The Bo Hansson Story
Perhaps it was when he stepped out into the dark to loosen up that he realised just how everything was connected. A rustling sound from the woods, a pair of glittering animal eyes, the sounds of an owl and distant memories came back to him. Scents and sounds that had been encapsulated since childhood came slowly oozing out. He turned his head up towards the clear night sky, looked at The Big Bear constellation, and felt the landscape that surrounded him slowly changing.
The harsh and sparse vegetation on the island suddenly seems thick and threatening. The little summerhouse in front of him reminds him of the lineman’s cottage from his childhood or is it the house of Tom Bombadil? Reality and fiction are suddenly hard to separate. He has had the music inside him since he read the book for the first time. Now everything is revealed. All the pieces are falling into place. It is no coincidence that this tale has come into his hands. The meaning is obvious, someone has chosen him to make music out of Tolkien’s words. He is 26 years, in the beginning of his life, but the journey has already been long. He does not know, while he stands there happy under the stars, that he only has seven years of creating. After his 33rd birthday – which is old age for a Hobbit, Frodo celebrates his 33rd birthday party in the beginning of Lord of the Rings – the music will be silenced. But this autumn and winter his creative forces are strong. Once again he looks up to the starry sky, shivers a little and goes back into the house, sits down behind the organ to compose the music that is to become a part of eternity.
Bo Hansson was born April 10th 1943 in Gothenburg, Sweden. His parents were in the restaurant business and had to take jobs wherever offered. From Gothenburg they moved to Jämtland in the northern parts of Sweden, but in the early fifties his parents moved to Stockholm and Bo could for some reasons not follow them there. He was taken care of by a family living in a small lineman’s cottage out in the woods.
When after some time, Bo could come to his parents in Stockholm, he was sent on his way there with a note around his neck with his name and destination written on it…that’s all.
As for most people in Bo’s generation it was the guitar that really got his music going. It was so easy to become an electric guitarist at that time, plug in to an old radio, that became an amplifier, and then just join a band! Bo toured one summer with Swedish rock bands like Rock-Olga and others. When the tour started he knew how to play three chords and at the end he knew four.
His first “real” band was Slims Blues gang, a blues band in the traditional school. The piano player Slim Notini, was the Swedish equivalent of John Mayall, that is to say, that Slim’s band was a stop on the way for up and coming talents. Bo was one of those up and coming talents.
The Merrymen were a rough and tumble bluesrock band that existed for less than a year. In that short time they managed to win a rock competition in the national radio, play as support act for The Rolling Stones and sign a record deal with Polydor. Just when they were about to make the big jump, Bo jumped his own way and left the band. It was as if the future success which was lying around the corner scared him. Or maybe he just was following a path that no one else saw.
The path led him to Gyllene Cirkeln, a club in Stockholm one night in 1966. The American jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff was playing a concert and the experience was a turning point for Bo. He was absolutely fascinated by the sounds of the Hammond organ and the possibilities of an instrument, that made it possible to play solos and rhythm with the hands, and bass with the feet. At the same time!
The next day he put his guitar aside and decided to start to playing the organ.
Hammond organs are pretty expensive so he had to use tricks and charming friends to get opportunities s to practice. Bill Öhrström, an old playmate from Merrymen and Slim’s, became his partner in this game.
The plan was simple; they went into the music stores pretending to be customers, Bo sat down and started to “test” the organs by playing them and Bill started to talk to the staff. Suddenly he remembered that he had forgotten something and had to rush away. Bo stayed and spent the time waiting by playing the organs. After an hour or two Bill came back. This trick was repeated in all music stores in Stockholm.
Bo finally felt that he had to buy an organ and stepped in to Jacobsson’s Music to purchase the instrument on the instalment plan. Bill, his girlfriend and some other friends vouched for him, but they would later regret it because Bo didn’t pay the instalments on time and in the end they had to pay for the organ.
