The Irish Music scene in Denmark is going strong, with its two focal points in the biggest cities of Denmark, in Copenhagen and in Aarhus. From the latter comes Svend Kjelsen, a young man who is nowadays one of the most important guys for Irish Music in Denmark, running the Danish branch of the Scandinavian Roots Music Agency, being member of a couple of traditional Irish bands and having organised the Music programme of what has been the biggest presentation of Irish culture in Scandinavia ever.
Roots Music Agency was started in 1994. Svend runs the Roots Music Agency Denmark, which is one department of a Scandinavian company, with another one in Norway run by Serge Grando and one in Sweden run by Jörgen Astner. It is definitely a good idea to have an international agency with branches in different countries; with Europe getting closer together, it seems important that agencies cooperate internationally.
"The way it started off", Svend remembers, "was that we are all musicians, and we had formed a band called Humdingers, touring a lot all over Scandinavia. Being able to do that, we had to do the bookings ourselves. We wanted to make this a living, so it could not only be 50 gigs a year, we needed more." Svend and Jörgen had been organising Irish concerts for a long time; Serge had just started off and he was very much into it. Suddenly they realised that they had to form an international agency together. "At the beginning we worked very hard in Norway, because the Irish Music scene was undeveloped there compared to Sweden and Denmark, where Irish Music has been important since the seventies. In Norway a lot of Irish pubs and bars were built with oil money and that opened up the possibilities for establishing an agency." In Denmark possibilities would be different, because Denmark has a long tradition for Irish Music; there would already be established agencies doing the pub-bookings, so Svend had to build up other types of agency-work. "But I have booked quite a lot of pub-gigs for Danish pub-chains anyway."
Already before forming the agency, Svend realised that a lot of people went to the big Danish festivals in Tønder or Skagen or the Copenhagen Irish Festival. "But you know how it is - a festival is a lovely thing, but you go into a concert and listen to maybe three brilliant bands in a row; and afterwards you are full, you can't listen to any more that day." For Svend the idea arose to organise concerts of just maybe one top-quality band, but outside the festival-season. So he started organising Irish concerts in Denmark, especially in Aarhus where he lives. The first concert was organised in May '91, with three acts on the poster, finishing off with Frankie Gavin playing a solo-concert. Since then he has organised work for Tony MacMahon, Mary Bergin, Frankie Gavin & Arty McGlynn, Nollaig Casey, Andy Irvine, De Dannan and quite a few other well known Irish acts. Svend organised Eleanor Shanley's first solo-tour out of Ireland, and La Lugh's very first concert was played in a club in Aarhus, Denmark.
But that was not enough for Svend. "For a long time I had tried to persuade the organisers of Aarhus Festival Week, which is the biggest arts festival in Scandinavia, to make a theme of Irish culture, or maybe Celtic culture." They thought it was a good idea, but they had difficulties to let the idea become reality because of other interests. Then there was a new organisation called Culture House Aarhus, formed and run by the Aarhus City Council. "Suddenly we found out that we could cooperate. So they asked me to organise the Music part of the programme. And then from the 9th of April until the 12th of May 1996, "The Celts are coming" "The Irish Arts Festival of Aarhus" took place. It's been the biggest presentation of Irish culture in Scandinavia ever, covering many different types of art like Music, theatre, film, photography, art of sculpture and painting, literature, youth theatre and youth culture, policies of culture in Ireland and Denmark, sports, gastronomy and more."
The whole festival was opened with two concerts: One with Van Morrison and another one presenting traditional Irish Music played by Nomos, The Keane Family (Sean, Dolores, Rita and Sara) and De Dannan. It was the first time ever the two elderly Keane-sisters Sara and Rita were out of Ireland; they got their first passport to go to Denmark.
During the following weeks there were The Chieftains, Mary Black, Paul Brady, Stephane Grappeli & Frankie Gavin, Four Men And A Dog, Eleanor McEvoy, The Pogues, Sinéad Lohan, The Saw Doctors, Helen Davies, Liam O'Flynn, Mel Mercier & Arty McGlynn, Sonny Condell, Catherine Ennis & Liam O'Flynn, Joyrider, DJ David Holmes, Last Nights Fun, Crazy Crow...
