Saturday 9 May 1998


The following article is an overview of the career of Norwegian keys player, arranger, and band leader Geir Langslet. The main source of information is an interview with Mr Langslet, conducted by Bas Tukker in December 2021. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Geir Langslet's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © Bas Tukker / 2021-22

  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Geir Langslet
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links

Born: October 9th, 1956, Horten (Norway)
Nationality: Norwegian

Apart from his involvements as an orchestral musician in the Eurovision editions held in Norway in 1986 and 1996, Geir Langslet took part in the festival for his country three times, the first being in 1995 in Dublin when Norway won the contest with Secret Garden’s ‘Nocturne’. Langslet also led the orchestra for Tor Endresen’s performance of ‘San Francisco’ (1997) and Lars A. Fredriksen’s rendition of ‘Alltid sommer’ (1998), Norway’s last entry with the involvement of a live orchestra.


Geir Langslet Eriksen was born in Horten, but grew up in Fredrikstad, a town in the far south-eastern corner of Norway. “The family had to move because my father found a new job in Fredrikstad. He was a civil engineer by profession, but his passion was for music. He was an excellent guitarist, who once won first prize in a national competition for jazz guitarists. He also wrote music himself and played in jazz groups, dance bands, and jam sessions. As my mother played the piano, you could say I grew up in a musical environment. I was sent to my first piano teacher when I was five years old. I was very young, but I liked the lessons at once. From that time on, I liked nothing better than sitting at the piano and practicing all the time. I noticed this was something I was good at. I derived a certain amount of self-confidence from playing the piano – it was the thing I could do to impress my friends.”

“Aged nine, I went to a new teacher, a man called Leif Hendricksen, a bar pianist. He could play all kinds of different styles, classical, jazz, and ragtime. He inspired me to play pop music, which I loved as I had discovered The Beatles on the radio. I was listening to their music all the time. Slowly, classical music moved further to the background. My father also passed his passion for jazz onto me. He had dozens of records by all the old geniuses of American jazz; Oscar Peterson, Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery… When I was a little older, he even took me to a Oscar Peterson concert in Oslo, a hugely impressive experience for me.”

“As a teenager, I founded a dance band with friends with whom I played in the local brass orchestra. Calling ourselves Fish & Chips, we were a cover band, playing a mix of hit songs and disco music. To our own surprise, we were in demand quite soon to play in restaurants and dance halls across the region and even a little bit in Oslo as well. If we had wanted to get into those places as visitors, they wouldn’t have let us in, because we were too young, but as musicians we had no problem! It was a good experience… and we earned some good pocket money as well. This episode with Fish & Chips lasted for some five years, until 1976. In the band, I usually played the organ – an old-fashioned home organ with two manuals. In 1974, I bought my first synthesiser, a Roland SH-1000. I loved the jazz fusion of Chick Corea and Weather Report at the time; they gave me the inspiration.”

Geir (middle) with his band Skellington, with (to his left) Tore Hansen and Jan Erik Aasland; and to his right Per Gunnar Nordbæk and Jan Olav Nordbæk (c. 1977)

“When I was in secondary school, I also had a little job on the side as a journalist for the local newspaper. Because I was feeling somewhat insecure about being able to earn a living as a musician, I decided to study journalism. After half a year at high school, though, inspired by a new piano teacher, a Hungarian lady called Babi Szava, I decided to switch to music anyhow. After that one year of high school, I would have loved to have gone to the conservatory, but it was almost impossible to get in as a guy from a provincial backwater like Fredrikstad. I decided to shelve my ideas of studying for a while; instead, I went on the road for almost three years with another group, Skellington, who were a more sophisticated dance ensemble with a preference for funky music such as Earth, Wind & Fire. They were a professional band and we toured the whole of Norway, from the south right up to the far north. We performed the whole year through. It was a good training for me to play for audiences a lot, getting rid of the nerves. For my development as a musician, it was important that I was the one the other guys were looking to for the arrangements. It’s normal for the keyboard player to take care of them after all. So when preparing a cover, I listened to the original records and wrote down the parts in the old-fashioned way, by ear – the choirs, the sounds, the grooves, everything. It was hard work, but I loved it.”

“One evening in 1979, after a performance with Skellington in a Chinese restaurant in Fredrikstad, I was approached by a guy called Svein Gundersen, a bass player and record producer. He asked me if I would be interested in joining the band of Alex Naumik. Alex was a Polish singer who was very popular in Norway. She could be considered our country’s answer to Kate Bush, but with a few more disco influences. Svein was her producer – but he also was the band leader for Jahn Teigen’s tour, and not much later, he offered me a place in Jahn’s band as well."

"I was astonished that I was accepted in this group of musicians accompanying the most important pop artist in Norway. I was still so young, just 22. Yet, from the beginning, there was this inexplicable chemistry between Svein Gundersen, me, and Svein Dag Hauge, a guitarist. When we were playing, it was as if we had been together on stage for years. In 1979, I was also part of the group of musicians who recorded studio albums with Alex and Jahn. For the album with Jahn, we travelled to Hamburg (This was the album ‘En dags pause’ with Teigen’s hits ‘Min første kjærlighet’ and ‘Sala Palmer’ – BT). Everything that happened was so fascinating. Working with Alex and Jahn was a factor as to why I had extra motivation to learn more. I decided to apply for a scholarship to Berklee College in Boston.”

“In that respect, it’s good to be Norwegian. Everyone who wishes to can get a sizeable loan – and fortunately my parents sponsored me as well! So off I went to America. I spent most of 1980 there, studying the piano and arranging – but my focus was firmly on arranging. I wanted to learn to write for bigger groups of musicians, for orchestras. With Alex and Jahn, I had had my first experience in the recording studio and I was hoping that Berklee would help me become a better session player – and perhaps even lead to work as an arranger. With Berklee being the holy grail for aspiring jazz musicians, I had a great time immersing myself in jazz for that one year. There were excellent teachers who taught me all kinds of jazzy tricks.”

Geir Langslet (far left) as a music student in Boston with fellow-Norwegians Bruce Rasmussen, Einar Mjåland, and Stig Hæreid (1980)

“In Boston, I lived in a dormitory, sharing a room with two American guys. They were both keyboard players as well, so you can imagine we discussed music 24/7. I also found myself in a jazz band with just Americans. We drove all the way up to a little studio in Vermont to record some songs. It was a fascinating trip. In terms of my development as a musician, that year in Berklee was very important. About mid-term, I went back to Norway to record another album with Jahn Teigen – and having gone back to Boston, it wasn’t long before I received another phone call from him telling me that he wanted me in his band for the upcoming tour – Jahn dragged me back. My plan was always to go back to Berklee to finish the course, but in the following years I played and played… and suddenly I was sixty years old!”

“Going on tour with Jahn Teigen was one big adventure. Jahn was a good guy. In his unique way, he was able to create magic on stage, capturing audiences night after night. Jahn had a predilection for extravagant costumes – and his band musicians had to go along with that. It’s not really my cup of tea… I prefer taking it easy in the background, wearing a T-shirt and a cap, but dressing up was part and parcel of working with Jahn. He was mad, mostly in a good way, but sometimes he suffered from mood swings and we had to be very careful not to anger him any further. In a technical sense, Jahn wasn’t a great musician, but he had a remarkable talent for writing simple, catchy songs. Before going solo, he was the frontman of Popol Ace, a very advanced rock band who we all admired for their intricate musical approach, but once he had left, he chose a far more commercial approach – and, admittedly, he was very successful at that.”

