A Brief History
With the recent release of the first of a trilogy of films related to Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings, it is only fitting that Forgotten Sons should take a good look at Bo (Bosse) Hansson, one of progressive rock's most famous multi-instrumentalists, credit mainly due to his adaptation to music of Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings, a piece of work still considered till this very day as one of the foremost works based on this epic tale.
Born in Stockholm in 1946, Bo Hansson's musical career took off in the late sixties when he was part of the duo Hansson & Karlsson who released three albums and managed to make a name for themselves on the musical circuit, both at home and in Europe. Such was the name that they made that the two also jammed with Jimi Hendrix for a marathon four hours, together with George Clemons (drums) and George Wadinus (guitar)(Blood, Sweat & Tears), a jam that was recorded and the tape of which has been kept by Hansson's producer Anders Lind. Furthermore, Hansson & Karlsson toured with The Experience as well as had the honour of having one of Hansson's tracks, Tax-Free, recorded by Hendrix.
The duo split up with Karlsson taking up an entirely different career as a comedian and TV host while Hansson persevered with his musical career. Whilst writing music, Hansson became fascinated with the works of J.R.Tolkien, especially The Lord Of The Rings and this would form the basis for his first solo work.
Recordings for the album took place at Bo Hansson's summerhouse (a remote island off Stockholm) on an 8-track recorder and at Studio Decibel, Stockholm with help from an entourage of musicians and friends who would aid him on most all of his solo albums. Production and mixing was entrusted to Anders Lind, who would also be responsible for the remastering of the album in years to come. The musicians who played on the album were Rune Carlsson (drums, congas, percussion), Gunnar Bergsten (saxophone) and Sten Bergman (flute). Both Lind and Carlsson would play on most of Hansson's albums.
The album was originally released as Sagan Om Ringen (Silence Records SRS 4600) in 1970 in Sweden, on Charisma (CAS1059) in 1972 in the UK, and on PVC (7907) in the USA in 1972. The album was an instantaneous hit on both sides of the Atlantic going gold in countries such as Great Britain and Australia.
An article by Tony Tyler from the New Musical Express of November 18, 1972 has Hansson "confessing" that "I originally intended to use voices - perhaps a girl soprano - on the tracks but when we contacted George Allen och Unwin (Tolkien's Publishers) they put a firm 'no' to the idea. So we had to use the term 'inspired' by Lord of the Rings' - and we had to keep it purely instrumental". Furthermore in the article Hansson admits to having wished to include a string section as well as more exotic instruments like the harp was not permitted to do so due to lack of finances resulting in the brunt of music having to be borne by the then still primitive keyboards, synthesizers and of course the moog.
By 1972, as his first album was being promoted worldwide to critical acclaim, Hansson had already recorded his second album titled, Magician's Hat or Ur Trollkarlens Hatt (in Swedish). Once again the Swedish release was entrusted to Silence Records (SRS 4615) with Charisma Records (CAS 1073) releasing the album a year later. This time round all recordings were at Studio Decibel, Stockholm with the services of Lind, Carlsson, Bergman and Bergsten retained from the Lord Of The Rings album. More importantly, the sound was further augmented with the introduction of a guitarist (Kenny Håkansson), whilst various guest musicians were utilised for the track The Sun.
A lot of hype was building around Hansson as can seen by the press release that accompanied the release of Magician's Hat.
Bo Hansson needs no introduction, everyone knows of his brilliant music from his time with Hansson & Karlsson and from his interpretations of "Lord of the Rings". Lord of the Rings has been much appreciated in Sweden, and has already sold 15000 copies, and it still sells. When it was released in England, there were thousands of advance orders and the first days it sold about 500 copies a day and this number is increasing. It will be released in the USA in spring. The interest for Bo Hansson in England was too big, New Musical Express flew an journalist over to Sweden for three days, to find out everything about Bo for the English readers. Melody Maker is on their way over here at this moment.
