Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tangomarkkinat 2012

Tango time! Before the Tangomarkkinat itself, the Suuri tangomusikaali, or Great Tango Musical, was to be held in Jyväskylä. I didn’t know anything about it, but Arja Koriseva was in it, and that was good enough for me. The night before, Anne Mattila was appearing in the Kuikan lava, and I might just be able to make it if I stepped on it.

I travelled as usual by Ryanair to Tampere. There was no time to look round the town as I needed to get to Jyväskylä as soon as possible. I checked in to the Omena Hotel in Vapaudenkatu, or Freedom Street. When I say checked in, I mean I typed my number into the keypad by the door. Omena hotels are completely unstaffed. I lay down on the bed to try and get a bit of kip as I had spent the previous night on a bench at Stansted airport and not slept at all. I dreamed I was in Finland and I needed to shower and change before I went out. I woke up and saw it was seven o'clock. Good, I needn't get up yet. Suddenly I realised I was not in my bedroom and it was not 7 in the morning. Hell, I really was in Finland! I rushed to get ready and dashed out to the taxi rank. A taxi to the Kuikan lava cost 40 euros. The band was playing and the place was already full. I had a lot of good dances with some really nice partners. I noticed two very young girls who didn't seem to be getting many dances, but didn't approach them. Later I saw one of them dancing with a chap even older than me. She didn't look very happy, but then again Finns rarely do. At last Anne Mattila came on at 23:00. I have always admired her, ever since she made her first record at the age of 18, but have seen her live only once, in 2006. She sang a good selection of her old hits, including Maija and Janne's wedding waltz, a delightful mixture of joyful words and mournful tune; as well as new numbers. The dance ended at 1:45, and I got a taxi back to the hotel.

Anne Mattila

Next morning I bought some strawberries and ate them by the side of the lake, watching the boats. I noticed there was an old steamer, the Suomi, which did evening cruises. Perhaps I would be able to catch it that evening. In the paper there was a long article about one of my idols, the actress Satu Silvo.

The lovely Satu Silvo

In the afternoon I got a taxi to the Laajavuoren kesäteatteri, or Broad Mountain Summer Theatre, for the Great Tango Musical. Tommi Soidinmäki (Tango King 2004) and Hannu Lehtonen told their girlfriends Arja Koriseva (Tango Queen 1989) and Saija Tuupanen (Tango Queen 2003) that they were joining the army. After a tearful farewell they returned, unconvincingly disguised as Argentine gauchos. They then proceeded to seduce each other's girlfriends. The story seemed strangely familiar - of course, it was Cosi fan tutte. The music was all tangos. In the interval I was able to speak to Saija and Tommi. In the second half Arja and Tommi sang a touching version of Violetta, which I had never heard before in Finnish. At the end of the show the cast danced with the audience members who were sitting in the front row. Unfortunately I was at the back. After the show I went to the stage door. Arja came out and greeted me effusively. She said she had seen me in the audience and hoped I would be going to Seinäjoki. I said I was, and was particularly looking forward to her church concert.

Me with Arja Koriseva and Tommi Soidinmäki

I got a bus back to town: the no 25 goes right past the Omena hotel, so I could have saved the 25 euro taxi fare coming out. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I was in time for the cruise on the old ship. The Suomi was built in 1906. The cruise cost 25 euros and lasted 3½ hours. Jukka the engineer allowed me into the engine room to see the old steam engine.

The old Suomi steamship from 1906

In Seinäjoki I stayed at Seija's as usual. Passes now cost 100 euros but the ribbon is of better quality. On the way to see the Tango Parade, I noticed a blonde denim-clad woman. She looked familiar, but I couldn't place her. It was only when she had disappeared into the crowd that I realised she was Piia Koriseva. Pity - I would have liked to speak to her. Oh well - another opportunity lost. By the time the parade started, the rain started also. Heidi Pakarinen waved to me and I said she was sure to be the next Tango Queen.

Me with a rather damp Heidi Pakarinen

I fell into step beside Kaija Lustila, who thanked me for the Christmas card I had sent. Lovely of her to remember me. I said. "Isn't there a tango about the rain?" She said there was, and sang a few lines just for me:

Hiljainen tango sateessa soi                        The quiet tango plays in the rain
uneksien kuulen mä sen.                              I hear it while dreaming.
Yötuuli nukkuu oksissa puun,                     The night wind sleeps in the tree branches
pilvi on peittänyt kuun.                               the cloud has covered the moon.
Sateessa jälleen muistan mä sun,               In the rain I remember you once more:
rakastetun, kadotetun.                                the one I loved, the one I lost.
Satoi, kun näin sun kallehimpain              It was raining when I saw you, my most precious one;
satoi kun suudelman sain.                         It was raining when I got a kiss.

Kaija Lustila in the rain

I had heard that Cheryl Cole charges £350 to hobnob with her fans. And here is someone with far more talent, charisma, and beauty doing it for nothing. Dancing in the pavilion started at 20:00, with Kaija Lustila, Marko Maunuksela and others. Little Irja was there, wearing a very attractive low cut dress. Her bust rippled as she applauded the acts. We danced together until 1, when I escorted her to the gate and returned to the house.

