mid eighties, when things started to crumble, possibly explained by inconsistent squad selection, if this picture is anything to go by.
I’ve tried to establish which, if any of the above could either be either David Mcgirr or John Sterling. I can only say that the achievement of the coaching staff during that period must have been immense, to combine such a breathtaking range of skill sets and abilities.
By the time Ciggy and Gunn got out the whiskey, in my head I had concocted a full 90 minute documentary called
‘When Cumnock Beat England: The Glory Of ‘76.’
This is more like it. In this Daily Mail criminal archive shot, Mcgirr is wearing 12, Sterling on the right in old school Adidas and an uncomfortable 12 degree incline from the perpendicular. John can say what he likes about Davie’s height but back in 1958 when this picture was taken, he was pulling a bit of a Gregory’s Girl fringey mullet while Davie rocked the full Joanie Loves Chachi feather cut.
I retire to the Walnut Wagon, tucked away in a car park nearby, to dream strange whiskey dreams of men in tartan scarves ripping down English basketball hoops at Wembley (Arena).