Merle Haggard. Patsy Cline. Dolly Parton. Johnny Cash. These artists are more than just infamous names representing classic country music – their names (and more importantly, their music) live on every Monday night in one of the hottest multi-purpose venues in Helsinki – Juttutupa.
The Hilland Playboys are fronted by two amazing guitar-pickin’ men – Pauli Halme and Antti Vuorenmaa – but the guitar is not all they play. During the three hour set, they have various line switches – from guitar to pedal steel – thus delivering a stellar performance coupled with a fun-loving country spirit. With the angelic voice of Martta Valkeus on the front lines, singing epics like “Luxuary Liner” and “Jolene,” prepare to be transported right back to the heartland. Watch out for guest musicians appearing with these guys, who showcase an array of talent within this somewhat underground country music scene in Helsinki.
Prior to Juttutupa, these guys had a weekly spot at Boothill Rock Club in central Helsinki. My first impression after seeing their set was, “how the hell have I missed this every Monday?!” I was blown away by their level of musicianship. Their current venue – Juttutupa – is a venue/restaurant in the heart of the Hakaniemi district in Helsinki, and is home to much diversity in the world of entertainment. You will find a lovely blend of people from all walks of life (and all ages) who come together to watch incredible musicians at the top of their game. Many famous names have graced the walls of Juttutupa, and these walls broadcast a powerful sound.
In an attempt to get more information on The Hilland Playboys, I was lucky enough to snag a few words with guitar-strumming, vocal-humming Martta Magdalena Valkeus…and here’s what she had to say:
ML: What have been the overall reactions from people since you joined The Hilland Playboys?
MMV: Very positive. When I joined, I was the only woman in the band and many people came to talk to me after the gigs to say how nice it was that there’s a woman and female voice in the band! They said that it was exactly what the band needed, and it’s lovely – which has been very supportive and nice!! Well, I’m sure it might have been a surprise for many as well that a diploma-carrying cellist from Sibelius Academy suddenly wears a cowboy hat, plays guitar and sings American country music in a band. It might not be the most usual combination – but overall the reactions are very positive, and people are so interested about this.
Martta Valkeus photo credit: Leena Valkeus
ML: Why country and western music?
MMV: I am a real country girl! I’ve lived my first 15 years on our family’s farm in Etelä-Pohjanmaa, listening to American roots music that my parents also love. I’ve always loved the sound of pedal steel, telecaster, dobro and those heavenly country music style vocal harmonies…and being a country singer has been my dream for many years! I got to know western swing more after I joined Hilland Playboys, but I really like it too…it has been positively challenging to learn to play western swing on a guitar. I just love the simplicity and warm spirit in country music. You can sing about the biggest or most difficult things in a few simple lines and do it in major with three chords, and it goes straight to the heart and gives you goose bumps every time. That’s just great. That’s country music.
ML: Music is the window to the soul I believe, who influences you the most as a musician?
MMV: There are so many great musicians that I admire – and who have influenced me – but perhaps there are two above others: Alison Krauss and Dolly Parton. They are both extremely talented and great musicians, not only as singers but players as well, with beautiful unique voices and songs that really touch the heart. Allison Krauss is the kind of singer whose music can also be very healing and comforting, and Dolly is a real master in making songs. Two great idols I think!
ML: What are the drummer and bass player’s names, and are they rotating – or permanent?
MMV: We finally have permanent bass and drum players, but they used to be rotating. Our drummer is Sami Laakso, and bass player is Saara Metsberg. They are both just great musicians and we are so happy to have them in the band!
ML: Who are some other musicians within the country music scene in Helsinki to watch out for?
MMV: The super talented trio ‘Iron Country Sisters’ are really something to check out, I just love them! Country band ‘Luxury Liner’ has definitely some of the best country musicians in Finland, and there is a young guy named Janne Kaunisto (Johnny B.D.), whose voice and charisma won’t leave anybody cold! I’m sure he will be a big name in the country music scene one day.
ML: I have always related to the “whiskey-drinking woman”…who typically is portrayed as a strong, vibrant, free-thinking and independent woman, who’s not afraid to get dirty…what are your thoughts? Do you relate to this kind of woman at all?
MMV: Well, my usual drink before a gig is whiskey on the rocks. Year by year I can relate to this kind of woman even more!
David Allen Coe once said “it ain’t a perfect country and western song if you don’t sing about whiskey-drinking, mama, prison or getting drunk,” and with that said, The Hilland Playboys have picked an amazing repertoire of songs to present from all walks of country and western music…with a changing setlist to boot!
Cue the cowboy —- Jeeeehaaaaa!
Live country music every Monday – free entrance
Juttutupa – Helsinki
8-11pm, band tips graciously accepted!
Hilland Playboys on FB
Hilland Country Festival