On Saturday, March 20, the Oslo Blues Club celebrated it's 15 year anniversary, at Buckleys in Oslo. The 12 hour blues party included blues concerts - both afternoon and night - two meals, speeches, "hobnobbing" and everything that comes with a successful birthday celebration. The Oslo Blues Club was founded in 1977, and after a ten year hiatus, came back to life in 1995. It is one of the oldest members of the Norwegian Blues Union, which has more than 60 members.
15 years ago, blues lovers in the Oslo area were invited to a start-up meeting, – back then at the club Gamla, and since then the club has made significant contributions to the blues scene in Norway. The club's early fanzine, BluesNews, later became the country's national blues magazine, and members of the club were important in shaping the Norwegian Blues Union.
For a few years during the last decade, the Oslo Blues Club was not very active. However, this year there has been an increase in the number of members, concerts, and concert attendance. With close to 700 members, the Oslo Blues Club is the largest blues society in Norway.
The anniversary celebration was held at the club's regular haunt, Buckleys, in Oslo. Musically, there was a broad span to the program - from the new to the old - with an afternoon concert by the young artists of the Ruf Record's Blues Caravan (picture below), - Joanne Shaw Taylor, Erja Lyytinen and Oli Brown -, and an evening concert with veteran bluesman Louisiana Red. All the seats were sold out in advance, and some frustrated souls who had not studied the invitation closely were met with a closed door.
Before the first band came on stage, soup was served. This is a tradition from the club's heyday at Smuget, where the house generously served free soup every Tuesday, ie, Oslo Blues Club night. That way the blues audience did not have to go home for dinner before the show.
The Oslo Blues Club's leader, Elizabeth Weisser-Svendsen, declared the event open, and then representatives from neighboring clubs and partners took over. The Østkanten Blues Club's newly elected leader, Wiggo Larsen, gave flowers and greetings, and from the Skedsmo Blues Club came leader Gøran Stensrud with flowers and a few well chosen words. Representing the Norwegian Blues Union and the Norsk Rockforbund was Hilde Killingdalen, gaving their kind regards.
And then on to the music! Taylor, Lyytinen and Brown were last year's Ruf Blues Caravan, and they reunited for this weekend in Norway. The three artists are all young, ambitious, and very, very talented. They shared the backing band, and each presented their own set, before they all gathered on the stage at the end. After hearing these three talented artists, we have no fear for the future of the blues. A great start to the day!
Dinner was Bill Troiani's doing. His "famous" chilli con carne was the evening's main course, and no easy fast-food solutions were used! The chilli had been in the making at Ellen's and Bill's kitchen for several days, and when you are cooking for 130 people, we are talking about copious amounts! It was no surprise that the food satisfied the guests, and the whole batch disappeared quickly.
With food in their stomachs, the people were ready for the raffle drawing. Raffle sales are the economic cornerstone of many blues societies, and this day the clubs treasurer, Rolf, surpassed himself. 10 secret boxes filled with surprises such as CDs, DVDs, concert tickets, hotel gift certificates, free passes to the Kongsberg Jazz Festival, and even framed copies of this evening's great concert poster, were raffled off.
The highlight of the night was a special concert with the nearly 80 year old blues veteran, Louisiana Red, his companion Little Victor, and part of the Billy T Band. The background for this booking is their recording of the album "Back to the Black Bayou" at Notodden in 2008. This CD, and Louisiana Red himself, are nominated for a total of 5 "Blues Music Awards" this year, and Oslo Blues Club wanted to arrange an exclusive reunion concert for this occasion. Due to circumstances beyond the club's control, it took some time before the band came on stage. It is not always easy to hurry an elderly artist. Little Victor opened the show with the Billy T Band. At last, the man himself was on the stage with the band. It took some time for Red to get going, but once he started rolling there was no stopping him! He started off by presenting himself with the song "I'm Louisiana Red," and then did "Alabama Train", one of his more famous compositions. He then celebrated Muddy Waters, an artist Red has learned a lot from. He spoke of how he took a bus from Detroit to Chicago to meet and learn from one of the giants of Chicago blues. They also played songs from the CD they recorded together. Alex Pettersen, Bill Troiani and Håkon Høye, from the Billy T Band, did a great job behind Louisiana Red. Red does not always stick to the set-list, which creates a challenge for the band, but this was no problem for this experienced gang. Little Victor, who is currently acting as Red's sideman, did not, however, have a good day at "the office". In a rather disrespectful way, he tried to override what Red did, as well as how he did it, and he "drowned out" the legend completely. He ruined part of the concert experience for both performers and the audience. A good sideman should emphasize the main artist, not try to overshadow him!
All in all it was a great, albeit long, day of celebration for a hard working blues society!
Text: Nina Hanssen - Photo: Merete Eide / Nina Hanssen
Louisiana Red was honored with lifetime membership of Oslo Blues Club. From left Kaare Presttun, Red, Alex and Ellen Pettersen.