1968 in Norway
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Introduction to 1968
The why of the events happening in 1968 has been debated over the past years. Several individual building blocks came together that year. One is that Europe had to do with an unusual surge in births after WW2, creating a large age demographic that were teenagers by the time 1960 came knocking. Second was the new awareness that for the parents the happiness of their children was important to others. Also the lowering of the threshold for a higher (public) education (Universities became accesable for much larger group) played a part. Technical innovations also were of influence. TV formed a window to the World previous generations did not have. TV also brought events like the Vietnam War and public events like the Civil Rights March to the living room. Cheap recordplayers offered the opportunity for musical artists to reach out to an enormous audience. Add that to growing unemployment and economical difficulties and you’ll have the ingredients for revolution

What was it all about in Norway

One of the main issues, if not thé issue, in 1968 was that the right to live in freedom is a basic human right. And in that sense you should be able to make your own choices. In a lot of countries this urge to fight for this right is focused around the local situation. Countries either live in a dictatorial system themselves or feel they live under a regime that is ruled by an empirialistic force from outside Europe (read: the USA or the USSR). But In Norway the protest movement of 1968 is mostly about the people urging the authorities to take a stand against suppression of that human right in other countries and not their own. Initially the Norwegian student movement follows the line of other Western European countries and protest against the American contribution to the Vietnam war. The youth parties of the Socialist People Party (SUF) and Labor (AUF) establish a Norwegian Vietnam Movement and try to urge the Norwegian government to step out of NATO. For instance by resisting draft. For which Øyvind Ulltang is court ordered on January 11. A few weeks later Ulltang is invited by NRK television for an interview in the debate program “Aktuell debatt” to explain his actions. 500 prominent left radicals sign the petition ‘Norway out of NATO’ in an attempt to raise pressure. Meanwhile the general protest is extended to demanding steps against Spain when Franco closes the Faculty of Social Science and Economy at the University of Madrid (after a concert of protest singer Raimonn, see also ‘Spain in 1968’). But also on the left side the movement sees injustice on basic freedom rights such as freedom of speech. The Norwegian Writers Union passes in a meeting a resolution that condemns the court trial and the conviction of the five writers in Moscow. The protest is delivered to the Russian embassy but left wing students refuse to sign it. But it mostly stays in an adult atmosphere of open debate.
In February members of the government feel the urge to respond. The Arbeiderpartiet supports the issue of Vietnam and the idea to step out of NATO. A bad idea according to former foreign minister Halvard Lange who characterized the coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948 as a vital argument for the Norwegian decision to join NATO. He is met by hissing and booing from a small group of demonstrators during his speech at the Norwegian Student Association. In March an anti-American meeting takes place in the assembly hall of the University in Oslo. The meeting passes demands for a cultural boycott of the United States, including boycott of scholarship, film and literature (note, a boycott of music is not mentioned). Visits from foreign political figures like American Black Power leader, professor Charles V. Hamilton, anti apartheid leader Ronald Segal, Andreas Papandreou and Rudi Dutschke fuel the debate. In a sense the whole spectrum of left- and rightwing (radical) ideas of the time passes in Oslo and Bergen. By April things finally get in the open with demonstrations around embassies in protest against the Greek junta, West German negligence against the assassination attempt on Dutschke (see ‘West Germany in 1968’), Chinese disrespect for human rights and of course America. During a peaceful torchlight procession outside the U.S. embassy in Oslo protestors shout slogans like: “Death to USA”; “Victory over USA”; “Blow up the embassy”; and “Close the embassy”. The protestors are comparing the American conduct in Vietnam to the Nazis. It is the first time police officers can use the newly acquired teargas as a weapon in their stockpile. On April 15 four members of the youth organization of the Socialist People’s Party are arrested for vandalism at the residence of the Norwegian King at Skaugum. They paint swastikas and write slogans like: “Down with USA”, and “Support FNL”. They also paint slogans at a nearby church such as “Down with the state church”. Newspaper Adresseavisa is subject to protest against the news coverage of the student revolt in West Germany. The protestors claimed that both Adresseavisa and the other newspaper in the city – Arbeider-Avisa – sided with the Springer Press. The demonstrators shout slogans like: “We support the Berlin students” and “Why does Adresseavisa lie about Dutschke?”