“On average, in the early 1980s, I spent about six months on the road accompanying artists on stage, while working as a session musician in studio recordings for the remainder of the year. In many cases, I went on tour with singers after having worked on their studio album – names like Marius Müller and Anita Skorgan spring to mind. For Marius, I played keys on his huge hit, ‘Den du veit’, which has gone on to become a real classic in Norway – a song everybody still remembers. I was credited as arranger because I came up with an idea for a catchy synthesiser intro. There was nothing orchestral about this record, though, and for most of the sessions I worked on, the arrangements were put together on the spot by the rhythm musicians. Usually, Svein Gundersen brought a lead sheet and we took it from there. I was part of a clan of musicians – nearly always the same ones –, who monopolised the bulk of the session work in Oslo. Svein Gundersen, Svein Dag Hauge, my good friend Per Kolstad on piano, Bruce Rasmussen and Per Hillestad on drums… you could find us in the studio from 10 am until 10 pm. These were long days, but what could be better than hanging out with your best friends the whole day?”

Jahn Teigen (far right) on a summer tour in Norway with his band, from left to right: Herodes Falsk, Svein Dag Hauge, Geir Langslet, and Svein Gundersen (c. 1979)

For some twenty years, from 1980 until 2000, Geir Langslet was keyboard player in the band Lava, initially just working with them in studio sessions, but becoming a full member shortly after. Lava, founded by Svein Dag Hauge in 1977, made a name for themselves with fusion repertoire inspired by Chick Corea, Steely Dan, and Gino Vannelli. At the outset, the band made instrumental music, but from 1982 onwards they worked with Egil Eldøen as their lead vocalist.

“It was another project with friends; of course there was Svein Dag, and once more Svein Gundersen who was the producer for Lava’s first album (in 1980 – BT). They wanted me to play synthesiser on it – and after the release, I went on tour with them. To me, initially, it looked like a one-off, but when some other members quit, Svein Dag asked me to join the band. I was only too happy to accept, because their music was interesting. It was jazz rock, not very commercial, yet Svein Dag had big ambitions. He was looking to reach a wider audience. Initially, it really was his project and he wanted things done his way, but after a while he loosened up, allowing the other players to bring in their suggestions. As we all had our own style, the band became a true melting pot as we inspired one another. I loved working with my good friend Per Kolstad, who joined the group shortly after I had. In Lava, Per did all the piano parts, while I stuck to just playing the keys. Per, with those long fingers of his, has an inimitable style of playing which was great… we sat together for hours and hours exchanging musical ideas. I like to think I was an inspiration to him as well.”

“In 1983, out of the blue, our record company asked us to work with Randy Crawford. As it turned out, she had contacted them with the request to find her a local band she could team up with for her upcoming Scandinavian tour. From the outset, we clicked with Randy. Our band consisted of a group of musicians who had been working together not only with Lava, but with other solo singers as well. In other words, we were used to being a back-up group. After that tour, she insisted on taking us with her to other parts of the world."

"In the following ten years, we accompanied her concerts in Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Australia, and even in Zimbabwe and Swaziland.A special highlight was performing at the jazz festival in Montreux, which to me was a dream come true – but the two sell-out concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London were memorable too. That was a great item to cross off my imaginary to-do list! Every time we went away, we felt like stars. In Norway, I was used to carrying my own keyboard to every concert, but with Randy Crawford there were roadies fixing our equipment. The Japanese roadies especially were fantastic… those guys wouldn’t allow us to touch a thing. This gave us the opportunity to go straight to our hotel rooms and enjoy our free time. In all, it was a big experience. It doesn’t happen that often that a singer wants to work with the same musicians for so long.”

Lava on tour in 1982, from left to right: Sigurd Köhn, Sven Persson, Geir Langslet, Per Hillestad, Marius Müller, Reidar Andersen, Rolf Graf, Per Kolstad, and Svein Dag Hauge

“Of course, Randy expected us to treat her as a star – and she could be demanding, but she was generous as well. In terms of talent, she is up there among the very best. Going on tours with her also meant we had to put our own projects on hold, but that wasn’t too much of an issue as we had plenty of time in between. Moreover, working with her generated lots of exposure for us. In 1984, we did an album called ‘Fire’, for which Randy came over especially from the US to record a duet with Egil Eldøen. Egil had written this song, ‘You’, dreaming of performing it with her – but it was a surprise to all of us when she accepted! That song was one of our biggest hits and the album was a sort of second breakthrough for us in Norway. We were already quite well-known, but this new LP (for which Geir himself composed the opening piece, ‘Sophie’ – BT) established Lava as one of the country’s leading groups. It sold well and we were awarded with the Spellemannprisen, a Norwegian Grammy, for best album of the year."

"We also made an attempt at an international breakthrough, but this idea was doomed from the start. Audiences abroad came to listen to Randy, but nobody had heard of Lava. Somehow, we never truly believed it was possible for a Norwegian band to burst onto the international scene – until A-Ha proved us completely wrong! Apparently, for us, the stars weren’t right.”

“With all this live work, the plans I had been cherishing about working as a studio arranger never really got off the ground, although I arranged for some studio projects here and there – but never with large orchestras. Somehow, producers preferred giving the big commissions to better-known guys like Pete Knutsen. To them, I was a keyboard player, not someone who wrote scores. Typically, the first opportunity to write an arrangement with strings and brass came when I was asked to work on a musical comedy production in my hometown, Fredrikstad. That was somewhere in the mid-80s.”

“Slowly, more and more theatre commissions, including bigger ones, came my way from then on – not only musicals, but also revues and rock operas. In 1989, I was the arranger and kapellmeister for the musical Junglebook; the score had been composed by my friend Svein Gundersen. It was performed in Oslo’s Bryggeteatret. I’ve always loved theatre and it was great to work on those big productions with artists like Lill Lindfors and Wenche Myhre. Theatre is all about ‘now’ – as a bandleader, you have to remember all your cues and hope that the actors on stage remember theirs as well. It’s a feeling that I’ve always enjoyed. It can start feeling like a treadmill too, having to play the same music every night. I usually had a substitute to replace me after a while; this gave me the chance to move onto the next job. In the meantime, I continued doing studio work and going on the road with Lava and various others; Tor Endresen and the Oslo Gospel Choir, to name just two – not even mentioning that I had a family with young children at home. Yes, those were busy years!”

A moment of relaxation during one of the international tours of Lava with American songstress Randy Crawford; Geir on the far left (1984)

In 1992, Geir Langslet was the pianist and arranger in the band accompanying a pan-Scandinavian tour with Finnish songstress Arja Saijonmaa and legendary Greek film composer Mikis Theodorakis.

“The first of those concerts was in Trondheim’s Olavshallen,” as Langslet recalls. “It was a tour celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Mikis’ and Arja’s first collaboration. Svein Gundersen, who produced the show, put together a band. Up front were two Greek bouzouki players. Fortunately, one of them was living in Oslo – while I was writing the lead sheets, he was able to give me advice on those complicated metrical changes which are so typical of Greek music. It was hugely difficult making sense of them sometimes. Theodorakis’ music doesn’t have much to do with pop; it’s basically folk-oriented. In rehearsals, Mikis himself conducted us in his own unique manner, with all these circular moves which took some getting used to. On a human level, Mikis was very understanding and inspirational. This man had a big heart! I was in awe of him, not only for his musicianship, but also because of his long-standing fight for human rights in Greece and all over the world. I loved working with him and it was great fun. This concert series was completely different from anything else I did.”

“In 1993, while I was involved as a kapellmeister for a production of Hair in the Bryggeteatret in Oslo, the cast and the accompanying band were invited to perform some of the songs on an NRK television programme. The host of that show was Ivar Dyrhaug – and apparently, he liked what he heard, because he asked me to be the musical director for his new talk show. It was just a little band he needed, no more than five musicians. Following that, Dyrhaug got involved in Talentiaden, a talent show for which a larger band was required with a string quartet and some brass players – and he asked me to do that programme as well. I did two seasons of Talentiaden. It was a huge production, something I hadn’t even dared dreaming of before. I loved the work, but it was hard work; writing loads of scores week after week, with meetings in between, and then the live show done on Saturday evening.”

