Since the huge commercial success of Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ movies, it’s been easy to forget the significance of the JRR Tolkien novel to the 1960s counterculture hippies. The fantasy epic had been originally published as three separate volumes in the mid-50s, but its appearance as a single book for the first time in 1968 prompted a fresh wave of interest the world over. Among those who read it at this point was Swedish multi-instrumentalist Bo Hansson.
Hansson had started out as a guitarist. He’d been the driving force of The Merrymen, a blues band who supported The Rolling Stones when they toured Scandinavia in 1965, but he later switched to keyboards, initially playing the Hammond organ before becoming one of the first European musicians to master a Moog. Jimi Hendrix was a fan of his work, jamming with him for many hours during a trip to Sweden in 1967. Hendrix often included a Hansson song called ’Tax Free’ in his live sets.
It was Hansson’s girlfriend who gave him a copy of ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ and the book had an immediate impact on him. He set about writing music to accompany the images that Tolkien’s words conjured up in his head, hunkering down on a remote island near Stockholm with drummer Rune Carlsson and producer Anders Lind. A dozen of the instrumental pieces they recorded were subsequently released as an album under the Swedish title ‘Sagan Om Ringen’ on Lind’s Silence label in 1970. Two years on, as copies spread beyond Scandinavia, the record was picked up by Tony Stratton-Smith, the boss of Charisma Records, who reissued it as ‘Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings’.
Although quickly hailed as a prog rock classic, Hansson’s tribute to ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ is these days also seen as a great early example of space music. It’s certainly a curious brew, a heady concoction of symphonic keyboards, experimental jazz guitars, and primitive electronics. The organ gets a bit frantic at times, ‘The Black Riders’ sounding like a wild samba, but it’s the ambient otherworldliness of tracks such as ‘Fog On The Barrow Downs’ and ‘The Grey Havens’ that marks this album out. The dreamy and gently psychedelic ‘Lothlórien’ could almost be an out-take from Pink Floyd’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’.
Bo Hansson released three more albums in the 1970s, all of them instrumental, but none came close to matching ‘Music Inspired By Lord Of The Rings’, either in terms of musical accomplishment or record sales. His fifth and final album, ‘Mitt I Livet’ (‘In The Middle Of Life’), came out on Silence in 1985, after which he largely withdrew from the music industry. He died in Stockholm in 2010 at the age of 67, having been something of a recluse for the last 25 years of his life.
Hansson certainly wasn’t a forgotten figure by the time of his death, though. As well as being revered in Sweden, since the late 90s his music has been sampled by a host of American rappers, including J Dilla and Pusha T. From hippies to hip hoppers, now that really is a long and strange journey.