Groaning to the blues at Gamla Stan’s Stampen

For fans of live music, Stockholm’s Stampen jazz and blues club features an unusual history, an eclectic mix of styles and a crowd which defies simple categorization, as The Local’s Alec Forss recently discovered.

Groaning to the blues at Gamla Stan's Stampen
A blues jam at Stampen from January 2009

It’s a Tuesday evening and the backstreets of Stockholm’s Old Town are quiet except for a building on a corner where a sign hangs depicting a beaked crow in a top hat and brandishing a saxophone. The notes of a searing guitar solo waft out into the street, luring in passers-by like moths to a lamp to enjoy a good time. For this is Stampen – the self-styled “world famous” jazz and blues club in the cobbled heart of Gamla Stan.

The first thing you notice upon entering Stampen is the low ceiling adorned with all manner of objects. Each visit reveals something new that had gone unnoticed in the valuable mélange of museum-piece objects – salvaged from the premises’ previous entity as a pawnshop – which include a life-size female mannequin, a gramophone, pram, sleigh and even a stuffed dog in a glass cabinet case tucked away in a corner. In fact, the name Stampen derives from the stamps clients would receive in return for their deposited items.

Just as interesting as the ceiling is the diverse crowd of people on the ground, ranging from ageing 60s’ rockers, blues aficionados, genuine oddballs, bikers, transvestites, and young hipsters even down to toddlers – not to mention the occasional tourist who wanders in thinking that they were rambling through the medieval charms of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan only to be transported to a joint somewhere along the American blues belt.

The people are also easy to mingle with, defying the stereotype of Swedes as cold and reserved. And the remarkable thing is that everyone seems genuinely happy like nowhere else I’ve seen in Stockholm – and that’s saying a lot, especially for a weekday evening in mid-winter.

“Before it was mainly traditional jazz and older people who came here, but I wanted to attract younger people as well and to have different kinds of music,” says Josef Haddad who took over as manager of Stampen some eleven years ago.

And although more traditional jazz is still on the menu mid-week, the music on offer is eclectic and encompasses R&B, soul, country, swing, as well as rock and roll, among other genres.

Nowadays Stampen is more popular than it has ever been and builds upon a reputation that over the years has seen the likes of Woody Allen, Eartha Kitt, and Dizzie Gillespie all grace the club with their presence. While perhaps not of the same stature (but nonetheless one of the most popular groups), the house band, Jump4Joy, has been playing in Stampen for some twenty-odd years.

They combine New Orleans, swing, boogie woogie and even rap, which sometimes ends with singer and pianist Ulf Sandström parading up and down the bar while belting out a number.

The immensely popular Saturday afternoon jam sessions are also a good bet if you’re looking for unscripted entertainment.

“You are listening to some of the best Blues in Scandinavia – and all for free”, exclaims frontman Brian Kramer to an enthusiastic audience.

“We are transcending generations today – where else in Stockholm can you get this?” he continues as a steady stream of old pros and young wannabes with unwieldy guitar cases head for the stage waiting for the chance to strut their stuff.

Started in 1998, the Saturday sessions have since become a showcase for Sweden’s emerging blues and jazz talent. Long a male domain, a number of women have also plucked up the courage to whip out a harmonica and wail the Blues. The atmosphere can get a bit raucous when the beer flows, or following a particularly nirvana-inducing guitar performance on a cover of Hendrix’s Voodoo Child.

God knows what the congregation of the French Reform Church, which occupied the same premises until 1880, would have thought of it all.

After that, the space was converted to a pawnbroker’s shop, before finally, in 1968, evolving into its present reincarnation as a jazz club – the brain-child of jazz enthusiasts Sten and Gun Holmquist.

These days, it can get a little cramped at the weekends, so some may prefer the more chilled out – but still swinging – atmosphere of a weekday night. However, weekend nights do feature two bands playing, with the downstairs floor, which boasts a dancing floor in the evocative 17th century cellar, also open for those wishing to move their feet.

Behind the stage upstairs hangs a large banner saying “Happy Jazz Please”. And indeed forty years on, Stampen finds itself far from a mid-life crisis. Instead, this is a happy place where the music is uncomplicated and promises a pure, foot-stomping time, and where the atmosphere is without the pretensions afflicting some of the more fashionable establishments in Östermalm.

“What are your plans for the future of the club?” I ask Josef: “To keep it just as it is”, he responds.

Amen to that.

Stampen (Stora Nygatan 5, Gamla Stan) is open six nights a week from 8pm until 1am during the week and closes an hour later at weekends. There is free entrance Mondays to Thursdays while there is an admittance fee on Friday and Saturday nights of around 100 kronor. The free Saturday afternoon blues jam takes place between 2pm and 6pm. For more information, call +46-8-205793 or click on the link below.

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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.