This unfortunate organ was later taken by a bill collector straight after a concert in Gothenburg.
Bill Öhrström had meanwhile been hired as talent scout and producer at Polydor and he introduced Bo to several musicians that could become possible partners. Some drummers, guitarists and even a violinist was tested before the jazz drummer Janne Karlsson came along and became a permanent partner.
The group Hansson & Karlsson was born and the duo made three albums between 1967 and 1969. Their debut album Monument is one of the best instrumental albums ever recorded in Sweden. Bo’s unorthodox style of playing and his genuine sense for beats together with Janne’s explosive way of playing the drums created something completely new- Hansson & Karlsson mixed rock, jazz, classical music in a way never heard before. Monument has still after 35 years no competitor.
Hansson & Karlsson toured Sweden several times, from large folk parks to small clubs. They played a memorable gig as support for Cream in Stockholm 1967 and they had a one night long jam session with Jimi Hendrix at Klubb Filpis. Hendrix was a big fan of Hansson & Karlsson and he recorded their composition Tax Free. He also planned to record a version of their Triplets, but unfortunately he died shortly before having the chance.
Bo grew tired of travelling, sometimes seven days a week, and playing so often. On the last album, Man at Moon, it is obvious that Hansson & Karlsson are not a happy and harmonic band but a dissolving group doing its job the best they can. It was time for Bo Hansson to move on.
The rock scene in Sweden was radically changing in the breaking of the sixties and seventies. The Anglo American copycats that had been on the charts the last decade were on their way out and groups with their own compositions and Swedish lyrics were on the way in. The established record companies didn’t realize what was happening and new companies with idealistic motives started.
Silence was such a company. One of the founders, the sound engineer Anders Lind, had followed Hansson & Karlsson from the cradle to the grave. He recorded the live album Rex and is still sitting on the tapes from the jam session with Jimi Hendrix.
One day Bo came knocking on his door to present the wild idea of making music to a book. Bo had got the books from a girlfriend and as everybody else he was captured by the story.
Bo borrowed an apartment from a friend who was abroad for some time and when he came back after three months he found himself without a home. He had been ejected by his landlord, the neighbours had complained because Bo had used the apartment to compose the music and record the demo tape he handed to Anders.
Anders immediately loved what he heard and he wanted this to be the first release on the new Silence label.
They had no economical resources to occupy a studio for the time they would need to record the music,.
so Anders and HIS homeless friend combined their resources and rented a small summer house in the archipelago of Stockholm. Anders and Bo could record and play as loud as they wanted without the neighbours complaining, and his friend now had a place to stay. All through the fall and winter they recorded and read the books. Bo in one room with his instruments, Anders in another with his machines and one room for the drums that Rune Carlsson came and played from time to time.
Lord of the Rings was recorded on a four track recorder and was finished when spring broke. They continued the work in a small studio with one of the first eight track recorders in Sweden and finally the record was mixed in a studio at The National Swedish Radio.
The story about how Anders Lind and Silence tried to get the record out in USA is somewhat comic and far to intricate to tell here. In one of the leading parts was an Englishman who claimed that had used to be manager for Jane Mansfield, and, well…..
Lord of the Rings was released late in the fall of 1970 and became an immediate success. The album was given high rotation on the newly started afternoon youth program on the national radio P3. At least one program used Bo’s music as signature melody.
Bo himself was in the midst of a very creative period, new melodies were constantly popping up in his head, so when Lord of the Rings finally got released in other countries there were already three more tracks added compared to the first Swedish issue. To this new issue Anders Lind has found another nine minutes of early sketches as an added bonus.
In the encyclopaedia Guide to Progressive Rock, published by American Billboard, Bo Hansson is mentioned with reverence and respect. He is the first to play “space music”, he is a precursor to the French prog-celebrities Gong and English Henry Cow, and contemporary style-formers as Genesis and Yes. Bo Hansson is an innovator in the most noble sense of the word.
