As a kid I became obsessed with the accordion, I’d seen street performers in Helsinki and Mikkeli in both summer and winter, and more often than not the sound was distinctly melancholic. This is due in part to the central and eastern European roots of Finnish popular music stemming from St Petersburg during the early 19th century as Russia incorporated Finland into its empire. By 1917, when Finland declared its independence, the minor-key tunes originally from Russia had successfully planted themselves in the public’s hearts and were firm favourites at dances and on record, though all Russian lyrics were translated to Finnish.
Many of the performers I saw at the dances I attended in Savonia were accompanied by a band of young musicians who would tour with the main artist all over the country during summer dance season. In that band was often an accordion player, like another singer accompanying the main vocalist they would be given a position in front of the rest of the band. For me it is an instrument that deserves respect though in its history in Finland this has not been the case as accordion players have fought for recognition alongside other popular classical instruments such as piano and guitar. Even the Sibelius Academy refused to teach accordion players in its early days. It isn’t exactly an instrument that sits well with pop or rock either though there seems to be a current trend of pop hit covers in an attempt to popularise the instrument once more, personally I love the old folk Russian waltz’s and polkka’s from the 1940s, the melancholic tones and drawn out minor keys are reminiscent of a longing for something; love, companionship or the sun on endless winter nights.
During my trip I spent time when not at dances visiting my grandfather in the veterans ward of the local hospital, he is 93 and was having a small operation on his leg so I would bring him his copies of the Lansi Savo and Kiuruvesi newspapers and on the weekends the hospital would bring some entertainment to its elderly patients in the form of a local accordion player. He played a lot of the music from the war which went down very well with his audience and I made some field recordings of a couple of his performances which I intend to use in some work at some point. Listening back to the recordings I was reminded of a trip to Germany I made with a friend over 10 years ago, I had with me a small tape recorder which I used to record a lot of the street performers we came across as we travelled from East to West, many of which were accordion players. One day it will be time to unpick this archive.