Bo Hansson creates his music in a different way. You can see this in the way it gets on tape and record. He has his own keys to the studio, and at night when the studio is empty, he goes down, connects all the machines, turns on his organ or guitar or moog synthesizer and sketches his ideas on an 8-track tape. When the ideas take form, Anders Lind (our technician and everything) comes to the studio. And a couple of musicians (good friends) comes in turns. Then they work together until the album is finished. Towards the end they work for 20 hours in a row, with the finishing touch and mixing of the work. All in all the process takes about four months. Everybody works as hard as they can, because the result must be great. "If people shall pay 32 kr for the album, they should have their money's worth."
Hansson's third album, which according to many music aficionados was his strongest in musical terms, was released in 1973 as Mellnväsen on the Silence Records label (SRS 4625). Charisma released the album as Attic Thoughts in the UK (CAS 1113) in 1975 while Sire Records (7527) were responsible for the release in the USA. Much of the album was recorded at Hansson's home which had become virtually a studio with much of the same line-up of musicians/friends who had played on Magician's Hat
With this album Hansson confirmed his maturity as a musical composer, managing to slowly build upon his body of works without losing that feeling of a fairy-tale atmosphere, his trademark sound which was essentially laid down on his debut album. By 1977, Hansson had conjured up his fourth album, this time round another album to be inspired by a novel. The novel in question is Watership Down by Richard Adams, a tale of five brave rabbits. Originally the album was released as El-ahrairah, The Prince With A Thousand Enemies, the clever rabbit folk hero about whom are written a number of stories within the novel. The novel was already used as a reference for a particular track on Attic Thoughts. Release in Sweden was once again on Silence Records (YTF 50350), Charisma (CAS 1132) and Sire Records (6044). Due to the lack of information regarding Bo Hansson, I must admit that it is an assumption of mine that Music Inspired By Watership Down and El-Ahrairah are one and the same album. I stand to be contradicted!
Strangely enough though inspired by Watership Down, the album does not feature references to the actual book but quotes snippets from various poets such as Keats and Pope. There seems to have a Best Of... album released in the seventies at least in Germany, on the Fontana label though it seems to be quite a rarity as I cannot find any mention of it anywhere in literature.
For some unknown reason, all seemed to go quiet within the Bo Hansson camp with a Swedish release in 1985 called Mitt I Livet his only album to date after the spate of releases in the seventies. Any comments I have read about this album have not been too complimentary especially when compared to his works in the seventies. Apart from the release of this album nothing else can be found regarding Bo Hansson though there have been reports that he has been ill and/or destitute, but I cannot confirm these reports.
Bo Hansson - Music Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings
Bonus Tracks (on Remastered Version): Findhorn's Song (1:43), Before The Rain (1:31), Fylke(1:50), Playing Downhill Into The Downs (1:39), Wandering Song (3:13), Excursion With Complications (3:23), Rabbit Music, Attic Thoughts, A Happy Prank
Lineup: Bo Hansson (organ, guitar, moog, bass), Rune Carlsson (drums, congas, percussion), Gunnar Bergsten (saxophone), Sten Bergman (flute).
Recorded and Mixed by Anders Lind at Bo Hansson's summerhouse and at Studio Decibel, Stockholm.
All music produced by Anders Lind and Bo Hansson
All music composed by Bo Hansson.
Cover painting by Peter Lindholm on original issue). Further issues on the Charisma label utilised a sleeve design by Rodney Matthews.
Before delving into the details of this classic album one must stress the fact that the bonus tracks on the remastered edition of the album are not tracks originally intended for the LOTR album, but are tracks that would later surface on two of Bo Hansson's albums, Magician's Hat and Attic Thoughts.
As the name implies, the entire album was dedicated to the epic work of J. R. R. Tolkien, a timeless epic tale which was garnering interest in the early seventies because of the release of a film based on the book, much like today! Tribute to Tolkien is given not only in the title of the album but also with an insert that was included with the album (possibly just those on the Charisma label) which featured a photograph of J.R.R.Tolkien. The tale itself was sub-divided into six books, not all of which are given equal attention by Hansson. In fact he only dwells on Books I, II and VI with books III and IV completely swept by over a few seconds.
