Roxette in the Rock ’n’ Roll Circus

As we already posted about it in November 2019, in connection with the 50th anniversary of founding EMA Telstar (Live Nation today), legendary concert organizer, Thomas Johansson released a book, Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus: Artisterna – Musiken – Mötena (Rock ’n’ Roll Circus: Artists – Music – Meetings). Over the years Thomas has been working together with an endless list of artists and bands and of course, Roxette is one of them.

Thomas told his stories to writer and journalist (also author of The Lonely Boys fiction book among others), Mats Olsson who wrote them down. It’s not tabloid style, not at all. You won’t get to know any secrets you never knew about the artists themselves and most importantly, it’s not a scandal book. Thomas would never reveal anything he had been told in confidence. Why he can still do what he loves to do after 5 decades is that he is proved to be a trusty person and one who can sort out even things that seem to be impossible related to the concerts he organizes. Sometimes even related to those shows where he was not involved in the organizing. This is how his cooperation started with Bruce Springsteen, for example.

For a Roxer, the most important chapter in the book is without no doubt the one about Roxette, but since Per’s name and Roxette turn up here and there even in other bands’ and artists’ chapters, it’s worth reading the complete book. But not just because of that. The book tells you the story of how Thomas started his career already at the age of 17 and created his future day by day, event by event. You learn how important trust is and maintaining connections is another key factor. The little stories let you have an insight of how event organizing and musicians worked in the 60’s and 70’s and how it all has been changing over the decades. How you continuously have to keep up with the trends and be up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry. E.g. if someone has 1 billion views on YouTube, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people would buy tickets for 1000 SEK to see them live.

Roxette’s story in the book starts with them flying from Uruguay to Paraguay for their show in Asunción in April 1992. Thomas tells it was definitely the most dangerous flight ever in his life. He had pictures in his mind how the plane would crash in the rainforest, they would become completely isolated and stranded and started eating each other up. He says it was not a weird thought, because an air pocket caused a four-kilometer straight downfall. Per and Marie were quite calm, but there were other passengers panicking on the plane, screaming and crying. When they finally landed in Asunción, it was raining like hell. There was a press conference right at the airport, as it used to be a tradition in South America. There were 150 journalists sitting in a strange hall and so there was chaos, but they managed to get through it and leave by the cars that were already waiting outside after the conference.

Marie, Micke, Thomas and BoJo were travelling in the same car, a Mercedes. Thomas was sitting in the front and he remembers it was raining so heavily that his feet got completely wet even inside the car. Then suddenly, Marie from the backseat told she forgot her bag at the press conference. The whole convoy stopped, BoJo jumped out of the car into the water that reached up to his knees and rushed back to the airport for Marie’s bag. After he got back, they went to a golf hotel outside the city.

It stopped raining during the night and in the morning Thomas saw that the hotel was situated along a wide flood where dead cows were floating with their legs straight up in the air and crocodiles were swimming like in a Donald Duck comic. And Per was sitting on a balcony, sunbathing. [Hahaha. /PP]

The venue for the Roxette show was a big soccer stadium in Asunción that the organizer sold out. The arena was of the capacity of 30,000 people, but the organizer proudly said he sold 40,000 tickets. Tor Nielsen and Thomas immediately realized that they should strengthen the fences in front of the stage and they brought there a man who helped them with these kind of practical things.

The band was terribly good even if one couldn’t really hear what they were playing, because the crowd sing-along was louder than them. They asked the organizer how that could be, because no one spoke English, but the organizer said that in Asunción they used Roxette records for teaching at schools.

The organizers had built a large tower with mixer boards and spotlights in the middle of the crowd and while the band was playing Thomas saw from the stage how the light cones started to move and the whole tower was swaying by the pressure. BoJo gathered 200 soldiers who marched straight through the audience, up to the tower and they actually built it during the concert.

Thomas tells he has been working together with Per for 40 years, more than half of his life. Together with ”Blixten” Henriksson, who Thomas was working with in EMA Telstar they worked with Ulf Lundell, Tomas Ledin and Magnus Uggla, but after ABBA’s win in Brigthon Blixten took care of many other Swedish artists, while Thomas had other things to do. Blixten didn’t really believe in Gyllene Tider, he couldn’t see Flickorna på TV2 as a big hit and refused to work with them. So GT started working with their competitor, Thomas Nordlund at Showring. Later, in September 1981 they met Gyllene Tider and their business manager, Janne Beime and his wife, Lena in Örebro. Janne suggested to do a tour together. Blixten and Thomas were thinking all night about how to set up a tour for GT. The first time they worked together was in 1982 and the tour started in Ljusdal’s Folkets park. Thomas came just in time for the soundcheck and when he arrived he saw that the whole band was drinking coke except Göran and Per who ordered beer at the restaurant, but they didn’t get served, because they were too young. They were not, but they still didn’t get their beer.

Thomas says there was quite a contrast. They just did The Rolling Stones at Ullevi and then GT in Ljusdal. He was amazed at how good Gyllene Tider was. People loved them and the girls were screaming. Thomas is a nerd when it comes to songs and he can tell Per has written hits. GT was a classic pop band and they sounded fantastic already back then.