“One thing led to another, and my involvement in Talentiaden resulted in me being asked by another producer to be his MD in the Melodi Grand Prix. On more than one occasion, I also led the house band for the Spellemannprisen Award show which was broadcast live on TV – and there were more Ivar Dyrhaug talk shows. The jobs I did for NRK Television were freelance assignments, usually for twelve or thirteen weeks per project. Unfortunately, as the 1990s wore on, budgets were reduced further and further; and the musicians were the first to fall victim to this, as TV producers started preferring to work with pre-recorded tracks instead of a band of live players. The 1999 Melodi Grand Prix was the last TV job I was involved in – in the preceding years, I joined the NRK team as their conductor for the international Eurovision final, but there as well the orchestra was removed. It was just a sign of the times, I guess.”

With his wife Christine (1999)

“Around the same time my work at NRK stopped, I also decided to quit Lava. In the 1990s, when I had so much else to do in the theatres and for television, my motivation to commit myself to the band went down bit by bit. I even skipped one of the international tours with Randy Crawford. I was looking for new experiences, enjoying collaborations with other musicians. Furthermore, the band slowly moved away from playing jazz rock towards straightforward pop music. There was some friction about this among band members. I would have preferred to stick with the advanced harmonies of the 1980s. In any band, whenever the harmonies are too simple, I tend to lose interest sooner or later. Musically speaking, Lava was still a good professional band, but I felt it was time to move on. Perhaps I would have done so anyway at some point, but if the band had taken a more contemporary approach, I would probably have stayed a little bit longer.”

“Session work also stopped almost completely due to the changes in the recording business. Yes, you could say I had to reinvent myself in that period, though there was always more than enough work which kept me going, mainly in the theatre. In one revue production in Oslo, I met my partner, Christine (Meyer – BT). She’s a professional singer. Before long, we formed a duo; pianist and singer. Christine can sing just about anything and it just depends on the type of event as to what kind of repertoire we bring… this can be a corporate event, a Christmas party, or an intimate concert in a church. Over the years, I’ve come to resent traveling around Norway more and more, but having my wife with me has made this a lot easier; for the both of us, actually. It’s a lot less lonely than it used to be in the old days.”

“In 2007, I was asked to form an event band for a big Queen tribute show. Åge Sten Nilsen (Wig Wam’s lead singer – BT) was the main star. It was a big challenge having to create all the scores from scratch. Queen’s music is rather complicated, especially in the choral arrangements. That show proved to be resoundingly successful and we performed it for years on end up and down the country. It’s still being staged occasionally nowadays, but I quit after seven years. Not so long after, I was involved in putting together another show, a Tina Turner tribute. The bass player for one of the event bands my wife and I worked with, was so impressed with Christine’s renditions of Tina Turner songs, that he suggested we should create a show around her. It was a really good idea. We’re working with an excellent band of young musicians and three backing singers; and the show is still running.”

The Tina Turner – Simply The Best tribute band, with Christine wearing the Tina Turner wig; and Geir immediately to her right

“Besides performing, I’ve more or less accidentally stumbled into teaching. At the University of Oslo, I was employed as a substitute lecturer in the subjects of musicology and piano. I did that for some years until I moved from Oslo to Drammen. There, the local Culture School wanted me for a substitute job as well. That was in 2011, but I’ve been working there ever since. My subjects are piano and studio production. The pupils are aged between 8 and 19. The hardest thing is choosing the correct approach for every individual student; some are beginners and others are of a more advanced level, some do their homework and others not so much… like in any other school. The work can be challenging, but inspirational as well. Becoming a teacher was never a dream for me, but I’ve liked it more than I expected. Having said that, I still don’t consider myself a teacher – I’m just a musician trying to share his knowledge with youngsters in the best way possible… and to my surprise I’m not that bad at it!”

“In recent years I’ve composed much more music than in earlier years. I long believed that my contribution to music would be as an arranger, but with Christine, I’ve published all kinds of things over the last few years – Christmas songs and also a children’s musical, for example. Of course I’m still writing arrangements, not only for our own projects, but also at the request of others, especially choirs; amateur choirs and professional choirs from all corners of Norway. Fortunately, these days, I’ve got the help of computer programmes like Sibelius, which have made the work much easier and more pleasant to do.”

“Looking back, I’m very happy with the career I’ve had. I never aspired to be a soloist; it was never my plan and it’s not my plan now either. I guess I’m a little bit too shy to be up front. Generally speaking, my place is in the shadow, doing my thing without being noticed too much. In the future, I’m hoping to continue writing songs and arrangements… and maybe stop touring altogether in a few years’ time. I’d love to spend more time in our little apartment in Spain, which has become my second fatherland and the ideal country in which to relax and enjoy life. Norway is beautiful, but I’ve seen practically every dance hall in the country. I’ve carried a lot of keyboards in my life and I can tell you those 88 keys are heavy!”


Prior to making his first of three appearances as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995, Geir Langslet had already had a long and varied string of involvements in the Norwegian festival pre-selection, taking part in the so-called Norsk Melodi Grand Prix as a songwriter, arranger, background musician on stage, and orchestral musician. Long before that, however, he had started taking an interest in the contest, which has been extremely popular in Norway from the moment the country first took part in the international festival in 1960.

“In the old days, everybody in Norway watched Eurovision. Up until the 1980s, we just had one television channel, so there was little choice! I think we’re a competitive nation as well. We supported our skiing athletes and speed-skaters, but that was about it as far as sports were concerned – and Eurovision gave us another chance to be part of a bigger world. There has also always been this rivalry with Sweden. More important than winning, we wanted to finish in a higher position than the Swedes. Having said that, when ABBA won, we respected them enormously for creating this new style which combined pop music with Swedish folk, making it an astounding international success… and of course, like all the other guys, I was in love with Agnetha! My most vivid memory of any Norwegian song is Jahn Teigen singing ‘Voodoo’ dressed up as a skeleton in the pre-selection (in 1976 – BT). His performance would have been very contemporary and exciting on the international stage as well, but he didn’t win. I’ve loved watching the contest from my childhood onwards; and as a musician, I never looked down on Eurovision. It’s always been interesting and exciting to follow.”

In 1982, Langslet had his first – and only – chance to compose a Eurovision entry, when he took part with ‘Barnesinn’, co-written with performer Gudny Aspaas. “Gudny was my neighbour in Oslo,” Geir recalls. “I met her regularly, because her husband was a sound engineer. One day, she asked me to write a song with her. She had an idea and we developed it together. It was quite a good song with a catchy refrain. I played the piano on it – and if memory serves me right, that was also the first year that I played in the orchestra accompanying all the songs. It was the first of many editions I was involved in; I only had to skip one or two because I was away on a tour. Most of the time, I was hired to play the synthesisers, sometimes synths as well as keyboards. It differed from year to year.”

“In the early days of my involvement, the Melodi Grand Prix was accompanied by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (or Kringkastingsorkestret, usually abbreviated as KORK, in Norwegian – BT) with Egil Monn-Iversen conducting. For such shows, the orchestra was extended with a pop rhythm section, for which I was asked by the drummer, Svein ‘Chrico’ Christiansen, who was a full member of KORK, and the bass player. It was flattering to be asked for this, as it more or less confirmed your status as one of the country’s best session players. Also back in the early 1980s, NRK’s approach to the production was very professional. Even when not all the songs were so good, it was always great to be a part of the show. In those days, most of the musicians in KORK were more exclusively classically oriented than nowadays, but they were alright. I found them friendly and easy to work with.”

“It was easy to notice that Egil Monn-Iversen had a very good connection with KORK. He was relaxed and put the musicians in a good mood with his sense of humour. They liked working for him – and I was no exception. In terms of age, Egil could have been my father, but in spite of the age difference there was a good chemistry between us. Some people in the business resented the fact that he wielded so much power, but I just thought he was a great musician and an able conductor; his gestures were easy to read, just how pop musicians want it. He had a long career and wrote music in different styles, ranging from orchestral film music to close harmony. His arrangements were very good too. Given that I was an aspiring arranger myself, I looked up to him as a role model.”