The album starts off with Leaving Shire, a track which immediately sets the mood and more importantly the tone that will be present throughout the whole of the album. There is a sort of Middle Eastern feel to the music as Hansson merges the characteristic wavy Hammond sound with the delicate nature of the Moog. The Old Forest/Tom Bombadil starts off in a spacey kind of mood with the first use of "sound effects" to appear on the album. If one listens carefully during the first (The Old Forest) section one can make out the cries of the Nazgul. The entry of Tom Bombadil creates an upsurge in tempo as the music takes on a more psychedelic twist with sounds reminiscent of early Pink Floyd.
Fog on The Barrow Downs has an extremely eerie sound to it, mainly due to the high-pitched moog with the sounds of various flying insects and wolfs filling in the background scenario. With a title as The Black Riders/Flight To Elrond, one can only expect the track to be fast paced. The style on the track is starkly different to the rest of the album with it's Latin Santana-like percussion, complete with guitar solo. As we reach At The House Of Elrond/The Ring Goes South the music loses its Latin touch becoming more plaintive and moody. The guitar plays an important role in the creation of the right atmosphere which blends in well with much of the previous tracks.
The second side opens with the short A Journey In The Dark with its dark foreboding atmosphere as the party enter the Moria mines with the sounds of Gollum groping in the background. This track merges into Lothlorien, which features a slight percussive touch, yet which seems to be a variation on the theme that has been played out on the first side of the album. The re-evocation of a horse, this time Shadowfax, Gandalf's horse, brings in the Latin flavour and guitar work.
The Horns Of Rohan/The Battle Of Pelennor Fields sees Hansson re-introducing various sound effects into his music via various instruments. At times one can sense the arrows flying through the air together with the clashing of swords as the Battle takes place, amidst various percussive rhythms. Dreams In The House Of Healing, features a mixture of two moods as the music toys between the idea of a healing place, thus playing out a spacey theme, interrupted by various unpleasant dreams characterised by the strong percussion.
Homeward Bound/The Scouring Of The Shire is similar to Dreams In The House Of Healing, in that one senses a mixture of emotions being played out. There is a sense of festivity (courtesy of the use of the congas) together with a sense of a feeling of disappointment. However, all this is negated with The Grey Haven, with its organ drifting in and out of the mix, much like the sound of the rolling surf.
Unfortunately one of the main drawbacks that this album tends to suffer from is the fact that the sound of the organ is totally outdated. Nowadays the modus operandi of keyboards and synthesizers is worlds away from the days of the Hammond organ and the Moog synthesizer. The lack of variety within the overall tone of the album does tend to afflict the listener. Nevertheless the album still remains one of the most contemplative works related to Tolkien's Lord Of The Rings and when one takes into consideration the primitive nature of the moog, it is actually impressive how Hansson managed to convey such a variety of emotions and variations in colour and one can only wonder what he would have conjured up if he had to redo his work with the armamentarium available today.
Bo Hansson - Magician's Hat
Tracklist:Big City (7:20), Divided Reality (6:17), Elidor (1:34), Before the Rain (1:31), Fylke (1:50), Playing Downhill Into The Downs (1:39), Findhorn's Song (1:43), The Awakening (2:43), Wandering Song (3:13), The Sun (Parallell or 90°) (7:07), Excursion With Complications (3:23)
Lineup:Bo Hansson (Hammond organ, guitar, syntheziser, slide bass), Rune Carlsson (Drums, conga, cowbell), Kenny Håkansson (Guitars),Rolf Scherrer (acoustic guitar), Gunnar Bergsten (Saxophone, flute), Sten Bergman (Flute), Bobo Svensson (Electric Piano), Owe Gustavsson (Bass), Pelle Ekman (Drums), Göran Freese (saxophone), Bill Öhrstrom (congas)
Cover Painting by Jan Ternald; Back Photo by Gunnar Naeslund
Recorded, mixed and produced by Anders Lind and Bo Hansson at Studio Decibel, Stockholm.
