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  • David Bentley

Down Memory Lane – Katzenjammer

The latest band in this occasional series is Katzenjammer, arguably the greatest girl band of all time, along with The Go-Gos. Plenty would argue for The Bangles I know, but let’s not get bogged down here. And I’m not talking about auto-tuned singer/dancers either. I mean those that can play their instruments.

The reasons I propose Katzenjammer for that title are that the Norwegians are all multi-instrumentalists, swapping instruments throughout shows like Arcade Fire on speed and that they weren’t constrained by ‘genre’; nor did they ever set out to be. They could produce beautiful ballads, cabaret, rock, folk, country and even Balkan style music (using a contrabass balalaika called Akerö) and effortlessly switch from one to another.

Perhaps one of the greatest complements that can be paid to them is that they were one of Terry Wogan’s favourite bands. Wogan’s skills as a DJ were underestimated; it was he after all who ‘discovered’ Eva Cassidy.

They went on hiatus in January 2016 having spent much of the previous decade touring the world. That was forced on them by the departure of Marianne Sveen. While the remaining three did try to find a replacement it was almost impossible as she would have had to play guitar, banjo, keyboards and drums, and occasionally other instruments, and all to a very high standard. Not many can.

While they are technically still on hiatus comments made on social media this year suggest that the split is final. And the iconic Akerö has been sold.

And yet…

The reason I chose Katzenjammer at all for this feature is that I came across a YouTube video I hadn’t seen previously, of a show in 2015, not long before they broke up. There’s no sign at all of any strain, although there apparently was and had been for some time but this isn’t their best performance by any means and you can tell they were getting tired. Someone made a recent comment on it that he’d never seen the band live and hoped for a reunion tour.

I’ve lost count of the people I’ve met who are fans of Katzenjammer but never saw them live and who desire just that. They’ve picked up on them mainly from TV show repeats. There is one famous one on TOTP2. I can only conclude that their marketing in the UK in their heyday was below par.

Of the four, Sol Heilo has a solo career now and is working on her second full length album. Marianne Sveen is working on her first and will release a second single soon. Both have been featured in NMR this year. Anne Marit Bergheim is said to be working on her first album but she’s in two other bands as well. I’m hoping to interview her, eventually. Only Turid Jørgensen is inactive, as far as I know.

Could they get back together, if only for a one-off tour, like, say, Genesis (who have had a few)? (I chose Genesis for this example because Katzenjammer made an extraordinary cover of ‘Land of Confusion’ which they often performed live and it is on the first video, below). Most of their fans would admit that is highly unlikely now but the way I see it is this. 2020 will have concentrated many minds in the music business and made them realise that nothing can be taken for granted. I recall when Bananarama reunited two years ago the members referred to wanting to do it while they still could while when Shakespears Sister got back together after 27 years last year both parties expressed similar sentiments. And that was before the pandemic.

There will come a point in the lives of all ‘ex-band’ members soon, if it hasn’t done already, when they will realise that if they are ever going to do something like that they need to get on with it. They can become simply too old to do it, or they can be prevented by external events over which they have no control, or both.

Right now would be just dandy, girls. You wouldn’t need a new (fourth) album though that would be nice. Just some dates next year.

For those not familiar with Katzenjammer, it’s hard to choose sample videos (and always videos rather than audio tracks where this band is concerned because they are so dynamic live and generate a ‘joie de vivre’ you simply won’t find anywhere else, that’s why they are so loved). Here are my best shots.

Firstly, the video I referred to previously, of a show in Germany in 2015. The two tracks I recommend are ‘A Bar in Amsterdam’ at 56:40 (an oblique recounting of the Anne Frank story in my interpretation) and ‘Hey Ho, on the Devil’s back’ at 1:01:30.

In the first, Turid plays the balalaika, Anne Marit guitar, Marianne is on drums while vocals, trumpet and breathlessness (have you ever tried playing manic trumpet and then singing?) come courtesy of Sol. The second is ‘owned’ by Marianne, who always plays the song like this, despite the efforts of Turid and Anne Marit to distract her, while the real highlight for me is Sol’s drumming. She began her musical life as a drummer, at one time in eight bands at the same time, and once almost joined a professional orchestra.

And then, in complete contrast, the beautiful yet dystopian ‘Lady Marlene’ – a song the meaning of which has never been explained - and on which Anne Marit takes the vocal lead in a piano four-hands with Sol. As for the harmonies…

Enough said. Let’s see what happens, if anything. I respect that one of the band members has said she has moved on categorically from that ‘chapter’ and others may feel the same. But they need to know there is still a lot of interest in – and love for – them, out here.

Here's their website.


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