There were several reasons why I was so keen to visit the country, one being that I have Norwegian relatives – fairly distant, admittedly, but I did get to know them when by chance the head of the family, a senior officer in the Norwegian navy, happened to be posted to Norfolk, Virginia the very same year I was working as a volunteer in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so I spent a lovely, and very different, Norwegian-style Christmas with them at the US naval base in Norfolk. Another reason was that I had a friend who regularly toured Norway with her songs, which got me thinking that there might be an audience for my material there too. And the third reason was that a large party of Norwegian tourists happened to be visiting the Troubadour, the legendary live-music venue in Earl’s Court, the evening I had a gig there in October 2019, and (despite my under-par performance that evening due to the effects of a lingering bout of flu) I sold CDs to some of them that night as well as via my website a while later. Even though the town I posted one of the CDs to, Bodø, turned out to be north of the Arctic Circle, it didn’t stop me fondly imagining playing there in a packed log-cabin-type venue full of newly acquired fans…
But a few months later, just as we started thinking about how feasible it would be to drive our small motorhome to Norway and tour the country in it (probably not very, I realised, once I saw how very long the country is; we'd do better to fly there and hire a vehicle once we arrived), the Chinese city of Wuhan leapt into the news, Covid-19 became a household word, and the world rapidly proceeded to change dramatically, putting an end – at least for the time being – to any such plans.
When the idea of embarking instead on a virtual world tour came to me, Norway was therefore one of the first countries I researched for online music sessions, and aha! (get it? Aha? Oh, never mind…), what should come up, but a weekly singer-songwriter session based in Oslo! Perfect! I was slightly anxious about the fact that I don’t speak a single word of Norwegian, but the two main things I recalled about my distant relatives from that long-ago Christmas in Virginia were: (a) they all spoke absolutely perfect English; and (b) (not really relevant, but memorable nonetheless), they all looked like film stars. The latter point might have increased my anxiety if I’d dwelled on it, but instead I hung my hopes on the notion that all Norwegians speak word-perfect English, so I felt relatively sure that I’d be fine.
So I duly signed up for the next session, on a Monday evening, with the welcoming English title ‘Bring your songs, heart and ears!’, and at 6 o’clock that evening clicked on the Zoom link with a teensy bit of trepidation. I wasn’t the first one there by any means – the host and a number of others were already ensconced in the Zoom room, and for some reason I was slightly taken aback to realise that they were indeed all Norwegian and all speaking in, yes, Norwegian!
‘Um… is it okay for me to be here, as I only speak English?’ was my opening line.
There was only a very momentary hesitation before I was welcomed in English by the host, who then went on to ask the others in Norwegian whether they’d mind conducting the session in English for my benefit. They didn’t mind, but when I realised that that’s what had just been agreed, I leapt in and said they must speak in whatever language they felt most comfortable speaking in, and I’d be more than happy just to be there and to sing my songs when requested to do so, as long as I was prompted to do so in English!
The end result was a happy middle ground, with some discussion in Norwegian (I prided myself on being able to discern the subject of one particular conversation in that language, laced as it was with ‘screen share’, ‘feedback’ and other seemingly non-translatable terms), but a very generous amount of English. At the end of the two hours I felt that these lovely Scandinavian musicians genuinely hoped to see me there again, and I could equally genuinely tell them that I’d really loved listening to them sing – some in Norwegian (one man’s voice in particular I found very hypnotic), and some in admirable English – and that all of the performances had been full of emotion that I could relate to even if I didn’t always understand the actual words. In return, they seemed very engaged with my song, with my explanation of why I was there – the virtual world tour and all that – and with me showing them how I use the partial capo. The energy level was refreshingly laid back that evening – I think some of the participants were quite tired, so it may not always be so low key, but it certainly helped me keep up much more easily with what was going on throughout.
I’m looking forward to going back – and even, one day, to putting in a real-life appearance when things return to some semblance of normality and the session reverts to its regular venue in a café in the city.