All tracks composed by Bo Hansson
Arrangements: Kenny Hankasson (Track 10), Gunnar Bergsten (Tracks 1, 4)
Bo Hansson's second album, another instrumental piece of work was a more full-blooded affair than his first attempt. The fact that all recordings took place inside a proper studio, unlike LOTR which had been partly recorded on 8-track at his summer home, allowed for a more polished sound. Furthermore the line-up was augmented to create a broader musical texture allowing for various musical sounds to permeate throughout the recording and thus do away with the relatively atonal nature of his debut album. The CD release of the album on Silence Records is said to have added previously unreleased six minutes to the first track (The City), something which I cannot however confirm as I only posses the vinyl version of the album.
Once again the majority of the themes on the album have a fairy tale/fantasy association and it has oft been said that many tracks on the album are actually pieces of music that were already in existence during the making of LOTR, yet which for some reason or another did not make it to the final cut.
The new jazzier approach to recording by Bo Hansson is immediately felt in the opening The City with a much fuller involvement from various other instruments especially the saxophone. Furthermore, the much improved sound allowed for the drums to come to the fore of the recording allowing one to appreciate continuously changing time signatures. Another interesting point of interest on this album is the use of voices in an acapella format within the track, the first piece of music from Hansson to involve vocals. Much of the track has a very easy listening jazz touch with a constant conga rhythm, so very commonly used in many B-movies of the seventies.
Divided Reality starts off with a much more dramatic approach with some strong vocal accentuations, reminding me of 666 by Aphrodite's Child or even Italian seventies prog-band Area. Following the strange introduction, the track takes on a more acoustic approach with some strong percussion playing alongside some strong acoustic guitar and of course Hansson's organ and keyboards. At times one is reminded of the LOTR album, but one cannot deny that the music is definitely more mature and possesses a greater degree of variability.
Following these two rater lengthy tracks, Side One comes to an end with four short pieces of music each having its own unique touch though all having the flute dominate musical proceedings. The flute gives the band a new dimension bringing them closer to bands such as Focus and possibly King Crimson Mark I and though the final track, Playing Downhill Into The Downes sees a return to the conga-driven beat that was also present on LOTR, the group never distances itself from this "new" musical path.
Side 2 opens with Findhorn's Song, which has a spaghetti western feel to it, much in the vein of Ennio Morricone! Awakening on the other hand shows a degree more of musicianship with the unlikely use of the harmonica whilst Wandering Song is the first track since Divided Reality which can really stand it on its own as an individual track. The guitar work has a Steve Howe touch to it with frequent use of harmonics though the track does tend to become a bit bland after a short while.
With The Sun (Paralell or 90°), Hansson has enetered the realm of many of the electric based bands that have come before him such as Traffic indulging in a lengthy track which just churns out what sounds to be a somewhat improvised tune as guitar and piano lead out one solo after the other. The album comes to a close with Excursion With Complications, one of three noteworthy tracks on the album (together with the first two tracks). The change halfway through the track shifting from the dramatic keyboard sound to that of a big band swinging along gives the album that light hearted touch that was much needed.
Stylistically Magician's Hat sees Bo Hansson exploring a broader musical territory than he did on Lord Of The Rings. However the rather vague feeling on most of the tracks, many of whom involve just snippets of musical ideas which had not been expanded on leave the listener with a sense of unaccomplishment. The improvement in terms of production and musicianship over Lord Of The Rings is there for all to see, however there still seems to be that special touch missing from Bo Hansson's music that envelops the whole of the album to be able to call it a coherent piece of work.
Bo Hansson - Attic Thoughts
Lineup: Bo Hansson (Organs, guitars, bass, synthesiser, mellotron and special effects), Rune Carlsson (Drums), Kenny Håkansson (Electric guitar), Jöran Lagerberg (Bass and acoustic guitar), Gunnar Bergsten (Saxophone), Rolf Scherrer (Acoustic guitar), Thomas Netzler (Bass), Mats Glenngård (Violin)
Recorded now and then during 1974/75 - sometimes at Bo's home, but mostly in Studio Decibel, Stockholm,
Sweden. Mixed at Systems Lab 800
Cover paintings by Jan Ternald.
