“We’ve got an application form for the Guinness Book Of World Records”: Are The Chronicles of Father Robin the only band to have spent 30 years on their debut album?

The Chronicles Of Father Robin
(Image credit: Press)

What’s 30 years between friends? Norwegian supergroup The Chronicles Of Father Robin, which includes members of Wobbler, Tusmørke, and Jordsjø, have spent the best part of three decades sculpting their debut album, The Songs & Tales Of Airoea. The three-part affair was inspired by prog’s golden age and, as multi- instrumentalist Andreas Prestmo reveals, there was no better time to share its atmospheric grooves.

Fans of progressive rock are perfectly used to bands taking their sweet time. Such is the nature of ambitious, complex and forward-thinking music. But even by normal prog standards, Norwegian supergroup The Chronicles Of Father Robin have really stretched the creative process to startling limits.

Founded by three key figures from Norway’s contemporary prog scene back in the early 90s, this resolutely old-school group started work on their debut album a staggering 30 years ago. The Songs & Tales Of Airoea’s three-decade gestation must be some kind of record. 

Aided by a star-studded list of contributors, including members of Jordsjø and Tusmørke, vocalist/guitarist Andreas Prestmo, bassist Jon André Nilsen and drummer Henrik Harmer deserve some kind of trophy for seeing their childhood dreams through to the end.

“We’ve actually found the application form for the Guinness Book Of World Records, because I think you’re right – no one else has taken 30 years!” says Prestmo. “We started as teenagers, when we were at college. We’d known each other for many years; we grew up listening to a lot of the same things, and developed into an interest in otherworldly music as well as art, literature, intellectual ideas, philosophical systems and so on. We were really into Rush at the time!

“We were branching out and finding out about the world – the magic and wonders out there. We started writing songs, and we had all these long conversations. We were always discussing and debating. Eventually we realised we were creating our own world.”

Inspired by the greats of 70s prog and more recent exponents of the form like Änglagård, Anekdoten and Landberk, The Chronicles Of Father Robin began in earnest at one of Norway’s ‘folk’ high schools – cultural education centres where students can spend a gap-year focusing on artistic and creative pursuits.

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“We put our education on hold, and went to live there for a year,” says Prestmo. “We had the time to unmask all our ideas and to chisel them out to become concepts and songs. At that school we met our sound engineer, Eirik Bekkeheien; he invited us to his studio. The first song we recorded was Twilight Fields – actually in a garage – and that’s the exact recording that appears on the album.”

Prestmo and his comrades were united in their desire to create a full-blown prog album to mirror their passion for the music that had inspired them. Little did they know the record would take so long to complete – but their collective focus seems to have been intense from the start.

We grew up delving into Thick As A Brick and all those really nice releases from the 70s, so our goal was always to release it on vinyl

“We went back six months later and recorded three or four more songs, living in Eirik’s house and partying – or whatever teenagers do!” Prestmo recalls. “We kept that up until we had recorded the whole catalogue of songs. It took several years. We didn’t stress about it; we knew it wasn’t finished; the story wasn’t fully written and we hadn’t talked it all through; but we knew we’d reached a natural stopping point. So we kept on going, and the years just went by. We did the last recordings in 2009, I think, then we all took a break from it because it had been so intense.”

As time passed, Prestmo, Nilsen and Harmer went off in a variety of directions, forming or joining bands and getting on with the business of living. But the Chronicles buzz continued to occupy their thoughts. Their plans began to expand, and a host of additional musicians were recruited to bring the ideas fully to life, including Wobbler’s keyboard maestro Lars Fredrik Frøislie and Russian vocalist Aleksandra Morozova. Inch by inch, The Songs & Tales Of Airoea was pieced together; and finally, it was complete.

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“We knew we had to get it out there; but parents died, children were born and life happened, you know?” Prestmo says. “We needed to release it while we’re young enough to go out and play it live! Our engineer Eirik became ill at a crucial moment, so we passed the torch to another friend of ours who has an excellent studio, and he finishing mixing it in December 2022.”

The Songs & Tales Of Airoea was finally released the following year as a lavish, three-disc vinyl box set. In addition, each record received an individual vinyl release courtesy of Karisma. Limited to 500 copies, the box set has already sold out – much to Prestmo’s delight.

“We grew up delving into Thick As A Brick and all those really nice releases from the 70s, so our goal was always to release it on vinyl,” he says. “We think it has more soul and more impact when you’re sitting there with a physical product. There’s that healthy friction where you need to get up and turn the record over, so you have a physical connection to it. It’s not immediate and easy. So that was very important.”

Physical manifestations aside, The Songs & Tales Of Airoea is an extraordinary piece of work. A two-hour extravaganza that flies by in what seems like a fraction of that time, it combines an endearingly odd story about the band’s titular hero and his nebulous exploits with songs that draw from myriad old and new school prog sources.

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From the woozy psych-prog sprawls of Eleision Forest and Twilight Fields, to the weird and wonderful epic Orias & The Underwater City, and the gorgeous, Yes-like Cloudship, the Norwegians have, miraculously, produced a mammoth body of work that hangs together beautifully.

“For us it represents our friendship,” says Prestmo. “It’s quite unique that we started this thing when we were 16, driven by naïvety and the shared prospect of something happening in the future. Lots of musicians were maybe better, or more technically gifted, but the point was always our friendship and the vibe we created together.

Father Robin is a mix of everybody who’s involved in the project, which makes him quite schizophrenic!

“For me, Father Robin is a symbol of that mindset. You don’t give up – you just put things on hold when you need to. You take your time. Father Robin is a mix of everybody who’s involved in the project, which makes him quite schizophrenic! But he’s just a vessel, you know?”

Despite occasional fallings-out and numerous real-life distractions, the core trio’s shared vision has remained solid and clear. With the record has been released, Prestmo reports that work has already begun on new material. The band’s now expanded line-up is also committed to bringing their released material to life onstage in the near future.

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Prestmo’s grin confirms that the album’s gestation was very much worth the effort. “It’s a very good feeling when you land on your feet after 30 years, you have the physical copy in hand, and it’s like, ‘Fuck, we really made it!’” he laughs. 

“If we hadn’t sold out the 500 boxes, we would still be very happy – because we didn’t do this to make money or to get famous. It was just because we wanted to do it. We needed to do it.”

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.