Allan Olsen (born March 18 1956 in Grønholt near Frederikshavn in Denmark) is a Danish folkrock musician and singer-songwriter. His notorious live performances combine his songs with satirical and dryly tempered anecdotes; the music delivered either acoustically or with a rock band.
Growing up and enjoying the musical styles of the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks etc., Olsen picked up a guitar himself in the seventies, and hit the road - initially as a low key performer and often in the outskirts of Denmark.
Olsen himself lists the following albums as key inspiration for his songwriting and urge to perform (listed as on his homepage):
Bob Dylan, Before the Flood ‘74
Randy Newman, Good old Boys, ‘74
Bert Jansch, L.A.Turnaround, ‘73
Nick Drake, Pink Moon, ‘72
Neil Young, Harvest, ‘72
The Who, Who’s Next, ‘71
During 1989, the 33 year old performer Allan Olsen signs his first record contract with an agreement that ensures a minimum of three albums within the next five years. The debut album "Norlan" hits the style of British and American rock, combined with a lyrical talent for storytelling that sparsely used dialect (nordjysk). The album is a success. The following two albums and intense touring consolidate his name, - several hits as classics and a large loyal following especially in West Denmark.
In the autumn of 1993 Allan Olsen spends time in Ireland in search of musicians to play with him on his next album. "Jern" (ie "Iron") is released in the spring of 1996 and receives ovations from the musical press and the album is rewarded with a Danish Grammy (later Danish Music Award). The album flavours Olsens folkrock style with irish instruments as does 1998´s "Sange for Rygere" (ie "Songs for Smokers").
Later albums have seen Olsen increasingly experimenting with musical styles and lyrical escapades - but also maintaning artistic focus, critical integrity and still beholding his original inspiration of Dylanesque storytelling - Jansch´ poetic nerve and Newmans´ wit and eccentricism. His latest album 2008 ´s "Multo Importanto" is a focused affair that has been praised by old as well as newer fans.
version 2 of this biography gives a more in depth story so here it follows:
Allan Olsen (born March 18 1956 in Grønholt near Frederikshavn in Denmark) is a Danish singer-songwriter know for his Jytlandian dry wit and humour. His musical career has always stood in contrast to the music he prefers. Enjoying the musical styles of The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks etc., it has been the acoustic Dylan and the traditional Irish and Scottish folk music he has imitated.
Allan Olsen together with his friends Erik Kiis and Peter Borup formed the trio Folkestons in 1974. The name originates from the south English town of Folkstone which Allan Olsen had visited a couple of years before. With their repertoire of traditional Irish music the group got a steady gig at the local tavern Spækbrættet every Tuesday, while De Gyldne Løver played every Thursday. Slowly the begin playing in Hjørring, Skagen and Hirtshals in Northjytland/Vendsyssel. In 1976 they are hired by Elektrikerforbundet in connection with a trade show at the Bella centre in Copenhagen. They have just turned 20 that year.
As of 1977 Allan Olsen occasionally begins to perform in other Northjytlandian bands that are rooted in the Irish and Scottish music. One of these is a duo from Hjørring called Møller-Nissen. One of the members of the duo is Knud Møller who will become a renowned guitarist preforming with Poul Krebs, Johnny Madsen and Allan Olsen. Knud Møller and Allan Olsen begin a friendship that to this day still exists.
In 1979 Allan Olsen moves to Aarhus and has high hopes to terms of aspiring artists. He finds the student spirit and political watchword music incompatible with his own views and opinions. Instead he starts to seek out minor music venues and establishes himself as a solo artist. Two years later in 1981 Allan Olsen meets the song writing couple Andrew John & Lissa. Lissa is from Aarhus while Andrew is from the northern England, and has lived in Denmark since the mid 80’s. The shape, and very non-Danish, at times sarcastic wit of Andrew John appeals to the new acoustic cynics such as Allan Olsen. But the time of the 80’s is not with trends of Allan Olsen and kindred spirits.
In October of 1983 they face the consequences of this “thumbs down” attitude which they when they try to get a gig at music venues all over the country. They embark on a unique tour, which they themselves arrange, bring equipment, sound, lights and even living palms. A scrapheap of a Bedford panel van is rebuilt to house equipment and function as accommodation. By playing at schools, libraries, museums and community centres they avoid being exposed to the local music venues judgement of whether they are worth listening to or not. They ended up playing 99 concerts in 66 days spread out over a three month period. The number of attendees was in average about 20 paying people per concert, and by the end of the tour the loss has come to around 150,000 Danish kr. It may have been an expensive lesson but it teaches Allan Olsen an invaluable lesson in show biz on how to promote oneself.
Before the end of the next year there are signs that the singer-songwriter tradition which Allan Olsen is a part of is headed for a revival. By 1981 Bruce Springsteen releases his acoustic album “Nebraska” and Elvis Costello emphasizes his roots in the Irish folk music as essential. That such important persons let themselves be exposed as a kind of folk singers, is probably the reason why e.g. Susanne Vega is successful with a musical style that is quite the opposite of the rock and roll of the early 80’s. This success will soon rub off will soon make the conditions better for mere mortal stars such as Allan Olsen.
In the summer of 1984 Allan Olsen preforms at a minor festival at Velling folk high school in Westjytland. At this occasion he preforms with the established Westjytlandian orchestra Rumlekvadrillen. The front man of the orchestra is Johnny Madsen and they soon become brothers in arms. During 1986 the career of Johnny Madsen is on the rise. Allan Olsen on the other hand is still experimenting with his musical styling with among others Knud Møller. The year after Johnny Madsen gets his musical breakthrough with the album “Chinatown, yellow moon og den sorte Fugl”. Up until now Johnny Madsen has handled the electric guitar himself, but by an agreement with Allan Olsen Johnny Madsen ‘gets to borrow’ Knud Møller a weekend at a concert in Tarm Festical in 1986. The cooperation between Johnny Madsen and Knud Møller becomes legendary and it will be about ten years before Knud Møller, for a quick word, again plays in Allan Olsen’s orchestra. This time lend out by Johnny Madsen to Allan Olsen’s ‘Rygter fra Randområderne’ tour.
Olsen, Madsen and Lilholt
Concurrent with his solo career and duo cooperation Allan Olsen and Johnny Madsen begin a jolly collaboration with Lars Lilholt. They preform at various small establishments with the band name of ‘Hår lokvox og det hvide Gennemsnit’. Their concerts, if that is the right term, are careless gags with a friendly albeit coarse-grained humour where the job of accompanying each other takes the form of ill sounding but loving sabotage. As such Johnny Madsen’s guitar solo in Lars Lilholt’s song “Jens Langkniv” from time to time diverges into the theme from Carmen or James Bond, because Lars Lilholt at an earlier event has made a crack about the appearance of Johnny Madsen. But the jolly cooperation is based on more than foolishness. The cooperation is more of an excuse to be away from home together with a couple of colleagues that you have the utmost respect for and share faith with.
In 1989 they tour ten of the larger suburbs of Copenhagen, and by this time they have changed the name of the band to ‘Dalton’. The band play a gig at ‘Trommen’ in Hørsholm the same night that Mike Tyson loses his world championship in heavy weight boxing to Buster Douglas. Actually the three band members had decided to gamble the concert fee on Buster Douglas at the bookmakers, but because of the ‘usual carelessness and lack of control’ the three Dalton brothers never get to make the bet and therefore miss out on a million Danish kr.
That night the antics get out of control. Each of the three soloist in the trio during their concert play a solo number. These parts of the concert are normally safe from torments by the two other members of the trio, but not this night. As Allan Olsen takes to the stage Lars Lilholt and Johnny Madsen tip over a four meter steel spiral staircase that is loosely placed behind the stage curtain. The spiral staircase falls three meters behind Allan Olsen. Whether it is the loss of the millions from the boxing bet that gets Lars Lilholt and Johnny Madsen to torments their kindred spirit is hard to say. After this the Dalton experience goes into hibernation.
But soon the millions fly everywhere for Johnny Madsen. With the 1989 album “Udenfor Sæsonen” Johnny Madsen rises to the top of Danish show biz. In connection with a concert at Aalborg Universitet Johnny Madsen meets a representative of the record label Polygram. Johnny Madsen lectures the representative Jens Ove Friis, as many others, about music, politics and football and tells him that if he is by any measure sane, he should immediately try to sign Johnny Madsen’s friend Allan Olsen. Later that night Johnny Madsen calls Allan Olsen to tell him that he is out celebrating the fact that he has gotten Allan Olsen a record contract. Lars Lilholt that is already signed by Jens Ove Friis has likewise persuaded Polygrams chief executive to sign Allan Olsen. During 1989 Allan Olsen signs his first record contract with an agreement that insures a minimum of tre albums within the next five years.
The Debut Album
The material that was to be used for the debut album was mainly songs that were written in the early 80’s during Allan Olsen’s stay in Asia. It was songs that related to his social heritage. He names Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan as inspirations, but states that he has used Tim Bickley, Pete Townshend, Tom Waits and especially Randy Newman as points of orientation. Together with a team of experienced musicians - including drummer Ken Gudman, guitarist Lars Hybel, bassist Jesper Bylling and keyboard player Olle Nyberg, Allan Olsen in the summer of 1989 enters the Dreamlandstudio at Nibe to record “Norlan”. The studio musicians compose Allan Olsen usual live orchestra until the next album and for real hardcore fans of Allan Olsen they represent ‘det rigtige Norlan’ (eng: ‘the real Norlan’).
The debut album “Norlan” is musically much in the style of the British and American rock as such. Allan Olsen together with Johnny Madsen are beginning to become exponents to the especially male audience with basic values that have grown up in a more and more rootless and chaotic reality. From village to city. From Grundtvig and confirmation preparation to collar and atheism. A generation of men who were buffers in a turbulent transformation from their childhoods carefree housewives to a new times militant demanding women. All within a single decade. Allan Olsen and Johnny Madsen they at least could understand. The debut album is received with positive reviews by the critics. But the attention of the media on Allan Olsen has also a more negative side. They begin to focus on one of his overarching themes: his geographical origin.
In 1990 Allan Olsen’s second album “Gajo” is released. Besides an tuning of the sound with Olle Nyberg as producer the album launches an Allan Olsen who tries to escape the farmer stereotype that the media has tried to put on him. Luckily the time in between the two albums have seasoned Allan Olsen’s inner works and the songs on the second album seems more accurate and focused than the debut album. For the first time Allan Olsen has a couple of minor hit songs such as the title track “Gajo” and the soul inspired “Vi lå jo i Herning”. With Olle Nyberg as producer on “Gajo” some of the musicians in the orchestra are replaced. Guitarist Lars Hybel and Olle Nyberg himself stay, while TV-2 bassist Georg Olesen and drummer Claes Antonsen, who is Thomas Helmig’s usual drummer enter the orchestra. It is this orchestra that after a massive tour period begin recording Allan Olsen’s third record “Pindsvin i Pigsko”. The album is released in 1993 and is loyally backed by Jens Ove Friis and even though the album receives praise by the press it is almost silently overseen by the rest of Polygram.
Dalton reawakened and Ireland
The next year Jens Ove Friis is head hunted by the record label CMC who takes both Allan Olsen and Lars Lilholt with him. But before this happens an old constellation begins to awaken. Johnny Madsen and Allan Olsen use most of their time, when they are not randomly out on the town, talking to each other over the phone.One night they come up with the idea of beginning a record label of their own. Soon the idea is to encompass Lars Lilholt. But Lars Lilholt is not interested in creating a record label and instead the three men agree to record an album together. The Dalton album is released in 1992 and soon becomes, what Allan Olsen calls a programmed success. They same is to be said about the following tour.
