No artist has got under my skin over the last few years quite like Swedish songstress Frida Hyvonen; I’m forever grateful to Lambretinha and ElDerino (where he?) for introducing me to her. So I wasn’t going to miss her one and only UK date this year, at Kings Place, a really rather wonderful arts centre in the really rather wonderful regeneration area around Kings Cross, yards away from the Guardian’s HQ.
I didn’t know what sort of gig to expect. The last clip I saw of Frida playing live was performing The Sound of Silence for Paul Simon at the Polar Music Prize (kind of like the Brits for Scandinavians), complete with full orchestra. She’s a big star in Sweden, and her new album, To The Soul, is full of big tunes and big production.
Tonight, though, we’re treated to a recital of rare intimacy. It’s just her and a Steinway grand, with a friend adding some understated backing vocals. The stalls of the concert hall are less than half full – there’s probably about 60 people, and half of them are Swedish. Halfway through she asks to have the houselights on so she can take a photo of us for her Instagram.
There’s nothing small about her performance though. She becomes totally consumed by her songs, her voice able to shift from detached Scandinavian coolness to unbridled passion. Some songs respond particularly well to this stripped down treatment. “Farmor”, from her latest album, is a highlight. An elegy for her grandmother, it’s perhaps overproduced on the record, but almost has me in tears tonight, as the huge chorus fades into a poignant coda that perfectly captures the reminiscences and chitchat of an old woman’s wandering mind.
Frida has a gift for taking an experience from her life and spinning it into something profound. So in “Picking Apples”, an impulse stop as she’s passing her late grandparents’ house sends her off into a reverie about families, mortality and writing her own epitaph. “Pony” is a nostalgic hymn to a childhood love of riding horses, with an undercurrent of sexuality (“The stable’s where you learned to be in charge and not take shit / Dressed for the occasion, leather boots and a stiff black whip”).
In between songs, she’s witty and a little shy. After “Dirty Dancing”, we learn that she never got round to putting a net on her chimney to keep the birds off, as her chimney sweep childhood sweetheart advises in the song, and had to call him back to do it a couple of weeks ago. She doesn’t, though, reveal what he thinks of the song – or whether she’s written a new one about this latest encounter.
She plays for a little over an hour, returning for a single encore: “December”, a sad, wry account of a visit to an abortion clinic. Presumably autobiographical, it’s an uncomfortable listen on record – when the singer’s only yards away, it’s painfully compelling.
Five minutes later, she’s sitting on the steps outside in the freezing cold, selling records and T-shirts. Like a besotted fan, I buy a CD I already own to get her autograph and a moment to chat. She’s currently without a label in the UK, and the latest album hasn’t been released here yet. That’s a travesty, and will surely be put to rights before long. In the meantime, I feel privileged to have seen her like this.
I’ve put together a Spotify playlist of the songs she played, possibly not in quite the right order, for anyone who’s interested: