I have a long held belief that the true roots of rock'n'roll don't actually lay in the blues and the older music of the Africas, but in the raucous folk stomps of Northern Europe. Listen to the early country recordings of Ralph Peer, who took to the mountains of the rural states of America in the twenties to log the sounds and music of the region. The songs he recorded of family groups and solo troubadors like The Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers and Fiddlin' John Carson had more to do with polka sounds of the Baltic and the wassails of Northern England than any kind of chain gang spiritual. It was those old country warblers and hillbilly cats that had such an influential effect on the early pioneers of rock'n'roll who came from the same neighbourhoods, and I fancy you can trace that polka element right through the ages to the simple hectic thrash of contemporary punk rock - simple tunes slammed out in boom-chit boom-chit time at a hectic speed.
Perhaps that's why I fell in love with the Finnish Humppa kings Eläkeläiset the second I heard them. And what's not to love? Five alt rockers on the dangerous fringes of middle age hammering out high octane retreads of popular songs as they sit around a table drinking raw vodka and acting disgracefully? They got me hooked and wanting to move to Finland and pester them outside their houses right off the bat.
Starting as an off-shoot of the old Finnish noisemongers Kumukameli, they soon became popular in their own right, and have since become inexplicably stadium huge across the German speaking nations and the former Soviets. And now they're about to embark on their biggest challenge yet - The Eurovision Song Contest.
This weekend sees them try their hand in the third Finnish semi-final in a national contest they are huge favourites to win. And if they make it to Oslo in May, and settle themselves in among the more traditional balladeers and Europop monkeys, I fancy that we've got an unexpected treat in store.
Any band who bury alocohol along their tour route, leaving clues on their website as to where to find it, or who offer fridge magnets, bottle openers, hip flasks and XXXXXL t-shirts for their stouter fans among their merch list deserve the love of Europe - even if it is only for three minutes on a Saturday night in May. If they can beat their main rival, the junior tango king Amadeus in their home selection contest, I can guarantee they'll be the ones you're all talking about at work the following Monday morning!
All hail the Humppa!
Pictures © Eläkeläiset.
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