Sunday, June 19, 2016

Ailamari Vehviläinen

She's back! After an absence of 10 years, she will be competing in the 2016 Tangomarkkinat. There was no public vote this year, so we had to rely on the good sense of adjudicators. You can hear Ailamari at the Tampere semifinals here:

There is still time to book your journey to Seinäjoki! See you there!

Monday, November 02, 2015

Arja Koriseva

Today I received my copy of Arja Koriseva's new book, "Queen Arja". My joy was soured at the news announced hours afterwards that Arja had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is what she says on her website:

I have lit candles everywhere. The fluttering of the flames soothes the mind and gives strength. In my previous letter I said that the first 50 years of my life has been written in a book; and that now is the time to turn to a new blank page and start writing something new.

I had no idea how different the first pages of the new book would be. I had eagerly rehearsed the songs for the coming concerts, well-loved Christmas carols, so that the Christmas concerts are concluded in the traditional manner as we have done in various ways before.

This year will be different. I cannot sing for you at all. I am suffering from breast cancer.

Treatment has started and I know that I am being cared for properly. I put my trust in medical science, I have skilled people round me, and I have support and security with me. I must now concertrate my powers on getting better and fighting. That is why I am away from work. I hope my privacy will be respected. Of course I read all your messages and letters and enclose your thoughts in my heart. I will fight.

The autumn leaves have fallen; I rake them carefully and I hope with all my heart that I will be able to sing for you when summer warmth arrives and the new buds are bursting out on the trees. Before that I sing to you in all my thoughts of Christmas peace and love .... the many angels around me I received from you.

Take care of each other

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tangomarkkinat 2015

According to the programme published online in April, Kaija Pohjola was scheduled to appear at the Tangomarkkinat but Arja Koriseva was not. Fortunately Arja was at Iisalmi on the previous Sunday. What to do in the intervening two days? Something called the Humpparalli was at Raatala on 4-10 July. Raatala is 3 km from Kuusjoki in south-west Finland. I could not find any details of buses or trains. I asked on Facebook, and was advised to get a train to Salo and then a 20km taxi ride to Raatala. As the train journey from Iisalmi to Salo takes 6 hours, I decided it wasn't worth it.

I arrived at Tampere on 4th July. As a change from the Omena Hotel, I stayed at the Kauppi Hotel in Kalevalan Puistotie. It is €64 per night. In the room was a fridge, microwave, and coffee machine but no coffee. There is a sauna and swimming pool but neither is open weekends. There is a convenience store next door where I bought piimä and salmiakki. In the evening I went to the Tähti Nightclub/Iskelmäbaari, which opens at 22:00. The Tähti is basically the same as the old Hämeensilta and the Iskelmäbaari is a small bar off it with karaoke and a tiny dance floor. Entrance is €14 for both. Keikki Koskelo was the performer. His band came on at 23:00 (records were played before then) and the man himself at midnight. There was good attendance, with a youngish crowd; and very hot. I left at 1, got a hot dog from a kiosk, and walked back to the hotel.

The train journey to Iisalmi took 4½ hours, with 3 changes. I checked into the Sokos Hotel Koljonvirta, which is in Savonkatu leading off from the station. Arja was performing in the Kyllikinranta, where I have been before, in July 2011. The taxi fare there is €14. I arrived when it opened at 19:00 and the band was already playing. No records tonight! Minna (seen her before, don’t know her surname) was singing. Arja came on at 21:00 wearing vertiginous heels.

Arja Koriseva

Her repertoire included Kevätvalssi, which she has recorded before, and Kellä kulta sillä onni (Everybody loves a lover) which she has not (It was included in the tv programme Iskelmäprinssi). I had not heard her sing either of them live before. I felt quite old when she sang Hymyhuulet (Lucky lips) as I well remember Cliff Richard’s hit two years before Arja was born. Two completely new humppas followed. I mean they were new to me: I don’t know when they were actually composed. She finished with a very boisterous version of Tutti frutti, taking off her shoes to dance. I was able to speak to her after the performance and said I was looking forward to her biography coming out.

The following day I looked round Iisalmi, visiting the brewery museum and stamp museum (admission free).

