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9 December 2014

The Mascots, the Shanes, and the undiscovered gems of Swedish Sixties pop

Even for the most dedicated listeners, there is still fresh material out there to encounter.

By Bob Stanley

Relative to the size of the country, Sweden had a ridiculously large number of Sixties beat groups: Beachers, Beathovens, Beatmen, Shakers, Shakemakers and Shamrocks. With only eight million Swedes it feels like half of them must have owned a guitar in the Sixties. Among the bigger names were The Tages (or the Days in English) and the Hep Stars, the group that gave us Abba’s Benny Andersson. Both of these groups had releases in Britain but, given the level of competition, it’s not surprising they sank without trace at the time.

RPM International have just released thorough and thoroughly entertaining reissues for the best of the lot, the Mascots. They were music school students who became British beat disciples after seeing the Beatles’ first Stockholm appearance in October ’63. All 16 or younger, they signed a contract with Decca in 1964 that would lead to two albums and a bunch of terrific singles. The Mascots debuted with the daffy, unrepresentative “I Like My Bike” in the summer of ‘64, then reached the Swedish Top 5 with the “I Saw Her Standing There”-ish “Baby Baby” that winter, but really hit their stride with the doom-beat “A Sad Boy” in 1965. By the time of their debut album Your Mascots, they were showing an inclination towards minor keys and ringing guitar lines – somewhere between the Zombies and the Kinks. Your Mascots included “A Sad Boy”, which is fabulously morose, and the delightful, Nuggets-compiled “Words Enough to Tell You”; both were Top 10 hits in their homeland.

An entirely self-penned second album came out in ’66, and Ellpee showed a refining of their near-droning melancholic beat on “Did You Ever Think” (some terrific drumming here from Rolf “Boffe” Adofsson) as well as a new adherence to the harder, pop-art stylings of the Who. “I Want To Live” is one of the finest examples of freakbeat you’ll ever hear, with its controlled, subdued R&B verses, simmering cymbals, exploding into a fizzing guitar break. Elsewhere, “Nobody Crying” is like a tenser fiercer Hollies, while “That’s You” is filigree folk. Changing with the times, they switched to bubblegum and then eventually turned progressive, with a name change to Fria Proteatern in 1971. RPM’s release of Ellpee fits the original LP onto the first disc and singles right up until the name change on disc two; Your Mascots features the whole album plus related singles on one disc. I’m a fan of completeness, and wouldn’t pretend every Mascots recording is essential, but this way you can do the pruning yourself.

The Mascots had played on a bill with the Beatles in 1964 and another Swedish group called the Shanes, who were from the country’s northernmost town, Kiruna, inside Lapland, and became one of the country’s biggest acts. Like the Mascots, the arrival of the Beatles had led to a change of musical direction – originally they were similar to the Joe Meek-produced Outlaws, an instrumental group with a penchant for Westerns (they’d taken their name from the Alan Ladd movie Shane).  A bunch of R&B singles (the best being “Let Me Show You Who I Am” – a Swedish number one – and “I Don’t Want Your Love”) gave them their biggest hits in ’64 and ’65, and they wore their hair considerably longer than the mod-inspired Mascots.

Given that their five albums were largely made up of cover versions – anything from “Cathy’s Clown” to the Bee Gees’ “New York Mining Disaster” – it’s a good move from RPM to condense their output to a single disc, Let Them Show You: The Anthology 1964-67. Nevertheless, they had an eye for a good obscurity: “Away From You” was originally a Billy Fury B-side, but is unrecognisable on the Shanes’ pumped-up fuzz guitar-led version. Frustratingly, it’s not included on Let Them Show You (none of their flowery, final album Shanes VI is) which focuses on the group’s originals and their earlier R&B-leaning material. It’s still a great listen for anyone with a soft spot for Sixties beat who has started to wring the British and American catalogues dry.

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RPM International is run by Kieron Tyler, a fine writer who has been doing an excellent job of collating pop from around the globe, concentrating mostly on Europe which – to my astonishment – can still turn up so many obscure Sixties nuggets. I’m about to turn 50, have been listening to records like this for as long as I can remember, and still they come. Maybe the internet will eventually kill off fresh discoveries but, until then, I’m not complaining.

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