The Norwegian vernacular is littered with proverbs. Just one of them is “den får mykje merke som vidt fer” which translates as “who wanders afar may notice much”. It was this sentiment which brought me to W12’s Bush Hall, a venue I had never visited, to see Thomas Dybdahl, a singer-songwriter I knew little of other than supposedly being ‘Norway’s answer to Nick Drake’.
I personally feel such comparisons border on the heretical and yet, as the Norwegian and his band took to the Bush Hall stage suited up like Mumford & Sons’ city-dwelling cousins, it only took a few songs for me to recognise the same delightful combination of folk and jazz which can be found on Bryter Layter. Dybdahl is certainly best served at a slow tempo, with the gentle beauty of ‘U’ and ‘From Grace’ outshining the upbeat ‘Man On A Wire’ and even the cheerful closing song ‘Party Like It’s 1929’. However, the highlight had to be the breathtakingly charming ‘One Day You’ll Dance For Me, New York City’, for which Dybdahl explained his inspiration.
“I was gonna go to New York, sort of let the big town swallow me up and walk around in the footsteps of all the bands I listened to, you know? I thought that was what I was gonna do but I ended up just staying in a cheap motel room and, sort of, write about doing it whilst not actually doing it.” Lovable would be an understatement for Dybdahl who, despite spending over a decade making music with little major recognition outside of his native Norway, still retains the humility of an adolescent singer-songwriter, struggling to believe that packed-out rooms not only want to hear his songs but already know them word for word.
Songs such as ‘Easy Tiger’ and ‘But We Did’ from Dybdahl’s 2013 release What’s Left is Forever were exquisitely executed by the Norwegian and his backing band; his team of dazzlingly talented multi-instrumentalists includes keyboardist Ådne Sæverud who, situated between a Hammond organ and analog synthesiser, produced chordal swells which filled every inch of the room before dropping back into gentle, jazzy progressions behind Dybdahl’s uniquely delicate voice.
Who wanders afar may notice much. However, it is difficult to believe many wanderings could be as profitable as this one. Like the palatial décor of Bush Hall, Thomas Dybdahl is a performer who is elegant, refined and yet wonderfully understated.