Väsen, Tolbooth, Stirling

Published on 19 September 2011 · Herald Scotland · Rob Adams

There can’t be many Swedish folk groups with a street named after them in America, a tribute some citizens of Bloomington, Indiana, have conferred upon the extraordinarily accomplished trio Väsen.

Following this latest visit to Scotland, maybe we could give them the freedom of Princes Street or since that’s hardly a favour these days, pluralise Great King Street in their honour.

It’s no more than they deserve because this was an astonishing performance, even by the high standards they’ve shown previously in presenting their polskas and waltzes. If this repertoire sounds like it might constitute dry folklore, think again. Vasen have the collective dynamic of a string quartet crossed with a bluegrass band and the difference this time was that they chose to play without a PA system. Only Roger Tallroth’s 12-string guitar was amplified, and even that was to give slightly more presence rather than big driving volume.

The result was, we heard every smallest detail – and there are many of these in their music – as Olov Johansson’s nyckelharpa, Mikael Marin’s five-string viola and Tallroth’s guitar wove together with brilliant intricacy, supported each other with finely nuanced counter melodies and carefully measured chords, and danced dizzying tunes that can sound as catchy as nursery rhymes – until you try to whistle them.

These tunes’ origins are as entertainingly explained as they are breathtakingly played, with tales of traffic lights in Kuala Lumpur bearing suspiciously Swedish-sounding names and Sweden’s most famous botanist/tune collector, Carl Linnaeus extracting tunes from his drunken-priest brother-in-law in penance. They play Kilbarchan Old Library tomorrow and Eastgate Theatre, Peebles on Wednesday. Move heaven and earth for a ticket.