True West’s Norway HolidayJanuary 4, 2010
Feature article: True West recently played Down On The Farm, a festival held in Halden, Norway. They rocked the fjords, enjoyed the herring and found a kindred spirit with The Mighty Stef. Guitarist Russ Tolman invites us along with a tour diary, holiday snaps and videos of the show.
True West launched in 1982 with one of the finest singles to come out of the so-called Paisley Underground, a pounding cover of Syd Barrett’s Lucifer Sam. An EP release, which later came out in expanded form as their debut album Hollywood Holiday, was released the following year, solidifying the fiery two guitar attack of Richard McGrath & Russ Tolman. Enough so that Tom Verlaine, of the band Television, took them into the studio soon afterward. Years later, you can hear the results of those aborted sessions as bonus trax on the recent cd release, Hollywood Holiday Revisited, which compiles the debut along with their excellent 2nd album Drifters. With heavy touring in Europe and the US, their guitar drenched psychedelia with a bedrock of folky ballads sung superlatively by Gavin Blair won them a large following & critical praise. Sadly, the group disbanded after Drifters, although later reuniting for one further record, Hand Of Fate, (without Tolman) before calling it quits in 1987.
For those many fans, it was a surprise and total delight when they reunited in 2006, with new recruits Jim Huie on drums and Ian Barrett on bass, to play Seattle’s IPO fest and have since played a few gigs a year, including the Fillmore supporting Violent Femmes. If you missed those reunions shows, be on the look out for a dvd release in late Spring entitled TRUE WEST – The West Is History: Live at The House Of Blues. Last August, True West headed North, along with their guitars & drumsticks, for a working holiday on a farm in Norway, playing at the Down On The Farm festival. That’s a long way to go to play a gig, but for the band it was a welcome return to a country they toured extensively in 1985 (and Russ played Norway many times in the 1990’s as well). Luckily for us, some video was filmed of their performance and Russ Tolman took notes:
tour Diary by Russ Tolman
photos by Tor Rasmussen & Jim Huie * photos & videos by Kim A. Tolman
Wed, Aug 5… the wee early hours
There was a time when I probably wouldn’t have gone to bed rather than get up at 3 in the morning. But here Kim and I are, making coffee, pulling the final things together to head to the airport. I am SO looking forward to throwing myself on the plane and maybe getting a little sleep. Let’s hope there’s not too much hassle in regards to gate checking my guitar.
Wed, Aug 5… on the plane
There was a time when I was very excited and happy to fly, but those days are long gone. (Thank you medieval enemies of the Great Satan… Just that you caused the formation of TSA is proof that you’ve won the war… Soon we’ll just be stripped naked, bound with plastic handcuffs and shoveled onto the plane). Well good news is that I managed to waltz onto the aircraft and get my guitar into the overhead bin before it got filled with wheelie boards. Don’t get me started on another tirade: Americans already try to carry on too much luggage, then the airlines start charging for checked bags, now every person attempts to bring the whole of their worldly possessions onto the plane to save twenty bucks, causing even more flight delays because it takes so much time to find spots to cram all that stuff.
Wed, Aug 5… Philadelphia freedom (shine a light)
Ah, thank goodness, we’re off the plane. Even the mile hike across the airport to the international terminal feels good after all that sitting. The overly friendly (and nosy) airport volunteer suggests a wine bar which is on the way to our gate (after asking me what’s in my case. I did reply, “machine gun.”). Kim and I find what looks like the place (later turns out that this is not the place… but I am getting ahead of the story, aren’t I?). We sit ourselves down, and avoiding the pasta and other Italian daily specials, order ourselves a couple sandwiches and beers. We’re famished as we haven’t had anything since SF. Couple guys at the bar who look musicianoid ask me what’s in the case. I reply “Jazzmaster.” They ask if it’s an old one and I indicate that it is a new reissue. Suspecting that a lot of the US musicians on their way to Down On The Farm would be on this US Airways flight from Philly to Oslo, I ask them if they are on their way to Oslo. Turns out that they were from the band Marah and they were on their way to a festival in Spain, outside Pamplona.
Kim and I meet Gavin, Richard, Jim, and Ian at the gate. Richard had flown in from Seattle, while the others were together on a plane from PDX.
Thurs, Aug 6… Pining for the fjords
US Airways Flight 788 touches ground at the Oslo airport. It’s a beautiful sunny morning as we drag our slightly tired asses up the jet way and into the Scandinavian modern airport and along the glass catwalk that eventually leads us to Norwegian border control. I get in the foreigner line, while Kim exercises her European prerogative by getting in the EU line. Next is customs and I am a little apprehensive in regards to the CDs and t-shirts that we are carrying. Back in the early ’90s, the Norwegian customs was real prickly about foreign t-shirts. The promoter Kai told us that he didn’t think there would be a problem, and sho’nuff we breezed right through. Now to find our ride to Halden…
If my memory doesn’t fail me (and when doesn’t it?), it was Gavin who first connected with our driver Tor (full name: Tor Arne Rasmussen). Tor promptly hands Richard a bottle of Coca Cola saying that it was a gift from Stan Ridgway. (Richard was the guitarist in Stan’s band around 89-90 and Stan knew full well of Richard’s love of the sweet brown brew).