Egil Monn-Iversen being introduced to the audience in the 1981 Norsk Melodi Grand Prix

Apart from his participation as a musician in many national finals, Geir Langslet also took part in the studio recordings of various Norwegian Eurovision entries, including ‘Romeo’ (1986), ‘For vår jord’ (1988), and ‘Duett’ (1994). He had no involvement whatsoever, though, in Norway’s first winning Eurovision entry, ‘La det swinge’ by Bobbysocks.

“Due to being on tour with Jahn Teigen I couldn’t be in the band for the national final in 1985; however I was in the backing group for Rolf Graf, who took part that year with ‘II og II’. Rolf was Lava’s bass player who had an ambition to be a solo artist. He wasn’t a very good singer, but he was charismatic and all the girls loved him. I mimed the keyboards in the background, wearing a hideous pirate costume. Let’s just say it was a special experience being a part of that act. When Bobbysocks won the final in Norway, I never believed they would make an impact internationally, let alone win Eurovision. I was one of those who were convinced that Norway would never win the contest."

"On the evening when Bobbysocks won the Eurovision Song Contest in Gothenburg, I happened to be performing with Jahn Teigen at a dinner show in that same city. Jahn, who had always dreamt of winning Eurovision, was a little bit jealous. Whenever he was unhappy or frustrated, he had the habit of grabbing his cheeks over and over again – and there was a lot of cheek-grabbing going on that evening, I can tell you! He congratulated Bobbysocks, but grudgingly. Looking back, ‘La det swinge’ was the right song at the right time. Rolf Løvland, who composed it, is a guy who has a nose for such things. It’s still a big hit in Norway, a song everybody can sing along to.”

“The following year, the international festival was held in Bergen – and I was again invited by Chrico Christiansen to be one of the additional rhythm players in the orchestra. In Bergen, I played just synths – there was Svenn Erik Kristoffersen beside me playing keyboards and a guy from the orchestra who sat at the grand piano. Being there in the band in Bergen was a big thing for me. Don’t forget that I was just 29 years old! My pal from Lava, Svein Dag Hauge, born in 1956 like me, was one of the guitarists – the two of us must have been among the youngest in the orchestra.”

“Throughout the preparations in Bergen, I enjoyed myself immensely. The entire orchestra was staying in the same hotel, so there was this spirit of being away on a nice trip with friends, sharing a glass in the lobby and chatting about music and life. Egil Monn-Iversen was our musical director again, which helped in creating a good atmosphere as well. The rehearsals were quite easy. Some of the international conductors weren’t very good, but we had a great drummer in Chrico; whenever we needed him, he took responsibility and dragged the rest of the orchestra along. Having a good drummer is the important thing when playing pop music with an orchestra. On the night of the broadcast, I felt nervous. There were a lot of synths to be played that night. Apart from the millions of viewers tuning in all over Europe, everyone in Norway was watching us, expecting us to do the country proud… and I think we delivered. When Sandra Kim won, I had some reason to celebrate, as I had bet some money on her to finish in first place.”

From 1985 onwards, ‘KORK’ was no longer employed for the Norsk Melodi Grand Prix, as the orchestra was replaced by smaller combos, led successively by Terje Fjærn (1985, 1987), Fred Nøddelund (1986), Arild Stav (1988), Pete Knutsen (1989-91 & 1994), and Rolf Løvland (1992-93). With the exception of Nøddelund in 1986, who had to make way for Egil Monn-Iversen in the international final, the respective musical directors also conducted Norway’s entries in the Eurovision Song Contest. As a band musician, Geir Langslet worked with all of the aforementioned band leaders.

“The choice of who would be kapellmeister for Melodi Grand Prix was made by the producer of the show. In those smaller bands, the role of the musical director was important. He was in touch with the artists, composers, arrangers, and producers, consulting with them about the arrangements. All those guys who led the band after Egil Monn-Iversen were fine musicians and very nice to work with. Perhaps my favourite among them was Pete Knutsen, who was my idol anyway as he was in Popol Ace in the 1970s. I adored that group. Like Egil, Pete was a role model for me, as he had managed to make the step from band musician to arranger. His approach to music is very calm – like most other musicians hailing from the far north of Norway, he preferred playing at a low volume… and also when speaking; he does it softly and deliberately. Being the good observer that he is always allowed him to have a good overview of the group of musicians he was working with. Moreover, he has ‘big ears’, allowing him to pick out mistakes in a score quickly, and he has a profound knowledge of every single instrument. What’s not to like about Pete? He is just a great character and a fantastic musician!”

“Those Melodi Grand Prix finals were usually great events to be a part of, especially if they were held in big auditoriums. I particularly remember the edition held in Stavanger in 1989. Jahn Teigen took part in the festival with ‘Optimist’, which turned out to be one of his biggest hits, but he didn’t win… in fact he didn’t even make it to the super final with the three best songs. Jahn was very angry and the audience was upset as well. They booed the result. Usually, I and the other musicians in the band were crap at predicting the result. We are typically looking for something different in a song than the general audience does. One song we never expected to win was ‘Alle mine tankar’ by Silje Vige in 1993. She was completely unknown in Norway, a young, insecure girl, but in hindsight she was the correct winner. ‘Alle mine tankar’ was a special melody, a real standout song, and the fact that it did well in the Eurovision Song Contest proved that the juries in Norway who had chosen it had been right all along.”

The Norwegian Radio Orchestra led by Egil Monn-Iversen on the Eurovision stage in Bergen (1986)

Then, for the 1995 Norsk Melodi Grand Prix, the choice of musical director came to Geir Langslet himself. As it turned out, it was to be the first of five consecutive stints as MD for the Norwegian final. When asked how he got involved in the programme, he explains, “One thing leading to another. In 1993, Ivar Dyrhaug asked me to be his musical director, leading a combo of musicians on his talk show. The following year, Ivar hosted Talentiaden, a talent show – and he asked me to be band leader for that programme as well. My involvement in that programme resulted in me being asked by another producer to be his MD in the Norwegian Eurovision selection in 1995. This guy explained me that he liked the concept of the band we had on Ivar’s talk show. It consisted of a rhythm group and a couple of brass players, eight musicians in total. He wanted to use that band in Melodi Grand Prix – and that’s why I was the MD for that programme.”

“As part of the NRK team for the show, I was involved in the preparations from the beginning. First, we had to pick a set of songs for the final. This was done in a series of meetings, listening to cassettes – because at the time, songwriters submitted their work by sending cassettes… it’s that long ago! First, we separated the wheat from the chaff by throwing out the hopeless cases, leaving us with some 40 to 50 songs, from which the final pick had to be made. It took long hours of hard work and dedication. This being done, it was up to me to subdivide the songs among my musicians. Each wrote one or two arrangements. In some cases, the composers wrote the scores themselves, but they were done mostly by myself and the band.”

“For 1995 edition of the Melodi Grand Prix, there were four well-known composers who had been invited to submit a song without having to work their way past the selection committee. One of them was Rolf Løvland. He took part with his group Secret Garden and ‘Nocturne’. Because the song hadn’t been in the selection committee, I didn’t hear it until about a week before the semi-final. Fionnuala, the Irish violin girl, played live and Rolf brought a backing track with him with synthesiser, flute, and nyckelharpa. I backed him up additionally with my combo, mainly with extra synths played by me. Rolf was happy with the work of my orchestra. I thought ‘Nocturne’ was a wonderful, very melodious piece of music, but I didn’t believe in its chances. It was nearly completely instrumental and it almost felt like a piece of sacral music. I honestly thought it wasn’t the right formula for a competition like this, but I was proven wrong. ‘Nocturne’ won the selection in Norway.”

“It just shows that Rolf Løvland has a better feeling for such things than I do. Even in Dublin, at the international contest, I didn’t think we could do well. Rolf, on the other hand, was convinced he had found the right formula. Until forming Secret Garden for the Norwegian final, he had never been into New Age music, but he’s incredibly versatile. He had plunged into this genre wholeheartedly. I had known Rolf for years. Occasionally he played with us in studio sessions as a pianist, but he was always destined to be a composer and arranger. Rolf has always been ambitious; it wasn’t a coincidence that Norway won its first Eurovision medal in 1985 with a song written by him. More than anyone else in Norway, Rolf has made a career out of Eurovision. Whenever he writes a song, he’s very conscious of the sound needed to make it a success. He knows what he wants; and he has proven how good he is at devising a winning formula.”

