The Horseback Band
It’s 1675. Danish troops are storming the Hovdala Castle in Kvidinge, Sweden, in another attempt to conquer the once Danish-owned land of Skåne. Despite losing the battle on the sea, and simultaneously facing a northern offensive from Norwegian forces, the Swedish Army eventually maintain control on the land surrounding the region. Ultimately, peace is restored.
Fast forward over 500 years to August 2019. Another troupe approach Hovdala on horseback. For the Swedes gathered in the castle grounds this time, there’s a buzz of nervous anticipation. This time, the oncoming force isn’t a deadly Danish invasion, but Swedish pop-rock megastar Willie Craafoord and his entourage of middle-aged musicians, here to bring their folk-rock fusion to this usually tranquil corner of Southwestern Sweden.
The group are in town for the 11th annual ‘Hovturnén’ – a mini tour of Skåne (all on horseback) led by Willie, each year with a smattering of nostalgic Swedish names, including former Eurovision acts, TV personalities, and chart nearly-toppers.
This evening is more than simply a musical collaboration, but a full-on smorgasbord of Swedish tradition.
My partner and I, both English, are being guided through this uniquely rural Scandinavian experience by my proudly Skåneian stepmother & auntie, Cecilia & Johanna. My 13 year old half Swedish/half English younger brother seems both indifferent and horrified.
We collect our wristbands before being invited into the castle dungeons. Not to face a Swedish inquisition, but to enjoy a mayo-laden prawn sandwich. A precursor to our upcoming musical feast. We really start to get into the swing of things as we finish our low alcohol lagers or ‘people’s beer’, and head into the castle grounds.
Ladies & Gentlemen, Take Your Seats (But Don’t Forget Your Cushions)
Armed with garden chair cushions we bought with us from home we take up our positions, not wanting to appear too keen, in the second row.
The anticipation is palpable. As more and more excited Swedes and an array of cushion patterns begin to surround us, attention shifts – stage left. The troupe has arrived.
The crowd are on their feet. Willie and his crew of minor celebrity musicians dismount their steeds and skip onto the surprisingly extravagant stage. Like the fourth stage at a medium-sized music festival, the Pink Floyd lighting rig seems a bit much for 5pm on a Wednesday evening in sleepy Kvidinge.
The crowd calmly sits back down, ready to witness the band roll through half-hit after half-hit. Eurovision backup tracks, improvised rap mashups, dodgy covers of modern-day pop classics, some Abba (I don’t know why I was surprised). The crowd interaction is a winner, call & response, however the language barrier means my involvement is limited to the odd clap. There are guest appearances of more musical Swedes that everyone has heard of, except us.
As with any high energy festival set, there’s an interval. A chance to stretch your legs, give your clapping hands a moment of rest, visit the tuck shop for some apple cake and another 0.5% ABV beer (alcohol licensing laws mean you can’t drink these outside, understandably so, can you imagine if this crowd got a bit too tipsy? Someone might end up clapping out of time, commandeering a horse, or worse still; going home with the wrong garden cushion).
After a brief mingling session with some of the regulars in the audience, our musical stars return to the stage. Darkness falls, and the spectacle begins to come into its own. The people’s beer may have gone to my head, but the atmosphere at this Swedish garden party/mini festival is infectious. We find ourselves clapping along, enjoying the confusing performance just as much as the next guy. Even the drummer’s absurd idea of playing a typewriter as a percussive instrument, before rapping the message that has been typed out – aaaaaaaa, eeeeeee, tttttttttttttt etc – seems almost genius.
The whole evening was a celebration of Scandinavian idiosyncrasy, and as the band get back onto their horses and ride off to their next expectant village, I can’t help but feel I’ve just witnessed something transformative. “Where’s the next show? Which year was Niklas in Eurovision?!” I ask my stepmother. I’m sold – even as we notice the gang jump off the horses and pile into a Volvo minibus…