I don’t think that Andy Irvine needs any introduction – Lillebjørn Nilsen probably does. He’s a Norwegian singer, multi-instrumentalist and song-writer and the much travelled pair have known each other for many years, often talking about working together but never doing anything about it. That ended at the Telemark Festival in 1994 when Live In Telemark was recorded. The album is a mixture of traditional and original songs (and one cover), Norwegian and English and it’s remarkable how well the duo blend given that it was Andy’s first performance in Norway and that, by Lillebjørn’s own admission they hadn’t really rehearsed very much.
Having the home advantage, Lillebjørn kicks off the show with his own song, ‘Jenta I Chicago’ – The Girl In Chicago. It’s a true story and sounds wonderful even if you don’t understand a word but give it an English translation and Lillebjørn would have an international hit on his hands, such is the way of things. In fact they have released it as a single. Andy follows that with ‘Come To The Bower’, a song written to encourage Irish emigrants to return home to resist English oppression, and these first two songs seem to represent the extremes of mood of the record with Nilsen being light and joyful and Irvine letting a little darkness in here and there – a nice balance of yin and yang.
Nilsen’s ‘Alexander Kiellands Plass’ is about returning home to Oslo after foreign travels while Irvine stays with the tradition and his version of ‘Stewball And The Monaghan Grey Mare’. This was shortly after the recording of EastWind with Davy Spillane following his travels in the Balkans and he is playing with Bulgarian rhythms, adding extra notes and syllables and a break in ⅞ time. ‘Hav Og Himmel’ is a dramatic tribute to Danish painter, Peder Severin Kreyer introduced by Nilsen’s willow flute and Irvine recalls his time with Sweeney’s Men in ‘My Heart’s Tonight In Ireland’. It’s nostalgic in the true sense of the word.
‘Valle Auto Og Bensin’ (The Gas Station Song) is another of Nilsen’s jolly songs and comes with an unlikely story about…no, I won’t spoil it for you but it perfectly illustrates his sense of humour. ‘A Prince Among Men’ is Andy’s song about coal miners and how they struggled to keep their sons out of the pits. It bears a more than a passing resemblance to Dylan’s ‘Only A Hobo’. Lillebjørn takes centre stage again with a song he wrote as a schoolboy about the pollution of the River Akerselva in Oslo. He performs it unaccompanied with breaks on the flute. His next song makes me smile every time – if only because ‘Fort Gjort Ǻ Glemme’ is a ragtime song (he was taught the style by Ralph McTell) and the juxtaposition of ragtime guitar and Norwegian words is so deliciously incongruous.
The duo work together on ‘Patrick Street’ blended with two dance tunes, one from each country and now we get to hear Nilsen’s Hardanger fiddle. He continues with a translation of Grit Laskin’s ‘The Photographers’ and the audience certainly get the joke – think of ‘The Nightingale’ brought up to date. I’ll never look at my Canon the same way again. ‘Håvar Hedde’ is shifted to a major key and paired with a jig, ‘Strike The Gay Harp’, and it is clear that Lillebjørn and Andy have relaxed and are beginning to let their hair down.
Irvine pairs ‘Martinmas Times’ with a hornpipe, ‘The Little Stack Of Wheat’ and the wit of woman triumphs again! And finally, after an attempt to draw the proceedings to a close, Lillebjørn returns to solo ‘Ola Tveiten’, a Geordie tune with Norwegian words about a road builder! If you’re bothered by the language barrier, don’t be. Live In Telemark is a very entertaining and enjoyable album with excellent performances by two musicians who are clearly having as good a time as their audience.
Artists’ website: https://andyirvine.bandcamp.com/album/live-in-telemark
This is as close as we can get to a representative video. Lillebjørn Nilsen sings ‘Alexander Kiellands Plass’ live way back in 1983:
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