The recent death of one of prog’s legends (April 24th, to be precise) has saddened a lot of people, to be sure. There were strange rumors (perhaps propagated by some weirdo on Wikipedia?) that he had been lying on his deathbed, but I doubt anyone took them seriously. Perhaps they weren’t rumors after all. Regardless, I doubt he would have wanted people to mourn him. Well, I suppose I shouldn’t say that, I never knew him personally, and I know barely anything about his personality. I do know that he was a very humble man who was delighted to hear of modern recording artists “sampling” from his old work, however. I also know that he loved to associate with those who created music inspired by his (Eric Malmberg, to name one).
That said, I have decided to use this opportunity to inspect the recorded work of this highly respected artist. I will be going through his four solo albums and then his three albums with Janne Karlsson. However, there is more. I will also be reviewing a few bands, artists, and albums that were directly inspired by this man. I will put to you, valued reader, that the so-called “Third Wave of Prog” we all (I hope) hold near and dear, which includes such incredible bands as The Tangent, The Flower Kings, Beardfish, and many, many more, would not have come about if not for the creations of this man.
Bo Hansson’s Solo Work
Chronologically, these should be listed second, but I choose to list them first both because they seem to me to be more influential, and because I simply like them more. I am going to list the American versions of the albums simply because more people speak English than Swedish and because they’re the same albums (though with different release dates). Hansson’s solo albums are very similar in style, though with some slight differences that will be touched upon later. They contain MANY eclectic musical elements. They are jazzy yet symphonic, they rock, yet are atmospheric, they are folkish and simple yet adventurous and experimental. But lastly, they are instrumental, yet speak volumes. It is very hard to describe Hansson’s music, for nothing has been created that sounds like it. Some have come close in recent years, but they will be touched upon later. One contemporary album that comes to mind as something remotely similar is Takes Inspired by the Snow Goose by Camel. I find it to be distinctly possible that this album was heavily influenced by Hansson’s music, and perhaps if I get a chance to ask Mr. Latimer he may tell me. Regardless, the music shares similar qualities, and it also has the idea of being an instrumental rock concept album, perhaps one of the only ones in history at the time besides for Hansson’s. Let Snow Goose be a frame of reference for those of you who haven’t listened to Hansson’s material.
The Lord of the Rings – 1972
(Sagen Om Ringen - 1970)
This album is generally regarded as the best by fans, but I find it difficult to pick a clear favorite. One could say that it’s a bit different from the others. It’s much, shall we say, “dreamier”. I said before that Hansson was known for his instrumental concept albums. Well, this is his first one. An interesting one to start with, but considering his connection to Swedish folk music, I think it was fitting. Anyway, the music is infinitely more interesting than Led Zeppelin’s…
Magician’s Hat – 1973
(Mellanvasen - 1972)
Unlike the last, this one is not an instrumental concept album. It does have a bunch of LoTR-related songs that could be considered outtakes from the first album if anyone had any reason to think Hansson thought they were bad enough to exclude them from any album. In general, this album is more energetic than the one that came before, but the next two are along the same lines, so this isn’t surprising. Highlights on this album are the epic “Big City”, which is over 1/5 of the album, and the excellent track “The Sun (Parallel or 90 Degrees)”, which is, by the way, what Andy Tillison named his other band after (as he mentioned in his interview on this site and the band’s forum, after I asked). As Andy also said in the interview, he took that very song and covered it (with lyrics) for use on the Po90D album "The Time Capsule". As it happens I'm listening to this very song right now, and let me just say it is quite good.
Attic Thoughts – 1975
(Ur Trollkarlens Hatt - 1975)
Attic Thoughts is a departure only in that it no longer includes music inspired by The Lord of the Rings. However, Hansson seems to have decided to pick a new inspiration in the form of Watership Down. This would be fully realized in the next album, as only a few songs on Attic Thoughts seem to anticipate it.
Music Inspired by Watership Down – 1977
As I said before, this album is his second instrumental concept work. In this case, almost half of the album is taken up by the sixteen minute epic “Born of the Gentle South”, which contains both energetic and mellow moments. This epic is the most energetic piece on the album, and the rest drifts more to the atmospheric side. Not to say it’s any worse than the other albums, though.
Hansson & Karlsson
Hansson’s work with drummer Janne Karlson showcased the keyboardist’s skills a bit more than his solo albums did, which almost seems paradoxical when you consider the fact that this duet was simply drums and keyboards, with nothing else. It would be this duet that in later years would see more overt imitation, though it is likely his solo albums were more influential. Hansson & Karlsson’s style was quite jazzy; they were basically playing as an organ trio without the bass. The two of them decided to be more experimental at times, however, which was apparently seen mostly in their live performances.
Monument – 1967
The album begins with the adventurously named “Richard Lionheart”, which is a fun name for an energetic jazz song. The rest of the album is along these same lines. It’s great for anyone who enjoys jazz or anyone who enjoys the Hammond organ. Oh, would you look at that, I love both! Actually, he doesn’t use a Hammond for all of this album, but it’s there enough that I can sink into bliss. Karlsson’s great too, and that’s saying something coming from me, because I normally don’t even notice drumming. The two of them display a great deal of energy and clearly must have enjoyed working together. Some of the breezy piano style Hansson would later employ shows up on this album, but the forefront is the jazz.
Rex – 1968
Rex is a great deal different from Monument or even the next album, Man at the Moon. It’s clearly much more experimental and out of control. There are fewer short jazzy tracks on this record, and instead there are incredibly long, extended jams. I’m all for jazz improvisation, but I greatly prefer the other two.