“There was an embarrassing incident when we travelled to Dublin. There was a stopover at Heathrow Airport in London, with two hours between the flight from Oslo and the one onto Dublin, so we sat down somewhere to have a beer and some food. After having relaxed for half an hour or 45 minutes, we walked to our plane to Ireland – but we quickly realised the gate was far away; much farther than we anticipated. So we ran and we ran… and then we missed the plane. What made it even more stupid was that I had been to Heathrow before; I knew it was big, but we never realised it was this big. Fortunately, there was another flight to Dublin a couple of hours later. There was never any risk of missing the first rehearsal, since we travelled to Ireland the night before.”

Geir Langslet (on the right, wearing black blazer) flanked by Rolf Løvland, Fionnuala Sherry, and Pettar Skavlan featuring in a mock documentary by Synnøve Svabø – the girl standing in front of all them – for NRK Television shot at Eurovision 1995 in Dublin

“Admittedly, I was rather nervous for that first orchestral rehearsal. In the past, when working in the theatre or in television shows, I had always led the band while playing keyboards myself. That’s what I was used to; playing with one hand and giving some essential signals to the other musicians with the other… more like a kapellmeister than a conductor. That’s what I was comfortable with. A full orchestra was something quite different. Not even in the recording studio had I ever stood up in front of a group of musicians. The job in Dublin was made even more difficult because rehearsal time was very short. You had to get the sound right in a matter of half an hour. To be honest with you, if you had told me five years before that I was going to conduct the orchestra in the Eurovision Song Contest, I wouldn’t have believed you. I hadn’t even dreamt of it, because I never in my life thought this was going to happen.”

Geir Langslet’s orchestral score in Dublin, written by Rolf Løvland in collaboration with Irish arranger Johnny Tate, had parts for flute, oboe, three French horns, a harp, timpani, percussion, guitar, and a full string section. Except for Fionnuala Sherry’s violin, which she played live, the sound of the group’s other instrumentalists on stage had been pre-recorded on a backing track, including Løvland’s keyboard.

Rolf being Rolf, he had done a good job on preparing the arrangement. This was much easier than the Melodi Grand Prix in Norway, where the arrangements were more improvisatory and I had to add synths to Rolf’s own keys track. The fact that Rolf was there on stage in Dublin made me less nervous; he is steady. I had studied the score for Dublin as closely as I possibly could, marking the cues to the different sections in the orchestra. When we came on for the first rehearsal, I was frantically looking for where the various players were sitting in order to make sure that I was giving those cues to the correct musicians. As a conductor, I tried to be as consistent as possible, sticking to the rhythm and giving clear signs with my left hand. Some conductors in Eurovision were more impressionistic in their gestures, which made them difficult to follow at times. There’s no need to do that. In pop music, musicians don’t look at their conductor like in classical music.”

“In that first rehearsal, I managed to find my ground quickly. The orchestra, who were rooting for Fionnuala anyway because she had been a player with them, were very professional and there was no problem whatsoever. NRK brought along a sound producer to Ireland to make sure the mix was good. It struck me how the stage design, which was rather darkish and blue, fitted our song wonderfully. It helped to get the audience in the right mood to appreciate the melody. In terms of organisation, the Irish did a good, professional job. I remember it as smooth and friendly. On our day off, we were taken to Kilkenny and a beer brewery. Ireland is a beautiful country with nice people. I had a great time.”

“In the runup to the contest, Sweden were the favourites to win. Their singer, Jan Johansen, was from a Norwegian family. I met Jan and his Norwegian father backstage. They were really nice people. The night before the transmission, I also had the opportunity to have a drink and a chat with Anders Berglund, the conductor for Sweden. I knew Anders a little bit, because I had worked with him with Nina Askeland and my own band Lava in Stockholm’s Sonet Studios. Anders is a very good pianist, a great music professional, and a nice guy. It was obvious that he and the others in the Swedish delegation were expecting to win."

"In the voting on the night, Sweden came third and, as you know, we won. I spoke to Anders and the others after the festival was over. It was obvious they were a little disappointed – and perhaps even more stupefied. They just couldn’t believe that this had really happened, but still they were generous. In the following days, some Swedish newspapers hit a very different tone. They were jealous, claiming that Norway should never have won, that our song was more fitting for a funeral, etcetera. Usually, Norwegians and Swedes like to pick on each other in a friendly way, but all of this was getting a little bit ill-natured.”

Fionnuala Sherry during rehearsals in Dublin – Eurovision 1995

“During the voting, I drank a lot of champaign to fight the nerves over the result… and when it was all over, I had even more because I was feeling so relieved – and a bit surprised, because, again, I hadn’t seen this coming. After the broadcast, there was an afterparty in some other hall, but that was a complete disaster. Nothing happened there. There was practically nobody there except for us. Obviously delegates from other countries weren’t in the mood to party, so that fell completely dead. I went back to the hotel pretty much straightaway.”

“Apart from some of the Swedes, I didn’t notice any jealousy from other delegations, but there might have been some. Still, I don’t feel we stole victory; looking back, I’d say our song deserved to win. It was special – I thought it was too special, but I was wrong. One of the key factors were the lyrics at the beginning and end. Originally, Rolf Løvland wrote ‘Nocturne’ as an instrumental, but the poetic verses by Petter Skavlan added just that little something. Gunnhild Tvinnereim, the girl who sang them, sang beautifully and looked beautiful too. She was a very introverted type, which fitted the mood of the song wonderfully well – another good choice by Rolf. Moreover, it was the right time for this genre of music. The song had obvious Irish overtones; and, internationally, Irish music was very popular at the time. The year after, Ireland itself won Eurovision with a song in that same vein. It was already trending away from Eurovision and Rolf brought that trend into the festival as well.”

“A last reason for our success was the feeling we all had in Dublin that we were there as a team. Rolf Løvland knew how to build a team. He was definitely the team leader, but he valued other people’s viewpoints. In the weeks leading up to our trip to Ireland, he and I had long conversations about the arrangement. He listened to what I had to say and he obviously trusted me to do the conducting job well. He was a good friend who I had known for years; the trust was mutual. After we had won, we celebrated as a group. It was not just Rolf and Fionnuala, but there was Petter Skavlan, Gunnhild Tvinnereim, the two other backing musicians, and myself. We had been together all week, having a good time together. I’m sure this bond which had been created was an important factor.”

“After Eurovision, the plan was that I would join Secret Garden on a tour to the United States, but that never happened. I accompanied them once or twice afterwards on stage here in Norway. ‘Nocturne’ hasn’t become an evergreen in this country in the way that ‘La det swinge’ has. That first Eurovision win was such a major event in Norway; there was no way of topping that. There were people with Norwegian flags waiting at the Swedish border to give Bobbysocks a fitting reception. We had become accustomed to finishing last in Eurovision… so when we won it, it really was something. I didn’t see that type of euphoria happening in 1995, but people were proud of it. When Mr. Violin Player (Alexander Rybak – BT) won the contest for Norway for a third time, I noticed that Norwegians were even starting to take winning Eurovision for granted. That was not yet the case in 1995, so I would say the reaction to our win was somewhere in between the two.”

“In spite of ‘Nocturne’ not being a really big hit internationally, Rolf and Fionnuala managed to build an international career on the back of their Eurovision win. The project Secret Garden became much bigger than anyone could have expected. Some years after, Rolf composed ‘You Raise Me Up’ for his group, but that song was picked up by many other artists all over the world. It’s a clever song, a tune that can be performed at different occasions. According to TONO (Norway’s music copyrights organisation – BT), no Norwegian composer has ever earned more with just one song than Rolf did with that title. It’s his biggest hit, even bigger than ‘La det swinge’.”

