Gessle enligt Gessle (Gessle according to Gessle) is a 2-part documentary on Per Gessle, covering the story of his early life, musical career including Gyllene Tider, Roxette, solo, songwriting and his En vacker kväll tour. The docu was recorded during the summer tour and in September and it was broadcast on 18th-19th December on TV4.
Why this documentary is different to most of those we could see in the Roxette World is that it’s Niklas Strömstedt, well-known musician and a good old friend to Per who is doing a long interview with Mr. G. Niklas and Per know each other since long and Niklas has always respected Per, his creativity and ability to write music. You can feel this admiration during the whole docu. The program is very natural, 2 friends talking about their passion, i.e. music. Per said Niklas asked questions in the documentary as a friend, as another musician, so it was indeed different vs. previous docus.
After seeing this documentary, recorded by Grumpy Productions (the same company that recorded the latest GT DVD), covering a lot from the summer tour as well, one doesn’t really need a separate tour DVD. But if a decision is made to release the Halmstad concert one day, we will of course be very happy about it.
A real hardcore fan won’t hear too much new information, but there are a few new anecdotes and the structure and the mood of the whole docu is just perfect. The interview is nicely interrupted by footage from the EVK concert in Halmstad. All in all, it’s very enjoyable and a real delight to all fans.
Watch Part 1 and Part 2 on TV4’s website if you are in Sweden or Part 1 and Part 2 on YouTube if you are anywhere else in the world.
Here is my summary in English of Part 1. You’ll see the ”chapters” according to the places where the actual scenes were recorded. (Part 2 summary comes soon.) All stills are from Part 1.
After a short tour scene, we can see beautiful Tylösand, Per and Niklas are walking along the beach and Per starts talking. He says he likes Halmstad, he likes being there. He has been travelling a lot ever since Roxette broke through, but he always has to come back to Halmstad to breathe out. It’s a special feeling. Besides that, his mum was there, MP’s studio is there. He just belongs to Halmstad and Halmstad belongs to him.
Niklas tells he has known Per Gessle since appr. 40 years. First time they met was on a chilly Tuesday in August 1979 at the EMI studio in Stockholm. They have occasionally written songs and played together. Niklas has a great respect for Per’s creativity, artistry and his ability to create hits.
They talk after Per came back from Nashville and was on a successful tour from Piteå to Helsingborg.
While walking at the beach, Per says the first thing he is thinking of when he wakes up in the morning is having the job done. And it’s music. Niklas is kidding and says not like others of their age to be thinking: “It doesn’t hurt so much today.” Per takes it for granted that it doesn’t hurt, fortunately. He says you look at the emails and what has happened during the night, there are always things to do and it always has to do with music in some way.
Niklas feels it’s time to dig deeper in Per’s upbringing and amazing career. It’s more than 40 years since Per conquered Sweden and a bit later the world with his music. Niklas knows for example that Per sold 85 million albums, but he still has tons of questions. E.g. how he celebrated his first Billboard No. 1, if he helps at home, how he felt when Gyllene Tider split, what happens inside when one loses his closest.
Niklas asks Per if he ever rests. Per says he does. He doesn’t work as much as it seems. He is not sitting at the piano between 10 and 12 each day. He doesn’t write every day, but he always has his antennas out. If he hears or reads something he likes, he takes notes and later either he uses it or not. Niklas asks if it’s hard to have the antennas always out. Mr. G says it’s hard, but probably harder for those around him than for himself. He just works like this. He can’t switch it off.
A WALK IN HALMSTAD
Niklas starts the next chapter by talking a bit about Per’s family. Per was born on 12th January 1959 in an incredibly cold Halmstad. His sister, Gunilla was 14 and his brother, Bengt was 7 when Mr. G was born. Per’s father, Kurt was a plumber and his mother, Elisabeth was painting porcelain.
The guys are taking a walk along the river, Nissan in Halmstad. Niklas asks Per about how he remembers the Halmstad he grew up in. Per says it didn’t look like this. There are many new buildings. He grew up in Furet district by the way. It was a ’50s-’60s villa area. It was a little idyllic in its way, but Per didn’t like it. He liked most his record player back then too.
Niklas asks Per if they played a lot of music at home and what Per’s parents were listening to. Per says his parents weren’t really interested in music, but his brother was. He was born in 1951 and grew up with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, in the middle of the ’60s. His sister grew up with Elvis and Tommy Steele. So it was a lot of pop and rock music in the house. Per liked them all. He bought Melody Maker and New Musical Express magazines as a 12-13-year-old and was following the charts. In the ’60s he liked almost everything. The Monkees, Herman’s Hermits, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Tages. The first LP he bought was The Kink Kontroversy. He bought it from his brother who needed money for cigarette. It cost 5 crowns from his pocket money.
