Danish traditional music duo head to Shoreham

Danish traditional music duo Andreas Tophøj and Rune Barlsund play Ropetackle Arts Centre in Shoreham on March 13, on the back of new album Trails and Traces.

Andreas Tophj and Rune Barlsund
Andreas Tophj and Rune Barlsund

The album was inspired by their international touring and extended visits to countries including Ireland, Finland and the US.

The music on the album reveals the traces and influences left by these travels or trails and the musicians they have met along the way.

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Andreas said: “Living abroad, sometimes for a year at a time, has given both of us a deeper understanding of the music that fascinates us the most.

“Rune, for example, spent a year in Ireland, soaking up the music from Karen Tweed and local players like Derek Hickey before going to Finland for a year and learning from musicians including accordionist Maria Kalaniemi.”

Tophøj and Barslund, who play fiddle and accordion respectively, emerged from the folk scene in Odense and have gone on to perform across Scandinavia, Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Everywhere they have visited they have forged musical friendships.

The tune Thomsens Slædetur on the album stems from Tophøj’s friendship with the fiddler David Boulanger, whom he met in Quebec and who plays with Quebecois bands La Bottine Souriante and Des Temps Antan.

The jig set Crossing the Atlantic/The Big Catch shows the Irish influence on Barlsund’s compositions, and The Rose – an old lullaby with roots on the Faroe Islands – features singer Sine Lahm, from Tophøj’s previous band ZAR.

As Andreas says: “There are other occurrences of music helping to build relationships. In 2018 my band Basco played a concert with Orcadian duo Saltfishforty. Now, two years later, Rune and I will be going to Orkney for a concert and workshop as part of the Trails and Traces release tour in March. A perfect example of the joy of encountering new colleagues as life unfolds on the road.”

To accompany the music on Trails and Traces, Tophøj and Barslund have a fund of stories that they enjoy sharing with audiences.

“Some stories,” says Rune, “attach themselves to tunes and are, in fact, pure fiction. But then, why tell a boring story when you can tell an entertaining lie!”

While Rune grew up with Danish traditional music from early childhood and took up the accordion at the age of six, Andreas didn’t become aware of folk music until his mid-teens. Andreas had begun playing classical violin at the age of nine and had just made the decision to take up guitar instead when he went along to a class Danish fiddler Harald Haugard was teaching.

“I think the main reason I was attracted to the music was the social aspect,” says Andreas.

It was when Andreas was living in Odense that he and Rune first met. “Soon afterwards, Rune left to study Irish music for a year in Limerick, where he came under the tutelage of Derek Hickey, from De Dannan, and took whistle lessons from Thomas Johnston,” says Andreas. “But he only attended the first semester, after which he stayed on because he loved the music and spent the rest of the time in a freezing cold house and playing sessions in local pubs.”

At the same time Andreas was across the Atlantic, playing old-time American music and bluegrass in Boston. Then a further period of first-hand study took Rune to Finland, adding another influence to the music he and Andreas make as a duo.

“Our travels have definitely had an impact on the way we play,” says Rune.

“It can be a challenge playing in a duo because you’re really quite exposed, compared to say in a trio or quartet, but it’s also easier to improvise, be spontaneous. It certainly keeps us on our toes.”