With Secret Garden in the greenroom anxiously waiting for the votes to come in – from left to right: Gunnhild Tvinnereim, Fionnuala Sherry, Rolf Løvland, Åsa Jinder, Geir Langslet, and Hans Fredrik Jacobsen

In 1996, when the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Oslo’s Spektrum Hall, Geir Langslet did not conduct; instead, like ten years before in Bergen, he was the synthesiser player in the orchestra. For the Norwegian national final, though, which was broadcast from the NRK Studios, Langslet was the musical director, leading an extended band of thirteen musicians.

“That was because I was MD’ing a talk show at the time with that same band – and the production team simply decided to have that band for the Melodi Grand Prix as well. The string quartet were Strings Unlimited. Those girls later did some solo projects and I worked with them a lot at the time. Like the year before, I subdivided the arrangements for the songs in the final among my musicians, but the winning song, ‘I evighet’, was done by me… that is, the studio version had been done by Rolf Graf and I helped him by writing down the string arrangement based on his studio production. Following that, I also did the big orchestration for the Eurovision Song Contest version of the song. The basis for that was a backing track done by Rolf, but we added a score of strings, guitar, keys, French horn, and even some percussion to be played by the orchestra. I thought it was a professionally produced song, certainly the best in that Norwegian final, and Bettan (Elisabeth Andreassen – BT) handled it well. The second place which it obtained in the international final was perhaps a bit generous, but I guess that we, Norwegians, were on a winning track at the time. We were enjoying medvind, the wind in our back!”

“For the international final, Frode Thingnæs was the musical director, leading the radio orchestra. If it had been some years before, they would surely have asked Egil Monn-Iversen again, because he was still quite fresh in spite of his advancing age. By 1996, though, he was perhaps a bit too old. He still had his role in the production, composing most of the interval music. In this situation, I think Frode was the right man for the job. He had a lot of experience as an orchestral conductor and he was already friends with KORK. In a NRK meeting at which I was also present, producer Odd Arvid Strømstad told me he was thinking of picking Frode.”

“I didn’t really aspire to the Eurovision MD job myself, but I wasn’t asked, so the question never arose. If I had been asked, I’m not so sure if I would have accepted. Conducting just one song is one thing; but Frode had to rehearse all entries with the orchestra before each country’s national conductor took over. I don’t know if I could have done that. I think I did a more important job as a synths player in the orchestra. I was happy to do so, and there was more than enough for me to do. Working with Frode Thingnæs was just wonderful. He was one of the coolest guys around… calm, a good sense of humour, and very understanding. His death (in 2012 – BT) was a big loss. Quite apart from his human qualities, he was a fantastic musician.”

“The production of the contest in Oslo struck me as very contemporary. It was one of the first times digital imagery was applied in Norwegian television. All week, the atmosphere was good. The day before the contest was our national day. The occasion was all the more festive with all participants from all corners of Europe taking part in the celebrations. The orchestra was happy. There was one issue… the entry from Malta, which had a bass line that was more or less impossible to play. The bass players in the orchestra turned to me, asking if I could help them out by playing the bass parts on synthesiser instead. That was the day before the show! I did it and I made it, but it was very hard. That’s the one moment I remember when we panicked a bit; except for that, the contest in Oslo was a good experience.”

Norway’s Elisabeth Andreassen rehearsing her performance of ‘I evighet’ at the 1996 Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo, backed up by pan flute player Roar Engelberg

In 1997, for the third year running, Geir Langslet was employed as musical director of the Norsk Melodi Grand Prix, accompanying the eight songs in competition. The selection was won by Tor Endresen with ‘San Francisco’, a nostalgic 1960s song which Endresen had written with Arne Myksvoll. For Endresen, it was his eighth participation in the Melodi Grand Prix. On previous occasions, he had come close to winning, notably with ‘Radio Luxembourg’ in 1992.

“I was in the Grand Prix orchestra when Tor took part with ‘Radio Luxembourg’. It was an exciting evening. In the voting, he was leading up until the last jury handed first place to Merethe Trøan with ‘Visjoner’. That was a big upset and very hard on Tor. He should maybe have won with ‘Radio Luxembourg’ – and before that with ‘Café Le Swing’ as well (in 1990 – BT). Those are his two signature hits here in Norway. When we listened to ‘San Francisco’ in the selection committee for the national final for the first time, we thought it was in the same league as tunes like ‘La det swinge’ and Tor’s own ‘Radio Luxembourg’; a shuffle-pop song with a nice 60s feel to it. The chorus was pretty good, but it was certainly weaker than ‘Radio Luxembourg’ or ‘Café Le Swing’.”

“There wasn’t really a good crop of songs in that year’s national final. Tor’s song was nice enough and memorable, so that’s why it won. Tor is a special singer with this very ‘fat’ voice, rich in frequencies, which has always reminded me of Tom Jones. He was obsessed with doing Eurovision, but he’s a singer who can handle more complicated types of music as well. He really is one of Norway’s best singers, but tragically audiences don’t want him to sing anything else than his hits.”

“One time, and this was long before Eurovision 1997, I went on the road with Tor for a concert tour in which he sang covers of his favourite songs, mostly jazz rock, Gino Vannelli-type of songs. The band accompanying Tor comprised some of the best musicians around, including Pete Knutsen on guitar. I played keyboards. One night, we did a gig up in Sogndal. There was a good crowd, but after we had played for about half an hour, everybody had gone. There was not a single person left in the bar! I turned to Pete, softly saying, “There’s nobody left…” Pete just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Then let’s go and have a beer,” and that’s what we did. For me, it’s a good memory, but it just shows that audiences wanted Tor just to sing his biggest hits. This little tour of ours wasn’t a success, even if we as musicians really enjoyed ourselves.”

Geir Langslet saluting the viewers before counting in the orchestra for Tor Endresen’s Eurovision performance in Dublin (1997)

“Tor recorded the studio version of ‘San Francisco’ with his friends. One of them was Svein Dag Hauge, who was also in my band for the Melodi Grand Prix that year. With Tor, Svein Dag also took responsibility for the orchestration of ‘San Francisco’. I didn’t get involved in writing the arrangement for Eurovision this time. Tor is the type of artist who likes to play live, so there was never any question of working with an extensive backing track. This song didn’t need it. The orchestration for ‘San Francisco’ was more or less an extended version of the score we had played with the band in the Norwegian final. Not much change was required.”

“Funnily, I don’t remember that much of the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest. It was held in the same hall in Dublin as two years before, but really… that week with Tor is a blur. The experience was completely different. It was nice to be away with a group of good friends for a week and we did the best we could, but there was not a winning mood as with Secret Garden. I’m not only speaking of Tor and his entourage, but also of the NRK production team. There was no smell of victory. We weren’t in touch with other delegations very much; we mainly stuck to ourselves. Of course, Tor wanted to win. Norway had been on a winning streak in the years before and he was quite determined to continue that, but deep down even he must have sensed that this wasn’t going to work.”

“Of course, the voting was even worse than we expected. We got nil points. That was the end of the medvind for Norway in Eurovision – this was motvind, headwind! Portugal finished joint-last with us. After the show, I had a brief chat with their conductor (Thilo Krasmann, also the composer of Portugal’s entry ‘Antes do adeus’ – BT) who was utterly frustrated. What could we do? We went to the bar and had a drink. For Tor, this ‘zero’ was bad. On the plane home, I tried to console him by saying this was not the first time a Norwegian song got no votes – in fact, it was the fifth time. Jahn Teigen even made a career on the back of a nil-pointer. Tor just sighed, “I didn’t want to be in that zero club.” His career in Norway also suffered for some time, but he got over it. It’s hard to say what went wrong for him in Dublin. Unusually for him, Tor was a little nervous and out of tune at the beginning of his performance, but, being the steady guy that he is, he found his voice soon enough. In the end, our song simply wasn’t good enough to make an impact on a European audience.”

