Make no mistake: from 1977 through 1984, the Rude Kids played a major part in punk that goes beyond their best-loved/remembered 45s, "Raggare Is A Bunch Of Motherfuckers," and "Stranglers (If It's Quiet Why Don't You Play)." As the first Swedish punks to get a major label deal, the Rude Kids opened the door for others like themselves in the scene that followed the Sex Pistols' summer '77 Scandinavian tour (as detailed in Trygve Mathiesen's book, BANNED FROM THE UK: EXILED TO OSLO).
Looking back on their first album, SAFE SOCIETY (1979) and the poppier, yet no less hard-hitting mini-LP, 1984 REFUSE IT, it's equally clear to me that the original lineup of the late Björn "Böna" Eriksson (vocals), Lasse Olsson (guitar), Ola "Spaceman" Nilsson (bass), and Lasse "Throw-It" Persson (drums) had a special chemistry. That chemistry shattered following Eriksson's death on January 25, 1983, by auto accident, aged only 24...yet the band left some impressive footprints behind, as their music's appearance on bootlegs like PUNK WILL NEVER DIE can attest.
My introduction to the Rude Kids came through WORST OF...A PARDONLESS COMPILATION CD, which I ordered (concealed cash 'n' all!) directly from Distortions Records. The booklet contained a tantalizing, yet all-too-brief summary of the band's life...however, other than some excellent material on www.punktjafs.com, I saw little else in print.
To rectify that situation, I started trying to contact the band. This interview is the end result, which I present now, without further ado. (Special thanks to Tryg for helping me get in touch!) Also, for some additional insight, I came across some interesting recollections from Uncle Punk (Fabror Punk), who runs the punktjafs.com site, and added them as a special sidebar below...enjoy!
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): You're listed in the punktjafs.com site as coming from Hagsätra, in Stockholm: what kind of area was it, and what role (if any) did it play in shaping your music?
OLA NILSSON (ON): Actually I was the only member in the band who was not from Hagsätra, I was from Gröndal – another suburb of Stockholm. I don’t think Hagsätra had any influence on our music at all.
However, Hagsätra was only one stop away from Rågsved by the tube. In Rågsved the music scene was much more active, especially with the community “Oasen” that hosted loads of bands, most famous was of course Ebba Grön. So it was just natural that we played our first concert at Oasen.
Both Hagsätra and Gröndal are suburbs with a mixture of people from working class and middle class. Rågsved was more run down in general and maybe that was the driving factor that created the music scene there.
CR: Who were your biggest influences, initially?
ON: For me personally in the beginning it was Ramones and Sex Pistols (I know, a boring and expected answer). The first tunes we played when I joined the band was Ramones covers as that was the most simple to play.
CR: As everyone knows, “Raggare (Is A Bunch Of Motherfuckers)” put you on the map, and even landed you a major deal with Polydor. I've read that it was a reply to a song by Eddie Meduza that made fun of punks: true or not true?
ON: I didn’t write the lyrics for “Raggare,” but if I remember it correctly Böna and Lasse (drums) wrote it based on their shared frustration about them. The text describes very well what was going on.
The Raggare had been around for many years, in the beginning they were all about their American cars from the 50’s – fine with that. But in the end of the '70s, when immigrants came to Sweden, they start to fight with them, after that they went for the punks.
The song was not a reply to Eddie Meduza ("Punkjävlar"), first time we heard about that one was when Polydor showed it to us a couple of weeks before we released “Raggare.”
CR: Tell me about your battles vs. the Raggare – are they still as malicious today, as they were then? What lay behind their whole hatred of punks, in your opinion?
ON: See reply on (3). Also maybe you have to divide the Raggare into two groups, one group who lived for their cars, drove around in their small town, got drunk and came in to fight as they were pissed. The other group were younger and just bored, had nothing to do so they borrowed dad’s Volvo and tried to be Raggare just to fit into a group. I think they where mainly from this group who actively tried to seek fights with people who didn’t look like average people. (Again, this was late '70s so immigrants where unusual in small towns.)
Today the Raggare has gone back to focus on their cars and booze only, I have not read about any fights Raggare has been involved in for the past 20 years for sure.