Brewery museum

The Kuappi describes itself as the world's smallest restaurant but really it is a hut in the grounds of a much larger eaterie. There is a very nice wooden pavilion from the early 20th century, but I couldn't get a decent picture because a naked man was sunbathing on one side and there was an overflowing rubbish bin on the other. There were no dance places open that I could discover, and on the following day (Tuesday) went on to Seinäjoki.

The first day of the Tangomarkkinat was Wednesday 8th. I bought a pass, which is now €105 from the Tangotoimisto. The printed programme was very poor. It showed the times of opening of the various venues, but not even the names of the stars who would be appearing, let alone the times. There was also no map, which didn’t bother me but then I have been coming here for 14 years. The information was printed in the local newspaper, but this is a lot more inconvenient to carry about. Kaija Pohjola is not now appearing. I went to the secondhand record shop and bought the LP Kiskot soivat (the rails ring):  12 train-related tunes, some by Toivo Kärki.

Posters advertised a musical about Rauli Badding Somerjoki, and the Seinäjoki hiphop festival in September.

In the afternoon there was a concert of wartime songs at the military museum. Teemu Roivanen, Maria Tyyster, Heidi Pakarinen and Kyösti Mäkimattila performed, accompanied on harmonikka by Taisto Lunkka and Samuli Jokinen. There was some good virtuoso boxsqueezing from Taisto Lunkka during Tuulisuudelma (El Choclo). Ecstasy was included, though it is not a wartime song.  Jose Belmonte (Philip Green) wrote it in 1953. It was starting to rain by the time the Tango Parade started. There is a new smarter marching band (called the Puolustusvoimien varusmiessoittokunta) but they still can’t march and play at the same time.

Puolustusvoimien varusmiessoittokunta

I fell into step beside Heidi Pakarinen, Piritto Venho, and Tiina Pitkänen and they gave me signed postcards.

Piritta Venho

t was raining quite hard by the time the Tangomarkkinat started. Most people went to the pavilion where the finallists performed in turn. I caught sight of Little Irja, but she was with her husband. I danced tango with Pirjo, who told me she was originally from Seinäjoki but now lived in California.
Me: That’s Piritta Venho singing now. I’m hoping she will be Tango Queen.
Pirjo: I’m a singer too.
Me: Have you made any records?
Pirjo: Yes. I have some in my handbag. They’re 12 euros each.

It was raining hard when I left at midnight. Some brave folk were under their umbrellas in front of the Katulava, listening to Heikki Koskelo. My programme cut out from the paper was soggy and illegible, and my signed postcards spoilt.

Next say I showed Pirjo’s record to Seija the landlady. She said that she knew Pirjo from when she was a little girl (I mean when Pirjo was a little girl) and her father still lived in the house opposite. I went to the mall, where all the finallists were singing to Taisto Lunkka’s accompaniment. Rami Rafael sang to an old lady in wheelchair. Tiina Pitkänen was extremely pretty.

Tiina Pitkänen

Piritta Venho revisited Kesän huumaa from when she was Tango Princess in 1998 alongside Taina Kokkonen.  That same year Katri Aapalahti sang Sydän tuuliajolla. That was a good year - what a pity I wasn't there. But I couldn’t have gone, as I was still working then and would still have been stuck into the half-yearly accounts in early July. Juha Hautaluoma sang Rakautta ei se ollut (Liebe war es nie), an old tango I hadn’t heard at the Tangomarkkinat before. Outside a man was playing a small mechanical organ. Mainly German polkas and marches, but there was one tango: Guapita by the old Dutch maestro Malando (Arie Maasland).

On the way to the pavilion I passed a karaoke bar. I thought the woman singing was really good - far better than the usual karaoke singer. No wonder: she was Johanna Debreczeni. She recognised me, or at least pretended to, and we exchanged a few words. In the pavilion were Heidi Pakarinen, Maria Tyyster, Kyösti Mäkimattila and others. Some old tunes were heard: Väliaikainen, Haaveita tanssilavan luona, Oi Annabella, amongst others. The new Tango Queen was announced: Susanna Heikki, who had been Tango Princess in 1997. No sign of Little Irja, but I did have some nice partners. After a particularly good tango I was on the verge of leaving, but Maria Tyyster started on a humppa and I had not heard her sing humppa before. After that I waited for the next tango, then left for the house. It had stopped raining, so I picked some birch twigs on the way.

