Back home in Norway, only fans with a long memory know his name and music. But when Per Øystein Sørensen toured the Philippines last month, he was greeted as a shining star.
Sørensen had quite bit of success in the 1980s as a member of cult band Fra Lippo Lippi, whose 10-plus albums and perhaps 20 singles explored a variety of styles – from the experimental, dark moods of their In Silence debut album to cheerful pop tunes like Every time I see you.
For a while, the band was signed to the huge Virgin label. Walter Becker of the popular US duo Steely Dan even produced one of their albums. And they attracted fans around the world, becoming a serious Norwegian rock export, looking vaguely like A-ha’s little brothers.
Today, the band and its songs are largely forgotten in most countries including their own – but not in the Philippines, where Fra Lippo Lippi enjoys massive popularity more than 20 years after the group’s first concert in that country.
“They make good music. Filipinos are music lovers. And I like their songs,” Cristina Cajulao, a 34 year old woman living in Manila, told Views and News. In the local media, Sørensen’s five-concert Valentine tour of Manila, Cebu and other cities was heralded by headlines like “Per Sorensen ‘comes home'” and “Fra Lippo Lippi’s main man in Manila.” According to media reports, all the shows were sold out.
“Thank your lucky stars that Per Sorensen vows to be a musician to his dying day,” wrote columnist Arnel Ramos in newspaper Malaya Business Insight.
It was Sørensen’s sixth visit. He told the Manila Times that he loves performing for the Filipino audience.
Home away from home
“The Philippines feels like a second home to me,” he said, “I’ve always received such a warm welcome every time I’m here. You Filipinos have been so nice to me and you’ve shown so much appreciation for what I love to do.”
Sørensen compared the reception he gets from Filipinos with that in his own country. “Maybe it’s because of the cold weather in Norway; that is why they (Norwegians) seem reluctant to show their feelings, unlike you Filipinos, whose warm climate reflects whenever you show your emotions,” he told the Manila Times.
In 2009 Sørensen released his first solo work, an album called Våge (Dare) with lyrics by fellow songwriter Kari Iveland. A key theme of the album, though, is Sørensen’s own bout with depression.
“It was more than just being sad or having a broken heart, he told The Manila Bulletin. “You can’t do anything. It’s like you are paralyzed. It’s all dark and you can’t get out of bed. I’m glad that I’m still doing therapy. I’d recommend it to all people.”
Adding a voice
Per Øystein Sørensen tours under the simplified name Per Sorensen. He also uses Fra Lippo Lippi’s name liberally, although the band was officially dissolved in 1995. He is listed in Wikipedia as the only remaining member.
Nor was he in the group from its humble beginnings in 1980, in a basement at Nesodden near Oslo. The first the world heard from Fra Lippo Lippi was the track Fabric Wardrobe on an international compilation called Fix Planet, along with acts from other unusual places, including Ecuador, Iran and “somewhere in the underground of Leningrad.” The group’s first album, In Silence, was heavily influenced by rock noir acts like The Cure and Joy Division.
Sørensen came on board in 1983, adding a mighty voice and a new direction: Melodic and melancholy stuff with simple, keyboard-led backing and a charismatic singer up front. Thus, their beautiful second album Small Mercies embodies what has been Fra Lippo Lippi’s magic formula ever since.
It may be tempting to say that this band hasn’t changed much for the last couple of decades, but at least the Filipinos don’t seem to mind.