It's not an overstatement to say that The Refreshments since 1995 has been one of Europe's most reliable suppliers of high-energy "rock" and just about equal doses of swinging "roll".
By travelling all over their native Sweden to play their music night after night, they've developed a rock'n'roll sound that for more than two decades has made a steadily growing audience dance, tap their feet and pump up the volume on their car stereo – sometimes simultaneously.
Unlikely enough, it all started in the 80's. In a time when synth pop and soft metal ruled the airwaves, some teenagers from Gavle, Sweden, realized that they loved Chuck Berry, Rockpile and classic rock'n'roll more than anything that was on MTV or radio.
In 1989 they decided to do something about it, formed The Refreshments, and with half a million albums sold (of which twelve gold and two platinum), a Grammy nomination and more than 4 000 live shows has deserved the title as Sweden's hardest and most rootsy rock'n'roll band many times over.
By acting as a backing band for touring British rock legends like Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner, Mickey Jupp, Steve Gibbons, Albert Lee and Geraint Watkins, they've also built a reputation as one of the tightest bands in Europe.
Now they're back with their 13th album with original material (15th, if we count the two Christmas albums with mostly original songs). Seven of the twelve songs are written by the prolific song-writing dynamo Joakim Arnell, who not only is the band's singer - as the band's bassist he and drummer Mats Forsberg also makes up the group's relentlessly grooving rhythm machine.
There's a subtle variety in Arnell's songs on the new album. The album opener "Another Mother" is a classic Refreshments belter in which guitarist Jonas Göransson gets the party started, with energetic rockers like "Plain Jane" and "Shootin' The Breeze" also making Refreshments connoisseurs nod in recognition.
But "Straight Up" doesn't just confirm what we already know. Instead, the album offers several surprises where everything from song choices to arrangements makes them sound more inspired than ever.
Who, for example, would have thought that the hippie anthem "Sylvia's Mother" by Dr Hook & the Medicine Show from 1972 could be wound up into a galloping country rocker at full speed? But The Refreshments makes it sound so obvious.
"It's such a wonderful and simple song with the classic three chords, and a lyric that sounds even more desperate the faster you play the song. I used to be a big Dr Hook fan when I was young, and was just checking if I still dug them. Then I heard "Sylvia's Mother" and thought "hmmm", Joakim Arnell says.
Another unexpected song choice is "Reconnez Cherie", the second single by London's new wave hero Wreckless Eric. The eleven-year old Arnell recorded the song on his tape deck back in 1978, and the song has been with him since. The Refreshments version adds a Tex-Mex flavour merely hinted in the original version.
The Refreshments tastefully pick their Tex-Mex influences from bands like Sir Douglas Quintet and The Mavericks, with accordion virtuoso Anders Larsson acting as the band's own Flaco Jimenez. Just have a listen to "Enough Is Enough" and feel the warm breeze of summer of 2016.
Arnell also explores other rootsy routes that feels at home in the Refreshments camp. "Bluebird" is a feverish mix of rockabilly and surf pop on the run from a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack, while "The Peacemaker" slows the tempo down while cranking up the guitar amp's tremolo to the point where you can imagine a sweaty club gig with a young Creedence Clearwater Revival.
And then we have the majestic force of the band's own Jerry Lee Lewis, Johan "J.B" Blohm on piano and vocals. On the three songs he sing, the band digs deeper than ever in 20th century music history.
"Magic Moon" is a slightly overlooked Ned Miller popster from the early 60's, with undeniable rock'n'roll credentials thanks to being written by brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette from the legendary Rock'n'Roll Trio.
"'Till I Waltz Again With You" was a lovely country ballad with one leg in the 40's big band era when it was recorded by Teresa Brewer in 1953, but The Refreshments is leaning more on Bill Reeder's version from 1961 and rocks up the song to a fast and convincing country boogie.
