I was due a holiday after 12 tough months getting life stuff back on track. And holidays this time of year for me normally revolve around snowy mountains. But this time I felt the need to do something different, and it just happened to be my birthday as well.
A couple of weeks ago I spotted that one of my favourite American musicians was embarking on a Scandinavian and European tour that coincided with my holiday plans. Hannah Aldridge was playing in Sweden on my birthday weekend. And there was snow.......... lots of it.
I had never been to Sweden. That was another reason to visit. The third reason was down to meeting Hannah’s Swedish band mates from Jetbone last year when they played a couple of times in the UK as her backing band and also an established act in their own right. I liked them immediately and their southern rock influences and style grabbed my attention. If that stuff was happening in Sweden, I thought it was a good time to go and check it out.
A one-hour connecting flight from Stockholm took me 700 km further north to Umeå. The view from the aircraft window revealed lots of water inlets and vast snowfields broken up by the occasional forest and small homestead. It felt remote up here.
The air that greeted me upon arrival was seriously cold. -20 degrees had been recorded the night before I arrived. The snow was deep and the air was bone dry. I had a beer to toast my arrival in a bar across from the bus station and eventually trundled into my digs which were a couple of miles away in a little cottage.
Umeå shared European capital of culture with the Latvian city of Riga in 2014. It seems to be doing well when it comes to Americana music and recently hosted David Ramirez shortly after I saw him play in Bristol. Susto are scheduled to play soon after Hannah Aldridge. Ramirez played at the same venue that Hannah was scheduled to play, a small venue/bar/restaurant called Gröna Älgen run by Jörgen Persson.
At the venue on the night of the show, I met Jörgen who came over and introduced himself. Hannah had not showed up yet and he was running a music quiz beforehand. I teamed up with some locals - Tomas and his wife Marie Louise and we had a good chat and played the ridiculously tough quiz. The equivalent of £20 was the prize money and the winner was well deserving of it. I think I got one question right. It was hard to tell. It was in Swedish.
Soon Hannah showed up with Gustav Sjödin, who is the bass player from Jetbone and is accompanying her on her Scandinavian tour. We said our hellos and Hannah got set up.
Jörgen gave her a big introduction and also mentioned the mad Englishman who had travelled to this remote Americana outpost to see her play and visit Sweden, albeit very briefly. It did seem a bit daft but what the heck I thought. I got a round of applause as well which was unexpected and mildly uncomfortable.
The show went well and the crowd were appreciative. I got a couple of shots of Hannah and Flu playing on the small stage.
Then it's 2am and I'm having a drink in the hotel lobby with both of them after the show. We're hatching a plan for the following day which is just a few hours away in reality. Hannah has another show 5 hours away by car and she needs to leave by midday. We decide to do a photoshoot near her hotel at 9am. I walk back to my cottage an hour away in the freezing cold down streets that remind me increasingly of the movie Let the Right One in. It's atmospheric. I get back to my warm digs and I gradually get the feeling back in my face.
A couple of hours sleep in my cot and then I'm back retracing my steps to the hotel in the early daylight. It's bright and it's sunny. Nice conditions but not ideal for an outdoor photoshoot. It's going to be contrasty and I'll need to choose a location carefully. When I get to the hotel I haven't heard from Hannah, so I scout around the local area to find an interesting location. I find one. It's a kind of fairground ride on the side of the frozen river. The ride consists of several cubicles in which groups of people are supposed to sit. The cubicles are like baskets full of snow and they're a nice shape. In the centre of the ride is a large bare tree. The ride is out of operation and it's deserted. The baskets are connected to the roof of the ride which has large circular coloured apertures cut into it. There are lots of shapes and angles to play with and I reckon this is the place.
To the hotel and I pretend to be a resident and blag some warm coffee and scrambled eggs and bacon between two pieces of bread. Flu is in the hotel restaurant. He laughs and exclaims "That's a proper Englishman's breakfast". Hannah is getting ready for the photos.
Then we're out into the bright cold light and taking pictures around the fairground ride. Hannah has a big coat to wear between shots but it's cold. She was a good sport and soon it was over and we went to a nearby grand gothic styled church to take some close ups inside some interesting doorways.
We didn't have much time to get some shots but it was a good laugh and we got a couple of interesting pictures. Soon Hannah and Gus sped off to their next gig and left me to wander back to my digs along the river path which was now busy with people strolling on a lovely Sunday morning.