I was up bright and early at 7, had a sauna, and switched on the computer. This was the first time during the trip that I had computer access, and I considered putting some photos on Facebook. In the end I decided not to, as I didn't want to advertise the fact that my house was empty. Here is a question for modern philosophers: if an event isn't reported on Facebook or Twitter, did it ever happen at all? I had an email from a BBC reporter named Mark Bosworth. I knew him already, as his wife was once a teacher at the Finnish language school in Bristol. Mark was reporting on the Tangomarkkinat for Radio 4, and wanted to interview me on Saturday. I rang him, and we agreed to meet outside the church before Arja's concert. Then I went to the mall where all the finalists were performing: Heidi Pakarinen was wonderful as ever. At 15:30 I went to the Lakeus hotel to meet Big Irja, who had not been to the Tangomarkkinat for two years. She had sent me a postcard to say she had been ill but was returning, and would I meet her in the lobby of the Lakeus. She wasn't there and the receptionist denied any knowledge of her. The dancing recommenced at 18:00. Kari Piironen, Jenna Bågeberg and others were in the pavilion and the Tango Street and I had many dances with some really nice partners. It was raining on and off, sometimes quite heavy. In a calm spell I went to the Areena. The semifinals were being held, and as in previous years there was a separate area where you could dance to the competitors' singing. Previously the area was screened off so you could hear the competitors but not see them but this year there was no screen and you could watch the competition from the dancing area. Most people were doing that rather than dance so I returned to the Tango Street (I intended to watch the competition on tv-kaista when I got back to the house). Johanna Debreczeni was singing Rakkauden yö, or Night of Love,

Johanna Debreczeni

but the accompaniment was very sludgy with too much percussion, rather spoiling this lyrical tango. Her duet with Jouni Keronen, Erottomattomat, was much better. The following artist was Anita Hirvonen, Finland’s answer to Cleo Laine.

Anita Hirvonen with Seppo the saxophonist

She performed lively cha-chas and jives, and some touching tangos such as Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Golden Earrings. Many of her fans were excited and boisterous young women.

Some of Anita Hirvonen's fans

Although it was after 2 when I got back to the house, I settled down to watch the semifinals. Suvi Karjula, last year’s runner-up, got most public votes. She sang Rannalla, which I think has been done too often in the last few years. I would like to see a moratorium on this tune. We will enjoy it all the more when it comes back after a few years’ absence. I was disappointed that Heidi Pakarinen didn’t get through. Neither did Mikko Vihma, who I suspect was a bit too Gardelesque for the viewers. Not wearing a tie probably didn’t help either. I rather think he was the lead singer in Trio Corazon, an Argentine-style group who appeared at the Tangomarkkinat in 2002. Others who did not make the finals include Tapio Liinoja, whose song Kotkan ruusu was more suitable for a girl; and the blonde valkyrie Sari Hellsten.

In the morning it was raining again, but it didn’t stop me going to the square for a coffee. Some very bold sparrows came to my table to share my pulla bun. Dancing started at noon in the pavilion with Mervi Koponen. Attendance was sparse with nearly all couples, though one single lady signalled her unavailability by hiding behind two couples. So I went up to the stage to watch Mervi.

Mervi Koponen

She sang Rakkauden yö, in a much better arrangement than the one I had heard yesterday, gazing right into my eyes during the sexy bits. A really excellent performance all round. Then the UMO orchestra played jazzy versions of Mononen and Kärki tangos with close harmony group Club for Five. After that I went to the mall to see Amadeus Lundberg.

Amadeus Lundberg

He put in a very lively performance, did solo dances and played the guitar when singing rock numbers by Rauli Badding Somerjoki. Big Irja was there and she greeted me in a friendly manner. She had been ill for some time and had still not properly recovered, and had put on weight. She said her leg was too bad to dance, so we sat together to watch Amadeus. She gave me a Russian fridge magnet and said she would be in the Areena that evening, after the Muistojen polku (Path of Memories) concert. She said she needed to go to the bank, so I escorted her there and returned to the house.

Dancing started again at 18:00 with Mervi Koponen, followed by Eija Kantola. Then it was time to go over to the Areena. Irja was there with her friend Taina, who disappeared after about half an hour. Irja was able to dance tangos and slow numbers, but not humppas or jives. Oskari and Lasse were there and greeted Irja and me effusively. I said to Irja that they had competed successfully at the Lumitango in Tampere. During the subsequent discussion of Tampere, which is fairly near where Irja lives, she said that the Hameensilta is now closed. This is a disappointment: I have had many good times there. Now there is only one dance place left in Tampere, from the four existing when I started going there. Kaija Pohjola did two sets during the evening. I was able to speak to her, and she said thank you for the Christmas card.