We all pile into Tor’s van. The drive from Gardermoen airport to Halden is something over two hours. The route barely touches the outskirts of Oslo, so all that we can really say we’ve seen of the Norwegian capital on this trip was a few equipment rental establishments, car lots and a giant IKEA.
The temperature is somewhere north of 80 degrees, on its way to 90 as we pull into the gorgeous town of Halden with the big stone Fredriksten fortress on the hill, a little river splitting the town in half, and a lovely harbor on the fjord. We pull up to our lodgings: The Grand Hotel. In this age of internet reviews of everything from the underwear I wore yesterday to your mother’s old slippers, we were ready for the Grand not to really live up to its name. As Kai later told us, he put us in the hotel with the “young guys” — meaning that Stan Ridgway and James Hand were in one of the new luxury hotels down by the water, while we were across from the train station in the circa 1897 Grand. But the place was lovely and quaint, with a killer breakfast (mmmm… herring), a super friendly staff, and our own floor to ourselves, even if it did not quite match the photographs we found on their website.
Thursday, Aug 6… let’s find the venue
Kim and I settle into the room while the other guys walk across the river to the supermarket they spied on the way into town. Gavin returns with the bottle of water we requested. Turns out the water is what the Germans refer to as Apfel Schorle — mineral water and apple juice mix. Tasty stuff, that!
It’s getting along about five in the afternoon and Kim and I wander across the bridge to the center of town to find the venue. Apparently, it had rained the entire month of July, so Kai and his partners decided that an outdoor festival at the farm (yes, there really is a farm) would probably turn into Mudfest, so it was moved to a recently renovated multi-story building that was originally a men’s club/union hall for the pulp mill workers of the former century.
The place is great. A nice outdoor beer garden where the Campfire acoustic stage is being built, the main room which looks like a 3/4 scale Fillmore, and the Honky Tonk stage that sits in the pub.
We find Kai upstairs. He tells us about a little Italian place down the street where he is going to have dinner and asks us to meet him there in an hour or so.
The whole band, Kai, Stan Ridgway & Petra, and others end up there for a great meal, drinks and a wonderful time. Stan regales us with many funny stories and much mirth is had… including the now fabled “Kai pulls a baby out of Stan Ridgway’s ass” incident.
We all end up back at the pub that is in the back of the hotel, where the festival is being kicked off by gig by a band called The Mighty Stef.
Even though Norwegian beer works out to about $10 a glass, many more were downed. I had moment to get caught up with Kai, a dear friend who I had not seen in 15 years.
The Mighty Stef totally knocked us out. A rocking five piece band from Dublin fronted by a bearded guy who looked like a doughy Waylon ‘75 with a voice that sounded like Robert Newton in “Treasure Island.” Highlights of their set included “Downtown” (not the Pet Clark song) and “Days of Wine and Roses” (which while different, is as good as Steve Wynn’s and Henry Mancini’s songs of the same name). After that set I was ready to follow Long John Silver and his crew to any pirate bar on the waterfront.
Friday, Aug 7… Cruising in the sun
Spent the day exploring the town.
There was an old theater depicted in the travel brochure that my scenic design missus wanted to check out. We happened to bump into Ian and Jim and we all went searching together. Did finally manage to find the building, which was circa 1776, but it was closed so we did not get to see the interior.
Besides Down On The Farm, Halden was hosting its annual classic car weekend. Yes, they were all classic American cars, but in the U.S. it’s usually guys in their 50s-70s standing around polishing their spotless rides. There the guys seemed to be a bit younger and spent most of their time driving (and drinking) there way around the town. Cruising from parking lot to parking lot. Some very cool autos… The exports for the European market being a bit different from what was sold here: No Pontiac Bonnevilles for them, no siree! They drive Pontiac Parisiennes…
Tonight is Campfire stage for Russ Tolman, Foolkillers, and a few acoustic TW songs. We get to the venue in time for dinner (excellent catering, really amazing food) and beers in the band rooms.
I finally meet Tim Scott, American singer-songwriter that has been in Norway since I was kicking around there in the early ’90s. We have several friends in common in Norway and in LA, but never met before. He performs now under the name Ledfoot, and he put on a terrific set of down-to-the-crossroads-to-meet-the devil-acoustic-slide-on-a-twelve-string.
Down on the Campfire stage, Michael Weston King is the MC. He’s kind enough to lend me his beautiful sunburst Guild acoustic for my set, which I open with “Something About A Rowboat,” which is actually based on my Norwegian experiences of years past. Jim, Ian, and Richard join me onstage for “Marla Jane,” “Galveston Mud,” and “Looking For an Angel”.
RUSS TOLMAN – Live At DOTF Aug 7, 2009
I take a beer break while the Foolkillers do a couple songs, then I rejoin the boys for “Morning Light” and a few others.
