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Monday 3 November 2014

The Beatles and Norway

At least the airline was partly Norwegian.
As you know, the Beatles never played in Norway - a sore point for us Norwegian fans of the group, but here are some stories related to Norway.

Beatles concert in Norway
Even though the Beatles never did come to Norway, some negotiations are said to have taken place prior to their second visit to Sweden. The Beatles were booked to play at Johanneshov Isstadion in Stockholm on 28-29 July 1964. Not part of any tour, these one off bookings were supposedly just to fulfill a promise they had made during their Autumn 1963 short tour of Sweden, their first tour abroad. Brian Epstein is said to have been keen to make appointments for the surrounding dates, and Norway was among the interested parties. To my knowledge, no paperwork or quotes about this have surfaced, all I know are rumours in the industry and among fans about this. What has been suggested, is that Epstein wanted more money than Norwegian promoters could afford, which is why a Beatles concert in Norway never happened.

Another theory, substantiated by many remarks on the radio, on TV and in newspapers in Norway in the sixties, is that the professionals, the moguls of the Norwegian music business, were all opposed to the Beatles. Music in Norway was pretty much dominated by the jazz era style of music, and pop was more of the harmony singing variety (listen to a YouTube sample), backed by musicians who came from a jazz background. And these people were also in charge of the music industry, supplying their music to records, to films and to TV and radio broadcasting. These key players didn't want the change that the Beatles represented, not in music, not in hairstyles or fashion or the youth culture, and these people could easily have been obstacles in the negotiations about a Beatles visit to Norway.

What they could not, was change the public opinion, and the Beatles became very popular solely on the basis of their records, and eventually their films. The company in charge of releasing Beatles records in Norway supplied the market with a total of 34 different singles (see them all here), and 1964 was the peak year of this. The "A Hard Day's Night" film was also a big theatrical hit.

Sadly, "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" was not among the songs picked as candidates for a single release. If any country should have released the song as an A-side of a single, it should have been Norway. But we settled on "Michelle"/"Girl" instead.

"Norwegian Wood" was a single in Australia.

At the same time, there were no fewer than two separate official Beatles Fan clubs operating in Norway, one in the Oslo area and one on the southwest coast, in Stavanger.

When the dust settled, the jazzy artists of the early sixties era in Norway would look back and say; "Then the Beatles came along and everything was ruined".

But as the Beatles' fame signalled the end of an era, for another generation of musicians they were the start of something new.

The Sunbeams
This Norwegian group shared a dressing room with the Beatles at the Drop-In taping in Stockholm. The Sunbeams appeared on TV the week after The Beatles, but the show was taped the same day.

It was the autumn of 1962 that the five band members from the two pop bands in Eidsvoll, Norway got together and called themselves "The Sunbeams". After only six months, they entered a nationwide competition at the "Rondo" club in Oslo and won a recording contract with the company Manu Records. In May 1963 they recorded a rocking instrumental version of "I've got a lovely bunch of coconuts" (listen to it on YouTube). On 28 September 1963 the song went straight into 4th place on "Tio i Topp" (a Swedish radio chart) and spent the next nine weeks on this Swedish hit list with the best week as No. 2. This made The Sunbeams the first Norwegian band who had a hit abroad. In Norway itself, they did not have the same explosive success, and although it has been said in several articles that they were also on the hit parade (VG-lista) here, I have found no evidence supporting this.

One thing led to another and The Sunbeams went to Stockholm, Sweden on tour where they got to play on the big stages. It was all topped on 30 October 1963 with a TV recording for the popular Swedish TV programme "Drop In" at the Narren Theatre in Gröna Lund in Stockholm.
More popular artists participated, and of course they were all a little curious about each other. Original Sunbeams band member Ole Kristian Fredriksen remembers a great Lill Babs performance with the song "Leva livet" (It's my party). "But the ones who got the biggest attention were the guys from England who we should share our dressing room with," recalls Ole Kristian. "The guys from England also had impossibly long hair, and they called themselves The Beatles!"
At this time The Sunbeams were 4th at "Tio i Topp", while The Beatles were on sixth with the song "She loves you". The Sunbeams also placed high in the Danish charts at the time, eventually hitting the no. 1 spot in January 1964. The guys from England were a few years older than Ole Kristian and the other guys in the band, but he remembers that John Lennon asked him, "Where are you from?", And notes with a laugh that this was his first conversation in English ever. "We are from Eidsvoll, in Norway". Lennon was surprised and said, "I thought The Sunbeams were from Sweden?!" Seeing and hearing The Beatles on stage was a musical experience Fredriksen had never had before. He felt all empty inside after the Beatles performance as the final notes of the "Drop In" theme faded out and became a Beatles fan forever.
"They had a new, disruptive way to act on a 'no limits' manner on stage, although they kept it musically tight. I was undoubtedly a Beatles fan from the beginning," he says. Ringo gave the Sunbeams' drummer Jan Erik Brustad a pair of his drumsticks.

