First of all, we were looking for players with a broad musical interest and a wide experience. We wanted to develop our own style of music and we needed a band that could be part of that development. We needed players with a musical confidence, strong enough to see the music from a Secret Garden perspective and see their role as part of a musical concept.
Secondly, we wanted players who could be part of a long-time musical commitment. Around the time we started, I worked with a lot of the most sought-after players in Norway. In a way it could have been tempting to choose from these top players, but I was hesitant going down that road. I discussed this with Fionnuala, and we agreed that working with a band of popular session players, and players involved in many other popular projects, would only create difficulties for our selves at some point. We wanted to form a band where Secret Garden would be the main priority; musicians who could would regard Secret Garden as an important career opportunity.
Third, and not the least important point: we wanted a group of players that could blend socially, be friends on tour on- and off-stage, and work and travel together without any big egos or friction. When you work with top players, musically and technically, it’s not always easy to find your position inside the group of talented people. There can be a lot of individual concerns upsetting a perfect musical and social balance, especially when all the players are artists in their own right. To have a band without conflicting interests was so important.
We were blessed to find our band members very soon; they fell into place in a very natural way.
The most consistent part of the group is our rhythm section. Our guitar player Rolf Kristensen has been there since the very first concert in 1995. Apart from a temporary teaching commitment as an Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California, he has played every concert with us. In fact, when he was gone for 6 months, we chose to tour without replacing him. It would be too complicated to sub for him. When he is not touring with Secret Garden, he’s an Associate Professor at the University of Agder (UIA) in Kristiansand, teaching guitar.
He’s a very versatile player with jazz and contemporary music as his forte. He can also do a great classical acoustic guitar arrangement, but he is more confident on stage when he can strap up his Fender Stratocaster and step on his pedal rack.
It took a few years before he let out his artistic talent. In the beginning, he was very happy taking a back position on stage, almost a little shy. Later, he blossomed and became more confident as an artist, taking a front position whenever it’s needed.
In a funny way, he combines these practical and organized characteristics with an astonishing absent-mindedness. In fact, we always joke when we do our count to check if everybody’s onboard the bus: “Is Roofy here?” If the answer is ‘yes’, we know that everybody else is too.
The logistics of a tour, practical details and information can totally pass him by, but on the stage he’s solid as a rock.
Tracey was the original singer, along with Brian Kennedy, on our recording of ‘You Raise Me Up’ in 2001. After we brought her back with us, she’s been part of our regular touring group. It was great to have her onboard for the promotion of ‘You Raise Me Up’, but her great talent didn’t really come to fruition before we gave her a bigger role in the concerts by singing songs from Inside I’m Singing in 2007. We discovered Tracey’s divine talent when she stepped down from the bleachers of the London Gospel Community Choir and auditioned for the female verse of ‘You Raise Me Up’. We’d never imagined that our music, paired with a gospel singer, would work so well. When we heard Tracey, we just cried. She was perfect for the song and she made it into something more – something magical we could never plan for or expect.
Whatever song she performs with us she’s turning into a personal statement. She has this God-given talent that she’s doesn’t sing a song; the song sings her. Whether it’s ‘Simply You’, ‘The Things You Are To Me’, ‘Powered By Nature’, ‘Sometimes A Prayer Will Do’ or ‘You Raise Me Up’ she’s making it into a powerful spiritual moment. She says she always thinks about God when she sings. When I’m recording in the studio with her it’s actually hard to produce her because I’m so emotionally receptive to her performance I can’t concentrate on technical issues.
On tour she’s a mess, often late for the bus in the morning and always the last to check out of the hotel room. She’s able to miss flights and lose her tickets. It’s a regular part of the tour leader’s job to give her two wake-up calls in the morning. But she’s worth it! She is a genuine world-class talent, and we feel blessed that we’re able to work with her and regard her part of our Secret Garden ensemble.
- Hans Fredrik Jacobsen
- Steinar Ofsdal
- Mick O’Brien
- Pat Broaders
- Simon Emes
- Henrik Eurenius
- Roar Brostrøm
Hans Fredrik Jacobsen
Our first regular top line player is the Norwegian whistle player Hans Fredrik Jacobsen. He’s the only original member of the band who was on stage with us in Dublin when we won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995. He’s done countless concerts with us all over the world, but he’s also been busy with his own musical projects, both touring and recording… which means that he’s been unavailable for us from time to time. One of his strengths as a player is his technical excellence. He has a master degree at the University of Oslo as a traditional recorder player, and he is also a versatile improviser of any whistle, which is a rare combination. This means that he’s as capable playing a classical tune with beautiful phrasing as he is improvising fills and creating effects on his instruments. He’s solid as a rock on stage, and he always delivers pure gold in every concert he’s performing with us.
Hans Fredrik enjoys a good meal, a great glass of wine, a good book or some great music. He can produce the most elegant and funny limericks on the spot. There is a story about him I can’t confirm because I wasn’t there, but Espen Andersen, our monitor-mixing engineer, can. On one of our tours he was watching a movie on the plane to China. A group of formal men in black suits was standing right next to his seat discussing something. Hans Fredrik was eventually annoyed by the disturbance they caused, and basically told them to get lost in his slightly ironic and not the most eloquent manner. It turned out that it was the Belgian Prime Minister he’d verbally annihilated.
Hans Fredrik is considered a leading traditional flute player in Norway. His list of recordings and concert projects is a study of Norwegian music history in itself.
Dag Stephen Solberg
We met Dag Stephen by coincidence at one of our first corporate events in Oslo. He was coincidentally assigned by the sound company who was hired to do the gig. He was young and inexperienced, but he had this incredible energy and enthusiasm that Fionnuala and I liked. He was ‘hungry’, at the beginning of his career and talented. We saw, in this combination, a perfect potential for us. By investing in his talent and by giving him professional experience along with our own growth as a group, we were confident that Dag Stephen was the right sound engineer for us. This was in 1996 before we started our international touring. When the opportunity came for international concerts, it was never a question of working with anyone else but Dag Stephen… even if he was a novice to the international market.
He is still with us, doing most of our concerts and tours. Needles to say, he’s embedded in our 20-year history, and we rely heavily on his experience and professionalism. Today, he is one of the most sought-after sound engineers in Norway, doing the biggest concerts and events for Norwegian and international top acts.
The sound is essential to a concert, and and there is nothing we can do to affect the sound other than how we play on stage. It’s all resting in the hands of the sound mixer. It could be a subtle detail in the arrangement or a delicate balance between two instruments, it could be the EQs in a difficult hall or it could be the right reverb on the violin. It’s all the small details that will decide how the audience eventually will perceive the music. Everywhere we go, we hear praise of Dag Stephen’s sound. It’s really a matter of trust. We’re very fortunate to have him with us for all these years. He knows our music back to front and still, after almost 2 decades, has this boyish energy and enthusiasm when we work with him.
During a sound check, I might occasionally walk out into the hall just to have a listen and get a feel for the sound. I might have opinions, but mostly I’ve learned to trust our highly qualified sound crew.
In times when Dag Stephen has been unavailable for us, we’ve worked with David Solheim. During the years, he has toured with us on numerous occasions, in Asia, Australia, USA and Europe. There are minor variations in the way they produce sound but they both possess the same ambition and sincerity in their work ethics. David is the calm rock and lets no stress bite even when there’s a storm around him. They’re different persons, but they both share a common understanding of our musical concept, and they’ve both earned our full respect and confidence.