Friday, 27 February 2015

Ólafur Arnalds Plays Broadchurch. Glasgow Film Festival, ABC. Live review

Ólafur Arnalds Plays Broadchurch. ABC, Glagsow. Live review. 25 Feb, 2015

There ended up being an accidentally Northerm European slant to the events in this years Glasgow Film Festival which I managed to get to. First there was the "Moomins on the Riviera", a traditionally animated cartoon, bringing Finn Tove Jansson's bizarre characters to the big screen. Then I went with my son to see Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds perform from his soundtrack of the TV series Broadchurch amongst other pieces. I had been listening to it at home the previous week and my 12 year old son thought it was great so we decided we'd both go. 

About 10 years ago we went on a family holiday to Iceland, one of the best trips we've had. As is my want, at the time I was trying to soak up some Icelandic culture before we went. As well as reading the novels of Halldór Laxness and Hallgrímur Helgason I took in any Icelandic musicians that were passing through Glasgow. As I liked what I found I've kept on doing it. This meant that I have got to enjoy Múm, Sigur Ros, Mugison and Amiina amongst others (I suspect this may mean that I've seen Ólafur Arnalds cousin, Ólöf Arnalds, perform at some point). Since I made that trip the opportunities to hear the distinctive sound of Iceland has become increasingly easy in Glasgow ever since BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conductor Ilan Volkov joined the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. In the past couple of years diverse acts such as S.L.Á.T.U.R. and the fabulous Hildur Guðnadóttir have played in Glasgow as part of the Tectonics festival which Ilan Volkov curates. 

So as well as the Icelandic angle appealing to me for this concert there was also the fact that I am a big fan of soundtrack music, although I don't really think it counts as a distinct musical genre as it contains such a diverse range of stuff. When I was younger the soundtracks from the films "The Godfather"  and from "Betty Blue" were two of my favourite albums. More recently I have had been listening a lot to Broadcast's soundtrack for Berberian Sound Studio, Mogwai's album for French TV series Les Revenants and driving about Glasgow picking up strangers in my car whilst listening to Mica Levi's Under the Skin soundtrack. I haven't ever watched Broadchurch but I guess it is a pretty tense, haunting and melancholy affair as that was the feeling I got from listening to the soundtrack album this week. 

For the live performance at the ABC in Glasgow Ólafur Arnalds sits at the grand piano, synthesizer and iPad. He is accompanied by a string quartet (have at least one of them been in Aamina?), two musicians on French horn and another on keybord/ Octapad/ trombone. At times the playing is quiet and ethereal whilst the audience's attention is gripped throughout. At other times, supplemented with a crescendo of electronic percussion, the drama mounts, augmented by the austere lighting at the back of the stage. Despite the sombre and unsettling music, between tracks Arnalds is affable, witty and chatty with the audience. As well as the Broadchurch music he dips in and out of his back catalogue too, giving us a bit of context to the music.

In the middle of the performance singer Arnór Dan joins them onstage. Looking like John Hartson and sounding like Andy Bell, he gives us a chance to hear his song from the Broadchurch end credits, which he laments is usually interrupted by the ITV continuity announcer. It is an excellent change in the tone of an evening which has been put together so well, and flows perfectly. 

The well put together shape of the evening is made clear by the two songs of the encore. At the end Arnalds is left alone on stage to round off the night perfectly by performing the evocative "Lag fyrir ömmu" (For Granma). 

As I am making another trip to Iceland this summer I am putting together a new holiday playlist. I've got Ásgeir on there, I'm waiting patiently for Bjork's Vulnicura album to come out, but I've just added a few Ólafur Arnalds tracks to it in the meantime. It is rare for my taste and my son's musical taste to overlap, but tonight it did.

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