The members of the Sunbeams helped to carry the Beatles' instruments and amps into the waiting lorry, while the Beatles themselves left by taxi. Then the next show was to be taped, and the Sunbeams did their spot. On the following Saturday, the Sunbeams' song got its highest position on "Tio i Topp" on 2. place, only beaten by Bobby Bare's "Detroit City". The Beatles and "She loves you" ended on 5th.

The first of three Swedish editions of the hit single.
Even though the Sunbeams became quite popular and their records (14 songs in all, released on singles and EPs) were released in many European countries and even in the USA, they split up in mid-1964, because three of the band members were drafted into military service.

The Beatniks
The Beatniks formed in 1961, and became very popular. Starting out as a "Shadows" type instrumental group (listen to one of their instrumentals on YouTube), they won the Nordic competition for Shadowsbands in 1963, as this was actually regarded a genre of its own back then.
But ahead for The Beatniks lay a profound change. In the autumn of 1963 they were invited to hold a concert in Gothenburg. The British pop group The Beatles was also in town, already in the process of conquering all of Europe with a whole new sound. Along with a number of bands from the northwest coast of England, the group was the foremost exponents of a sound also known as Mersey Beat. The Beatniks got to meet The Beatles. Initially, it was Paul McCartney who started talking with his Norwegian colleagues, but immediately after this, George Harrison and John Lennon also joined the conversation. John wanted to know, among other things, how they had come to call themselves the Beatniks. Ringo, however, seemed quite distant and bored, sitting quietly in a corner. Afterwards the Beatniks attended the show from the spectator area, and the experience was momentous. The Beatles exhibited an unusual precision, not an erratic note or false chord, and their driving polyphonic singing was immaculate. Bass guitarist with the Beatniks Carsten Deberitz later recalled: "We travelled to Gothenburg as a Shadows-type orchestra and returned to Norway as a Beat group." 
In their luggage they also had a hand written note from The Fab Four: "To The Beatniks from The Beatles. Signed by Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
The Beatniks, with Svein Finjarn in the lead, were among the best skilled instrumentalists in Scandinavia, but now they started practicing singing harmonies and focused much more on vocal performance. The Beatniks recorded a strong Beatles-influenced single with Svein's instrumental composition, "Mustang", the B-side, which also represented a final farewell to the Shadows-style.

They started covering Beatles songs, and also songs by the Kinks, Rolling Stones and other British acts. In the summer of 1965 Svein left The Beatniks, after an internal dispute over the hair. Svein wanted everyone in the band to have long hair. Svein was replaced by Freddy Lindquist. Svein then became a member of "The Blue Secrets" and participated as guitarist and second vocalist on the recording of the single "Please Stay" / "I Want You Back". Both A- and B-side was written by himself. With "The Blue Secrets" he also played at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool. After only a year away from The Beatniks, he returned to the group.

Here's a poster of the Beatnicks, spelt with a "c" from 1964, now equipped with Beatles-like suits.

Some of the original members of the band are now deceased, but the group is still playing, they have a gig coming up in Oslo on November 14th, now back to the original "Beatniks" name.

By 1965, the change in the music scene was so profound, helped by a plethora of young Norwegian Beatles inspired bands, that the powers that be was unable to stop The Rolling Stones from holding a concert in Norway.

The Rolling Stones arrive in Norway. Photo: Scanpix/NTB

1 comment:

George Armstrong said...

The Australian Norwegian Wood sleeve you have pictured is an EP cover. Nowhere Man / Norwegian Wood was issued as a single in Australia in 1966 and hit the #1 spot on the charts, with both sides receiving heavy radio play. The two songs were later issued as EP titles - Nowhere Man (same as UK version,1966)& Norwegian Wood (unique Australian compilation, 1968)