“Katrina and The Waves deserved their win in Dublin. ‘Love Shine A Light’ was easily the best song on the night. I never spoke to Katrina in Dublin, but ten years later she was one of the guests at a corporate event in Oslo for which I had been booked as band leader. I took the opportunity to have a chat with her about our mutual Eurovision experience. I told her she was the correct winner – and that I was also there as a conductor, but finished on the other end of the scoreboard without any points! Of course that was a funny conversation to have after such a long time. She was a good artist and I had the privilege of accompanying her at some other events in Oslo and beyond later on.”

Tor Endresen and his backing group on the Eurovision stage in Dublin

In the 1998 Norsk Melodi Grand Prix, for which Geir Langslet again led the backing band, eight songs vied for the right to represent Norway at Eurovision. For the first time, songs with lyrics which were not in the Norwegian language were allowed in the Norwegian selection. Not surprisingly, one of the English-language songs won the competition; ‘All I Ever Wanted Was You’, a composition by David Eriksen with lyrics by Per Kristian Ottestad. The performer was Lars Andernach Fredriksen. In the 1998 international final, however, the language rule – stating that each country should submit an entry in one of their mother tongues – was still in force, incidentally for the last time. For that reason, oddly, Norway’s entry had to be rewritten with Norwegian lyrics after winning the pre-selection in Oslo. This new version, entitled ‘Alltid sommer’, was taken care of by Linda Andernach Johannesen, the performer’s sister.

“I wasn’t directly involved in the decision to allow songs in English into the competition in Norway,” Langslet comments, “but it was logical thinking by NRK’s production team. Recently, more and more artists have chosen to sing in Norwegian again, but in the 1990s that was not the case. English was the pop language in Norway. Artists felt that they stood a better chance of having a hit record with a song in English. ‘Bettan’ came second that year with a Celtic-inspired song which was also partly in English.”

“That Melodi Grand Prix wasn’t the first time I worked with Lars Fredriksen. Just like the two guys who were his backing singers, he was a member of the Oslo Gospel Choir. He was one of the stand-out voices in it. I did an international tour with them in 1995. We did many performances in the Netherlands especially. Lars was popular with the girls there; a handsome, blonde young man oozing charisma. He was a good guy and I liked working with him. The song he performed in ‘Melodi Grand Prix’ fitted him well. It was a catchy pop tune."

"The arrangement was done by one of my best friends in the business, Trond Lien, who played the piano in my band for the Norwegian selection show. Trond, incidentally, was also part of the band accompanying the Oslo Gospel Choir on their international tour! When Lars had won the final, I asked Trond to write the orchestration for the Eurovision Song Contest as well. He was very happy with that commission and did a good job on it. In fact, he could have conducted it just as well as I did, but I was the guy who had been booked by NRK… so I did it. To my dismay, NRK didn’t invite Trond to come along to Birmingham. It would have been an opportunity for him to make some new international connections, but sadly it wasn’t to be.”

Lars A. Fredriksen’s first rehearsal with the BBC Concert Orchestra in Birmingham must have been eventful, to say the least. It even made headlines back in Norway, as the country’s biggest tabloid, VG, devoted an article to the subject in its issue the following day. In the piece, with the alarming header ‘Norway’s Eurovision song messed up’, we read, “When Lars A. Fredriksen woke up yesterday morning, he was told that the BBC had messed up the Norwegian entry’s backing track and that the orchestra hadn’t rehearsed. In the hall, the first rehearsal looked like a disaster, as the orchestra hardly knew what to play. Composer David Eriksen interrupted proceedings after the first run-through, giving instructions to the orchestra for ten minutes. Only at the fourth go did the Norwegian entry sound almost as it should. If the orchestra had been worse, this would have been a total catastrophe. The background to the chaos that followed was the decision that ‘Alltid sommer’ would be performed with a so-called drum loop played from a disk. Somehow, the BBC lost this disk. The orchestra then assumed that the full instrumental version of the Norwegian song would be used as a backing track – which would have allowed the musicians a moment of relaxation during Norway’s contribution.”

The article further claims that songwriter David Eriksen had to take a new copy of the backing track with him from Norway, allowing the orchestra to play through the score at least once before the official rehearsals got underway; and that they had been practicing the other country’s scores for two months already. “I don’t think that’s right,” Langslet reacts when confronted with the newspaper, nearly 24 years later. 

“As far as I remember, the rehearsal was smooth. There was one little issue in that first rehearsal; when I played through the song with the orchestra for the first time, we discovered there were one or two minor mistakes left in the score. That was put right quickly. I remember the story quite differently. David Eriksen was unhappy about the BBC Concert Orchestra, but I didn’t agree; it was of the same level as KORK and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in Ireland. I think David didn’t like the groove of the drummer in the orchestra, who played along to the drum loop on his backing tape. Perhaps he was right that the drummer in Birmingham wasn’t as steady as the ones he was used to in Norway, but it didn’t spoil the performance.”

The team behind Lars A. Fredriksen in Birmingham: songwriter and producer David Eriksen, lyricist – and Lars’ sister – Linda Andernach Johannesen, and Geir Langslet. Photos taken from the official 1998 Eurovision Song Contest programme

“After that first rehearsal, David told me, “This isn’t working. We’re going to use the full backing track instead of the orchestra,” but I answered him squarely that we would stick with the orchestral arrangement. Quite a big discussion ensued, with David, myself, and some members of the NRK crew. It didn’t last that long, but it was quite intense. The NRK producer agreed with me that we should stick with the orchestra, which left David on his own in the argument. We were helped by the fact that Lars Fredriksen was on our side in this. He liked the orchestra and the arrangement.”

Geir’s memory of Fredriksen’s feelings about the issue is confirmed by a comment given by the singer himself, still in Birmingham, one day after the VG article’s publication. Referring to it, he said, “This is the first time I experienced an example of a press guy trying to make up a story out of nothing. Personally, I felt the first rehearsal went surprisingly well, but then I came off stage and was greeted with [a journalist stating,] “This is a crisis…”. I didn’t recognise myself in that at all. At least, on the television monitors on stage, the orchestra sounded fine.”

“There was something else,” Langslet continues, “which made it illogical to drop Trond’s score. When we were preparing the Eurovision project back in Oslo, there was a meeting at which David was present. When I brought up the subject of the orchestration, he never objected to my suggestion of using Trond Lien’s arrangement from the Norwegian final and enlarging it for the big orchestra. The arrangement was good, Lars was happy, so why change plans at the last moment? In hindsight, this was a tense moment, because technically, as the song’s composer, David could perhaps have had his way, but he was still quite young and at the start of his career in 1998. Nowadays, he’s a famous producer who even has his own TV show. He probably wouldn’t allow himself to be pushed aside so easily now!”

“Following that rehearsal, there was a press conference. We had just had that discussion backstage, so it was a little awkward sitting there with David behind the same desk. There was a little confusion. Of course, journalists sensed there was something brewing, so we got a question about the orchestra. I was first to answer; I said that the orchestra was good and that we would stick with the original orchestration. Then David was asked to comment, and he said he accepted the decision, but his body language made it abundantly clear that he did so grumblingly. He didn’t smile about it! David was a little bit angry at me. I didn’t speak to him in Birmingham after that incident – in fact I never met him again. I don’t think he still hates me, it was just that he was unhappy at that time about that issue!”

Eurovision 1998 was the last edition of the contest with an orchestra. Like the year before in Dublin, there were no longer rules stating that all instruments included on a backing track should be mimed by vocalists or musicians on stage, which led to an increasing number of countries ignoring the orchestra altogether; four in 1997, and seven in 1998. Originally, in Birmingham, the Slovenian delegation intended to have an orchestration for their entry ‘Naj bogovi slišijo’, but after the first rehearsal, a decision was taken to use the full backing track instead. Slovenia’s conductor Mojmir Sepe took his bow for the camera on the night, but all he did was to signal the start of the backing track to the performing group on stage.