CR: Naturally, I have to ask the story behind your other best-known song, “Stranglers (If It's So Quiet Why Don't You Play)”: did you ever find out what Hugh Cornwell and company thought about the song? Surely, having battled the Raggare themselves, they deserved sympathy from a fellow band – or was there something else going on?
ON: First of all our Stranglers song was a reply to their “All Quiet On The Eastern Front,”, so for sure it was no sympathy with Stranglers in our song (“Stranglers, If It's Quiet, Why Don't You Play?”). The song was a reaction that they canceled a gig in Stockholm with a few hours' notice.
Stranglers (the band) liked it, I have an NME where they say (don’t remember who of them) that the song shows that it isn’t so quiet in Sweden then. The cover from our single is on the Stranglers web-page as well.
CR: What kinds of places did you play in Sweden when you started? How did the scene begin to develop, particularly in light of the Sex Pistols' tour there (and did you go to any of those gigs)?
ON: In the beginning we played at clubs in Stockholm, when starting to play in smaller towns around in Sweden the local scene was very often limited to one disco and one youth club per town.
It was in the summer of '77 the Stockholm scene started to develop but the boom came end of '78. In 79 we saw lots of communities starting up all over Sweden, renting a place, building a stage (not always) and booked bands.
CR: What were your best and/or most memorable gigs? From all the reading that I've done, seems like you encountered almost as much trouble (as acceptance) in Britain: did things get better, or was there always this violent undercurrent?
ON: You always remember the odd ones, of course.
Örebro – we were booked for a Sunday afternoon concert, when we got there we realized that it was a toddler-disco (almost); the oldest kid in the audience was eight, I think. We scared the shit out of them, we tried to make an unplugged gig out of it but failed.
Mora (famous town for its Raggare) – we were booked for a Friday night, the concert was sold out faster than ever, when the owner of the place heard that it was only Raggare who had bought tickets he moved the concert to the Sunday instead – no one came, place was almost empty.
Hultsfred – good concert, however in the [audience] the Raggare were throwing all kinds of stuff on us and tried to get up on stage, in the end there where more policemen with dogs onstage than band members. I would love to have a photo from that concert. Guess it doesn’t exist as the cameras was probably thrown on us as well.
We only played one and a half gigs in England, first one at Music Machine was great. Second one at Rock Garden was as a support act to Madness. At that time 99 percent of their fans were skinheads, this was in summer of '79, so racism was a big problem in England and National Front was really upcoming. Lasse (guitar) thought it then should be a good idea to wear a “Rock Against Racism” T-shirt at the gig. Skinheads did not think so, they were mad from the first tone we played. After two songs the skinheads run out of stuff to throw at us (until then it was only beer and empty glasses, and beer in glasses), when they start throwing chairs we left the stage. One of the members of Madness tried to calm down the skins, so we tried again, but left after half a song when they start to throw tables……
We just run away from the place, one of the guys from Polydor stayed and saw when they start to smash the backline we had borrowed (from Madness), I don’t know if they managed to make their concert.
Everything about Raggare in Sweden calmed down by the end of 1980, of course there where always a few local troublemakers when we were playing.
CR: What do you most remember about recording that first LP, SAFE SOCIETY? Where was it done, and how did the experience compare to the first recordings that you did? Are you surprised to see it valued so highly, dollar-wise?
ON: As we paid the recording of the “Raggare” single ourselves (think it was around $500 at 1978 value) we had to go for the cheapest studio, we recorded “Stranglers” at the same place. When it was time to record SAFE SOCIETY, we tried that studio first, but as it is basically just one very small room in the basement of a private house it felt very cramped, so when we were offered to record in a “real” studio we went for that.
As Polydor wanted to keep cost down we could only use the studio when no one else wanted it, so most of the album is recorded at night time. It suited us well as we had to go to school in the daytime, expect Böna, who had to work. The recording was maybe not as focused as it should have been, lots of people came down to have a party, drink a few beers etc. Of course it was more fun to drink beer than listening to “take 25” on a certain guitar-stick or a terrible bass player who couldn’t keep the rhythm.
