Teaching the 'wild man' of Swedish rock how to speak English

Geoff Mortimore
Geoff Mortimore - [email protected]
Teaching the 'wild man' of Swedish rock how to speak English

When Irishman Morty McCarthy came to Sweden for love a decade ago, he had no idea he'd end up teaching English to folically flamboyant Swedish rock n'roller Magnus Uggla live on national radio, The Local's Geoff Mortimore explains.


Like so many other newcomers to Sweden, McCarthy came for love.

An accomplished musician and one-time pop star in his own right, McCarthy, was nevertheless sceptical when he received a call asking if he would consider helping Swedish pop icon Magnus Uggla master the challenges of the English language.

”At first I thought it was a joke when they phoned me at Folkuniversitet and asked me if I would be interested in teaching Uggla,” laughs McCarthy.

”When I realised it wasn’t, I presumed instead it was a gimmick for the radio show, but once I met him, it was clear he was deadly serious.”

The random assignment has turned out to be highly enjoyable for both of them.

”Magnus didn’t feel his English was very good, so they thought I’d be a perfect teacher for him with my music background," says McCarthy, who found fame in his native Ireland as songwriter and drummer for The Sultans of Ping F.C.

"By coincidence we were on the same record label in 90s and we got on well when we met. Now he is like any other student - except that he is the only one I have who keeps their sunglasses on in the classroom!” the amiable Irishman says.

McCarthy and Uggla make an entertaining double act on the weekly show.

”We have 7 or 8 minutes and as it is live it can go anywhere really. We like to keep it as lighthearted as possible though” he says McCarthy.

Morty McCarthy's own humorous and unorthodox battle with learning Swedish put him in good stead.

”When I first came, I took a Swedish course for two months, but I was annoyed the way everyone wanted to speak to me in English all the time. So I devised a trick, replying in Irish every time someone spoke to me in English. People would say 'that’ll be 10 kronor please', so I would repeat it in Irish and tell them I don’t speak English. It was annoying for all concerned for a few years, but I learned Swedish very quickly after that," he smiles.

McCarthy's own musical alma mater, The Sultans of Ping F.C, were a well known band originating from Cork, Ireland and hit their commercial peak in the 90s with a string of relatively successful singles.

Their best known hit "Where's Me Jumper," captures in a nutshell, the essence of the group and its offbeat take on life, football and music.

Somewhat bizarrely, the fact that Sweden was one of the band’s biggest fanbases, formed a major reason for McCarthy moving here in the first place he says, having tired of big city life in London, after meeting his partner at a gig in Örebro.

The band split in the 90s, but reformed after an eight-year break in 2005. In the meantime, McCarthy found time to write an extremely funny guide to the slang used in his hometown Cork.

If you’re curious to find out how someone suffering from ”lapsi pa” feels, or why ”rubber dollies” are often worn by ”wackers,” his book ”Dowtcha Boy” provides all the answers and a good laugh at the same time.

McCarthy's sense of humour makes the radio show with Uggla all the more interesting, whatever the singer’s reasons are for wanting to improve his English.

”He’s on the radio and TV a lot and wants to be able to deal better with international guests. He thinks that when English people come on Swedish chat shows, the hosts often embarrass themselves by trying to show off how good they are at English. So he wants to be better prepared."

"In the last two weeks alone, he has found himself in situations where he has stuck to speaking Swedish, too afraid to switch to English. I think he feels he wants to make that step to be more comfortable,” says McCarthy.

Uggla recently appeared on the popular "Skavlan" talkshow on Sveriges Television (SVT) opposite outgoing Swedish enterprise minister Maud Olofsson, prompting som later on-air encouragement from McCarthy.

"Maud Olofsson's English ISN'T better than yours...remember that," he told Uggla.

And Uggla is apparently making good progress, despite the odd hiccup.

In the latest show for example, Uggla learns the subtle, but potentially dangerous difference between translating ”på jobbet” as ”at work” and not ”on the job.”

He gets a telling off by the teacher for not bothering with a pen and paper and gives his own interesting Swenglish take on one of fellow Swedish rock star Ulf Lundell’s well-known songs.

Not only is he funny, he also underlines how tough it can be writing in another language, and what a pain it is getting your prepositions any other student.

Morty McCarthy has now been teaching for 11 years, but still keeps his hands busy with five or ten shows behind the drum kit each year, with the reformed Sultans.

You can catch his sessions with Uggla on Swedish Radio, or online at

Eight minutes in the company of the amiable Irish storyteller makes it well worth the listen.



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