Prudence : the Norwegian country boys who changed Progressive Rock

Life works in mysterious ways ; you would imagine being a music dork would eventually drive you far off into uncharted territories of niche experimental modern music, never to turn back to the past. But actually the more I nerd out, the more I tend to fall into ancient rabbit holes.

For the last year or so, I’ve been delving in the colourful wonders of scandinavian progressive rock. While I have barely scratched the surface, I would like to take whoever is here to read on a ride with me through the shores and forests, sharing the love for what I found there and hopefully making some sense of how these scenes emerged, thrived and waned ; welcome, my friends, to The Progressive North.

To take a remotely logical start to this I-literally-have-no-idea-how-long series, let’s set foot in Norway, around the corner of the 1970s. There’s already a whole lot to unpack there and then.

If you ask a French person aged between 40 and 60 about their most iconic home rock singer, there’s a reasonable chance you get Jean-Jacques Goldman among the answers. But there’s a considerably lower chance that they’ll talk about Tai Phong, the fantastic French-Vietnamese prog rock band he joined between 1974 and 1979 [1]. For that they’ll have to be particularly music-savvy, a prog lover, or in the really older side of the spectrum. Or all of the above.

In Norway however, ask the same question and chances are you will hear about Åge Aleksandersen, one of the country’s longest standing and most popular rock musicians (the “Grandfather of Norwegian Rock” as they say), but that you also hear about his youth prog rock band : Prudence.

The man was born and raised in Trøndelag, a region in central Norway around Trondheim – and, according to other Norwegians, the “deep south of Norway”, home of big hats, leather vests and impressive handlebar mustaches. He joined a moving lineup as singer and main guitarist around 1968, that would be named Prudence the year after ; the core of the band comprising flute player and vocalist Per Erik Wallum, drummer Kaare Skevik Jr, bassist Nille Riseth, mandolin player Johan Tangen, and the eclectic Terje Tysland who would play bass, accordion, guitar and piano across his different times serving in the band. Now considering the epoch, that’s a lineup that screams “prog”, innit ?

While Prudence is one of the earliest Norwegian rock bands to get labeled as “prog”, it would be more specific to describe them as a bunch of enthusiastic small town guys fusing the music they loved, not limited to rock, with their own local popular music traditions.

The result, who would then be aptly-named “Trønderrock”, is certainly progressive in that it was definitely something new, but it sounded very little like their English contemporaries. They did cite King Crimson and others as influences, and their first album Tomorrow May Be Vanished got them compared to Jethro Tull by praiseful critics, but quite frankly I’ve always felt like the parallel ends only barely above a certain madman energy, and the fact that there’s a flute in the mix. Per Erik Wallum does not act as a flute soloist but as a rhythmic part, playing along the riffs and making for a pretty aggressive performance, which I suspect to have heavily influenced a number of his later compatriots – but let’s put a pin on that thought for now.

In fact, in contrast to the smart theatricality of Jethro Tull, or the musical and conceptual seriousness of Gentle Giant or Fripp’s troops, Prudence feels entirely spontaneous and instinctive. They operate under a mix of influences ranging from Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention, Jazz, Hendrix, British Invasion rock and early heavy metal, and their own Scandinavian folk background, each one of them rendered in a glaringly obvious way.

Accordion, flannels, flute, mustaches, mandolin and rock’n’roll : meet Prudence.

The result might sound “refreshing” or “naive” depending on your perspective, but is always unpredictable, and tightly executed ; a song can go from funky grooves to a choral vocal harmony, into a Sabbathian meltdown riff and then into a mandolin-driven jumpin’ jive in under 3 minutes. Tomorrow May Be Vanished is a joyful album, frankly silly at times, but always ready to hit you like a rolling train with powerful riffs, unstoppable shuffles, and with the in-your-face rock energy from the Beatles and Deep Purple.

Truth be told, if any parallels to English bands should be made Prudence sometimes sound closer to Monty Python acting as a band of Norwegian rednecks, throwing in any idea they have and either working it out for the entire song or throwing it away seconds after – imagining the folk gig frenzy mayhem of Oh Grandpa performed by John Cleese and Eric Idle does not feel too out-of-place.

After this fantastic start they followed up with Drunk and Happy, a (perhaps) tongue-in-cheek title for an album where Aleksandersen’s Bob Dylan and Neil Young influences seem more prevalent through some melodic and melancholic tracks. But yet, still filled with absolute blasting party bangers.

Word has it that Prudence were absolutely amazing live ; their performance at the 1972 Kalvøya Festival saw them, according to the fest’s main guy Paul Karlsen, go “on stage as total unknowns and walk out an hour later as Norway’s most popular rock band”. One can easily understand why ; just hear the fuzzy jungle riffs and shuffles of Going Through This Life, the hot thrusts and merry choruses of Drunk and Happy , or the cheeky irony of Undeveloped Country Rag. You too, would have gone wild coconuts in front of these gentlemen.

But despite all their talent and energy, Prudence suffered a well-known irony that many of their peers would also experience ; they would only get noticed by the public-at-large after they were finished.

While they did get a significant following in Denmark and Norway, the lack of a more global audience and a struggle for financial profitability eventually drove them to disband soon after releasing their fourth and last album, Takk te Dokk, for which they switched to Norwegian singing – or, to be specific, to Trønder singing.

By 1976, they had already split up when Takk te Dokk won the Best pop/rock album trophy on the prestigious Spellemannprisen, prompting them to briefly reunite for the now legendary performance of their all-time hit Æ e Trønder Æ (I am Trønder) on national television.

An affirming moment of local identity and a landmark TV moment in Norway.

The Norwegian people apparently fell in love with that fantastic band that had already ceased to exist, leaving Åge Aleksandersen to carry on with a long and successful solo career as your dad’s favourite rocker… Or so it seems. His solo works are more popular blues rock, much more prudent than Prudence ; yet he still retained some of the spark from his old raggedy band of country virtuosos, taking it to the heights of Norwegian charts, but also abroad to a sold-out Royal Albert Hall. At the time of writing, Aleksandersen has unfolded the schedule of his very last tour before retirement, the last three (sold-out) dates taking place… in Trondheim.

If anything could tell us about the mindset of these guys… Here it is.


Sooooo, as a non-Norwegian it has been a bit challenging to find first-hand, journalistic material that I was able to read ; I owe my understanding of Prudence’s path to Youtube videos and prog-savvy avatars of Prog Archives and Progressive Rock Central, whom I dearly thank, whoever and wherever they might be.

You’ll find below the main posts I used as a basis. If you happen to be Norwegian or generally have first-hand knowledge about the prog scenes and the social contexts in Scandinavia through the 20th century, I would absolutely love to have a chat – hit me up on Instagram or via email.

Where to listen

You can (and definitely should) listen to the 3 first Prudence’s albums on YouTube, courtesy of the Franklin Pierce channel, an impressive archive for all kinds of popular music from the 1960s-1970s.

Album 1 : Tomorrow May Be Vanished (Polydor, 1972)

Album 2 : Drunk and Happy (Polydor, 1973)

Album 3 : No. 3 (Polydor, 1974)

Album 4 : Takk te Dokk (Polydor, 1975)

(here’s a live version from 1975)


[1] Omitting his small participation in the band’s ephemeral return in 1986 for simplicity’s sake. That’s right, I’m putting a footnote just for you picky prog nerds. I’m watching you.