The album's closing track "Trouble In Mind" ends the show in style. This blues classic was first recorded in 1924 and has since been interpreted by American icons like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Dinah Washington, Sam Cooke, Everly Brothers, Nina Simone, George Jones, Aretha Franklin – and Jerry Lee Lewis, whose left hand is hovering over The Refreshments version.
The Refreshments new album is called "Straight Up". As in "summer is coming", "let's party", "I got to see this live" or "play that fast thing one more time". Get up and go.
Refresh your memory (the story so far):
The Refreshment’s 13th album “Straight Up” is released in May.
The Chuck Berry tribute ”Let It Rock” is recorded in the legendary Sun Studios in 2013, before the band tries to put some rock and roll into Eurovision Song Contest with ”Hallelujah”. The song is taken from their 12th album ”Wow Factor”, released in 2014. Shortly thereafter, pianist Johan Blohm’s one minute and forty-one second long boogie-woogie solo is passing the staggering
10 600 000 mark on YouTube.
In the spring the band releases their 11th album "Highways And Byways". A few months later founding member and saxophone player Micke Finell decides to bid the road farewell, and The Refreshments are trimmed down to a quartet in the process. The trip continues.
In the spring The Refreshments makes a successful visit to the SXSW festival in Austin, making quite an impression with their old school rock'n'roll approach when they play legendary venues like Antone's. A few months later they release their tenth album, "Ridin' Along With The Refreshments" which is the first album to feature Jonas Göransson's guitar work from start to finish. This album too heads straight to the top of the Swedish charts. Together with Rockpile legend Dave Edmunds they embark on their annual "Rock'n'Roll Summer" tour with guest Dave Edmunds. And of course, no Christmas without the "Rock'n'Roll X-Mas" tour, this year with guests Eva Eastwood and the X-Mas Horns. No peace for the wicked. To be continued...
The summer is celebrated with a Rock'n'Roll Summer tour featuring Eva Eastwood and veteran rock'n'roll act The Boppers, breaking a few attendance records along the way. The autumn sees the release of the "Central Café - 20th Anniversary Concert" recorded the year before. The Christmas season is also a busy period with a Rock'n'Roll X-Mas tour featuring guests Nisse Hellberg and Sven Zetterberg, as well as the cd release of "Christmas Wishes - Best Of Rock´n´Roll X-Mas", with the band's best seasonal rockers plus five new ones. That album also marks the debut of new guitarist Jonas Göransson, who replaces Robin Olsson.
The band kicks off their 20th anniversary with new album "A Band's Gotta Do What A Band's Gotta Do", once again a chart-topper and Gold selling album in Sweden. "I started thinking about the time that's passed since we started the band in the autumn of 1989.
Having cherry-picked a few rock'n'roll standards here and there on their studio albums, the band now decide to dedicate a whole album to their musical roots—an album where almost every song is a million seller and a Billboard Hot 100 or R&B chart topper.
"The Refreshments Jukebox – Refreshing Classics" is a 15-song affair, presenting well-known tracks like Fats Domino's "The Fat Man" and Chuck Berry's "I'm Talking About You" as well as more obscure gems like Little Bob & The Lollipops "I Got Loaded" and Danny Wolfe's "Pucker Paint". The album is of course released on vinyl. The live dvd "Refreshments Jukebox - Refreshing Hits & Classics" is released in the autumn.
The 2008 "Rock'n'Roll X-mas" tour features acclaimed Swedish blues/rock artists Louise Hoffsten and Sven Zetterberg.
Four years after "Rock'n'Roll X-mas" The Refreshments returns to holiday mode with a new sizzling home made brew: "Christmas Spirits", including 14 hard rocking and sweet country seasonal greetings. For the annual "Rock'n'Roll X-mas" tour, The Refreshments has requited two prominent guests—the country picking guitar phenomenon Albert Lee, singer/pianist Linda Gail Lewis and Annie Marie Dolan (backing vocals).