"We also had the idea to organise cross-over projects, where people would experience different types of art in the same event. One example is the project with the Irish accordion player and photographer Christy MacNamara. Christy came to Aarhus with his band Last Nights Fun and they played evening-gigs in the clubs. In the daytime Christy went to high schools were he held speeches about Irish culture and Traditional Irish Music, all illustrated by photos and Tunes played on the accordion. Then we invited all the students to go to the art museum and see Christy's full exhibition, and listen to the full band. Lots of such things happened." An impressing programme indeed.
When Svend is not organising concerts, he plays himself bodhrán in diverse Irish Music bands. He is a member of the already mentioned inter-Scandinavian Irish band Humdingers as well as in his local band Moving Cloud (and his band was, as he likes to emphasise with a smile, earlier around than the Irish band with the same name formed by Paul Brock). He plays also in the excellent band Errislannan, until recently known as Celtic Swing.
Celtic Swing have been playing since 1993, starting off doing a long tour of Scandinavia. "I had met Fiddler Mick Conneely when he played a concert in Aarhus with Mary Bergin, and I really enjoyed his playing. I met him again in Ireland, and we discussed the possibility of organising a band." They both had the idea of Fiddle/box, Bouzouki or Guitar and a bodhrán, to make it "simple, straight forward and with a lot of energy". Brendan Boyle (accordion) and Mick have been playing together since they were kids, so there was no discussion about Brendan to be part of the band. "You would have to work very hard to find anything as tight as Mick and Brendan in Traditional Irish Music. They are very traditional, it's very clean what they do, and they are so tight - which I realised the first time I heard them."
The three were joined by Cork man Seamus Cahill (guitar, vocals) who has lived in Copenhagen for many years, but when the band decided they wanted to tour more than just Scandinavia, he left them, as he didn't want to travel that much. His job was taken over by Adrian Burns, whom Mick and Brendan have known since they were kids, "and yeah he wanted to do it - he is a full time musician, he is a very skilled Guitar player and Singer/Songwriter". Until their German tour this March Errislannan have been playing under the name 'Celtic Swing' -"that was kind of a work title, and in a way it was a very good title, if you think in terms of booking gigs. But for a long time Mick wanted to change the name to something more original, but we couldn't come up with anything. Then Mick called me up and said 'I have a name now', and so we are called Errislannan. Errislannan is the name of the place in Connemara, where Mick's father comes from; the Conneely's has lived there for generations."
Errislannan have been doing two tours of three weeks a year, and have been playing festivals as well in the summer. But they are having a small problem that is more geographical than musical: "You know we are not living in the same place, so we couldn't go round the corner for a tune, a pint or a cup of tea. I mean - Brendan is living in Boston in the States now, playing full time there. Mick and Adrian are living in London, and I live in Denmark. So that's a hard one isn't it. But I will talk to the lads basically every day, and that's the way it's been since it started off; we are very close friends. And now we have got the Internet, so we can e-mail each other all the time. Frequently we also post cassettes with new Tunes, drum patterns, arrangements etc. to each other."
Errislannan have now recorded a new album in Berlin on the German label Raumer Records; it will be out in autumn. Among other things, Svend has just booked Eleanor Shanley for a summer-tour in Denmark, then he is working at the Danish leg of the Pure Irish Drops (this year with Joe Derrane, Gerry 'the fiddle' O'Connor & Desi Wilkinson) tour organised by German agent Florian Fürst. In autumn Errislannan will do a release tour in Scandinavia and Germany as a minimum. It seems like it will not be boring for Svend for the rest of the year...
Photo Credit: All photos by The Mollis;
(1) Eleanor Shanley; (2) Liam O'Flynn; (3) Andy Irvine; (4) Errislannan.
Contact: Roots Music Agency Denmark, Svend Kjeldsen, Christiansgade 29, 1. tv., DK-8000 Aarhus; Tel.: +45-86 18 53 03, Fax: +45-86 18 53 03, Mobile: +45- 20 14 55 03; E-mail; URL.
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