As already said, it had been some exceptionally creative years in the beginning of the seventies and Bo had lots of compositions left which didn’t fit on the original LP. Together with new material, partly composed at the Silence collective’s summer house, he put together a second album called Magicians Hat. That was a straight follow up to Lord of the Rings, with tracks as “Fylke” and “Playing downhill into the Downs”. He was also inspired by other fairy tales like Elidor by Alan Garner that became a track with the same title as the book.
On this second album Bo is developing and deepening some of the musical intentions he had on Lord of the Rings. He used half a dozen musicians and made the music from a broader palette. If Lord of the Rings is the minimalist sketch, the raw and unpolished, but therefore so irresistible diamond, Magicians Hat is a more grandiose work from the same source. In short, the albums belong together and those who fell in love with Lord of the Rings had now with the second album the chance to develop their love even further.
Bo Hansson was a musician who could be heard on records and on the radio. But out in the live scene you could not find him. He never performed his own music live with a few very rare exceptions when he for a short period made some appearances in Fläsket Brinner (The Flesh is Burning). On a few occasions the audience could hear live versions of “Bosses låt” (Bo’s Melody) and “Tom Bombadil”. But just as much as he sat behind the organ he could be scrambling a modest cow bell or playing the guitar. The sudden initiatives with Fläsket Brinner or the even more rare appearances with Kebnekajse, seemed more a social thing rather than a musical urge. It seemed more important to meet old friends from the recording sessions than to be on the stage.
The name Bo Hansson was spreading around the world and he was offered to play a big festival in Germany. A band was actually gathered and rehearsals took place in a garage outside Stockholm. The core was Fläsket Brinner in addition to bass player Göran Lagerberg and guitarist Kenny Håkansson from Kebnekajse.
A dream team that never saw its way outside the garage. Bo himself could not find the right motivation to get out on the road again and he has also on several occasions said that he is not very good at making decisions and organizing things. He just simply lacked the skills needed to be a band leader. So the short re-union of Hansson & Karlsson 1999-2001, was possibly the last time Bo played in a band, in this garage almost 30 years ago.
In 1975 Attic Thoughts was released, an album a little more experimental than the others where musicians like guitarist Kenny Håkansson and saxophone player Gunnar Bergsten are given more space to play. Bo himself alternates between organs, synthesizers, mellotron and a number of special effects. The music and the arrangements are as original and interesting as before, but sometimes it can happen that Bo’s strong melodies are getting somewhat out of focus when the free and imaginative improvisations break up the harmonies. Attic Thoughts is to be considered the third and last part of Bo Hansson’s musical fairy tale trilogy. Here are still some connections to Lord of the Rings at the same time as parts of the music are pointing forwards, Bo is evidently wanting to explore new instruments and worlds of new sounds.
After Attic Thoughts Bo and Silence took a break from each other. He released Watership Down (mostly known as “the rabbit record”) on another Swedish label in 1977. Once again he leaned on Kenny Håkansson’s brilliant guitar playing. Bo himself says that the real spice from the record comes from Kenny’s musical input.
After Watership Down came a long silence. A musical drainage that not was broken until 1985 by the surprising Mitt I Livet (In the middle if life). Silence and Bo had once again gotten together for this release but the critics did not like the beautiful little songs that were sung in Swedish by different singers. Since then there has been silence. Some ideas of making music from other books have been spinning in Bo’s head…, plans never realised.
In 2003 Bo Hansson will be sixty years. He is happy for these new releases of his music but he is also very happy that young hip-hopers are finding his music. The magic and excitement he felt more than thirty years ago when he stumbled over Tolkien’s masterpiece, he wants future generations also to experience when they read and listen.
A good way to do that is to read the books while you are listening to the music. This is not film music.
This is the world’s best soundtrack to a book – ever.
The text is based on interviews with Bo Hansson, Bill Öhrström, Anders Lind, Eva Wilke and Robert Ekman.