According to Norse mythology (by which I mean, Wikipedia), Valhalla was an enormous, majestic hall, that warriors travelled to after they had been slain in combat; a pretty impressive place where you were welcomed by fantastic beasts, there were golden shields on the ceiling and the wine flowed and the feasting was copious and continuous.
So when I got sent the address for Saturday night's gig, I had a rush of excitement and fear as I was told that the place I would be playing was Valhalla itself. I was sent the coordinates on Google maps and there it was: Valhalla!
I perhaps should have been a bit more sceptical when the rest of the instructions of how to get there were: It's about 2km outside of Grytgöl, which is about 10km outside of Finspång, which is about 20km outside of Norrköping. I had GPS and a car - I just wonder how those slain Vikings managed to get there in their long boats and without smart phones.
It was an icy night and the roads got smaller and smaller and icier and icier. I was fully prepared and packed warm clothes, a tea filled thermos and an axe, just in case I needed to build a fire, construct a shelter or defend myself against attack by bears, psychopaths or over-friendly locals.
Eventually I came to Grytgöl, locked all the doors and with an extra tight grip on the steering wheel, drove through the village. Then it was into the woods, dark all around, even the stars were obscured by the heavy conifers that loomed up on either side. The way ahead was lit only by my headlights on full beam, a bubble of light in which the ice on the road twinkled.
Occasionally the lights would catch two white dots of light between the trees; perhaps the eyes of a deer or wild boar, but more likely the fixed, soulless glare of the landowner's idiot son, known locally as Stefan the Strangler who has the body of a fifty year old lumberjack and the mind of a six year old child. The only time he is able to find an inner calm is when the sound of a squirrel in a microwave finally comes to an end.
When I thought the woods could get no darker, I saw a faint light in the distance which got brighter as I approached. It was an enormous advertising hoarding: Lasse's Tractor Workshop. Il Bosco Oscuro Pizzeria. Funerals by Maggan. This was the place. The gravel track to the venue was lit by those bamboo Tiki torches favoured by angry folk who want to Make America Great Again.
I drove slowly past the football pitch and a boarded up kiosk with handwritten signs for 'KAFFE' and 'VARM KORV' to the end of the track where two fires crackled. This was Valhalla and it was throbbing with life. I braced myself and got out of the car. This was not the Valhalla I had read about. No golden shields, no stag Eikþyrnir or the goat Heiðrún, just a lot of men in checked shirts and baseball caps at tables filled with beer bottles.
Kerim was up first. He was on long enough to determine that the sound system wasn't very good at all - It had volume, but in a booming way that meant every word just became a distorted thunderclap of sound. The sound system even came with a guy in a cap, beard and black T-shirt to twiddle the knobs which is usually a sign that the sound will work (And also that you will be offered drugs, but that's another story). Tonight we learnt the lesson: An Iron Maiden T-shirt and a beard does not a sound technician make.
About five minutes into Kerim's set a man stood up, swayed a little and held up his hands. He wasn't the tallest person I've ever seen and he wasn't the drunkest person I've ever seen, but he was the drunkest tall person I've ever seen and as he waved and swayed the audience fell silent, perhaps in gob smacked curiosity to see which direction he would fall. Either way, he commanded silence and suggested in a voice that was true and clear that Kerim perform without the mic.
And so it was that the rest of the gig was mic free. I don't think Kerim was going to push his luck - He and I were already pushing the envelope by diversifying the ethnic mix of Grytgöl in ways that had never before been imagined. Kerim relaxed a bit when the tall man sat down again and did a great gig.
Next up was Jerry, who had proudly told us as we reviewed the motley crew of Grytgöl that these were 'his people'. And to be fair to him, as he stood in front of them, he did resemble a kind of evangelical cult leader with 'his people' in the palm of his hands. I got the impression that by the end of his set, they were ready to either buy whatever cure-all liniment he was selling or commit suicide en masse. To be fair, I've been at a couple of Jerry's gigs before where by the end the audience were ready to commit suicide en masse, but this time, they'd have done so with a smile on their faces.
Then it was my turn. I went on, all guns blazing. The moment there was any drunk mumblings, I was on them. It was divide and rule. I needed to walk the fine tightrope of taking the piss out of the drunkest people there, getting the audience to laugh at them, without the subject of the joke turning aggressive. There was Uffe who seemed to have a rare form of Tourettes where he just shouted 'Borlänge' at strange moments. A chap who didn't know his own name, but had decided to simultaneously translate, although into which language, nobody could quite make out. And there was a bloke who looked like Peter Stringfellow fallen on hard times.
So they set them up and I knocked them down, it was back and forth with audience chat galore. I did about thirty minutes, but only about half of that was 'routines'. And it was great, exactly what a stand up night in Grytgöl should be all about. Afterwards as I looked up at the clear starlit sky, doing a pre-car journey wee-wee in the frozen forest floor, I was smiling from ear to ear. What a joy to think that I could come to a place like this, worlds apart from the kind of place where I grew up in the industrial inner city wastelands of Birmingham (The leafy middle class bit, but you know what I mean) and make people not only decide not to eat me alive, but to actually laugh as well.
All cred to Anton who organised the night.
As I left, I asked why they called the venue Valhalla - Nobody there knew that the venue was even called that apart from Anton'd dad who claimed that it was someone from a passing Harley Davidson club who had named it that on Google Maps. Nobody in Grytgöl knew how the internet worked well enough to get them to change it.
Locally, it turns out, the venue was just known as Festplatsen - The party place, and rather the place you go after being slain, it's the place you go to get slaughtered.
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