Niklas asks Per what is his first ever memory. Per says he remembers having all his toy cars in the pantry in the kitchen. It’s a good memory. He was laying there and crawling. He had a little Goldfinger and an Aston Martin.
Niklas asks Per in what way he was mommy’s boy. Per says his mum always supported him. She bought his first guitar. She said: “If you want a guitar, we will buy a really good one.” There was an old steel-string guitar in the house which couldn’t be played. So his mum bought a Bjärton nylon-string guitar.
Niklas asks which was the first song Per wrote himself. It was “Symbol of the autumn”, a song in English. Niklas is curious if Per has all his old demos. Per thinks so, but he can’t remember if he threw them out or just ignored them. He then tells the story of he and his friend being Sweden’s first troubadours employed by the city council. For 3 months they were playing at nursing homes for old people and so. He had his little Bjärton guitar and they played “Drömmen om Elin”, “Svarte Rudolf” and “Så skimrande var aldrig havet”. Niklas asks if Per could play “Drömmen om Elin”, but Per isn’t sure about it, so he chooses “Svarte Rudolf” instead. He says he played it for a radio a long time ago. Niklas gives the guitar to Per, but keeps the plectrum for himself. Per starts playing the song, but he can’t remember the text.
Mr. G says they got a schedule for each week and he has lots of stories from those times. One of them is when they had to go to the long-term care at the hospital in Halmstad. They had never been there and when they got in, there was no one who greeted them. They just entered a hall where there were two patients on the two sides so they sat in the middle and played. The patients didn’t move, they were just lying there. Per and his friend played “Man borde inte sova” or “Streets of London”. Suddenly the staff came and wondered what they were doing there. Just then, one of the two guys woke up, it was a young guy. It was a big thing, because he had been in coma. He woke up when Per and his friend played. Maybe they played “Proud Mary” or something he recognized. Then came like 20 doctors and staff and asked “Can you come and play here too?” It was a big deal because the guy woke up from coma. During those three minutes Per and his friend managed to wake him up… Fate is strange.
Per tells another story. It’s about Tilda, 91 and Agnes, 97 in a nursing home. The ladies were sitting and eating lunch at a table. Per had a small capo for the guitar. Per and his friend Peter sat there and Per put his capo on the table. They played some songs and when he wanted to pick up his capo, it was gone. Eskil, 101 years old, was sitting there and had it in his mouth. He had dipped it in the soup. He thought it was cracking bread or something. Such things always happened. Haha.
Niklas and Per start talking about clothes. Per says he wasn’t interested in clothes when he was a kid. He was quite overweight and looked pretty grotesque in all clothes. It was only later, in his late teens, in the ’70s when he tried to get some sort of look. He remembers the punk outfit and the new wave look. Narrow ties. A little bit like what Gyllene Tider looked back then.
The guys move on to the school topic. Per says he regrets he didn’t spend much time and energy on school. It was horrible. Where he went to school they didn’t learn anything. It has always been easy for him to learn things. If you had a good result on a high school test, you were booed in the class. Per thinks it was chemistry. They didn’t enter the classroom for a whole semester. The whole class sat outside the classroom. The teacher came out and tried to get them in, but it didn’t work. Everyone received an approved grade, even though they had not had a single lesson.
There is a concert cut from Halmstad where Per tells when he started writing songs in the ’70s he wrote in English. He learned English by listening to pop music. You didn’t learn anything at school, but on the records you found your own language.
Niklas remembers that one day when he was at EMI’s office in Solna, Gyllene Tider came straight from the studio to record “Sommartider”. Lasse and Kjell had told Per he should write a hit. Per says “Sommartider” and “Sleeping In My Car” are the only songs he has written for those to become hits. He hesitated for a long time if the title should be “Sommartider”, because Magnus Uggla had a song called “Sommartid”. Niklas asks if Per knew it already then that it would become a hit. Per says no. He remembers that they were sitting in Anders’ car in Halmstad and the song was played on the radio and the host said it would be that summer’s hit. They were just screaming in the car: Yes!
Niklas asks Per if he cooks. Per says he doesn’t really, but it’s fun to help in the kitchen. With the meat sauce. Or most of the times, to lay the table. Niklas asks if Per would like to have some signature dishes. Per says it would be fun. He thinks cooking is a creative job too and it’s strange he doesn’t cook. But with his traveling lifestyle he eats a lot in restaurants and hotels. He met his wife quite early and she loves to cook. So it became her role to cook. Per is doing the dishes. Niklas jokes and asks if it means Per takes the washed-up dishes out of the dishwasher. Per says something like that.
