Notodden Blues Festival 2008 – Norway

What an absolutely great time we had at the Notodden Blues Festival this year. It was a real pleasure to be back. It’s always nice to play Notodden!

We flew in on Wednesday evening and were immediately picked up by Trond, the owner of the club where we were going to play. He took us to this wonderful house up on the hill where we stayed until Friday. We never stay over in private accommodation any more but when you’re offered the free run of a huge and beautiful Norwegian house for two days and the owner is a really nice guy and one of what we call the “Norwegian gang” then for that we make an exception.

The Norwegian gang is a group of the most wonderful people you could ever ask to meet. It all started with one of them, a guy called Leiv Ryen, ordering my music at CD Baby, we got in touch, we kept in touch and the rest as they say is history. Leiv single-handedly turned a whole bunch of people on to our music and spread the word far and wide.

The first time we played in Notodden we played to a sold-out club! We went back to play the festival last year and were asked back again to play it this year too. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

We were booked to play on Thursday evening and a bit earlier on Saturday. I really enjoyed the show on Thursday night and we had a great crowd in. I’d changed the line-up a little for this weekend by bringing along a good friend of mine, Bas Kleine, who just happens to be an ace harmonica player. It’s always nice to mix things up a bit or change things around so this was the first time I played in Notodden with a harmonica player, which wasn’t really a problem obviously as it was a blues festival after all!

On Friday evening we had the opportunity to catch the Fabulous Thunderbirds, who not only had Kim Wilson playing harmonica but Charlie Musselwhite and James Cotton as well. After that we caught Little Feat’s set. I must say I really enjoyed it. They can still do it – really nice playing.

Friday we also moved slightly out of town to the big hotel on the hill where all the musicians stay during the festival. This hotel always reminds me of the hotel in “The Shining” film and I guess I’m not the only one because I heard  “here’s Johnny” a few times over the weekend. It’s a great place to stay during the festival because it has this huge dining room/area with a running buffet and so everyone is always coming and going and helping themselves. Because of that you never know who you might find sitting there. We bumped into Pinetop Perkins, Ray Davies (The Kinks), Jerry Portnoy (harmonica player who plays with Clapton), Chris Layton (Stevie Ray’s drummer), Kim Wilson and his partner and a host of others.

Then in the wee wee hours, after most bands have played their sets and returned to the hotel a jam session ensues in the bar area. Ian Segal led the session mostly on Friday night, with our own Bas blowing some fine, fine, fine harmonica as well. As I still had to play on Saturday I didn’t stay up too late. It looked to me like some of them were aiming at making it an all-nighter!

Nice to be back on the boards on Saturday and I deliberately wanted to change the set a good bit for the Thursday show. Someone joked that when they went to see Bruce Springsteen two nights in a row in Dublin he played eight different songs. I don’t know what length of a set Bruce did but we had a two hour set and we played seven different songs, so I reckon that wasn’t too bad, was it? We actually had eight songs ready but ran out of time, so seven it was.

That evening we went off to catch Mick Fleetwood’s set, which was really, really enjoyable. I’ll write a bit more about Mick in another blog!

Of course there was another jam session on Saturday night but I’d had enough music by then, so I had a beer or two and then headed off to bed. Mind you, it was around 4am…

I had the privilege of doing an interview for a Canadian guy [Mako Funasaka] who was over shooting and interviewing some of the artists for  his company Talkin’ Blues – documenting the passion behind the blues music of today. A lot of his work has been broadcast on Canadian TV and it’s very worthwhile work that he is doing.

As always, it was lovely to meet all our friends up there. They always make us feel so welcome and there is nothing they wouldn’t do to try and make your stay as smooth as possible. Of course that all adds to the special feelings we have when we play in Notodden. It’s billed as Europe’s biggest blues festival and people come from all over the world to visit it. This rather small town swells from around 5000/6000 to over 50,000 for the weekend and even though a LOT of beer is downed there is always a very laid-back atmosphere. You could do worse than plan it into your schedule for 2009. I know I will.

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