Folk, the Rock Way

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411


Traditional Celtic tunes and contemporary rock beats combine this Friday when Oakland-based folk-rockers take the stage at Henfling’s Firehouse Tavern in Ben Lomond.

Formed in 1988, Tempest has released 10 CDs and toured the United States, United Kingdom and Scandinavia. Tempest’s music is a fusion of original and traditional elements, drawing on Irish, Scottish and Norwegian influences, among others.

Tempest was founded by Norwegian-born lead singer and mandolinist Leif Sorbye. Sorbye began playing guitar at age 7 in his native Oslo. By his teens, he was playing in various bands around Oslo’s youth clubs, performing cover versions of the hits of the day including Free’s “All Right Now”. It was not long, however, before an older friend introduced him to Scottish folkies The Incredible String Band. Soon, Sorbye was introducing folk instruments and traditional jigs and reels to his band’s line-up.

In the late 1970s, Sorbye found his Way to California, where he spent a lot of time busking (playing music on the street for tips) before forming the Celtic band Golden Bough in’1979. With that band, he toured for eight years and recorded six albums.

During this time, Sorbye began to form an idea of combining folk music with the passion and excitement of rock. “I wanted”, he said, “to fuse the folk and rock music I had played since I was a teenager.” Thus, after he parted company with Golden Bough in 1987, Tempest was born.

Describing Tempest, Sorbye said “We play about a 50-50 mix of traditional and original stuff. Sometimes, we’ll take a traditional melody and add new lyrics, or vice versa.”

The end result is an exciting folk-rock sound in the tradition of Horslips and Fairport Convention. The latest CD, “Balance,” displays the band’s skills perfectly on tracks such as “Captain Ward” and the original composition “O1d Man Flint.” Live, its high energy driving sound almost guarantees the band a capacity crowd wherever it plays.

The line-up of Tempest has changed and evolved over the band’s 14 years, with the various musicians each bringing something new to the mix. The current line-up is a five piece.

Violinist Sue Draheim has played with such folk luminaries as John Renbourn, John Martyn and Richard Thompson, and was an original member of The Albion Band during a 7- year stay in the United Kingdom. Joel Mahan plays electric guitar, Mark Skowronek bass and another founding member, Cuban-born Adolfo Lazo, brings up the rear on drums and percussion.

According to Sorbye, it is the mixture of musicians from different backgrounds that gives the band its distinctive sound. “Some bands tend to sound like rockers playing folk music or folkies playing rock,” he said.

“We have a mixture of folkies and rock musicians, so everyone is doing what they do best.”

However you wish to classify its music, Tempest’s show this weekend looks like one not to be missed. Henflings is expecting a turnout, so take Sorbye’s advice and book your ticket in advance.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, November 14, 2002

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