Recorded, Mixed and Produced by Anders Lind and Bo Hansson
All tracks composed by Bo Hansson except for Waiting... (Hansson/Håkansson)
Though Attic Thoughts would not match the sales of Lord Of The Rings and Magician's Hat, it is without doubt Bo Hanssons culmination in terms of musicianship. The experimentation with a band that had taken place on Magician's Hat had culminated in the writing of the album, the first album one can consider to be a full blown band contribution. There is even the first track present (Waiting) in which Hansson shares songwriting credits!
The opening Attic Thoughts, immediately shows that the whole of the sound of Hansson's repertoire has been beefed up with all instruments joining in the fray with prominence given to various musicians and instruments. This thus allowed for the music to develop on an unprecedented level vis-a-vis Hansson's previous works. It is true that the organ/synthesizer still remained the dominant force within the music, but guitars and flute also responded to various licks whilst the drums and bass also seem to be brought forward in the mix. Furthermore, one is struck by the relatively more accessible melody lines which seem to have a definite beginning and ending on this album, something which was sorely lacking on Magician's Hat.
Time And Space is nothing but one of the usual short spacey interludes that Hansson tends to like introducing into his albums which merges into Waiting... The fact that one of the co-writers of this track is in fact Kenny Håkansson is a clear indicator as to why the whole nature of the track is very different from anything else on Hansson's albums. The music has a more dramatic element to it with constant shifts in time signature altogether with a much more powerful driving force and rhythm. The constant shifting in time signature is further upped with Waltz For Interbeings with as can be expected the waltz making its presence every now and again. At times the music takes on an almost folksy feel, possibly because of the inclusion of the violin as a solo instrument, something which never happened previously.
Side Two opens with Time For Great Achievements, and for the first time we get Hansson playing a bombastic style that is so very reminiscent of many keyboardists from the seventies such as Wakeman and Vangelis. The Hybills is just one of those fillers, much like Time And Space on Side One, though the two-part suite Rabbit Music is the confirmation that was needed to prove Hansson's continuing musical maturity within the progressive rock instrumental field. Apart from the impressive musical nature of this track, one should also make an important consideration regarding the two sub-divisions of this suite. Both General Woundwort and Fiver are two of the protagonists of the Watership Down novel, an indication that this novel was already of musical inspiration to Hansson, even before his album which was to be titled Music Inspired By Watership Down!
Unfortunately, just when the music seems to be growing in stature, along comes a track such as Day And Night which takes us back to the style present on the Lord Of The Rings featuring a totally unconstructed piece of music though A Happy Prank saves the day. Though shorter than most of the pieces on the album it features some delicate interplay between guitar and mellotron, creating a dramatic closer to what is essentially an excellent album.
Unfortunately Attic Thoughts does not get the mention that Hansson's previous two albums gets, though as I have already said, it is musically his strongest piece of work to date. This is the first album from Hansson's repertoire that can be pinpointed as a definite progressive rock album and is the one which in my opinion has best withstood the test of time.
Bo Hansson - Music Inspired By Watership Down
Allegro For A Rescue - Oh Happy state! When souls each other draw, when love is liberty and nature law. (Pope)
Legend And Light - The intellect of the wise is like glass; it admits the light of heaven and reflects it. (Hare)
Trial And Adversity - In this wild world the fondest and the best are the most tried, most troubled, and distress'd. (Crabbe)
The Twice - Victory - A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers. (Shakespeare)
The Kingdom Brightly Smiles - O Peace! And dost thou with thy presence bless the dwellings of this war-surrounded isle; soothing with placid brow our late distress, making the triple kingdom brightly smile? (Keats
All sonds written by Hansson except for Born Of The Gentle South and Legend And Light (Håkansson/Hansson)
For the second time in his career Bo Hansson returns to the inspiration of a novel to be able to translate his music. This time round it is the novel Watership Down by Richard Adams, a novel which had already been an inspiration on his previous album for the track Rabbit Music. However, apart from the titles of the individual tracks, little more can be attributed to the novel and even then each track is accompanied by a quotation from a poem from various poets such as Keats, Pope and Shakespeare.
