It all started back in...
The band’s predecessor established under the name Progress.
The line-up was Jan Groth, organ and lead vocal; Svein Gundersen, bass; Bjørn Kristiansen, guitar; Ivan Lauritzen, drums and Per Ivar Fure, saxophone. Their repertoire consisted mainly of Ray Charles and Tamla Motown covers.
May 17th 1969
(Norway’s Constitution Day)
First official concert as Progress at the Casino in Drammen, Norway.
August 6th 1969
realized they had to go abroad to get traction.
Thus, they decided to go to Paris, France. However, their cash balance did not allow them to travel that far. Through a booking agent they met in Halden, Norway, they got in touch with a Danish booking agent who promised them a concert tour in Denmark. And with minimum of cash and a rickety band bus they set off from Fredrikstad, Norway, believing the cash they made from the Danish tour would bring them to Paris.
Two days previous to the presumed tour opening they arrived at Bellahøy outside Copenhagen. They realized they needed a more «catchy» name than Progress, and took the name Aunt Mary from the first line in Little Richard’s «Long Tall Sally.» («I’.m gonna tell aunt Mary about uncle John…»)
August 9th 1969
Disappointment. No tour.
It turned out there was no tour arranged. To make amends the agent hooked them up with Sten Withrock in Odense, Denmark, who promised them a gig in Esbjerg, Denmark two days later.
August 11th 1969
First official gig as Aunt Mary.
Withrock was impressed and contacted Johnny Reimar in Copenhagen, telling him he had a band who played a decent blues, suggesting Reimar should cut a record with the band. They went to Copenhagen, auditioned for Reimar and was instantly promised a contract. They decided to go with that and abandon the Paris plan.
Disastrous Israel tour.
Sten Withrock got the band a series of gigs in Israel. They drove to Tel Aviv where the booking agent was shocked by the guys’ appearances as they exited the band bus. Long hairs and dirty clothes was not what he expected. But he decided to let the band play. The audience loved them. The organizers did not.
The booking agent then forced them to alter their repertoire, handed them a bunch of hit singles, allowed them a couple of days to rehearse and told them to make it or break it.
And back again…
A month after their arrival, the band was sacked, received a small share of the promised pay, and was told to go home. But the money was not enough to get them home. It was barely enough to take them to Belgrade, Yugoslavia (then). After some days money arrived from home, and they could continue the journey. But all the money was needed for gasoline, so the guys survived on apples stolen from local gardens during nights.
They did not taste a proper meal until they were back in Odense, Denmark, where they spend the first two weeks living in a family’s living room. Then Withrock found a place they could stay, an old merchant’s estate in Vigerslev, just outside Odense.
An offer to play the Top Ten at the Reeperbahn brought the band to Hamburg, Germany for two weeks.
Late 1969/early 1970
A new record. And a new drummer.
Back in Denmark, the band learned from Johnny Reimar that they had a deal for recording an album. After returning to Norway to write some new songs, drummer Ivan Lauritzen announced his resignation. He was replaced by Ketil Stensvik, who would turn out to be the bands drummer for the next 45 years.
Their first album - «Aunt Mary»
Having spent a month in the band’s home town Fredrikstad, Norway, they returned to Vigerslev, Denmark to continue writing. It turned out the songs they wrote were more pop than blues. Nevertheless, they started recording the eponymous album "Aunt Mary".
Polydor liked the album so much that they decided to release it in 17 countries.
Then they were four…
The album release was followed by gigs in Denmark, and in April they went back to the Top Ten in Hamburg for two weeks.
By now they had developed a more heavy approach to their music. Per Ivar Fure felt he no longer had anything to bring in to the band. And that summer he announced his resignation.
The best Norwegian rock band ever
The band launched their first Norwegian tour, starting in september, touring the entire country. It turned out to be a tremendous success. Everywhere they went, Aunt Mary sold out the venues. The critics were unanimously euphoric, and the band was declared the best Norwegian rock band ever.
Support for Deep Purple. Called back for encores.
In the summer of ’71 Deep Purple played in Odense, Denmark. And as usual when big names visited the town, Aunt Mary was asked to support. The band performed so well that they were called back for encores. That was not very popular with Deep Purple. It didn’t help much that the audience went ballistic as Aunt Mary started playing Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.
Rumours had it that Aunt Mary played in circles around Deep Purple that night. In a later interview, Ritchie Blackmore allegedly should have referred to Bjørn Kristiansen: «A Norwegian guitar player in Denmark. He is one of the few good guitarists I have met. And if anyone should take over the throne (as guitar king), it should be him.» Neither Bjørn nor the other aunts can confirm the truth of this, as they haven never seen the interview.
Touring with Jethro Tull. Denied encores.
That same summer Aunt Mary toured with Jethro Tull for three days. The tour opened in Copenhagen, where Ketil Stensvik played a drum solo so popular with the audience that the band were forbidden to play encores.
Continued sharing scenes with the greatest.
The summer continued with two concerts with Rory Gallagher, one with Ten Years After and two with Muddy Waters.
First hit single - "Jimi, Janis and Brian".
Johnny Reimar approached the band with an idea: What if the band made a rock version of Marvin Gayes’ "Abraham, Martin and John" and replaced the names with the recently departed Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Brian Jones? The single became a huge hit, but was refused airtime in Britain by BBC on account of the song characters’ association to drugs.