Kaija Pohjola

Her second set finished at 00:15; whereupon Irja said that she wanted to go back to her hotel. She said she would be back in the Areena the following night, after the finals. I said I would see her then. I hailed a taxi and escorted her to her to hotel, which was not the Lakeus. No wonder I hadn’t seen her on Thursday. I decided that the night was still young and returned to the Tango Street. I danced a very lively jive with a nice redhaired lady named Sisko, when I heard Little Irja call to me. She seemed particularly delighted to see me, and was in an extremely good mood and giggled a lot. She asked where I had been, and I said I had been with Big Irja. She giggled even more at that, and I wondered if the Finnish phrase I had used had a secondary meaning. We danced together till some time after 2, when her phone rang and she said her husband had come to collect her. She said she would be back in the Tango Street the following night, and I said I would see her then. We walked hand in hand to the gate, where her husband was waiting. We shook hands politely, then he and Irja went off arm in arm. I bought a hot dog from the stand. It cost 4 euros, but was a particularly nice one, with lots of chilli sauce. I walked back to the house. It was now nearly 3 o’clock, and the sky was brightening. I had a nagging thought that I had made some sort of unwise promise. I couldn’t think what it was, and decided it was probably nothing. I went to bed and slept the sleep of the just.

On Saturday I had another chance to see Anne Mattila when she performed in the Tango Street. After that I went to the church, where I was supposed to speak to Mark before Arja Koriseva’s concert. Although it was 45 minutes till the concert started, there was already a long queue so I texted Mark and said I would be inside. Although there were lots of people in front of me I still got a front row seat. Perhaps they were all too polite to seize the best seats, or perhaps they were obeying the Biblical injunction:

But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 14, 10-11)

I am not polite, nor am I one for Biblical injunctions; so I rushed in and grabbed the best seat in the middle of the front row. Mark joined me soon after. We had time for a few words before we watched Arja sing some soulful and touching songs, accompanied by Jouni Somero on the grand piano. Absolutely wonderful. Somebody has posted an example on youtube:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_58O04gLSg Afterwards I was able to speak to them and get autographs. Jouni asked me if I was the same John who had posted "Kielletyt leikit" on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIrNSpgMSCo). "Yes" I said, fully expecting him to demand it be taken off. But he just wanted equal billing with Arja, and I said I would edit it as soon as I got to a computer. Mark then settled down in a pew with Arja for the interview, and I returned to the house.

Arja Koriseva and Jouni Somero

I was back in the Tango Street at 18:00, making sure I was right in front of the stage as Arja was the first on. She had had time to change her dress but not her hairstyle. A wonderful performance as usual. I have run out of superlatives as far as Arja is concerned. Mark approached me afterwards - he had been watching the performance as well though I hadn't seen him - and at last we did my interview. I said that the Finns were the most passionate and emotional nation on earth, but they had to keep all this firmly suppressed for the sake of public order and decency. But they can take the lid off for three minutes at a time when a tango is playing. The interview took 10 minutes. Mark said he had been with Arja nearly an hour. When I mentioned this to a neighbour after I got home, she said. "Well, Arja is younger, better-looking, more talented and more intelligent than you", which is no more than the truth. Mark then dashed off, saying he had other people to speak to. He was particularly keen to get hold of Mervi Koponen, but she was a bit elusive.

Johanna Pakonen and Johanna Debreczeni followed. I saw Salme, but she said she had been ill and was not able to dance. Hilve had said on Facebook that she was attending the Tangomarkkinat, but there was no sign of her. Still, I had some nice dances with Liisa (her severe looks belying her sensuous nature), Mari (full-figured, very nice) and others. While listening to Marita Taavitsainen I caught sight of Little Irja and we spent the rest of the evening together. When I got back to the house I watched the finals. The President, Sauli Niinistö, and his wife Jenne Haukio were present. The 6 finallists sang classic tangos, and the judges gave Eurovision-style scores. The two lowest were eliminated. The remaining 4 sang modern tangos, after which 2 were eliminated. One of these was Suvi Karjula, and there was a very angry reaction from the audience, with a lot of booing. You don’t often see this on Finnish tv. Finally, the last two, Pekka Mikkola and Terhi Matikainen, both sang La Cumparsita. Pekka won: possibly Terhi’s forgetting the words didn’t help. Rakkaus riepottaa won the tango writing competition.

I didn’t wake up till 10 the following day, which was the last day of the Tangomarkkinat. At 12:15 Marko Maunuksela was in the pavilion. Attendance was down but all there were good dancers. There were a lot of children about as children’s entertainment was provided in the Tango Street. Liisa was there and I danced with her, as well as two Tuulas (not both at the same time). Oili was a big lady, with very extravagant dress and makeup and lovely to dance with. I did a jive with Anni who said afterwards: “That was the first time in my life I’ve ever done that”. It was the first time in my life anyone had said that to me. At 14:00 I went to the mall where Pekka Mikkola and Terhi Matikainen were performing.

Pekka Mikkola in the mall

Big Irja was there and said she was sorry she hadn’t been in the Areena yesterday. I felt relieved and guilty at the same time. We danced three tangos together, but she said her heart was not strong. We had lunch, after which I returned to the pavilion. Pekka Mikkola was there again. A boy was dancing humppa with two girls. I danced with Liisa again and one of the Tuulas. The last event of the Tangomarkkinat was a concert with Lauri Tähkä, but this was rock not tango.