New album "24-7" gets a Grammy nomination while the band slows down their touring into a more human 70-gigs-a-year schedule. They embark on a sold out summer tour and gigs with Status Quo, before celebrating 17 years and more than 3 000 live shows with the best of-collection "It's Gotta Be Both Rock And Roll", which immediately soars to the #1 position on the Swedish charts.
Piano player Johan "JB" Blohm releases the critically acclaimed solo album "Reconsider Me". During the summer, The Refreshments tour with Smokie and Status Quo. Before the tour is over they have smashed the attendance record at the majestic outdoor concert site Dalhalla. The live dvd "Refreshments Live" featuring special guests Dave Edmunds and Billy Bremner is released in the autumn. In December they once again embark on a "Rock'n'Roll X-mas"-tour with Eva Eastwood and Geraint Watkins.
The annual "Rock'n'Roll X-Mas" tour is a new success with guest appearances by Nisse Hellberg and Mats Ronander. During Christmas, The Refreshments holiday rocker "I'm The Real Santa" travels the world as the theme song for the Disney movie "Santa Claus 3".
The band tours Sweden with veteran rocker Jerry Williams and The Boppers. Seventh studio album "Easy To Pick Up, Hard To Put Down", a 15-track collection of new material and lovingly chosen covers like the two Chuck Berry numbers "If I Were" and "Going Back To Memphis". The live dvd "One Night With The Refreshments", featuring special guest Albert Lee, is released.
The ever-prolific Refreshments success streak continues and they release two new albums—the sixth studio album "On The Rocks" and the Christmas record "Rock'n'Roll X-mas". Chuck Berry's legendary pianist Johnnie Johnson makes one of his last appearances in the video to "On The Rocks" track "We Just Can't Win"—a fitting homage to a true rock'n'roll hero. "Rock'n'Roll X-mas" includes standards and original songs like "I'm The Real Santa". The album takes a sleigh ride to the #1 position in the Swedish charts in December, while the band is touring the country with their Christmas show.
Continued touring and Swedish national television performances with Dave Edmunds, Billy Bremner and Geraint Watkins.
Fifth album "Real Songs On Real Instruments" is the first to be produced by Joakim Arnell and includes the band's biggest radio hit to date—"One Dance, One Rose, One Kiss". Geraint Watkins makes a guest appearance at the organ. In the autumn the 20-track compilation "Here We Are - Best Of The Refreshments" is released. Drummer Niklas Aspholm is plagued by sinew problems that make him unable to play. Original member Mats Forsberg retakes his place behind the drums, partly persuaded by the fact that the group now is down to a mere 125 gigs a year.
With the title nicked from an old advertising-poster for Wurlitzer jukeboxes, "Musical Fun For Everyone", is the group's fourth album—co-produced by Bremner but the first without him in the line-up. It's evident that The Refreshments have no problems standing on their own, and the album is their fastest selling record to date, continuing the string of non-stop gold and platinum albums that will characterize The Refreshments career from now on. Boosted by confidence, the band embarks on yet another tour with Dave Edmunds and Dr Feelgood.
Hans Larsson forms his own company Darrow Entertainment. The first record to be released on the new label is The Refreshments third album "Are You Ready". When the album is finished Billy Bremner leaves the group as yet another victim to the group's touring schedule.
His timing proves to be unfortunate, because almost instantly the group's luck turns. "Miss You Miss Belinda"—a song Arnell considered to be so weak that he put it as the final song on his demo of new material—unexpectedly becomes the group's breakthrough song.
Top selling group Barbados makes a Grammy-winning Swedish version of "Miss You Miss Belinda" which becomes a major hit, alongside The Refreshments own English version. In the process "Are You Ready" quickly sells 50 000 copies, giving the band their first gold record.
The second release on the new Darrow label is the live album "A Pile Of Rock - Live", which captures the previous year's phenomenal tour with The Refreshments featuring Billy Bremner and keyboard legend Geraint Watkins backing Dave Edmunds. The album confirms The Refreshments position as one of Scandinavia's tightest band in the old school of rock'n'roll.
