Sivert Høyem and the Volunteers in Greece

One thing that sets Sivert Høyem’s solo project apart from the kind of music it is likely to be compared with –singer-songwriter folk-rock melancholia- is the keen sense of the epic element; the distinct lift that takes the songs beyond subjectivism and reaches out into the open fields of a timeless reality. Small wonder then, that the reception in Greece has been overwhelming. Tonight he plays in the Cretan capital of Heraklion; with thoughts of Daedalus, and of Icarus, as he sings “Into the sea,” the hit single from his second solo album Exiles.

Sivert Høyem 2007

"Exiles" topped the Norwegian charts for weeks on end this winter, and is now approaching 100 000 copies sold. And presently foreign buyers are following suit: A couple of weeks ago the record reached number five in the Greek album charts. This is quite extraordinary for a Norwegian singer and songwriter, notwithstanding that Madrugada, Høyem’s principal musical enterprise, has long-since been one of the biggest names among Greek music lovers. This status was epitomised by a hostage situation a few years back, when the deluded hostage-taker included Madrugada’s latest album on his list of demands along with a helicopter to fly him to freedom. (It seems the personnel at the psychiatric institution where he was confined had denied him his aural preference.) All the way since their debut in 1999 Greece has been one of Madrugada’s principal markets, and frequent touring have made them a household name, more so perhaps than in any other country outside of Norway.

Whether it is because of Madrugada’s position a such that Sivert Høyem’s solo projects have fared so well in the cradle of the west, or whether it is due to common traits in the music, is not an easily answerable question. But one might claim that the aforementioned lift and epic qualities are shared and that it is only to be expected that Greek audiences should embrace also the solo work. Many will perhaps not buy this link between songs forged in the northern Norwegian winter and the weltanschauung of the ancient world. Yet it is surely no coincidence that a keen interest in that world and its endurance in the history of the west -as is expressed by the explicit intention of making heroic songs that Sivert relates on his web-site- is responded to by the Greek audience.

“What was ancient Greece that all the swains adore her?" writes Rebecca West, and answers: "a morning freshness of body and soul, that will have none of the dust.”
Freshness, however one might interpret it and experience it musically, is unquestionably a trait of the music laid down on Exiles, and also on Høyem’s solo debut “Ladies and gentlemen of the opposition”. Though steeped in the instrumentation and timbre of the Anglo-American folk and blues tradition, these records are far from Americana, and very far from any stylistic and formalistic enterprise. Freshness, and an unpredictability of soul -a sort of independence and leap-like nature- is the magic of these songs, along with, of course, Høyem’s formidable talents as vocalist and melody maker.

The band name, the Volunteers, is taken from the “Volunteers of the international brigade” that fought Franco during the Spanish civil war. Tonight in Heraklion perhaps the band and their captain, as well as the audience, will think of the volunteers that joined the large and heroic Cretan contingent in the Greek war of independence; artist volunteers such as Byron, who died during the campaigns (killed by a cold though, and not an Ottoman bullet).

After withdrawing from the ruins of Knossos the volunteers will navigate to Attica to play in Athens on the 21st. Then they head to the province of Macedonia and its capital Thessaloniki, which is Greece’s second city.

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