All protests come together on the first of May when a May Day demonstration in Trondheim evolves in a demonstration about the American war in Vietnam, the junta in Greece and pro-abortion slogans (freedom of the womb). During the speech by former prime minister Einar Gerhardsen 30 youths stand up behind him on the platform with North Vietnamese flags and posters with slogans like: ”The Labour Party (Det norske Arbeiderpartiet – DNA) has betrayed socialism”. There is hissing during the speech when Gerhardsen defends the Norwegian membership in NATO. A visit by Israeli Foreign minister Abba Eban layer that week leads to a demonstration against Palestine oppression. The protestors are unfolding posters comparing Eban with Hitler and carrying slogans like: “Israel in celebrating 20 years of aggression” and “Long live Al Fatah”. Leaflets are handed out demanding the Norwegian Government to also condemn the Israeli policy.

By this point in 1968 the Norwegian government has a long public wish list of regimes they either have to condemn or boycot, coming from the left or the right. Although uprising is still happening on a small Norwegian scale the much more violent demonstrations that fuel up around Europe make the Norwegian parliament nervous. During the yearly foreign policy debate the discussion is seen in the light of the French May events. The parliament also discusses topics like the crises in the Middle East, the Nigeria-Biafra conflict, Portugal’s policy in Africa, the Greek Junta, and the American war in Vietnam. But conflict is in the air. The NRK broadcasts a debate program under the title “Skjønner du ikke hva jeg sier?”(Don’t you understand what I am saying?). The leader of the Norwegian Student Union, Jon Erlend Glømmen, claims at a press conference in Oslo that university democracy could be achieved without “street riots and sit-ins”.

A noble attempt but when on august 21 the NRK breaks off the regular programs for news about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia the times of peacefull debate are over. A hot week would follow. The radio plays Czechoslovakian music in break intervals and demonstrations take place outside the Soviet embassy. The students shout slogans like: “Long live Czechoslovakia!!”, “Long live Dubcek!”, “Stop the tyranny!”and “Soviet out of Czechoslovakia!”. Simultaneous demonstrations against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (by Conservative Party’s youth organization (Unge Høyre)) and the American war in Vietnam (by th SUF) clash into each other. In Trondheim demonstrators play the Czechoslovakian national anthem in front of a Soviet marine ship. Demonstrators throw stones, paint, rotten eggs and tomatoes, the Norwegian flag is cut down from the signal mast and demonstrators try to cut the ship’s moorings. At the end of the week mass demonstrations take place in Bergen (on Torgallmenningen square) and in Kristiansand. The main speech by Mayor Leo Talaksen erupts in violent youth riots that last through the evening and following night. Youths attack the police station and break windows with stones, tomatoes and apples. Gasoline is put on fire at the central square, and a bus with passengers is attacked. By the 29th the Government does everything in its power to make sure that the marriage of crownprince Harald is not disturbed. By the end of the month the Norwegian Student Union’s annual meeting ends in chaos. Out of the ruins the radical Red Front (Rød Front) is established. The organization is a student political alliance of student organizations on the radical political left. The months pass with demonstrations and small riots untill the media, again the NRK TV station, raises the question with a TV debates like “Does demonstrations make any sense?” (Er det klokt å demonstrere?) and “The Student Revolt – Against What – and in Favor of What?” (“Studentopprør – mot hva, og for hva?”) what the purpose is of all this havoc. The Norwegians get a grip on themselves and focus on an assembled and more controlled protest called ‘Flag for freedom’.