New members Robin Olsson (guitar) and Johan Blohm (keyboards) enter the group on their first commercial high.
Second album "Trouble Boys" is released, but sales are only marginally better. Drummer Mats Forsberg throws in the towel and is replaced by Niklas Aspholm. Even Billy Bremner starts to wonder whether the rigour of non-stop touring really is worth the price.
But when things are at the darkest, Dave Edmunds calls and offers The Refreshments to back him on a tour of Scandinavia. To Edmunds' amazement the band know all his songs by heart; even suggesting that he should include his 1968 Love Sculpture hit "Sabre Dance". When a reluctant Edmunds politely implies that it's not easy to get the song right, The Refreshments cheerily answers: "Try us." They easily run through the complicated patterns of this extremely fast ballet music piece.
Despite the disappointing sales of the first album, Bremner has decided to stay in Sweden and continue with the band. In the autumn he replaces Tord Eriksson as the group's guitarist.
The Refreshments debut album "Both Rock'n'Roll is released, but sales are down to a meagre 3-4 000 copies. Only one thing to do: keep on touring.
The Refreshments finally decide to record an album of original material. Having toured with Mickey Jupp, they decide to spice up the group's sound by having Rockpile legend Dave Edmunds play on the album. They fail to reach Edmunds, but instead Micke Finell gets hold of fellow Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner, who's working as a session guitarist in Nashville. Bremner agrees to come over and play. He ends up producing the album, and calls A&R manager Hans Larsson at BMG Sweden. Larsson—a dedicated Dave Edmunds and Rockpile fan—loves the band's sound and signs them.
Knackered by the heavy touring schedule, the band disbands in the early autumn. "We we're worn-out and decided it would probably be a better idea to put the band on hold for a while. I went back to my old job as a teacher", Arnell says. But soon the lure of the road was too strong. Armed with new guitarist Tord Eriksson, The Refreshments re-grouped and started playing every place that would have them—pubs, jails, private parties, American vintage car gatherings etc.
The Refreshments put out their first EP, which like the Mr Jones EP consists of four covers— "School Days", "The Promised Land", "You Better Believe It" and "New Orleans". Janne Oldeaus, renowned guitarist in Stockholm bands like Rost and Mosquitos, joins the group in time to overdub some of the lead guitar parts. The band distributes the record for free at a gig in the Folkets Park back home in Skutskär. After the show, dispirited group members finds that the audience has thrown away most of their records and left them on the ground. Despite this bad sign the band stubbornly decide to quit their day jobs and go professional. A gruelling 250-gigs-a-year schedule commences. It will soon turn The Refreshments into one of the hardest working rock'n'roll bands in the country.
Guitarist Thomas Holmberg replaces Eric Jones, and the band once again changes their name—this time to The Refreshments. The group records a four-song demo, of which "Love On Time" is released on the 2009 box set "Rarities" cd.
Mr Jones Band puts out a self financed EP with covers.
Joakim Arnell starts writing songs, but the future hit-maker is off to a shaky start. "I tried and tried but never was satisfied with the results. My own songs just didn't turn out they way I wanted." Not giving up, he continues to write until he gradually begins to capture the 50´s spirit he's looking for.
Guitarist Eric Jones and drummer Mats Forsberg joins Finell and Arnell. They call themselves Mr Jones Band.
Micke Finell meets Joakim Arnell in the sixth grade at Bodaskolan in Skutskär, Sweden. When it turns out the newcomer plays sax they form the band Tryckförband (Compression Bandage), playing classic rock'n'roll. "Swedish 50's style group The Boppers had just had tremendous success, Rockpile was still around and at the local gas station you could find lots of cassettes with 50's hits. So playing rock'n'roll in the early 80's didn't seem that odd to us", Arnell remembers.