Regardless of the single’s success, the band never saw any money from it.
European rock band elite.
A compilation album featuring the greatest European rock bands was issued that autumn. Huge acts like Slade, Focus, Ted Nugent and Jack Bruce contributed. And as the only choice from Scandinavia: Aunt Mary.
New hit single - "Rosalind". Then Jan Groth leaves.
A new single was recorded in Norway: "Rosalind". On the B-side was the band’s version of Edvard Grieg’s "In the Hall of the Mountain King". This turned out to be the end of this line-up. Organ player and lead vocalist Jan Groth was an active Christian and had found the music and the lifestyle increasingly difficult to combine with his belief. Thus, he decided to leave the band to pursue a solo career as a Christian artist in Denmark.
New keyboard player. Move back home.
With Jan leaving, the band no longer saw the need to stay in Denmark, and relocated to their home town Fredrikstad, Norway. They found a brilliant keyboard player, Bengt Jenssen, almost in the neighborhood, and decided that Bjørn should be the bands new lead singer.
New album – "Loaded". A much heavier band.
Produced by Johnny Sareussen in the famous Rosenborg Studio in Oslo, Norway, "Loaded" showed a much heavier version of the band. It performed very well for an album in that genre and became a huge hit among the fans.
Touring and gigging.
Directly out of the studio, the band began touring Norway, working really hard to keep up the pace after Jan’s departure. The heavier version of the band attracted new fans, while Jan’s departure left some old fans disappointed.
Writing for the 3rd album.
Svein and Bjørn wanted to take their music even further and spent months together writing for what they wanted to be the band’s international break-through album. The music was more prog orientated than it’s predecessor. Later fans and critics would compare it with Pink Floyd, King Crimson, a "psychedelia version of the Beatles" and more.
"Janus" – going prog.
Entering the studio, the band was so tired of life on the road that they decided to cut the album, do the release tour, then break up the band. Knowing this album was their swan song they really did their best to make it shine. The band spend so much time recording that the producer, Svein Robert Ludviksen, nearly lost his job. But the album turned out to be the one the band considered their best.
Without previous rehearsals the band began touring. The set-list consisted of merely ten songs, but extensive solos from all the band members made the concerts last the mandatory 45 minutes.
At a gig on the Norwegian west coast, the organizers complained that the band played far too loud. Having played only two songs, they left stage. The organizers threatened to banish the bands from every west coast venue. Knowing this was their final tour, they couldn’t care less.
Final concert. They thought…
At their last gig in Tromsø, Norway, the band played only three songs, but made them last almost an hour. On the plane back home they decided that this was it…
Two "Best of.…" and a reunion concert.
By spring 1974 a "Best of Aunt Mary" album was released. It proved such a demand for the band’s music that the "Best of Aunt Mary Vol. 2" was released that very same autumn.
Two "Best Of's…" in less than a year, by a band who’s back catalogue consists of three studio albums and two singles must be some kind of a record.
Already in September the band made their first reunion concert. Now as a trio consisting of Svein Gundersen, Bjørn Kristiansen and Ketil Stensvik.
1978 - 1981
Annual reunion concerts as trio.
First live album – "Live Reunion"
Sunday February 24th 1980 Aunt Mary had played a reunion gig at the Hawk Club in their home town Fredrikstad, Norway. The concert had been recorded and was released as an album the following year.
Jan Groth rejoined the band for their annual reunions.
Touring again. And a new album - "Bluesprints"
In 1992 the band cut an album consisting of classic blues covers, "Bluesprints"
1992 - 2010
Annual reunions and sporadic concerts.
The last performance by the classic line-up.
At Rock på Torget, a prog rock festival held in Bodø, Norway, the band made their last performance with the classic line-up. Among the other acts was Høst, Norwegian prog colleagues of Aunt Mary back in the 70s.
Plans for a new record – Svein Gundersen leaves. Bernt Bodal replaces him.
Initiated by Norwegian guitar legend and producer – and devoted Aunt Mary-fan – Ronni Le Tekrö, the classic line-up prepared to enter the studio when bandmate and bass player Svein Gundersen announced his resignation. Le Tekrö suggested Bernt Bodal, the bass player from the above mentioned prog band Høst as his replacement.
Preparing for studio sessions. Jan Groth resigns. Glenn Lyse replaces him.
Again, the band prepared for studio sessions when more shocking news arrived: Singer Jan Groth announced he had to resign due to illness from cancer. He urged the others to continue without him. Again, Ronni Le Tekrø showed his producer genius. He suggested Glenn Lyse, 2007 Norwegian Idol winner as a replacement.
Recording the new album.
Jan Groth passes away.
Finished recording. More devastating news.
Having barely finished the recording sessions, the bandmates received more devastating news: Drummer Ketil Stensvik had also been diagnosed with cancer.
Ketil Stensvik passes away.
Guitar player and main songwriter Bjørn Kristiansen finds himself the only remaining part of the original line-up, less than three years after the first plans for the new album. After thorough consideration, and discussions with the new members of the group, he decides to carry on.
New drummer - Ole Tom Torjussen.
Release of "New Dawn"
The new album "New Dawn" is produced by Kjartan Hesthagen and Henning Ramseth. The latter also plays keyboards on the album.