Canadian singer Neema set to woo music fans in Sweden

Supporting Jeff Beck, Joe Cocker and Elton John on a European tour which heads to Sweden this weekend, Canadian-born singer Neema has been rubbing shoulders with some music heavyweights and winning over audiences with her personal songs, contributor Hannah Cleaver discovers.

Canadian singer Neema set to woo music fans in Sweden

“We have just done two dates supporting Joe Cocker in Germany, and are now heading through Scandinavia with Jeff Beck and it’s going really well,” she tells The Local by the phone from Copenhagen.

“They are very big crowds out there, but we are getting a wonderful reception.”

Often put in a musical row with other women singer-song-writers such as Joni Mitchell and Judee Sill, Neema would not necessarily be the first choice to open for such rock giants as Beck and Cocker.

Her music incorporates elements of folk and jazz as well as world music with sometimes a pop feel. Her second album “Watching You Think,” was produced in association with Leonard Cohen and was released last year, yet it has taken until now for her to get to Europe – she had to tour Canada and the US first.

Now, finally she has made it across the pond, to support Cocker and Beck – and for one date each, Elton John and Cyndi Lauper.

“We did two dates opening for Joe Cocker in Stuttgart and Mainz and they were huge crowds but it was beautiful, it was a surprise. It almost didn’t feel as if it wasn’t my own crowd, they were very responsive, it was a real blessing.

“With Jeff Beck it is potentially a difficult crowd, I feel the audience is not the same as mine would be, although some are there. I find speaking a bit of the local language is a good idea, something I learned when I was backpacking around Europe before. If you can say a little bit then they can continue listening to the music. I love languages and try to learn something new.”

As a singer who often performs standing alone on stage with just a guitar and her voice, she said it had also been particularly important to have a band behind her on these shows.

She has surrounded herself with pedigree musicians such as guitarist Rob Macdonald as well as Howard Bilerman and Tim Kingsbury from Arcade Fire and Tom Mennier who has played with Martha and Rufus Wainwright, making her confident enough to sing for Beck’s audience of music aficionados.

“For the Jeff Beck shows I am grateful for having the band, it really helps, it’s a musician’s crowd, having this excellent group of musicians and this amazing guitarist playing with me makes me feel more comfortable. The crowd can focus on that,” she says.

Neema was born in Canada to Lebanese parents who themselves were brought up in Egypt. She has travelled extensively, including a couple of stints through Europe in the early 1990s. One trip took her through many of the countries she is now on her way through, including Germany, Italy and an unintentional visit to Austria.

“I was on a train going to Munich and unbeknownst to me, the train had split into two in the middle of the night so in the morning I asked the conductor when we were getting to Munich, and he kept replying “When, When” which I did not understand, until I realised we were about to arrive in Vienna,” she recalls.

“I stayed there for a day, it was a beautiful place, although it was a Sunday and everything was closed.”

Neema’s current tour is likely to be more organised as far as the travel is concerned – she is opening for seven Jeff Beck dates including June 16th at Kulturbolaget in Malmö and June 18th at the Trädgår’n in Gothenburg.

There are also a slew of dates through June and July in the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and France. She is also fitting in some shows in Germany where she is headlining the evening, including June 20th in Cologne and June 21 in Hamburg.

The Local has six tickets to give away for each of the Gothenburg, Cologne and Hamburg shows. They will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. To get one, send a friendly email to: [email protected]

Hannah Cleaver

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Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer