Life is full of strange and beautiful coincidences.
Two days before my meeting with Swedish singer Magnus Carlson I had stood and marveled at the architecture of the Hotel M by Montcalm, Shoreditch, London. The buildings angles contradict the usual lines of perspective causing a captivating visual illusion. It’s quite daring and quite magnificent.
I was in London to accompany my father who was having an eye operation at a hospital directly opposite this architectural masterpiece.
And now, 48hrs later, I stand inside the creative hotels’ labyrinth shaped reception area awaiting one of Swedens most popular artists who is staying here.
A marvelous coincidence.
Magnus Carlson is a name the average Swede would know (not to be mistaken for the other Magnus Carlsson at all!), and for a good reason. In the last twenty years, he’s released 16 albums, several of them gold and platinum records. His latest single: Wait for Love To Grow is an upbeat single with Northern soul arrangements and catchy pop vibes.
He strides in looking sharp, wearing a blue blazer and a crisp shirt with his label (Cosmos Records) boss Fredrik Ekander beside him.
Magnus is taller than I’d imagined with bright blue eyes and he smiles broadly as we shake hands. I tell him I was here only two days earlier due to my father.
‘I’m sorry, to hear that. Sounds serious’ he says. ‘Hope he gets better.’
We order drinks and immediately settled into conversation with Fredrik alongside occasionally interjecting with interesting anecdotes and comments. The pair have been friends for many years and both burn for soul music.
‘I was born in 1968’ Magnus begins. ‘I’m a single child and all alone, not in a sad way. I had music. My love for music started with bands like The Jam, The Smiths, Public Enemy and The Cure. I was really into Kiss, and as a kid, all I wanted was a Kiss Album. My grandmother had other ideas.’
‘Christmas morning I opened an Elvis LP instead. Moody Blue, Elvis’s last album. But it was a good thing. Through him, I discovered Rock & Roll, Blues, Gospel, you know, Black music.’
‘And I love crooners like Dean Martin. I love romance and I love ‘love songs’. Ballads. Something we need more today is love. That’s why I’ve always written lyrics that are romantic.’
– Are your parent’s musicians?
‘Both my parents have passed but no, neither. My mum says she always knew I would sing because I cried so much from when I was born.’
He tells me he wasn’t academic either, without pride or embarrassment, just a matter of fact. Playing instruments isn’t his forte either.
‘I tried playing the keyboard. I tried the drums too, thinking that would be easier. Drumming is harder than people think and I’ve massive respect for them. I love music and had to be part of it.
‘I was asked to sing with a band, and we started playing old songs, cover versions, and then I realised I could sing. We called the band Weeping Willows.
‘In Weeping Willows we had rules, you couldn’t smile, and we only sang sad songs. The most heart-breaking songs you could find.’
Despite what may seem like a strange concept Weeping Willows went on to be hugely successful with their alternative rock sound. By the end of August 2006, Weeping Willows was the 99th most successful band in Sweden since 1985.
It hasn’t been easy all the way for Magnus.
‘The Weeping willows hit a point where we just felt we had to part for a while. I had a daughter, and the economy wasn’t great. It was during this time I discovered Jazz. I had a phone-call from EMI Music asking if I wanted to record a jazz album. I’d never been trained, and singing jazz was a challenge, but I learned so much.’
There’s a glint in his eyes when he talks, and he speaks softly yet quickly. A playful almost boyish energy radiates from him.
‘After Så Mycket Bättre (Swedish TV Show where six musicians spend a week together), instead of releasing an expected ‘pop sound’ we released a Northern soul album. It went straight to number one.’
‘I’ve been lucky. It’s not for my looks, and it’s not for my dance moves!’
It’s because of your talent I add, noticing he had humbly left out the defining factor. Without any sense of bragging, he tells me he’s now sold out Katalin (Uppsala, Sweden) 4 nights in a row!
Never trust a DJ who can’t dance
Our conversation flowed, and we talked about his club – Bangers and Mash (60’s, Mod, Indie, Northern Soul, Rare Groove) at Södra Teatern. It’s officially the second longest running soul night in Swedish history. His manager Fredrik runs the Number one night – Club Soul at Fasching.
‘I’ve always loved DJ’ing, and I only play vinyl. I buy vinyl to play it’ he says and also tells me my now favourite tip ‘Never trust a DJ who can’t dance.’
– How did you discover Northern Soul Music?
Through Brit pop. Gradually I became more and more aware it’s Mod roots also through artists like Paul Weller. He’s been driving the culture. I was also going to clubs, DJ’ing, and listening. As a record collector and I wanted to dig deeper. One thing lead to another and 60’s soul was at the heart of it all.
– Why do you feel soul music isn’t huge in Sweden?
Sweden is a small country. We don’t have it as part of our heritage. In England, there are so many genres that were born here; Punk, Two-tone, Northern Soul etc.. We haven’t had that.
– And you have a new album coming?
Yes, June 23rd – A Nordic Soul. We released the Northern Soul Sessions which was sung in Swedish but now we’re doing an English version with a couple of new tracks. Sweden has great musicians but for this one, I wanted to work with some UK names. We recorded it with producer Andy Lewis, partly here in the UK in Paul Weller’s Black Barn studios.
‘I can give your readers an exclusive. We’re having UK MOD legend Fay Hallam on a couple of tracks on the album. She’s amazing. Wait till you hear it!
– Was your goal to be a success in England?
It was never a goal. I had no goals. I just wanted to do what I love.
– How did you get on the Jools Holland show?
‘They contacted me on Facebook. I get lots of messages so I answered them very short because I was like…yeah, right, but they were serious that he wanted me on the show. It was a huge compliment. I grew up watching The Tube in Sweden, and here I was with Jools Holland saying my name. I was like ‘wow’.
‘I remember playing at Globen (one of Swedens largest arenas). I sold out three nights there. The first night I was, you know, looking at the lights getting everything right. The second night I started to relax and the last night on the last song I sat down on the edge of the stage and looked at the crowd. 15000 people had their phones in the air with the lights on, and all I could think was ‘it won’t get better than this.’
Magnus is a man living a dream and it’s a dream we all can share.
As I leave and head down the stairs, Magnus confirms my impression of him as he calls out ‘..and Andy, I hope your dad’s eye gets better.’