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Do you know who I am?

When the Swedish tabloids appear more interested in the celebrities of London and Hollywood than their own home-grown offerings, is it any wonder that we foreigners can find it hard to learn who's who in Sweden, asks Ben Kersley.

Do you know who I am?

I apologise for bringing The Local to within an exclamation mark of such lurid gossip rags as OK! or HELLO! but over the past year I have been hanging out with a bunch of celebrities. The only trouble is, I don’t know who any of them are.

If you are addicted to the gossip columns, moving to Sweden need not hinder your vulture-like fascination with the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Both Aftonbladet and Expressen have ‘London’ and ‘Los Angeles’ correspondents whose job it is to keep the Swedish public up to date with the exploits of Posh, Paris and Pete Doherty. What sounds like a glamorous job, more likely involves sitting in a windowless office on an industrial estate, hastily translating best of the British and US tabloid press into Swedish.

Read about Lindsay Lohan’s bedroom athletics in The News Of The World on a Sunday and you can guarantee it will be an ‘Exklusiv’ in Aftonbladet on the Monday.

The trouble is, as an outsider, it is very difficult to get to grips with who the really famous people are in Sweden. Not only is the notion of celebrity somewhat at odds with the lagom mentality, but more importantly, we foreigners generally don’t watch a great deal of telly or read beyond the headlines that concern the familiar Botox enhanced faces that we already know.

Very occasionally a few Swedish names creep on to the front pages, but usually those who live outside Sweden such as Victoria Silvstedt or Zlatan. Then somewhere buried deep in the middle pages are the local glitterati, Sweden’s very own, who let’s be honest, we just skim past to get to the weather report.

I’m not, as a rule, too impressed by celebrity, but I am wondering where I can go just to bone up on household names without having to watch hours and hours of SVT’s Friday night karaoke love-in Doobidoo. The Swedish government needs to forget SFI for integration and give us a crash course on who’s who in the popular media.

I, for one, need it, because as my career as Sweden’s only Swinglish stand up comedian is taking off I find myself putting my foot in it more and more often.

Recently I was asked by a radio producer to go down to Gothenburg to do a recording for Radio P3. Being of a simple-minded nature, I was more concerned with how I was going to get there and weighing up whether or not I wanted to sit on a bus for four hours. The producer kept reiterating the name of the presenter.

“Klara Zimmergren” She said. I admitted this meant nothing to me.

“From Mia och Klara” …. still nothing…

“Winners of the Kristall for Best Comedy Programme” …..still nothing….

My response was just “Will there be a toilet on the bus?”

I spoke to a few Swedes and realised that I needed a big slap in the face as I was on the verge turning down the opportunity of meeting the Swedish equivalent of Jennifer Saunders or Tina Fey (Insert your favourite female comedian here).

Naturally, like most well-known Swedes, she was very down to earth, and yes, there was a toilet on the bus.

I’m trying to get better at finding out who people are, but there are still moments like the other night at a gig when I got chatting to a guy wearing a banana yellow jacket.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I’m Sweden’s best known street magician” he said as he made pint of beer disappear.

Only once has it worked the other way. I was having a meal with Zinat Pirzadeh, comedian, actor and author, during which she was repeatedly asked for her autograph, which she would always graciously give (this is a euphemism for ‘she loved the attention’). I was impressed until she gave a particularly large flourish asking who she should write the autograph to, only to be told by the waiter to just fill in the amount and sign on the line.

Earlier this year, I was the secret guest on an episode of Vi i Femman, a cult TV programme that is a bit like University challenge for twelve year olds. Sounds exciting, but it mainly involved dressing up as farmer and asking the kids some questions in English with a bit of an “oo arr”. The presenters were the ubiquitous pair, Mela and Nassim, from Bollibompa (compulsive viewing for pre-teens) and I failed to endear myself to them by asking them what they were called and what they did on the production.

I think I won Mela Tesfazion over during the shoot when we improvised a little on the subject of my fictional orchards.

“If you think my apples are good,” I said, “You should taste my plums”

Although, in retrospect, I’m not sure she or SVT were fully aware of the long British tradition of double entendre.

My sister wins the prize for dealing with Swedish celebrity. She runs a bookshop in Brazil popular with the local Swedish crowd. A couple of weeks ago Björn Ulvaeus’ wife came in and got chatting.

“My husband’s pretty big in Sweden. He’s a member of ABBA.”

My sister paused for a second, then coolly replied,

“Never heard of them. Are they well known?”

Ben Kersley (www.speakup.se) is a writer and performer who has lived in Sweden since 2006. He is also Sweden’s only Swinglish stand up comedian.

MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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