The striking partnership of guitarist Tore Bruvoll and vocalist Jon Anders Halvorsen has resulted in one of last year’s strongest outings on the Norwegian folk music scene, the critically acclaimed album ‘Trillar for Two’. Now the duo and their dynamic backing band are more than ready to hit the Norwegian summer festival circuit with full force
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Vocalist Jon Anders Halvorsen, who hails from Norway’s Telemark region, and guitarist Tore Buvoll from Northern Norway’s cultural capital Tromsø, first struck a musical partnership eight years ago – a partnership that has resulted in two applauded releases; 2004’s ‘Nattsang’ (Nightsong) and last year’s ‘Trillar for To’ (Trills for Two). The duo has also toured frequently at home and abroad, particularly in Germany, where the two have a small but loyal following. The last year has seen the duo moving into new musical territories, eschewing the subdued and sombre medieval ballads found on their first album for a more livelier and upbeat expression backed by a six-piece band.
Bruvoll/Halvorsen’s new approach to songwriting has paid off, ‘Trillar for To’ has garnered a string of very positive reviews (including a couple of six-out-six stars) in the domestic press as well as healthy sales. Last year’s achievements were crowned with a prestigious Norwegian Folk Music Award for Innovation.
MIC reaches guitarist Tore Bruvoll on the phone as the composer and performer readies himself for a hectic week at the Festival of North Norway.
‘It’s been a banner year for us,’ says Bruvoll.’ We’ve hit the festival circuit with full force together with a swinging six-man band – quite a transition for two guys that are more accustomed to playing quiet duo gigs in more intimate settings. It’s been a challenge to adapt to a bigger stage, but also lots of fun’.
Although tempos of the duo’s songs has picked up, the two have not totally abandoned the lyrical ballads of their first album: ‘We’re still playing some of the songs from our first album and those quiet, down-tempo ballads complement the new more swinging stuff nicely. It gives us a whole new dynamic spectrum to utilise – a broader palette if you like. It’s been a really rewarding experience to go through this transition and I feel that we’ve got a whole new scenic expression now. We used to play sitting down – now we can’t sit still – we’ve got to move’.
Says Bruvoll on the songwriting process leading up to the recording of ‘Trillar For To’:
‘We wanted to make a more cheerful and upbeat album – an album that will bring smiles to the faces of our audience. In some ways it’s a natural reaction to our first album that was more sombre and introvert – this one has a higher chanting factor. We dubbed ‘Trillar for To’ a ‘feelgood album’, and to us it’s a wee bit more rock n’roll and much more lively than our first outing.
Bruvoll says the transition to bigger stages and a larger audience has been a positive experience: ‘There’s much more interaction with the audience now when we perform the new songs with the new band – we work together with the crowd to create that ‘feelgood’ vibe that we crave and it’s really fulfilling when we get there. The album features nearly 40 contributors and it’s been a daunting task to recreate the recorded tracks live. Naturally, we’ve been forced to re-arrange some of the tunes, but overall, we have managed to keep that joyful spirit captured in the recorded format and transfer it to a scenic format.’
Bruvoll/Halvorsen’s success on the phonogram market and on national radio has also spilled over to the live market, earning the duo a new and more diverse following: ‘We used to play mainly for that loyal traditional folk music crowd, but now we’re attracting a slightly larger and more diverse audience. We’ve climbed a couple of rungs on the ladder and perform on larger stages for a crowd that also includes the average concert audience, not just the devoted hard-core folkies.’
Recent years have seen bands such as Majorstuen, Valkyrien Allstars and Adjagas breaking out of the domain of traditional folk music to gain a wider audience. A new young generation of often well-educated and confident folk music performers has helped revitalised the genre and create increased popularity. Bruvoll/Halvorsen are right in the middle of this ‘new wave of Norwegian folk music’, something that excites the vital guitarist: ‘We’re thrilled that we’re in the midst of a boom in interest and exposure. It’s seems as if it is a general trend that traditional music is regarded as more vital and attractive these days. There’s a whole new generation of performers that have managed to reach out to a wider audience, and it is really great to be caught in the middle of this new wave. Having to balance the responsibility for preserving our cultural heritage with a desire to express one’s own ideas and visions can be challenging but also utterly rewarding. Basically, I believe that we just have to strive for honesty and state clearly that this is what we want to say, this is what we want to express.’
This year’s appearance at Førde is a return visit for the duo, who performed here back in 2003. Says Bruvoll on this year’s stint at Scandinavia’s most important folk music festival: ‘We’re really looking forward to playing the Førde Festival this July. We’ll perform a mix of old and new tunes, fusing the early ballad material with the more current and joie de vivre stuff. We had a blast last time we played the festival with packed venues and fantastic feedback and hope for more of the same this year.’
Bruvoll is an active player on the Norwegian folk music scene, performing with a wide range of ensembles in addition to Bruvoll/Halvorsen. This year’s Førde Festival proves to be a logistical challenge for the guitarist who is scheduled to perform with no less than three projects during the week: ‘This year’s Førde Festival looks set to be really hectic for me personally. In addition to the gig with Jon Anders and the rest of the band, I’ll also perform with the String Sisters as well as with Gabriel Fliflet’s Columbi Egg folk club concept. Some of the gigs offer as little as a half hour to change stages between sets, so I’m in for some really fast down- and up-rigging of my guitar set-up. The margins are quite tight but I’ll manage. In the end, this is bound be a great week!’
Album: ‘Trillar For To’ (Grappa 2007)