Here, it ends. Back to business very soon.
‘Some days are better than others’ as Marcel Proust would have written if he’d found the time. And yet even when days are epic and awesome like the day that I’m about to unfold, we still invariably have to rely on photographs to remember what it was like, which seems a bit patchy. I worry that pretty quickly the photos we see replace the memories, and you just end up with memories of looking at the photos. I do like the idea of remembering through another sense, and I think it should ideally be the sense of smell. Anyone that’s ever climbed into a car from the 70’s will know how powerful that can be at conjuring up a past of School runs and picnics. The practicality however of keeping a Waiting Sausage or a genuine bit of Fjord Kelp, or the Diesel engine of a Norwegian Ferry handy to sniff in order to bring back this day, escapes me. What we are left with is words, pictures, still and moving and, what has been conspicuously and inexcusably missing from this blog so far, your actual MUSIC. Real recorded music. Four different media for you to gorge yourselves on. Using these tools I would like to share with you as fully as I can the joy of songs and friendship, where they can take you, and what it can offer if you give them a chance, as packaged into a single, glorious day, or part thereof, in my case. Bit esoteric. Let’s move on.
It’s morning in Hvalstad! I’m in a car park.
Gunn and John Sterling’s vast cornerucopia of a fridge wasn’t defeated by a whole day of catering, it turns out. It still had more to give when breakfast came around and I skulked out of the wagon to join them. I remember eggs, although I didn’t take a picture of them so I’d have to smell one to be absolutely sure. Gear was stuffed back into the nooks and crevices of the motorhome and we drove back to Karen’s flat to meet her and Håkon. I remember Davie explaining this bit of the trip to me back in the UK, in the early stages of planning, and when the morning came, I really wish I had paid more attention. Karen and Håkon own a small house on an island across the fjord from Oslo, called Nakholmen. It appears that at some point, once the oil money had come in, the Norwegian government gave everyone in the capital a holiday home to avoid them trekking off to Majorca and coming back with sombreros and liqueurs that sit at the back of the cupboard until you move house. As a result the islands are dotted with picture perfect wooden structures, painted with pride in primary shades, accessible only by kayak or on foot from the ferry terminal. There are no vehicles as there are no roads, just gravel paths connecting neighbours.
We drove the van down to the dock and unloaded our gear.
then took her back and parked her out of the way in a free parking space, I don’t know, outside the Houses of Parliament or the main station or somewhere. Parking in Oslo really is madly liberating. You could stick an articulated lorry on their equivalent of Oxford Street for a fortnight and not pay a penny. Upon returning to he dock, we found a very excited Håkon gesturing to get on to the waiting boat asap or face a long wait until the next one. We grabbed our guitars, mic stands and amps and loaded ourselves on to the ferry alongside Oslonian dogs, pushchairs and old people. All going to the wrong island.
Håkon is a tech genius, who has invented things we all use. He is used to seizing opportunities, and engineering answers to immediate problems. He demonstrated the first part of this skill set by hustling us on to a boat going to a perfectly lovely island on which he holds no real estate. The second part then kicked in, as he scoured the ferry timetable to ensure that we changed boats to arrive ahead of the boat we would have caught otherwise. I can only surmise he did this because otherwise there would have been no time or opportunity for Donald to entertain us in a rubbadub Celtic stylee.
On the island of Nakholmen we had to trek our gear across to the rocky outcrop where we would be playing. I was a bit grumpy at this stage, as my guitars, amp and mic stand were all perched atop my suitcase. I had to go straight off to the airport after the gig, and I couldn’t risk going back to the wagon to collect them. The rolly bag was catching stones in its little Chinese wheels, and signalling clearly that it was not designed for All-Terrain use by periodically sticking the brakes on, and generally acting like a naughty doggy who didn’t want to go for a walk in the first place. We dragged and huffed and puffed over miniature mountain passes in the midsummer sun until we reached the cove where Karen and Håkon second home. We dropped our kit, sighed, and drank in the straight-up beauty of the place.
The house was scandi-perfect, too. A lounge/kitchen with a couple of little bedrooms off it, and a toilet with special island rules which shouted ‘hold it in’. Our hosts had leafletted the island meaning that by the time we’d run an extension lead to our plateau, a crowd of around fifty people were sitting expectantly but with the kind of limited expectation that comes with a free concert performed by middle aged men. We also picked up Halder, an expert Nordic fiddle player and friend of Håkon, who played along with us, and meshed beautifully with Donald. It was like watching the marriage of European Royalty. As musicians, they clearly came from the same gene pool, but with enough tiny regional differences to make the whole thing acceptable. Thanks to the magic of Soundcloud, you can hear for yourself how we did.
And as Håkon threw a drone up you can see for yourself that i’m not lying about the jaw-dropping nature of the place.
Once we’d finished playing there really was nothing left to do but make the most of the crystal chill of the water. Observe here Simon’s near-perfect dive technique.
And that’s it. I changed out of my borrowed trunks, said goodbye to the boys and our wonderful hosts, went back to the mainland and got the train to Oslo airport. Their plan, was to drive back through Copenhagen and on to Amsterdam without me where they had another gig sorted before dropping off the van almost exactly a week after we’d picked her up.
I’m not sure there’s any great moral lesson to take from our funny trip. Others have, without doubt, pushed themselves harder, dealt with greater discomfort, travelled further and raised more money for charity. I think our idea came from the good time we tend to have when we are together, particularly when we are playing, the fact we could get a vehicle, a clear week, a destination, and an excuse. We did it in the hope we’d have some sights and smells to talk about when winter came around. We could look back and say ‘we did that” rather than ‘we should have done that’, and that we could take away a few days that were close to perfect. Sitting here, looking at the first frost on the garden, it feels like job done.