In the autumn of 1993 Allan Olsen decides to travel to Ireland where he settles in Dublin. Inspired by the strong Irish culture and music tradition he decides that on his next album the orchestra is to be made up of Irish musicians. By request of his manager Jan Vinther Allan Olsen returns to Denmark and with the orchestra from his “Pindsvin i Pigsko” album he plays and records a very short tour between the 2nd and the 10th of febuary 1994. After only six concerts the material to Allan Olsen’s first live album “Rygter fra Randområderne” is a reality. The album is in high regard among Danish live albums and show an Allan Olsen when he is best as soloist, with his band and as an entertainer.
But the time in Ireland has sparked thoughts about his next album which do not include his orchestra in its current shape and size. Together with his manager Jan Vinther Allan Olsen travels Ireland in search of a group of musicians who are not acquainted with the musical style of Allan Olsen. But the task is more difficult than first imagined. In their search for an uillean piper they find Leonard Barry from Cork in the southern Ireland. He in turn suggest that is countrymen, producer Vinnie Kilduff, should be put in charge of getting an Irish orchestra together for Allan Olsen’s fourth album “Jern”. During the early winter months of 1996 the album is recorded at Puk Studios near Randers in Denmark. “Jern” is released in the spring of 1996 and receives great praise from the musical press and the album is rewarded with a Danish Grammy (later Danish Music Award). On the personal side Allan Olsen is home in Aalborg, Denmark since the summer of 1995 and is by this time a father to a daughter Misja and two boys Marco and Felix.
Due to travel expenses and Danish tax rules a tour with Irish musicians in Denmark never gets off the ground. Instead Allan Olsen decides to seek out new orchestra of relatively young, unknown artists. This team of musicians will comprise the foundation of Allan Olsen orchestra up to the present day. Before this Allan Olsen chose to return to his role as a soloist by playing a very successful concert at Aarhus Kongresshus. Since the mid 90’s this interaction between the soloist and the man with the orchestra has been Allan Olsen’s way of doing things.
The late 90’s and the new millennium
In the early spring of 1998 Allan Olsen releases the album “Sange for Rygere”. The record is a somewhat career necessity, since Allan Olsen has had a handful to see to with little children, orchestra and what not. Except for the “Live 96” album which is recorded in connection with Aarhus Festuge it has been nearly three years since his last album. The album earns Allan Olsen yet another Danish Grammy. The album is banned by one of the countries largest record stores because the title of the album (eng: Songs for Smokers) encourages the act of smoking.
In the late 90’s it seems that Allan Olsen has a writer’s block. He is suppose to record a new album in the fall of 1998, then in the spring of 1999 and then again in autumn the same year. Each time the project is postponed, Allan Olsen simply cannot get the songs out. Allan Olsen’s record company chooses to let his manager release a “while we wait with extreme patience”-compilation by the name of En Gros, 144 minutes of Allan Olsen’s greatest hits so far. Suddenly Allan Olsen chooses to tour the country once again as a soloist and he plays concerts for almost a year.
The tour as soloist seems to have had an invigorating effect on Allan Olsen. In the spring of 2000 Allan Olsen presents his orchestra for new material that is tighter and blunt. Together with his orchestra which consist of Nicolai Land, Gæst Vincent, Anders Pedersen and Claus Hvass the album “Onomatopoietikon” is recorded in the summer of 2000 and is released in October the same year. At the Danish Music Awards Allan Olsen receives the award for Songwriter of the Year on account for “Onomatopoietikon” for the first time in his career.
After a massive work on tour to promote “Onomatopoietikon” Allan Olsen returned to his career as a soloist and went on a tour more from Rønne to Skagen. The previous record had divided the soloist- and the orchestra audience once more and Allan Olsen found it necessary to show that both roles were a part of him as a soloist. The long tour as soloist in 2002 was to be released as a follow up to the 1994 live record “Rygter fra Randområderne”.
It would be nearly five years before Allan Olsen would follow up “Onomatopoietikon” with a new studio album. During the spring of 2004 Allan Olsen and his trusted squire through many years Gæst Vincent went in the studio, or more precisely in the kitchen of friend Viggo Sommer. The relatively down toned “Gæst” - named after his right hand man during the process - was well received and went straight to the number one spot on Hitlisten and secured Allan Olsen another Danish Music Award, his fifth so far.
Sources (view history)
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