10 August 2010 1 Comment

Langesund International Shanty Festival : REVIEWED

This is the review from a kiwi perspective from the shanty festival in Langesund, Norway 4-6 June 2010.


It is my first time in Norway, and we arrived on an amazingly sunny day. My brother has a friend who has a theory that if you go to a country on a sunny day you automatically fall in love with it and that is totally what happened to me. Norway is simply stunning, it is beautiful and sophisticated at the same time. From the taxi/limo ride to the gobsmacking ‘quick ferry’, we had crossed the space from the Airport to Horten in speed and style.

We were picked up by someone my brother said was called ‘Bent’ but I can’t believe that is true (although I did ask him to repeat it several times). He was a lovely guy who had been told the wrong time and was waiting at the ferry terminal for us for over two hours. He drove us through the country side, which was both idyllic and charming. At any given time you could look out the window and see a sea of yellow flowers that looked like they were swallowing any tree or vehicle that happened to be in the middle. The women in Norway are equally stunning, there seems to be a never ending supply of these goddesses who you can find at any given time just walking down the street.


I met Rune, who was our festival contact, for the first time when we arrived, who promptly counted out a large amount of cash and handed it over. I neglected to tell him this would be our first ever paid show and he should probably wait till he hears us first! Directly after that we find out that we are playing, like, now, and had to tune up and stumble on stage immediately.  I talked a lot of crap, as is my wont, and got little or no response from the crowd which was highly unnerving. We ended up playing the songs we hoped people would sing along to, but they didn’t.  This was my first lesson in playing to a foreign crowd, and a bit of a culture shock for us meek antipodeans. After the show people were constantly coming up and saying they liked it, which was a bit more reassuring.

The strangest thing happened after that, we actually met two other groups of kiwis, one couple from Otorohunga who were tandem cycling through Europe and another family from Christchurch who were here to see their son working in the area.

The next show was very, very weird. It seemed like we were performing to a crowd of people who weren’t enjoying themselves, getting them to laugh was like drawing blood out of a stone. They would clap along and applaud vigorously at the end of songs, but that was strictly it in terms of crowd participation. I felt like crawling into a hole and never coming out, especially after breaking a banjo string. But I came to realise that this is just how they enjoy hearing music, and is just a cultural difference, not that they hated the very sight of us.  In fact we seemed to be very popular once we got off stage and got to talking to people. Once I cut all the crap talk and we just played song after song with little or no intro, we slotted into the atmosphere a lot better.


One of the highlights of the weekend was seeing the Langesund Choir, as many people in choirs seem to tell me, most groups are very dry and their choir is the exception. Well, the Langesund choir is the exception as far as I can tell. They genuinely have a lot of fun and that translates well to the audience, their version of drunken sailor had me laughing and singing uncontrollably the the whole time, and the choir leader with his sunglasses and accordion was a constant source of entertainment.  We got to know a few of these guys really well, Rune, Daniel, Thunder and John will be friends for a lifetime I’m sure.

Of the smaller groups ‘For n Aft’ impressed me the most, their style is quite unique and their extensive repertoire was highly impressive. There are four singers who sing in wonderful harmonies, accented by a deep female voice (Chris).  I picked up one of their CD’s which I hope to review on this site in the future.

Also, a notable mention is ‘Kadrejerne’ a choir from Denmark who really come to life when American import Jim Lucas leads. Special.


As far as my research can lead me, there are very few ‘sentimental’ shanties, i.e. ones that are about true love or ruefully leaving  wife and children behind. But the ones that do exist were sung by each and every choir that were there. I’m talking about ‘Shenandoah’, ‘Shallow Brown’, ‘Leaving of Liverpool’ etc. Just about every performance I went to at least one of these songs would be sung, which seems a little strange given the huge  collection of material out there.

A surprisingly popular song performed by many groups was ‘John Kanaka’ this one isn’t that popular at home, but everyone seemed to know it which I enjoyed as it is a personal favourite.

But without doubt, ‘Bye-Bye my Rosi-Anna’ was the song of the festival. The first time I heard, it the Langesund choir sung it as leaving the stage while waving and shaking everyone’s hands. It was quite a novel experience, and a good deal of fun. However, almost all the choirs did this one, not once, not twice, but to end every single performance. After the tenth time you have heard it you are ready to attack the next person who starts the refrain, especially since only one or two verses are used, backed by an endless number of choruses. We sung it at the end of the festival as the ship ‘Elisabeth’ slowly pulled away from the dock and ambled up the fjord, we must have sung that damned chorus thirty times in a row.


It should be said that prices in Norway are insane, a pint from our local hotel would have cost be NZ$15 if I had enough money to pay for it (back home you can get them in your local for $3 or $4). So when the end of the festival came around they had all the leftover alcohol taken to their clubrooms and given out for free. We felt much more at home in this environment, where one person would start a song and everyone would join in, and everyone had a good time. As a side note, apparently I have an offensively loud singing voice. One of the Norwegians there told me that he was firing the 16 pounder cannon from his boat in the harbour that day and that my voice was louder than that, not sure if this is a compliment or a convoluted way to tell me to shut up (which looking back at the video may not have been a bad suggestion).


When I look back over my time in Norway, it is like a dream really. We made so many great friends and heard so much wonderful music, it is a truly stunning place even if the people are seriously cracked (just kidding!). It would be worth going back just to be in that atmosphere again, and of course to see our newly made friends. If you are a performer looking at going I can’t recommend it enough, I’ve never been so well looked after in all my 15 years or so of performing. They are so warm, welcoming and genuinely concerned about your enjoyment of the weekend. Thanks guys.

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