One result of the world returning to its pre-COVID state (we’re not totally out of the woods yet, I know) is that bands are on tour again. While Mark and I were replanning our cancelled 2020 trip to Sweden and Finland, I discovered that two of my favourite bands, Värttinä and Scandinavian Music Group, were both on tour at the same time. As I perused their concert schedules, I saw that sometimes their concert dates overlapped, making it hard to pick which group to see on that particular date. Fortunately for us we were able to see Värttinä on October 11 in Tampere, followed by Scandinavian Music Group on October 15 in Espoo and then on the 21st in Joensuu.
The first gig was held at Sellosali, the same place where I had seen two Värttinä concerts in 2016. Antti Lehtinen kindly put us on the guest list for both SMG shows, and if we had bought tickets to them we would have had to pay 110€. Since Sellosali has reserved seating we did not need to get there early. We got our tickets at the box office and waited around the main floor before moving to the upstairs level where it was less crowded. Our seats were on that level with the door to the hall conveniently next to where we were sitting. Mark tried the door to see if it was open, and at that exact time an usher from inside opened it. Mark and I were the first to go in and be seated upstairs. I could see that all the people in our row also had printed tickets, so we all must have been guests of the band. All the people we saw who came in and sat down somewhere else weren’t rummaging through their bags to put their tickets away, as people nowadays have their concert tickets stored on their phones.
The stage had an enormous backdrop showing a landscape of low rolling hills. Torches of six lightbulbs were on each mike stand and throughout the stage. The concert started right on time, at 7 p.m. The band was on tour to promote their latest album, Ikuinen ystävä, and kept their repertoire to their current album, but also added three songs each from their previous two albums, Baabel and Terminal 2. Terhi announced from the stage that they were on tour also to mark their twentieth anniversary and they played one song from their debut album, Onnelliset kohtaa, “Ei mun oo hyvä olla yksin”.
By the time we got our coats back I noticed that Joel, Pauliina and Oskari had already come out to meet the crowd. I spoke to Oskari first, then Pauliina. I told her that I had met her for the first time eighteen years ago at Tavastia. While in Finland I was on the hunt for a copy of Terhi’s first novel, Rajamaa, yet had been unsuccessful in finding a copy. I told Pauliina this, who thought I should surely be able to find it in bookstores. Nevertheless, she said that I could always find it at the bookstore on the site of the publisher, Otava. I did in fact go there later that week and found both hardcover and paperback copies, yet the latter was less than three times cheaper so got that edition. I’d like Terhi to autograph it. I find it funny that I have all the Ultra Bra and SMG albums yet none of them are autographed. It’s not as if I don’t have access to the band members. But when it comes to books, why am I suddenly so fixated on getting it signed?
I saw Terhi come outside for a very brief time yet could not talk to her. After talking to Oskari, Pauliina and Joel, we left Sellosali early, just after 8:30. We did some shopping at the enormous Prisma then got the train back to Helsinki.
I had been in contact with Antti over the course of making our vacation plans and he had invited us over for dinner one night when he was going to be home in Helsinki between gigs. Since he is on tour, we let him decide the best date for a visit, which ended up being the next night, on Sunday. Mark and I headed to his place in Käpylä and had a dinner of moose stew. Instead of offering us wine–at first–he brought out champagne in honour of our nuptials.
When we were at Antti’s place in 2019 he had an early Ultra Bra concert poster in his bathroom. While we didn’t take any photos of each other that night, if that poster was still up I wanted a picture of it. Fortunately it was. Antti is on the right in the left photo on the top row; Terhi is in the middle row right and Joel is on the right in the bottom centre:
Mark and I had bought transit tickets get to his place and back. Later in the evening–and it couldn’t have been any later than 10 p.m.–he offered his son Onni to drive us back. We politely declined as we already had tickets. Antti surprised us by saying that the trams were no longer running. Did service end early because it was a Sunday night? Mark and I were clearly stuck in a Toronto mindset, where the streetcars run all night. Onni was out but when he came back he and Antti got in the car and dropped us off at the hostel in Katajanokka.
Several times that evening, and during the drive back to the hostel, Antti invited us to his mökki during the summer. That would be a holiday to look forward to, sharing the yötön yö summer experience with Mark at Antti’s mökki. Antti surely would have a sauna and chances are it is next to a lake.
Our second SMG concert was held five days later in Joensuu at Kerubi, a short walk from the train station. Since I knew that SMG was travelling to their gigs by train, I had a sneaking suspicion that they would be on the Friday 2:51 p.m. train. No one told me anything about their travel plans; I just figured that with pre-concert preparations and sound checks, they would probably consider it a good idea to get to Joensuu by mid-afternoon. Just after 2:30 I left a secondhand bookstore on Suvantokatu and walked to the station. I didn’t have long to wait before I saw Joel and then the rest of the band, except Antti. (Turns out Antti was accompanying the equipment on a separate ride up there.) I was the unofficial Joensuu Welcoming Committee and chatted with the band during their very short walk to the Hotel Kimmel. During the walk I told Pauliina that I took her advice and did indeed find a copy of Terhi’s book Rajamaa at the Otava bookstore. I said that I would ask Terhi to sign it after the show, but then Pauliina said that her sister usually likes to hightail it to the hotel immediately after a concert, so it would be better to ask her now. I was hesitant about asking her mere moments after she got off the train, but Pauliina said she’d ask on my behalf. Terhi was most obliging and asked me my name, then told me she remembered me from our times when I saw three SMG concerts in 2004 (in Helsinki, Rovaniemi and Jyväskylä). She was considerate in asking me carefully how to spell my name. Once she was done I thanked her and said I’d see them all later at the concert.
Mark and I arrived at Kerubi at 9 p.m., an hour before the doors opened, and hung around the main level where the restaurant and bar are. We had never been there before so I had to ask where the stage was. It was upstairs. I took a short flight to the next level but couldn’t see much except a bar and stools. I had been noticing some people going up a different set of stairs, and at around 9:20 I poked my head up that way and saw a few people already there. Four people were even standing at the front of the stage. They had used this other staircase to access the second floor. Mark and I then went upstairs and stood between Terhi and Joel’s mikes.
The show started on time at 10 p.m. and there were a few song changes. They didn’t perform “Terminal 2”, but did do “Ei paniikkia” and “Hölmö rakkaus”, two songs I knew they had also performed on this tour by consulting posted set lists. At the end of the first encore as he was walking offstage, Antti said to me as well as motioned for us to stay afterwards. And after their final single song in the second encore (“Hölmö rakkaus”) he did the same thing. We didn’t have a long wait before Antti came out to meet us, yet most of the audience had left. Antti went to the gate where a security officer was standing and called us to come through. We wended our way downstairs, through the kitchen and narrow hallways to the backstage. Pauliina held a bottle of champagne and Antti offered Mark and me a glass. He also offered us to take anything from the table set out with food, but we didn’t, as that was for the band who had just spent an hour and a half onstage and well deserved it.
I reintroduced myself to some of the band members, like Oskari and Miika, and explained how I became interested in the band. I have to admit that it must seem pretty strange to have a Canadian fan not even of Finnish descent take to their music so fondly. We all spoke in English, with me interjecting a few sentences in Finnish, yet found it most considerate when Antti and Joel had a short exchange exclusively in English.
Scandinavian Music Group in concert in Joensuu
Me and Antti after the Joensuu show
Joel, me and Terhi. I am looking at Joel’s phone for the photo while Terhi is looking at Mark’s.
All of us looking into Joel’s camera