Before the guys enter the studio in Desperado style, Niklas talks a bit about Gyllene Tider that started out as Grape Rock, established by Per and Mats MP Persson in 1977. Despite MP’s musical talent and Per’s sharp songwriting skills they realized that they can’t have a band if they are only 2. So they established Gyllene Tider together with bassist Janne Carlsson, Göran Fritzon on keyboards and drummer Micke Andersson, whose name back then didn’t include Syd. The bassist had been changed quite early to Anders Herrlin and GT became the band they still are. GT became local celebrities in Halmstad. They released an EP in 900 copies and the songs of the EP reached music producer Kjell Andersson. He offered the band a contract with the record company EMI.
MP was fond of writing Status Quo boogie songs. “Arabiska nätter” is a bit like that, with the world’s strangest guitar riff. The guys are playing a bit of the song here. Per says it was a little controversial, but very much 1977. Niklas asks why it hasn’t been released. Per says when they got the record contract, Kjell liked some stuff they had, the lyrics and that certain pop style that fit those times. It didn’t include the Status Quo-boogie.
Niklas asks how it went on, if it was easy to bring new songs to the rehearsals. Per says it was. As soon as they got response to what they did, everyone was so enthusiastic. Everyone wanted to move forward. As soon as they had a song idea, they recorded it and sent it to Kjell at EMI. Then they got response. It went like that until 1984. It was only Mats and Per who wrote songs. It’s different if you are Fleetwood Mac where everyone writes songs. Or The Beatles where several wrote songs. Regarding texts, it was only Per who wrote lyrics. Niklas asks how many songs Per has written. Per jokes first and says 4, but in the end he says 800-900.
Niklas says Per has always been very clever and intelligent in his Swedish texts. Talking about “Här kommer alla känslorna på en och samma gång” there are so many words rhyming to “gång”. Per found good words there. Betong, ballong, perrong.
The guys play a bit of “Tycker om när du tar på mig” here.
Niklas says Per makes a lot of effort and asks him if he is fiddling a lot with the lyrics. Per replies Jesus Christ, a lot. It takes a very long time to write texts. The older you get it takes even longer. One tries to come up with a simple and strong feeling in a text. But you usually try to describe it as beautifully as possible. It’s easy to write a love text but to write an intelligent love text that no one has heard before is very difficult. People often ask if Per “goes to work” and writes songs all day long. He doesn’t do it at all. He does the opposite. He writes as little as he can. But when he has an idea, he wants it to go fast and focused. You can’t construct a damn good melody track if it doesn’t help itself. When Per started playing music, it was the punk and the new wave movement era. Before that, one had to be very good at playing. Per wasn’t. The idea of punk was that everyone could play. It was appealing to Per. It made you dare to start writing songs and put together a band. When GT got a record contract a few years later, they had no thought of reaching anything special.
Niklas says GT were very cute. It was everyone’s perception around the guys. They started promoting milk and Jordache jeans. Niklas asks how they got there. Per says it was a way of earning money. Jordache jeans wanted to enter the market and Gyllene Tider was the biggest. They got a lot of money after each sold pair of jeans. It was a good deal. Per says imagine if Jordache jeans had become rocky and tough. Then they would have been rocky and tough guys too. But it didn’t happen.
Niklas says you have to be careful regarding what you are promoting. You don’t advertise just anything. Per says he is right and there are a few things he can’t imagine promoting. Political things for example. And another thing is that the advertisement shouldn’t be crap. You don’t want “Queen of Rain” or “Listen To Your Heart” in a context that downgrades the song. Per can imagine advertising strawberry milk or cars. But it depends a bit on how it’s done.
They guys perform a bit of “På promenad genom stan” on one of the suites’ balcony in Hotel Tylösand.
Per tells his first real electric guitar was very expensive. He bought it in England. MP, Per and Janne (first bassist in GT) went to England in 1978. The pound was down and he bought a wine-red Gibson Les Paul Custom. Dave Davies in The Kinks had one like that. MP bought a black Telecaster, Per bought his Gibson and Janne bought a left-handed bass. He was left-handed. Besides these, they bought speakers or amplifiers. Marshall stuff. Per says they had the guitars with them on their way back home and it turned out they should pay VAT. It was before the EU. They had no idea about it. So either they had to smuggle the guitars or pay the VAT. They had no money so they decided to smuggle, but they got caught. Per wrote a letter of apology to the customs and police by hand. He told the whole story and that it wasn’t their intention to break the law. They made the wrong decision, sorry. So they got back their instruments, but they got a fine of 2000 crowns. Niklas asks if it was worth it. Per says absolutely.
The guys had no money so they worked. Per thinks MP worked with his dad who had a construction company. Per worked at Fammarps mushrooms and weighed mushrooms. Mr. G worked there for two summers. All the money went on buying guitars, strings and new capo. Here they laugh remembering the nursing home incident where the capo got eaten.
Per says the only thing that existed was music. That wonderful, parallel universe called pop. It was better living in that world than in your own.
Niklas says Gyllene Tider reunited every now and then and asks why. Per says it’s fun to play together. It’s a fantastic little pop band. There is some timelessness in what they have done. There is this magic that occurs when an artist has fun with the audience. It differs very much from anything else Per does. It’s a lovely time trip every time they play together.