Not so surprised over the price of our old records really, I think prices have gone down as they are easier to find nowdays thanks to the Internet.
CR: As you know, some bands considered themselves more "political," or "serious" (like the Clash), and others disdained the whole business (e.g., The Damned). How did you see yourselves within the scene, since you seemed to combine both those desires (“Raggare” vs. “Next Time I'll Beat Bjorn Borg”)?
ON: We were never a political band in the serious meaning, for me it was mostly about to have fun. Being 15 years old, do the thing you think is most fun with your best friends, and people came to listen to it and sometimes they also liked it – just fantastic.
Our songs were about our reality: “Raggare” – obvious, “Stranglers” and “Mr. Star” – Big rock stars' behavoiur, “Safe Society” – Big brother watches you, “Marquee” – closing down rock clubs.
CR: With "Next Time," we see a new label (Sonet) and the beginnings of a poppier sound that grows more pronunced on your “1984” EP: what led to these developments? Just a matter of playing more, and getting better at it, or a desire to explore the wider world of music at your fingertips?
ON: We rehearsed a lot, I think much more than most other punk bands, and after a while we learned to play, just couldn’t avoid it. After SAFE SOCIETY we felt we would like to develop further, we had many discussions/arguments, Lasse and Lasse wanted to go [in a] more metal direction, I wanted to keep punky, don’t remember what Böna wanted.
So we added another guitarist Nisse (an old friend to the band), he brought the poppier sound, not planned though, it just happened and we all liked it.
CR: You'll have to walk me through this part, since most accounts hurriedly state – “And in the early '80s, the band changed direction, became even poppy and slow, then the singer died, and it was all over.”
How radically did your music change in the early '80s, since (I'd imagine) that most people haven't really heard it...
ON: Let's do it the structured way.
1979 – Safe Society.
1980 – Nisse joins, Björn Borg recorded.
Late 1980 – Mini LP “1984 Is Here To Stay” recorded, same style as “Björn Borg” – Still a very good record, even without the nostalgia factor.
Late 1981 – Lasse (guitar) left the band and the rest of us wanted to do something else, just wanted a different sound. So we replaced Lasse with Janne on keyboard and guitar (one of Böna's friends) and decided to play pure pop. We convinced Sonet that we should record a pop-single, in my opinion we should have waited and written better songs instead. Second mistake was that during the recording, we decided to sing in Swedish instead of English. That single is really terrible and should have never been released.
In the summer of '82 we tried to release a “summer single”, a cover of “Palisades Park” with Swedish text. Problem was that the company who should print the cover was closed for summer holiday, so we could not get that one out in the stores until after the summer…..
In January '83 we began to record our third single with Swedish text. This one could have been quite good but Böna died in the car crash during that time, so it was never finished.
CR: What effect did Böna's death have on you? When did you actually split up, and was there any thought given to carrying on – or was it a case of “If one person is gone, it's not the band anymore”?
ON: Of course I was shocked, I talked to him the night before the crash, he was a friend I had spent six years with daily almost.
We decided to take a break for six months, just to get a feel for what to do.
After six months we tried with new singer Johan (another one of Böna's friends), we played for fun for 12-18 months and did some good songs in (pop in Swedish). We never intended to be the Rude Kids again for sure, would have been impossible without Böna.
After a while Janne and Johan left the band so we tried a few singers but no-one really fitted, we probably didn’t know what we wanted either. So Lasse (guitar) came back, now also singing (while waiting to find a real singer). Now we were influenced by the Smiths and did a quite good demo.
After a while Lasse (guitar) left again and we decided to stop, at that time Nisse had got his religious thoughts and it took more and more of his time. He later joined the Jehovah's [Witnesses] and more or less disappeared.
CR: In some ways, the Rude Kids outdid their peers (breaking in England), and in others, never really broke internationally (as the Clash did, for instance, through those early USA tours). Did that situation frustrate you, or did you shrug it off as, “It was what it was”?
ON: I think “Bad luck/bad timing” was the theme given to the Rude Kids about our international struggle.
We tried to get into England and US for sure. We signed record contract in England, but just when we returned the signed contract to UK, the record company went bankrupt.
