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11 Jun 2016

Undertakers Circus “Ragnarock” 1973 Norway Prog jazz Rock

Undertakers Circus “Ragnarock” 1973 Norway Prog jazz Rock

full album

A pretty lively record for a group named Undertakers Circus – not the funeral proceedings you might expect, and instead a romping bit of jazz-infused rock, served up with some occasional funky touches! The group clearly draw inspiration both from the brassy sound of North American groups like Chicago or Blood Sweat & Tears, and some of the jazz rock pioneers of the UK scene too – but they’ve also got a heady sound that’s all their own – partly because of their Norwegian lyrics, and partly from the way these guys move past easy rhythms, and often hit these more complicated passages in their tunes. The vocals often come together in this offbeat way – and when things get moody one minute, they’re quickly set free by some riffing guitar – and all of the horn passages you might expect from a jazz rock group. Titles include “Na Sitter Vi Og Venter”, “2007”, “Ragnarock”, “Nettenes Prinsesse”, and “Pa Striklestad”. (Beautiful reissue – heavy vinyl and cover, with heavy inner sleeve, and obi with notes in English!)….. 
UNDERTAKERS CIRCUS is a jazz-rock band from Lillestrøm, Norway, with their most active period between 1967 and 1976. With a full horn section accompanying traditional rock instruments their sound resembles bands like CHICAGO and BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS, but with melodies and harmonies more of the BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST and THE MOODY BLUES mode. 

They were the first rock band in Norway to write social critical lyrics in their native language. They also put music to two poems by working class poet Rudolf Nilsen. Other lyrical subjects was, amongst others, Norwegian history and Norse mythology. 

In 1968 they released their first single, “Little Boy Blue”/“Gotta Get Away” (both Curtis MAYFIELD covers), but it took them another four years to get signed by Polydor and release their second single, “Riil køntri mjusik”/“Menuet silikose”. A shortened version of “Menuet silikose” later emerged on the bands first album, while “Riil køntri mjusik”, which was an ironic comment to the discussion between music snobs and the rest of the country’s artists, became their greatest ever hit, although, as it was musically based on THE LOVIN’ SPOONFUL’s “Nashville Cats”, it wasn’t very representative for the band’s sound.  

The following year they released their first album, “Ragnarock”. At the time the band counted 11 members: Thor S. GRENI (vocals), Per Kristian LINDSTAD (guitar), Frank MYRSETH (guitar), Stein GUDMUNDSEN (vocals, congas), Erik THOEN (bass), Frode KILDAL (drums), Øystein BJØRK (trumpet), Johnny TORP (trombone), Kjell KRISTOFFERSEN (trumpet), Ivar HOVDEN (tenor sax) and Wiggo NILSEN (trombone). HOVDEN left the band later that year to join NEW JORDAL SWINGERS. “Ragnarock” was remastered and re-released by Pan Records in 2004, with “Riil køntri mjusik” and “Menuet silikose” (single version) as bonus tracks. 

One of the songs on the album, “Nettenes Prinsesse” (The Princess of the Nights), originally titled “Queen of the Night”, was composed and written, with lyrics in English, by guest piano player Eigil BERG (NEW JORDAL SWINGERS), and later reappeared on his solo album “Alhambra” (1981). The Norwegian lyrics on UNDERTAKERS CIRCUS’ version was written by Thor S GRENI. In 1999 the song once again reappeared, this time as “Long Distance Man”, on “Electric Psalmebook”, an album by BIGBANG, a band fronted by Thor S. GRENI’s son, Øystein GRENI, who has performed with UNDERTAKERS CIRCUS on a few occasions in later years. 

In 1975 UNDERTAKERS CIRKUS (now written with a “k”) released their second album, “Brød & Cirkus” (Bread & Circus). By then only four of the eleven members who made “Ragnarock” was left; THOEN, KILDAL, MYRSETH and GRENI, with two new members added on; Arild STAV (woodwinds, piano, vocals), who had appeared as a guest musician on “Ragnarock”, and Tom DANIELSON (piano, guitar, vocals). The horn section on “Brød & Cirkus” consisted of several guests, most notably Bjørn RØSTAD, who later played in Åge ALEKSANDERSEN’s (ex PRUDENCE) backing band, SAMBANDET. 

Soon after the release of their second album UNDERTAKERS CIRKUS disbanded, but they’ve come back together for several concerts over the years, and are still active as a live band as of 2015. 

Main source: 
“Norsk pop- og rockleksikon” (Norwegian Pop and Rock Encyclopedia) from Vega Forlag (Vega Publishers) (2005) 

Alto Saxophone [Altsax] – Arild Stav 
Art Direction – Peter Wharton 
Bass – Erik Thoen 
Congas – Earl Wilson 
Drums – Frode Kildal 
Engineer – Inge-Holst Jacobsen* 
Flute – Svein Greni 
Guitar – Frank Myrseth, Per Kristian Lindstad 
Photography By – Jim Bengston 
Piano – Egil Berg (2) 
Producer – Johnny Sareussen 
Tenor Saxophone [Tenor] – Ivar Hovden 
Trombone – Johnny Torp, Wiggo Nilsen 
Trumpet – Kjell Kristoffersen, Øystein Bjørk 
Vocals – Thor S. Greni 
Vocals, Congas – Stein Gudmundsen 

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..