Mr. Johansson says it’s been a pleasure to work with Per, Gyllene Tider and Marie in different constellations. Before Roxette’s international break-through they already worked together on the Rock runt riket tour. Thomas could well build on what he learned from when he was organizing concerts for ABBA and other big international bands. Roxette played around the whole world. Not only in traditional arenas in England and the US, but also in South America and even Beijing in 1994. Wham! played there before Roxette, but Roxette was the first rock band allowed to play in China. Thomas remembers that they lived in a nice hotel in Beijing, but the venue, Capital Stadium left much to be desired. There were 12,000 in the crowd and no one was allowed to stand up and soldiers were sitting in the very front. The tickets cost 1-2 dollars, so not too expensive. People from the party listened to the songs in advance, checked the lyrics and they said they can’t play Sleeping In My Car. They didn’t explain why.

Thomas about Per:

Per is the engine, an engine of everything, a living dynamo. He was very young when we met in Örebro, but he was curious, smart and focused already then. Per has visions and thoughts, he wants a lot and that makes you talk, talk, talk and you can’t stand still. It’s a challenge, but also a pleasure to work with someone who is so creative.

Thomas admits he was a little worried before Gyllene Tider’s farewell tour last summer, but in hindsight he understands how incredibly deeply rooted GT’s songs are. They are part of Swedish summer.

Thomas mentions that Roxette had their very last concert in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016. [The very last concert was in Cape Town, 8th February 2016. /PP] As Thomas says, ”Marie, this fragile little person, such a warm and unbelievably strong woman, could no longer tour”. Thomas remembers that after releasing Nu!, Marie so much wanted to do her last solo tour in 2014. Everyone told her she shouldn’t, she can’t, it won’t work, but she insisted and then you could see her enormous strength. She went through so much… The tour turned out to be phenomenal and she was singing like a goddess. Thomas says:

For me this is the essence of Marie, a mix of pop, blues, jazz, a little, little body with a big, big voice. Many have great voices and sing well, but can’t express anything. Marie can do that. She is a storyteller and not many are.

It’s hard to forget Roxette’s last show. It was windy that night in Johannesburg and there were 10,000 – 12,000 people inside the venue. Marie had problems with walking, so BoJo walked her to the stage. She was sitting on a chair, stood up and sat down again. Thomas thought that can’t go on like this for a long time. They booked a summer tour, but then it had to be cancelled.

After Marie stopped touring, Per wanted to continue. He wanted to play the songs he wrote for Roxette and Thomas and PG talked a lot about it. Thomas told Per that if he doesn’t do it, he will be thinking about it all the time in the future. So he said let’s call it Per Gessle’s Roxette and they book a tour in Europe in theatres between the capacity of 200 and 2000. Thomas thought Roger Waters performs as Roger Waters, but he plays Pink Floyd songs and those songs couldn’t sound more like Pink Floyd than when Roger plays them. The same with Paul McCartney and The Beatles. And no one else could sound more like Roxette than Per. The tour was good, even if it wasn’t sold out everywhere. It sounded fantastic and they got nice reviews. We will see what’s next. Now Per also has an electronic band, Mono Mind and Gyllene Tider’s 2019 tour was one of the biggest in Sweden.

Thomas says that Per has two, soon three generations in his audience. Like The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Roger Waters. 40 years of constant hits.

In other chapters Thomas mentions that he is a Formula 1 fan, just like Per. Roxette turns up in a chapter with their 1996 Toronto TV appearance and Mr. Johansson tells that at the same time he was negotiating NHL matches to be brought to Sweden. In the Ulf Lundell chapter Thomas tells the story of how he started working with Lundell. He asked if Thomas still works with Swedish artists and when Thomas said he works with Ledin and Gessle, Lundell said then he wants Thomas to do his next tour. Mr. Johnasson explains that Per, Tomas and Ulf are very different, both in music and in their personalities, but they are very similar in their creativity. Thomas says it’s motivating to work so close together with artists who are so creative, because you can learn what drives them and then it doesn’t matter if the artist’s name is Per, Tomas, Ulf, Mick, Keith, Bowie or Bruce, they have the same thoughts and same questions and Thomas feels lucky and priviliged to work with them.

Mr. G pops up in the David Bowie chapter as well. There Thomas mentions that he, Bosse Norling (tour leader), Bengt Berg (from EMI) and a very young Per Gessle were travelling together to Lyon to see Bowie’s concert in 1983. They were flying to Geneva, rented a car there and drove through Switzerland to Lyon, France. They arrived in the afternoon and Per invited them for lunch at a truck stop. Appetizer, main course, dessert and wine, everything was included and cost ten francs per person. They ate one-minute hearty steak with french fries and there was nothing wrong with the wine either. For the coffee they could choose dessert or calvados. Thomas felt like they had begun to live the glamorous rock life.

From the Tina Turner chapter we get to know that Tina lives in Switzerland and Thomas was once there for dinner with Roxette. They were drinking good wines and eating excellent truffle pasta prepared by Tina herself.

As I mentioned at the beginning, you can see that Per and Roxette really turn up in the book in several chapters. Thomas and Mats picked 25 artists and bands to write about. So besides Roxette you can read stories related to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, KISS, ABBA, Queen, Lou Reed, Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, Ulf Lundell, David Bowie, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Tomas Ledin, Neil Young, Tina Turner, AC/DC, Metallica, Rod Stewart, Pink, Roger Waters, Paul Simon, U2 and Paul McCartney. The foreword was written by Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA.

It’s a very interesting reading, I can only recommend. Good for practicing your Swedish too.