We leave London at sparrowsfart to catch our plane to Finland. It’s early early and its amazing to see the city asleep. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate – at this pre-dawn hour the majority of the population of London appear to consentually slip into sleep in their millions simultaneously. It’s as if at the end of the each day they all collectively go ‘good night’ and slide into slumberland. This major city feels truely dormant at this dark hour. It seems a bit odd. We catch our train then plane and leave.
Descending through the blanket of cloud we start to see the outline of islands and water. At a distance these look like pebbles in a puddle but that is just a illusion of distance. As we go lower we can see roof tops and roads, signs of life appearing out of the beautiful snow covered landscape.
We land at Helsinki airport. Leaving the plane to walk across the tarmac to a bus to take us to the terminal in the whisper of falling snow. We learn swiftly to step with caution as the black ice makes itself known underfoot.
Finland, to date you win the prize for the most grumpy boarder guards at passport control. More chilly that the outdoor environment. Well done.
Once across the boarder we eventually decipher the metro line that will take us into the heart of Helsinki. There are two trains to choose from and they both go to the same place, but it took some moments to learn to interpret these new signs and directions in a completely unfamiliar dual language.
We arrive at the central terminal where we make our way to the front entrance of the train station. As we leave we look back at the remarkable facade of massive stone sculptural figures holding illuminating orbs to light the paths.
It is bitterly cold, zero degrees. It is a land of coats, hats, gloves and scarfs. Although there is still the random pedestrian seen strolling in shorts, t-shirt and jandels!.
We walk to the venue which is a short distance but maybe takes longer than usual to walk as we navigate snow drifts, traffic and ice. Mounds of fresh snow are piled up to the side to keep the paths open. These snow banks are over one metre in depth.
GPS is our friend and we find the venue, Henry’s Pub, easily. It is located on the perimeter of a central square. It’s a modest sized bar that warmly welcomes us with rest, food and brews while we wait for our contact and organiser, Kaarle, and the other bands, to arrive.
Slowly band members start to gather and introductions are made. The other groups are Sirja & Konfuusio and Lizards. The performance of Sirja and co seemed to be a collaborative project – Sirja being the main song writter and the trio Konfuusio adding the rock to her songs. There were some solid tunes and we also really enjoyed hearing that particularly finnish sound. Moments were reminiscent of Dunedin band Cloudboy. Next up, Lizards, a competent performance that reminded of a Jack Black musical project. Our performance was last, and seemed very well received. There were a few responses that felt quite overwhelming and some seemed particular energised from what we had offered. One lovely comment we received was that we ‘played Finnish music’. Somehow what we played made a particular kind of sense that was unanticipated. A lot of very fine music has come from Finland so we happily received the compliment.
Post show we head for the trains again, our accommodation is at Kaarle’s place, located in the village Jokela, about an hour out of Helsinki. We first need to navigate those offers of post-show drinks and after parties. The last train to catch is at a quater to midnight and it’s a close-call, if we miss the train it’s a night in a Helsinki pub and the snow.
But we manage to extract ourselves and head for the train. We find out the snows only started yesterday. This marks the start of a long winter and it’s interesting to discuss the impact this has on the locals, how they cope during the long dark winters. We catch the train with minutes to spare, striking up random conversations with others on the train who are keen to teach us Finnish swear words … important stuff to learn.
Jokela is a small village, two supermarkets, a pub and a pizza shop. We investigate the town when we wake, the local lake has already started to freeze over. Bird prints can be traced in the fresh snow, small collections of the white dust gathers and balances on the last of autumn’s fruiting trees. There’s no wind, it is still and crisp and cool. The lake has started to freeze. We pass time with pizza and beer before we have to reconvene and hit the road for our next show in the city of Tampere two hours north of here.
It is an uneventful roadtrip. There’s a small opportunity to sleep as we cruise along the motorway, between forests, deer fences and snow.
In Tampere we are playing at the pub called O’Haras, it has a vague celtic feel but plays a broad and fascinating background music selection that swings between contemporary finnish pop to brutal nordic metal. The cross section of drinkers in the pub seem to not be bothered by whatever is blasted across the sound system. It’s quite wonderful.
The bar’s venue space is downstairs. We are playing with a local trio called Xes, guitar, drums and barritone saxophone. One of the downsides of wearing make-up is that it takes about 25 minutes to prepare, and during this preparation we often miss a lot of the preceeding performance before us. It’s a constant tension. Xes present entertaining show. They are currently recording their first album with the extrodinary finnish musician Pennti Dassum. Pennti has been involved in many, many awesome musical projects and we hope at some point to meet him. We have many mutual friends. It’s funny that we almost meet via Xes. Next time.
We play well. And again it’s well received. This is confirmed in part by the regular plying of alcohol from audience members with offers of gin and other alcohol during our set. And then the enthusiastic responses after we finish. It seems our music has found a natural home among some of these Finnish ears. It is definitely encouraging when we contemplate future tours to know that it will go down well here.
We leave O’Hara’s and head to a local pub for an after gig tipple. Here we get to enter into some wonderful conversation while trying some local liquorice tasting liquors. Closing time arrives and we spill out on to the street to a nearby taxi stand. We travel across town and stay with one of Kaarle’s friends in a student university hostel. A very nice meeting and full of encouragement.
We are in Finland for three nights but have only managed to get two shows. Even though we started the organising earlier in the year confirming shows seemed a challenge. We discussed this at length while in Finland to understand what the Finnish context is like. It seems the Finnish independent music scene has been hit hard in the economic downturn. Several years ago it was possible to play many venues and many shows. Things have got tighter and the opportunities have significantly reduced. Venues are only hiring bigger bands that have some draw but are not creating opportunities for newer acts. It would seem that this is going to be a problem in years to come. New acts need places to cut their teeth, to develop innovative sounds and to hone skills outside of economic imperitives.
So we find ourselves with a Saturday night off in Finland. We decide to make our way back to Helsinki, that way it will be easy to get to the airport on Sunday.
We find a reasonable priced hotel in the inner city. The snowing hasn’t really stopped. And we seek out heat. Given that one of the things Finland is famous for is the sauna, we make our way to one of the older saunas in Helsinki central. It is a sauna that has been functional for the best part of the last 70 years, gender segregated into male and female only. There’s no obvious clear instruction so it’s basically learning by observation. The pattern seems to be hang out in the heat for a bit, then out into the snow for a beer then repeat. Health-giving activities. It seems the traditional saunas are disappearing due to the modern apartments all having electric sauna instalment. Many of the classics saunas have gone, there are only three left.
And that’s it. A weekend in Finland, an excellent investigation to see how we go here and it will be totally worth returning, hopefully not too far into the future.
A massive massive thanks to Kaarle for all the work that went into setting up the shows, and for the hosting and transportation. Also big thanks to Pietsu, Kristian, Petri, Marge, and Jan.