Per says when they start rehearsing with the band they can’t really rehearse the songs. They just know them. It’s an awesome band. Per hopes there will be more Gyllene Tider, as long as everyone is alive. It’s them 5 who can do it. Per plays some songs on his own tours and it’s also good, but it’s not Gyllene Tider. Niklas asks how is it playing those songs with others. Per says in summer he played some greatest hits from his catalogue and of all the songs it was the GT hits that were the hardest to play.
In 1985 Anders Herrlin decided to leave Gyllene Tider. It was the end of the band, at least then. At a meeting Anders told GT wasn’t fun anymore. Niklas asks Per how he reacted on it. Per says MP and he were driving home in the same car and they were sitting silently during the whole way. They were wondering about what happened. They just felt it was over in a way. Per went home and started thinking about the next step. It was obvious to him to make a solo album. Which he later did, including songs like “Blå december” or “Galning”. The latter was actually recorded by GT.
Niklas asks Per if he wrote about this break-up, if he used this feeling of being disappointed and sad in his songwriting. Per can hardly remember, but that album is quite sad. The last thing Gyllene Tider did before that was the English album and a rather half-good tour. It felt a bit like it might not be so stupid to quit, after all. Niklas says as it may be in relationships. It just happens. Per jokes “it’s not my fault.” Niklas says he means “it’s not your fault.” Per says “Vi passar så bra isär” (we’re so good apart). Haha. Niklas asks if it was Per who wrote that song. Per says it was Hasse Alfredson.
Per continues his story-telling. He made another solo album that didn’t go well and he tried to find his place in the music industry. He started writing songs with Torgny Söderberg, “Kärleken är evig” and something else.
Per’s solo album, “Scener” didn’t work at all. Niklas is curious how he felt back then, if it was a tough period. Per says it was horrible. When you are successful, when things work, it’s easy to make decisions and new steps. But when things are not going well, you’re stuck. You simply make wrong decisions. Per felt very confused, especially musically. “What do I want to do?”, asked himself. Niklas asks if he ever thought about doing something else. Per says no, it never went so far. One has to survive in a way. He remembers he was asked to form a band and play in a pub in Halmstad over a summer. He thanked no and the question went on to The Husbands. It didn’t fit Per. He didn’t want to play in such a band. He wanted to write songs and develop his way of writing. He has always prioritized songwriting. So it’s really tough when it doesn’t work. Those years, 1984 and 1985 were tough.
Then there was the opportunity to start working with Marie. Niklas asks how it happened. Per says it was back in the ’70s. Gyllene Tider and Marie’s band shared a rehearsal studio. Marie and Per have always been very good friends. They have always talked about doing something together. Marie sang on some Gyllene Tider songs, she was on TV with GT. “Vandrar i ett sommarregn.” And she eventually ended up on the same record label as Per. They have always supported each other’s careers. In 1985 Marie broke through as a solo artist. It wasn’t obvious for her to work with Per. What attracted her to cooperate with Per was that it was in English and maybe to go abroad. Niklas says Per must have been thrilled that Marie wanted to work with him. Per says he was happy for every song they recorded. He knew that tomorrow it could be over. All the time it was like that. They released their first LP “Pearls of Passion”, which was Per’s third unpublished solo album that he basically translated from Swedish into English. So all the first Roxette songs, e.g. “So Far Away” was called “Som i en dröm”, “Soul Deep” was called “Dansa nerför ett stup i rekordfart”. Per wrote English lyrics and Marie sang. Mr. G had never heard Marie singing that way. She was also a singer / songwriter. “Sjunde vågen”, “Het vind” and “Ännu doftar kärlek”. But now there was another Marie. Per was proud and happy about that he could get it out of her via his songs. She got another type of material, which was exciting. Per thinks that was the driver why she sticked to Roxette.
The guys play a bit of “Dansa nerför ett stup i rekordfart” here.
Per says it sounded pretty bad with him, but when Marie sings it… Per always had the feeling that Roxette was a bit on loan, that it wasn’t that important to Marie. But Per had nothing else. After the first album, which became a big success in Sweden, Marie went back to her Swedish career and released “Efter stormen”. But then they had such success with “Pearls of Passion” that they decided to make another album and focus even more on abroad. Then Per wrote what became “Look Sharp!”.
Despite the huge success in Sweden, there was no real interest in Roxette abroad. But on Sparregatan in Borås, the band had a big fan, American exchange student Dean Cushman. He brought the “Look Sharp!” album to Minneapolis, where it got in the hands of Brian Philips, head of the local KDWB radio station. Philips loved “The Look”, which quickly became a monster hit across the United States.
To be continued… (in Part 2)
Thanx a lot for the technical support, János Tóth!