So we got lots of press there but never managed to make it for real – and that pissed us off for sure.
CR: Looking back, how do you feel the albums and singles hold up today? Other than the Turbonegro take on “Raggare,” have any other artists (Swedish or non-Swedish) covered your songs? Are there any other unreleased items that could still see the light of day?
CR: I think “Raggare” and “Stranglers” are OK, just shows a good feel of how it was at that time. “Raggare” is for sure unique.
SAFE SOCIETY could have been a good Mini-LP as some of the songs are just not either good or fun.
“Björn Borg” and the Mini LP “1984”….is really great, if you compare the mini-LP with most other stuff recorded in Sweden at that time it doesn’t sounds outdated at all.
The two pop-singles – big NO.
I know that a Spanish band have recorded “Absolute Ruler,” have not heard it though. Also there are some stuff on the youtube, like this fantastic one….. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7naFMYu5i4
There are no recorded unreleased songs with Böna from the punk era. We played some songs live that never got recorded but don’t have them on tape.
CR: Purely hypothetical in light of #11, but I have to ask -- have there ever been any offers from promoters to get back together, since that's all the rage these days? Do you ever feel the urge to get back and play music again?
ON: There have been a few offers but we have always said no. First of all, it can never be the same without Böna, at best we could sound like a good cover band.
If we should do it we must find a singer and then rehearse, not just go onstage after a couple of beers.
My doubt is also – who would be interested in listening, the old school punks are 45-55 years old now and today's generation punks have their own heroes.
RAGGARE IS A BUNCH OF MOTHERFUCKERS
Raggare is a bunch,
Raggare is a bunch, bunch, bunch, bunch of motherfuckers
A bunch of motherfuckers!
Raggare is a gang of freaks, who always beats the Greeks.
They drive around in their big American cars.
Think they are owners of the town,
But they aren’t.
They are nothing nothing, nothing, nothing but animals.
Monkey, donkey, kangaroo
They’ve got no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no IQ.
They are nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing but animals.
Just like animals.
The only thing they do at night is fight, fight, fight, fight, fight, fight.
But why, why, why, why, why, why, why don’t anyone do something against it?
...SO WHO WERE THESE RAGGARE, EXACTLY?
UNCLE PUNK (FABROR PUNK) FILLS IN THE BLANKS
When Spaceman and I did the story of the band we wanted to get the whole picture of this cult band. And I wanted to know a lot myself, ´cos I´ve been a fan since before I even heard the first single. The title made me a fan - "Raggare Is A Bunch Of Motherfuckers." How can you not become a fan at the tender age of 13 when you read a title like that?
I hope you know the background of the Swedish Raggare vs punks. That's Raggare is kind of (like) '50s greasers, but not in a stylish way like it is now. No, the Raggare of the 70s was just working class kids who had a big American car, sometimes very nice ones but mostly kind of average or even a piece of junk. Anyway, the Raggare had denim T-shirts and sometimes leather jackets. Kind of long 70s hair sometimes filled with grease and sometimes just plain ordinary.
So, after a week of hard labour they wanted some action, so they cruised the streets of every major and minor city in Sweden. Getting drunk, shouting at everyone, picking up girls and having a row with the police. So these Raggare were some kind of a menacing threat to society. The press used to report how the Raggare had been fighting during the midsummer celebration.
The midsummer celebration is something special here in Sweden hailing back to the old pagan days, but nowadays we just celebrate it with a big party and the Raggare did the same, but often they did tend to get in a fight with eachother and everyone around. Well, drinking a lot of moonshine is not good for any one! :-)
Anyhow, when the punks came the Swedish press found something else to write about. Suddenly the Raggare was not Public Enemy No. 1 anymore. So they started to beat up the punks. And you have to bear in mind that the punks was just kids, about 15-16 years old and the Raggare was in their mid=20s... So we punks built up some kind of hatred for the Raggare and the Rude Kids single was fuel for the fire.
A few years later Raggare and punks became friends and nowadays you have bands like the Accidents who are punks celebrating the Raggare-legacy. Oh, the times they are a changing! :-)
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