Man at the Moon - 1969
From the track names, one would think that this album is Hansson’s first instrumental concept. However, it’s very difficult to tell if that’s true, so I’ll just leave that point aside. Except for an annoying recitation of the story of Genesis in the middle of the album, this album is of a similar style as the first. Excellent keyboard/drum improv jaz. That track can be ignored or skipped, as far as I’m concerned, for the rest is quite good.
Modern Work Inspired by the Master
Despite the fact that he only released a handful of albums over his strangely long career (only one of which was not mentioned, but it never should be), Hansson has been an incredibly influential force in Prog music. Now that I’ve finished doing a brief overview of his albums, I’m going to do a rundown of six (well, five) artists who have been directly inspired by him. Anyone who hasn’t listened to all of these definitely should. In fact, it is my hope to influence you, dear reader, to listen to the music that I am about to describe.
Rikard Sjoblom – Cyklonmannen - 2003
Some (I hope many) will recognize Rikard as the organist/singer/songwriter/composer of Beardfish, a band much beloved by this blog. As it turns out, he released a solo album a few years back, around the same time Beardfish was starting out. This album, Cyklonmannen, was based on a book that I’ve never heard of. Perhaps it’s famous in Sweden? Anyway, some might recognize the structure already. Yes, this is an instrumental concept album in the same vein of Hansson’s The Lord of the Rings and Music Inspired by Watership Down! The music is similar too, though Rikard adds his own touches. This is no mere copy, though the music is clearly inspired by Hansson. One might think a side project of an already obscure band might be hard to purchase, but it can be easily bought from InsideOut Music’s online record shop. I’d bet there are a few more places it can be found, as well.
Pär Lindh & Björn Johansson – Bilbo – 1996
Par Lindh is one of the lesser-known founders of Sweden’s own “third wave of prog”. Most people have (rightly) heard of Anglagard and (perhaps less-so rightly, in my opinion…) heard of Anekdoten, and surely the majority of those in prog today have heard of The Flower Kings, but Par Lindh remains a enigma. I myself haven’t listened to his albums as much as I probably should, which is a shame, because this album in particular shines out as a symphonic masterpiece made in Hansson’s image. It’s even about a similar subject. Perhaps it was intended to be a prologue of Hansson’s Lord of the Rings? Also good is Lindh’s & Bjorn Johansson’s “Dreamsongs from Middle Earth”. These shouldn’t be too difficult to find for purchase.
Bootcut (two albums) 2005, 2006
I must go back to Mr. Rikard Sjoblom for a moment to discuss another one of his projects (his second of four, including Beardfish, actually). This band of his was actually designed around the idea of using just a hammond organ and drums to make music. Sound familiar? Clear influence from Hansson persists in these albums, which are nothing but joyfully jazzy Hammond jamming. These albums are an absolute must for anyone remotely interested in Hansson & Karlsson, or anyone interested in organ-driven jazz, for that matter. While these albums (titled Hammond Vs. Drums and De Fluff, respectively) are probably just as difficult to find as Cyklonmannen, it is still possible. De Fluff is purchasable from InsideOut Music’s shop, and I’m sure you can find Hammond Vs. Drums somewhere.
Sagor & Swing (four albums, disbanded) 1999-2004
Rikard wasn’t actually the first person to emulate Hansson & Karlsson’s duet, Eric Malberg and Ulf Moller thought of it first! Actually, I doubt even Hansson & Karlsson invented the idea, so it doesn’t really matter. Sagor & Swing’s music is actually something of a cross between Hansson & Karlsson and Hansson’s solo albums. It has the improvised feel of the jazzy jam duet, but the dreamy, symphonic feel of the solo albums. I highly recommend all four, in due haste!
Tomas Bodin – Swedish Family – Vintage Prog – 2004
Unlike the two albums previously mentioned, this album was influenced specifically by Hansson. However, it contains a lot of his influence, as well as many subtle nods to him. For example, Bodin renamed himself “Bo Dean” in order to pretend the album was actually a compilation album by an ancient, previously unknown band. This seems to be both a nod to Hansson, and an excuse to give Tomas a nickname that was also a homonym of his surname. Hansson and Flower King’s fans should both rejoice at this release, which is one of the finest in Bodin’s solo career. As this is a Flower King’s side project, the album should be relatively easy to find.
Klotet (two albums) – 2008, 2010
I list this band last not because they’re least, but because I organize things in strange ways and I decided to put Bodin and Klotet at the end because they are, in my eyes, not inspired solely like Hansson (as the others are). Klotet is actually one of my favorite new discoveries. Their myspace describes their music as “punk prog”, but that seems more whimsical than accurate to me, as the “punk” tag belies the music’s complexity. If I were to describe it in layman’s terms I would simply call it “Bo Hansson on crack”, or perhaps “an instrumental Beardfish with more emphasis on guitar”. Either one would be an oversimplification though, and, like I said, there’s more to the music than just Bo Hansson. This music is guitar and organ-driven hard, jazzy rock. It is absolutely lovely to my ears. Catchy and accessible, yet complex and experimental. Oh, who am I kidding, I just love the organ… But the guitar is excellent too, and everything else! These guys might be the most obscure band of all, but with a little searching always yields results. Personally I got my copies on Amazon, which has a few more left.
What Comes Next?
I think the best tribute to Hansson would be follow the musicians that carry on his legacy. Now that I mention it, what is that legacy, exactly…? For the sake of this article, let’s just assume his legacy is the wonderful Hammond organ. So, clearly we must listen to artists that make heavy use of the Hammond organ to carry on his musical tradition. I suggest following up-and-coming bands like Beardfish and Klotet. As for other bands, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email if you come up with another band I would like that makes music in this style. Peace!