The impact in music

The Norwegian music scene around 1967 was largely focussed on the English singer songwriters and folkmusic. The norske visebølgja as the movement would later be known looked to singers like Donovan, Bert Jansch and Roy Harper for inspiration. They gathered in clubs like the Viseklubben Dolphin which was started by Ol Hauki in 1965. There was a lively exchange of technical guitar skills. Various stringed instrument that mandolin, banjo, fiddle and ukulele, but also harmonica, saw, spoons, washboard, lurk and tub bass with clothesline, were explored. Artists like Erik Bye, Gerd Røstad, Peder Alhaug, Christiania Fusel & Blaagress, Rolf Just Nilsen and Ivar Medaas performed there. The last one scored one of the first Norwegian folkhits with an adaptation of Pete Seeger's 'Last Night I had the Strangest Dream'. Translated by Swedish/Dutch protestsinger Cornelis Vreeswijk in 'I natt jag drömde'. A compilation album called 'Viser om så mangt' released by Philips in 1968 showed a first insight of the music of this scene. Viseklubben Dolphin also arranged several show at the Munch Museum, which were more sit-ins and lasted for up to 4 1/2 hours with about 40 singers on the program, Among the foreign artists were Roy Harper and Pentangle . The Young Norwegians were among the Norwegian who got the biggest applause and Lars Klevstrand appeared with a full set of Norwegian songs. 

But Norwegian kids also were fond of another genre and that was jazz. Not the easy kind but raw experimental free jazz. One of the frontman of that scene was German saxophone player Peter Brötzmann who delivered a true protestalbum in 1968. 'Machine Gun' opens with sharp staccato attacks that soon turn into growling reeds, pulsing bass, fragmented piano chords and blasts of percussion locked in furious battle of unrivalled intensity. Originally the LP was self-produced (under his own "BRO" record label imprint) and sold at gigs, but it was later marketed by Free Music Production (FMP). In Oslo, Brötzmann composition allegedly made quite an impression.

Next to the folky's in Dolphin there was also a beatscene active at the Rosenkrantz 'gate, in what was called the Beehive show club . It was here that beatmusic and progressive rock emerged in the Norwegian language. Acts like Undertakers Circus, Prudence, Tobben og Ero, Ole Paus and Saft started performing here. First with English (cover) material but soon with original Norwegian popsongs. On a selfpenned B-side of the obscure 1968 Undertakers circus' single 'Little Boy Blue', called 'Gotta Get Away' Thor S. Greni sums up the feeling of the timeframe perfectly. Still it took quite some time before Norwegian pop and rockbands were able to release their material. By 1970 mediastation NRK became interested and started printing records of local bands.

What happened next?

The lack of truly internal issues to protest against supports our theory. The urgency to write protest songs in your own language as a musical expression to the shared commitment of protest seems to be lacking in Norway. And thus also the need to express yourself in your own language and musical style. As a result, and in contrast to many other European countries in 1968, the development of a local scene initially stayed somewhat absent in Norway. The Norwegian popular music scene had to wait untill 1973 before it really took off. Central Film AS in Oslo got the idea to celebrate its 20th anniversary with something new and spectacular. Inspired by the concert film Woodstock they thought that it might be an idea to create a rock festival on Norwegian soil and film that. Since the Oslo group Christiania Fusel & Blaagress had just gained their first chart succes with 'Ola Olsen' and NRK bands like Saft took Norwegian traditional folk and spiced it up with rock ('Fanitullen') they focussed on local bands performing. Film director Arne Philip Fraas, who was a friend of Saft, was asked to create a 90-minute film. The project gained funding from Central Films Board. Saft, Prudence, Popol Vuh, Splash, Aunt Mary and Ole Paus were programmed together with Danish rockband Savage Rose and British acts the Pretty Things and Skin Alley.

After an unsuccessful attempt to establish cooperation with the forces behind Kalvøya Festival , Polydor boss, Totto Johannessen contacted Robert Stein Ludvigsen who organised the whole festival at Besserudtjernet at Holmenkollen. On June 17 1973 you could say Norwegian popmusic finally and truly started. Newspaper Aftenposten described the moment as such: "Just after the bells at Holmenkollen Chapel struck nine strokes and highlighted yesterday's service for closed, power was put on the 13,000 watt powerful audio system and music from Sigbjørn Bernhoft Osa fiddle echoed across a landingslope approx. 30,000 teenagers." It was the collision of Norwegian music history and the new modern age. From there things were never the same again. The meeting between Norwegian, Scandinavian and British bands contributed to an increasing confidence and awareness within the then rather marginal Norwegian rock scene. Ragnarock was organised two more years. The film and compilation album was a big succes. Undertakers Circus even recorded a tribute song to the event simply called 'Ragnarock'. It was one of their biggest hits. By 1975 the Norwegian popscene had outgrown the visebølgja scene and beatgroups.