The information pertaining to this album is practically non existent. Seemingly it was released on the Charisma label prior to being released in Sweden, where as for all other Hansson albums it was given another title, El-Ahrairah. The album itself is devoid of the usual information one tends to expect on such an album such as the various musicians that participated in the recording and the only certainty is that Kenny Håkansson was once again involved due to his sharing of some of the songwriting credits.
Musically the album once shows that with the progress of time, the production facilities available to Hansson were continuously improving though one also feels that on this album Hansson has moved away from the relatively complex structures that were building up with each subsequent album. From the opening Born Of The Gentle South one feels that Hansson seems to be losing the plot. The track itself features a mixture of influences and feelings. At times one can still sense the fabled sounds of LOTR still lurking amongst the keyboard sections yet at the same time Håkansson's influence seems to be growing in stature with his guitar taking centre-stage giving the music a new approach with a distinctive Middle-Eastern flavour. Another possible attribution to the shift in style as well as approach was the continuous development of the synthesizer and various keyboards which thus allowed Hansson to vary his sound somewhat, especially when compared to the primitive conditions he would have worked in for his first album. Born Of The Gentle South remains one of the most intriguing pieces on the album with variations from a space-rock style similar to Tim Blake's solo works to Håkansson's guitar licks and runs. Possibly one of the flaws on this lengthy track is the time it takes for rhythm section to show any form of variety and this does become a bit tedious after a while. What is definite is that on tracks like this, the music has taken on a definite rock feel and moved further way from the jazz influences that Hansson seemed to be more enlightened by earlier in his career. The short Allegro For A Rabbit is just one of those typical Hansson fillers with little or nothing noteworthy to comment on.
The second side of the album opens with Legend And Light which has an uncharacteristic (for Hansson) slow pace to it with little in terms of variety. There is a nice flute and guitar duet accompanied by moving crescendo though not much else to write home about. Trial And Adversity is one of the more adventurous tracks on the album with what could be considered the most avant-garde approach of all Hansson's compositions. Elements of musique concrete appear throughout with plenty of Floydian references, yet at the same time Hansson manages to maintain that characteristic trademark fablesque touch of his.
On the other hand The Twice Victory has Hansson reaching for an Eric Serra/Vangelis approach with a slow paced build up with lots of repetition with the crescendo taken right out of The Lord Of The Rings album. The album comes to a conclusion with The Kingdom Brightly Smiles, a piece written for solo piano and admittedly one of the better of the short filler tracks that Hansson has presented on all of his albums.
Music Inspired By Watership Down seems to be an under appreciated album, possibly because of the quality and style of the albums that Bo Hansson had perviously released. As an individual album it features some great music, yet to those who have come to love the first few albums Hansson had released, Watership Down involved too much of a break away from the "old" mould. Having said that, of Hansson's first four album sit is the one that has best stood the test of time.
Bo Hansson - Best Of...
This compilation of material from Bo Hanssons early albums does not show up on any of the main record labels and the only reference I have to the album is actually a picture of the album cover which clearly depicts the Fontana label logo at the side. Apart from that I have still to see a copy of this album or at least find some literature on the album!
Bo Hansson - Mitt I Livet
The only information I have managed to find on the album is on the website of Silence Records who mention the album in passing. Apparently it involves ahnsson's music with other artists supplying vocals and lyrics, was entirely in Swedish and sounds completely different from anything else Hansson had done previously. Suffice to say it is the only album from Bo Hansson's repertoire not to have been released on CD, which is a pity for collectors (like myself!). A few comments about the album seem to suggest that it is of an inferior quality, especially when compared to the standards of Hansson's seventies albums. Nevertheless it is still unfortunate that this music cannot be appreciated today because of the unwillingness of a label to release material.
Very little information is found on the net regarding Bo Hansson. The Silence Records website does have a small section dedicated to this artist, However not all the links on the site seem to function properly, which is a pity. However, should you have any further information regarding Bo Hansson that could be added to the site, do not hesitate to contact me.