In Memory of Per Eirik Johansen

Jarle Bernhoft Sondre Lerche © Per Ole HagenIn Norway we don’t have many legendary music business people, but we have a few. Per Eirik Johansen was one of them, but one year ago, on January 15, he died of a heart attack while sleeping, only 54 years old. On Thursday this week his family and several of the artists he worked with held a memorial concert for Per Eirik, celebrating his great influence on the Norwegian popular music scene at the Rockefeller Music Hall in Oslo. (Picture above: Sondre Lerche and Jarle Bernhoft)

A young Per Eirik Johansen with his band Bols

Per Eirik Johansen was known as an enthusiast, but also a sharp businessman with a good sense of quality, who helped launch some distinguished music careers during his time. He started out as the singer in two punk bands in Tromsoe in his younger days, Søt Hevn (Sweet Revenge) and Bols. The first and well-deserved recognition in the music business came when he, as the head of Virgin in Norway, signed Lene Marlin to the label.

Emilie Nicolas © Per Ole HagenEmilie Nicolas

He also signed Madrugada, Sondre Lerche, Turbonegro, Morten Abel, Röyksopp and several other bands and artists. When EMI bought Virgin, Per Eirik became the new managing director of the new EMI. Later he quit his job and started as a manager, with Jarle Bernhoft, Sivert Hoyem, Truls and Samsaya, and his latest artist was Emile Nicolas, who was the opening act at the memorial concert.

Emilie Nicolas © Per Ole Hagen

Emilie Nicolas is a fast rising star in Norway, and she has got rave reviews for everything she has done so far. She comes from the the jazz, and is educated at the Music Conservatory in Trondheim, together with most of the new generation of Norwegian jazz musicians. Emilie Nicolas’ music is less jazz and more pop/electronica, but her solid musical background and education shine through in her music, which is both intelligent and heartfelt. Her four song set showed me that she has matured even more since the last time I saw her, and I look forward to hopefully seeing her at festivals this summer.

Lene Nymo © Per Ole HagenLene Nymo

Before the next artist, Per Eirik Johansen ‘s widow, Lene Nymo, held a short and heartfelt speech about Per Eirik and all the people who have supported her during the last year, closing with a typical Per Eirik quote: “this will be the best damn concert ever!”

Sivert Høyem © Per Ole Hagen

Sivert Høyem © Per Ole HagenSivert Høyem

Sivert Hoyem, the former vocalist of Madrugada played his set with his pianist Christer Knutsen. Sivert has one of the strongest and most powerful, but also expressive voices that I know, and the concert at Rockefeller was no exception. The stripped down setting with only vocals, acoustic guitar and piano was perfect for the mood at the club.

Jarle Bernhoft © Per Ole HagenJarle Bernhoft

After Sivert Hoyem, Jarle Bernhoft entered the stage. He usually plays either alone, looping himself, or with a 5-10 piece band. This night he was solo, vocal and acoustic guitar, and no effects. Just like Emilie Nicolas, Jarle Bernhoft has a background singing jazz, and his totally rearranged version of the Hollies’ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother, was the absolute highlight for me.

Jarle Bernhoft Anneli Drecker © Per Ole HagenJarle Bernhoft and Anneli Drecker

Jarle Bernhoft Sondre Lerche © Per Ole HagenJarle Bernhoft and Sondre Lerche

Bernhoft had two guests on two songs. First Anneli Drecker, the former singer of Bel Canto, and then Sondre Lerche. Bot these artists have worked with Per Eirik Johansen, and specially the duet between Bernhoft and Lerche was fun. They played the first demo song Sondre Lerche presented to Per Eirik Johansen when he was at Virgin. Not necessarily Sondre Lerche’s best song, but he got a recording contract from it, and it certainly did have musical qualities.

Truls © Per Ole Hagen

Truls © Per Ole HagenTruls

Truls is one of the newer artists under Per Eirik Johansen’s management. He is best known for his falsetto voice, and specially the song Out Of Yourself that on its own launched his career in 2013. Truls’  music is catchy, powerful, melodious, and with a big sound that his trio recreated on stage.

Samsaya © Per Ole HagenSamsaya

The last artist out this night, was Samsaya. She is born in India, but her family moved to Norway when she was only 11 months old. She released her debut album, Shredding Skin, in 2004 and has been active since then, both as a songwriter, singer and actor in several movies and TV series. Her music is positive, danceable and with some tong melodies, and she has also been successful ingesting her songs in movies. Samsaya’s stage show is active and vibrant, and it was the perfect show to close the concert.

Arne Berg © Per Ole HagenArne Berg, the host for the concert

The whole concert was – intentionally or not – built up like a New Orleans jazz funeral. First the sombre music of Emilie Nicolas and Sivert Hoyem, then slowly breaking up with Jarle Bernhoft, and then more and more vibrant with Truls and Samsaya. I don’t know if Per Eirik saw it from where he is, but those of us who were present sure got “The Best Damn Concert Ever” with some of Norway’s best artists.

All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.

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