In the morning I made a vasta and had a sauna. After some strawberries in the square I went to the mall where Leif Lindeman was performing. One of his numbers was Kesän tango (Summertime tango) by Toivo Kärki, another old one. Saija Tuupanen was in the pavilion.  Mervi, whom I had met in the Vanhan Kellari in October 2013, was there filming her. On the katualava Maia Castro from Uruguay was singing Uruguayan tangos and milongas, all unknown to me, and one of Maia's own composition, to bandoneon and digipiano accompaniment.

Maia Castro

She was followed by Marita Taavitsainen who gave an excellent energetic performance as usual.

Marita Taavitsainen

It had started to rain again so I made my way to the pavilion. I was delighted to see Little Irja there and we spent the rest of the evening together with many wonderful dances in the packed pavilion. Irja’s husband came to collect her at 1:30 and I returned to the house.

On the Saturday morning I went to the mall to see Maria Tyyster. After that I went to the Epstori, a second mall near the Cumulus hotel. This had not been used for tango performances before, and is not really suitable as there is no balcony and nowhere for dancing. Kyösti Mäkimattila was performing and Mervi filmed him. Then back to the original mall for Teemu Roivanen, who got rapturous applause for holding the last note of Hopeinen kuu (Silvery Moon) practically for ever. In the evening Mira Sunnari was performing some very avant-garde stuff in the TangostYle theatre. That is the correct spelling - Yle (short for Yleisradio, or Public Radio) is the Finnish equivalent of the BBC.

Mira Sunnari

There were a lot of wheelchair users in the pavilion, including a young couple both dancing in wheelchairs. Many performers including Marko Maunuksela, Hanna Talikainen, Teemu Roivainen, Jouni Keronen, Maria Tyyster, Jaana Lammi, and Jukka Hallikainen who danced with a fan as usual. Irja wasn’t there, but I did get nice dances with other partners. The new Tango King was announced: Aki Samuli.

Sunday as usual was wind-down day. The new Tango Royals performed in the mall, accompanied by Taisto Lunkka. I got stuck in to the recordings of the competitions. Tiina Pitkänen sang a tango which was new to me: Palaa luokseni, which is an Italian tango Torni Piccina by C.A. Bixio. It is an old Olavi Virta hit.

Back home I received a message from Kaija Pohjola’s son. He said Kaija had been taken ill and was not able to attend the Tangomarkkinat, but was now recovering. Mira Sunnari also sent a message: nice to see you at the Tangomarkkinat.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Vanhan Kellari closed

The end of an era: Helsinki's Vanhan Kellari closed at the end of May 2015. It had been running at a loss for some time. It was always well attended every time I went there, but I suspect they all went there to dance and listen to the superstars and didn't spend enough on drink to make the place profitable. I am sorry to see it go: I spent many happy evenings there and listened to some really great singers.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Tangomarkkinat 2015

Internet voting for the 2015 Tangomarkkinat has now started. Click on this for men:
And this for women:

Click on the thumbnails to hear a short clip. Vote by pressing the green Äänestä. Votes are accepted from outside Finland. You  can also leave a comment. Comments can be in English, but you will have to prove you are not a robot by answering a question. It will be something like "how many fingers does  a human being usually have?" but will be in Finnish.

Familiar names include Piritta Venho and Sanna Arell. Sanna was the one who made a big impression on me in 2010 with Boulevard of Broken Dreams. I sent a Facebook message to her. She replied that saying she remembered me and accepted my friend request immediately. What a nice lady. I also sent a message to Varpu Virta to say I was sorry she was not competing this year, and she also replied.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Hit me Arja one more time

A new music competition called "Tähdet tähdet" is on Finnish tv on Sundays. Here is Arja Koriseva performing an old Britney Spears number:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Lumitango 2015