Backstage at Eurovision 1998 in Birmingham: Lars Fredriksen with his sister Linda

“Did that really happen?,” Geir responds. “Ooh, that is bad! If circumstances had been a little different, the same could have happened to me. That would have been a boring evening for me. Even though I have good memories of Birmingham and about winning the argument we had with David, the things that happened were a sign of the times. Producers no longer wanted to work with orchestras; they wanted to hear the sound they had worked on in the studio. I wasn’t against the use of backing tracks in itself. I knew there were some countries who didn’t use the orchestra and it may have been a good choice for them, but in our case, with our song, it was right to have the orchestra. I knew I was fighting a losing battle. I saw a new era coming, but I fought the last battle for the old one!”

“In general, Birmingham was a better, much better experience than the year before in Dublin. The mood in our delegation was good. Away from rehearsals, we spent time together, taking some trips through the city and having good conversations. One night, I went out with Lars and his backing vocalists, enjoying some fine Indian cuisine in a restaurant in downtown Birmingham. In fact, although I had toured the UK with Randy Crawford in the 1980s, I had never been to Birmingham before. I liked the atmosphere in the city. I had a good week there.”

“When we finished 8th, I was very satisfied and so was Lars. We knew we had quite a good up-tempo song, but it was not a winner. For Lars, the contest was a good experience. Funnily, I remember that Dana International came first, but I don’t remember her song. I do remember that she needed a lot of space in the greenroom; the woman had a huge aura! It was a politically correct choice and I think I agreed with that. At the same time, it was a sign of what Eurovision would become in the following years – a show with more focus on the artist, on the show, than on the song. Also in that sense, it was the start of a new era.”

“There’s one more memory of that Eurovision,” Geir smiles. “When I arrived home, my wife told me that I looked fat on screen. It turned out that during the intro of the song, there had been a close-up of me conducting the orchestra, which wasn’t very flattering. When I watched a recording, I thought to myself, “Am I really that fat?” At the time, I weighed some twenty kilos more than now. I made up my mind that this was the time to lose some weight. From Birmingham on, I’ve profoundly changed my way of life, slowly, in steps. I started training and adapted my eating pattern; first simply by eating less – and then changing the menu: more fish, more vegetables. Later I stopped eating meat altogether. It’s actually really quite simple.”

In spite of the fact that the 1998 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest was the last with an orchestra in place, Geir Langslet had one more stint as musical director of the Norwegian final the following year. The selection was won by Stig André van Eijk and his hip-hop tune ‘Living My Life Without You’, another David Eriksen production. 

“That wasn’t a very orchestral song,” Langslet recalls. “For the Melodi Grand Prix, Trond Lien and I tried to think of something to do during that song, so we wrote some lines for synths and keyboards. Just a little arrangement to be added over the drum and bass which came from a backing track. Sadly there were to be no more Eurovision trips for me – and in fact the 1999 Melodi Grand Prix was my last commission for NRK Television. If there had been an orchestra, I could maybe have done some additional strings, but it certainly wouldn’t have made much difference. This song didn’t need them like ‘Alltid sommer’, which benefited from the backing of the full orchestra.”

Langslet on the conductor’s platform in Birmingham

“If they were to consider making Eurovision a live music show again, the approach would have to be different from the days when I took part. You wouldn’t need a full symphonic set-up. In that sense, it was the right time for the orchestra to be removed in the format that it had in the 1990s. Production became more and more important in pop music. Guys like David Eriksen didn’t want to work with orchestras. I can understand that, given how much time and energy is invested in getting the package of voices, harmonies, and sound effects right in a modern studio production. Nowadays, in Eurovision, it could only work if you accept backing tracks as part of the deal. In the way pop music has evolved, there are certain loops and effects that simply cannot be reproduced live. A mix of tracks and an orchestra could work, but this orchestra would have to take the shape of an extended band consisting of a rhythm group, a modest string section, and a couple of brass players… just like they’re doing in Idols nowadays. That would be a good way of working.”

“Eurovision has become a completely different show than it used to be; it’s more show and less music. These are different times with altered musical preferences compared to the 1990s. I still watch it every year; first because it’s a tradition. The Eurovision Song Contest is big in Norway. You cannot ignore it. From a musician’s point of view, I also find it interesting to follow developments in the industry. There’s always something left to learn in terms of production, and I’m especially thinking of sound effects now. After such an evening, I sometimes feel disillusioned because of the lack of interesting music, but I’m always impressed by how the contest sounds and looks. It’s just such a complicated production nowadays!”

“At the time, doing Eurovision was just part of my job, but now, 25 years later, I can say whole-heartedly that I’m proud of having been the conductor for Norway – and even the last one! – in the contest. Why? Well, this job was hard work which required professionalism, especially when we prepared the Norwegian final. I had to listen to all songs which were submitted, help with picking a good crop of songs for the final, have all kinds of meetings and discussions with producers and composers, subdivide the arrangements among my musicians, write one or two arrangements myself – all with the goal of having a good television production and selecting the best possible song for the contest. That was a challenge.”

“The second challenge was conducting a full orchestra in the contest. It was a new experience and I was quite nervous about it at the time, but I think I did well. Even in 1997, when we finished last, I could feel satisfied on a personal level that the orchestra hadn’t made a mess of the score. Also on that occasion, I did what I could to get the best possible result for the country. That was another thing, feeling the pressure on your shoulders of everyone watching back in Norway. It’s like playing in your national team as a football player, trying to qualify for the World Cup. People are expecting you to give it your all. Looking back, I cannot say Eurovision changed my life. Even when we won the contest with Secret Garden, the only comments I got in the street were from people in my local neighbourhood. I didn’t become a celebrity in Norway on the back of that win, but among musicians, it’s quite well-known that I did Eurovision. This is about credibility. I wouldn’t have had that many arranging commissions in the last twenty-odd years if it hadn’t been for Eurovision. For my CV, it's certainly been an important event.”

Geir and his wife Christine with a sculpted version of Jahn Teigen in the town of Tønsberg (2015)


So far, we have not gathered comments from other artists about Geir Langslet.


Country – Norway
Song title – “Nocturne”
Rendition – Secret Garden (Hans Fredrik Jacobsen / Åsa Jinder / Rolf Løvland / Fionnuala Sherry / Gunnhild Tvinnereim)
Lyrics – Petter Skavlan
Composition – Rolf Løvland
Studio arrangement – Rolf Løvland / John Tate
Live orchestration – Rolf Løvland / John Tate
Conductor – Geir Langslet
Score – 1st place (148 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – “I evighet”
Rendition – Elisabeth Andreassen
Lyrics – Torhild Nigar
Composition – Torhild Nigar
Studio arrangement – Rolf Graf
Live orchestration – Geir Langslet
Conductor – Frode Thingnæs
Score audio semi-final – none (host country)
Score – 2nd place (114 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – “San Francisco”
Rendition – Tor Endresen
Lyrics – Tor Endresen
Composition – Tor Endresen / Arne Myksvoll
Studio arrangement – Svein Tore Hindenes / Arne Myksvoll
Live orchestration – Svein Dag Hauge / Tor Endresen
Conductor – Geir Langslet
Score – 24th place (0 votes)

Country – Norway
Song title – “Alltid sommer (All I Ever Wanted Was You)”
Rendition – Lars A. Fredriksen
English lyrics – David Eriksen / Per Kristian Ottestad
Norwegian lyrics - Linda Andernach Johannesen
Composition – David Eriksen
Studio arrangement – David Eriksen
Live orchestration – Trond Lien
Conductor – Geir Langslet
Score – 8th place (79 votes)

  • Bas Tukker interviewed Geir Langslet in two sessions, December 2021
  • A playlist of Geir Langslet music, coming with this interview, can be accessed by clicking this YouTube link
  • Two Norwegian newspaper articles, ‘Rotet bort Norges GP-låt’ (VG, May 5th 1998); and, ‘Dette kan ikke gå dårlig’ (VG, May 6th 1998)
  • Many thanks to Norwegian Eurovision expert Tin Španja for his invaluable assistance in preparing this interview
  • Photos courtesy of Geir Langslet, Ferry van der Zant, and Kato Hansen
  • Thanks to Lily Beatrice Cooper and Edwin van Gorp for proofreading the manuscript

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