I first stumbled across the music of Ólöf Arnalds some years ago whilst visiting the excellent 12 Tónar record shop on my visit to Iceland. I went through their local music section and picked out some CDs with nice covers, listened to them in-store, and purchased my four favourites. One of which happened to be Ólöf Arnalds debut album Við og Við. This was an instant hit with me and my friends. Gentle folk songs song by a sweet female voice. The music appeared timeless and it sounded like the singer could be of any age. I’d stumbled across an album of Icelandic folk lullabies.
Some years later, I find out that Ólöf Arnalds was only born in 1980, and was returning with a 2nd album, Innundir Skinni, which was to include some songs in English and a duet with Björk. In support of this album, she was to tour England. I went into this gig with huge expectations and without hearing the 2nd album, which I purchased there.
The show was held at Dulcimer in Chorlton, a fine pub which was celebrating it’s 3rd birthday. The pub prides itself on it real ale and cider. It also features a nice range of bottled beers, and the best bit – pints of Früli for only £3.80, the same price as their other pints. The gig venue is upstairs and is a nice little room, reminiscent of the Water Rats in London. A bad point it that the stairs to the toilets are at the front near the stage. The other downside was that, since they were celebrating their 3rd birthday, they had DJs downstairs whose music interfered with Ólöf’s quiet folk.
Supporting Ólöf were Stealing Sheep, three young girls from Liverpool. They told us they had only formed about a month ago, and played guitar, drums and keyboard (although she had only started learning this recently, and you could tell). They sometimes all sang together. They were delightfully amateur, but sound better on MySpace than live. I commented to a colleague that they would be better if they had a drum machine and more synths, to which he replied that would be a completely different band.
Still, I was excited for Ólöf’s set, who was accompanied by a bearded Icelandic man on backing vocals, second acoustic guitar, and sometimes a few smaller instruments. I found it took me quite a few songs to get into it. Their banter was completely at odds to the gentle music and they were continuously frustrated with their monitors, playing one song in front of them and completely unplugged. They only played half a song (Klara) off of Við og Við but a few off the new album (which have a different feel to the first album) as well as a bunch of covers. In this sense, once I realised that she was just a folk singer doing a folk show, I started to get the flow of the gig. The covers included a Dylan song, in which Ólöf attempted to mimic Bob’s vocal stylings (in a bad way), an excellent version of Close My Eyes by Arthur Russell (which is on the b-side of the Innundir Skinni single), and, my highlight of the whole show – a beautiful rendition of Swansea Town.