The 2015 Lumitango was to be held on Saturday 7th February. I watched the webcam to see how the snow was getting on in Tampere and it seemed that it would persist, so I booked a flight from Stansted to Tampere, staying at the Omena Hotel. I had breakfast in the Siilinkari cafe next door and looked at the papers. Lots of dances on the Saturday, a few on Friday. I went to the old Finlayson factory (now an art/museum complex, described before in these ramblings). I found a tiny stretch of rail from the old Little Ram railway that once brought fuel to the factory, which I hadn't noticed before. I was distressed to see  the snow was starting to melt.
The Little Ram in the 1950's

That evening, though the Tähti Nightclub is on the doorstep, I decided to go  to the Tapiola Tanssitalo in Karhunkatu (Bear Street), because Kauko Simonen, the first ever Tango King, was performing. There is supposed to be a bus there but I went by taxi and was glad I did, as it was through narrow suburban streets packed with parked cars on either side, nothing like any bus route I had ever seen. It was an excellent night, and I was asked for every dance during the naistenhaku (ladies’ invitation). Kauko Simonen has lost a considerable amount of weight. At the end of the evening I had to get the cloakroom lady to ring for a taxi, as my Orange phone could not access the number; even though I had been successful at getting other numbers.

The Ĺumitango was held in the town square next day. The snow was holding out; in fact a little more had fallen. Heidi Pakarinen was there to provide the music and greeted me in a very friendly manner. There was public dancing in the interval. I discovered that dancing jive in the snow is quite precarious.
Me with Heidi Pakarinen

Heidi dancing in the snow

After the Lumitango I went back to the hotel. Three young Swedish giants were in the lift. I got in, and the alarm went off. I got out again, but they insisted I stayed in and one of them walked up. Perhaps they thought I was old. In the evening I went by taxi to the Tessu in Tesomankatu. It is a big place with two ballrooms that can be used separately, though tonight the partition was pulled back. I had some excellent dances, including a rumba with a Nigella Lawson lookalike, and a tango with a lady who looked just like Angela Merkel. I didn’t know if she would be flattered or not if I pointed out the resemblance, so I said nothing. Frau Merkel is the most powerful woman in the world, but perhaps not the most beautiful. A man danced humppa with two ladies. A lady twerked in front of the sound man. All in all an excellent night.

The following day (Sunday) I went to a service at the Orthodox church. A very strange experience. The congregation had to stand in the vestibule while the monks did their thing. There was a lot of chanting in Russian, or possibly very old Finnish. The congregation didn’t join in. There were very ornate doors at the back decorated with pictures of saints. From time to time a door would open, a monk would come out, perform some task and return, and the door would shut. This reminded me of nothing so much as a mechanical clock, though of course the clocks are based on this rather than the other way round.
Orthodox Church, Tampere

According to the paper Saija Tuupanen was due to appear at the Kerhola in Nokia. Normally Nokia is well served by trains and buses, but not on Sunday so I had to get a taxi at the cost of 36 euros. The Kerhola is an old hospital. I arrived 10 minutes early but they wouldn’t let me in and I had to wait outside in the snow with other early arrivals. In the event Saija Tuupanen did not appear; instead there were the Pekkaniskan Pojat. Included in the lineup was Taisto Lunkka, who plays harmonikka at the Tangomarkkinat. He is very talented, but not so pretty as Saija. Nevertheless it was a good night, and I met many of the same partners as I had seen last night. The event was due to close at 22:00 but I left half an hour early after a sensational foxtrot with “Nigella” to the tune of Pink Panther.

There was no flight on Monday, so I spent the day in Hämeenlinna. This is where Jean Sibelius was born 150 years ago so naturally the town was making a big thing of the anniversary (2015 is also the centenary of Olavi Virta and the 50th birthday of Jari Sillanpää and Arja Koriseva). The castle is very bleak and forbidding in the snow. I tried to imagine being a soldier trying to get in in midwinter. There is a military museum in the castle but it is not open in winter. There is also a Brahe restaurant, but this is named after the Swedish nobleman Per Brahe rather than the better-known Danish astronomer Tycho. According to the paper, Arja Saijonmaa would be at the Helsinki Culture House on 19th March, but unfortunately I will not be able to attend.

Hämeenlinna castle