Kim and I check out a few bands playing on the other stages. We really enjoy El Cuero, an Oslo band that somehow manage to hybridize Neil Young and Black Sabbath into something quite exciting and enjoyable.
And back to the Grand and the blackness of sleep.
Friday, Aug 8 … Is that a sardine in your ear? …Huh, you have to speak up, I’m hard of herring!
I love European breakfasts, especially in the northern countries where you get pickled herring, and curry herring, and mustard herring, and tomato sauce herring. I’m nuts for fish.
Hearing that the day before Richard had made the hike up the hill to the fortress that overlooks Halden (and the site of a famous battle memorialized in the Norwegian national anthem where the invading Swedish king took a musket ball in the back of the head, probably from one of his own soldiers), Kim and I go in search of espresso and a bit of an adventure. But man, is it sunny and hot. Not even noon and it’s already around 90. Based on the local’s attire, we’ve already dubbed Norway: Men Without Shirts.
Sunscreen in Norway? Who needs it? Well… forgetting to pack this important item was the biggest error of the trip. We stop into a local pharmacy to pick some up. Have I mentioned that Norway is expensive? $38 for a tube of effing sunscreen, I’d rather burn.
As you can guess, we didn’t make it all the way up to the fort, only going to the outer wall, which also marked the last of the shade. But it was a gorgeous walk and I almost forgot my splittin’ hangover headache.
We’re back to the little Italian restaurant in the courtyard for lunch. And there we meet Facebook friend Andrea, who by day is a Italian sports journalist and by night is a mega fan of all the bands that came of out of the Paisley Underground. Small world: He knows Ernesto, the Italian guy who owns the cafe. Andrea passes along a copies of some cool press that came out in Italy.
Kim and I nose around town for awhile, then back to the hotel to prepare for the gig.
Friday, Aug 8 … Jazzmaster!
Like I mentioned, I just got a reissue Fender Jazzmaster. I auctioned off my old reliable Tele that I’ve had since circa ‘91 to some very nice guy living on the island of Elba (where Napoleon was exiled.. and now my guitar!). Now, I have a beautiful Jazzmaster (and an invite for spaghetti con vongole on Elba). I’ve wanted one of these guitars forever. Now I finally have one. Richard and I spend some time talking guitars and yoga (he’s been down-dogging for years. I’m a neophyte).
To the venue for dinner and a show (what an evening!).
We hit the stage and it’s amazingly hot. I haven’t sweat that much in a long, long time. Stage lights, warm weather and no AC make for a very damp Russ.
But playing is always a joy.
After the set, we check out James Hand on the Campfire stage. He truly is the real deal.
We stay and see a few more acts. Kim is a fan of Fatboy, a Swedish combo, so we catch a bit of them and then back to the hotel for some schlaf. Departure time is 8:30am.
Little did we know that the most popular teenage pizza hangout is directly across the street from The Grand. And being so hot, of course, we had to keep the window open…
So between 3:00 and 6:30, sleep did come.
Aug 9, Sunday… Norway, so short, so long.
Kim and I are up and chipper at 6:30 and hearing a commotion on the street, I stick my head out the window to see Stef and band cartwheeling back to hotel after a night of buccaneer revels.
8:30: we’re breakfasted and Tor arrives spot on time after spending all night driving James Hand, his brother Bimbo and his best friend Bob to the airport and back. Even with only an hour of sleep, Tor is alert and talkative. Ian, who I don’t think got much sleep either, generously volunteers to keep Tor company in the front. Gavin and Marci (who had flown in from Germany and rented a car) drove back to the airport together.
Gardermoen, here we come…
And the rain they expected was here. It poured and poured and poured all the way to the airport.
After going through check-in and security, you walk into what looks like Macy’s fragrance department… Turns out it’s the duty-free shop.
Next stop, Philadelphia and a long layover before another flight. Kim and I manage to find the wine bar that we missed the first time, but also manage to miss the PDX boys departure. After waiting with Richard, we claim on our respective planes home. We traveled about 20 hours that day to arrive home in the wee hours of Monday morning, August 10.
It was a fabulous trip, though (and I managed to carry on my guitar for every leg). Many thanks to Kai, Tom Sjeklesaether, Tor, Britt, and all our new Norwegian friends! And our new pals from UK and Ireland as well: Michael Weston King and his lovely family, Sadie Jemmett, Steve Lee, and the very mighty Stefs.
1 Comment on "True West’s Norway Holiday"
Comments are closed.
More headlines from Feature 1
- Obscure Treasures: Suely Mesquita
- “But I Can’t Let It Go” (further reflections on The Church)
- Dex Romweber Duo Hit The Road
- Absolute Grey: Tear Away
- Corsica: Deadwood Sunset
More headlines from Feature 2
- X : Half Way Round The World
- True West’s Norway Holiday
- Mushroom: Under Covers
- Tim Lee 3: A New Kind Of Fun
- Danny Kirwan: Something Inside Of Me