Category Archives: Reviews

Icewaves 2013

Veerle & Katie at Hraunfoss

Veerle & Katie horsing around at Hraunfoss

It must be all the Airwaves blogs from you lot. Or maybe it’s just that I have lots of space to think in my new house (which I bought this summer). Or it even could be – just could be – the hit from the 10 days I spent in Iceland starting to run through my veins properly. Whatever it is, I have the urge to write. So settle down dear readers, and I shall begin. It’s my day off today, and having just finished wading through ALL my holiday photos from this year to get them printed up, I have a lot of memories whizzing round my head. My facebook feed is also full of blogs and articles about Airwaves and Iceland in general – check these out from Ben, Carmel, Auður at IHeartReykjavik, and of course The Grapevine. And to top it off, in my search for aural accompaniments to today I have unearthed a Honningbarna CD, who I had the privilege of seeing in a hostel reception at Airwaves 2011. Their sheer explosive energy is doing something to my insides I tell you.

So – I would like to tell you about my trip to Iceland, and more specifically this year’s Airwaves Festival. My friends and I usually make a bit of an adventure of our annual pilgrimage, starting off with a 3 or 4 day roadtrip somewhere full of moss, lava, mountainy bits and waterfalls (not forgetting sheep, new-romantic horses, elves, and, debuting this year, beserkers) before heading into Reykjavik for a bit of hipster-spotting.



My good friend Veerle and lovely cousin Helen came with myself and Katie this year, and we had a brilliant time poking around lakes and lava fields and cliffs and beaches and taking a shedload of photos. But I wanted to take a more laid-back  approach to the Airwaves festival this year. I always feel like there’s too much pressure to be somewhere or see something or go to that party, and take in the overwhelming variety of events and cool things to see and do over Airwaves in Reykjavik, and stress and festivals are never things that should go together.


So I ignored the gigs I knew there would be massive queues for, or that chances were I could see in the UK, pencilled in loads of things that sounded a bit interesting, and took my time, did a bit of shopping, drank far too much hot chocolate (I still maintain the hot chocolates in Reykjavik are THE best, despite the demise of Hemmi og Valdi), ate nice food, drank nice beer and nice gin, met up with old friends, made some new ones, and generally had a pretty ace time. First on my list – one of my absolute favourite Icelandic bands Bloodgroup, followed by Ultra Mega Technobandið Stefán, playing in a box and what can only be described as a minimalist shelf, at Hressó for a live web-cast on newspaper Morgunblaðið’s website.

Bloodgroup in a Box

Bloodgroup in a Box

The boxes were designed to be the same proportions as a web-banner so that the gig could filmed and broadcast directly onto where the banner would be on the site. A visually fantastic idea from the live audience’s point of view (I thought so anyway), but I’m not so sure what the bands thought about having to squeeze into such tight spaces – although Sunna seemed to take it all in her kitten-like stride, and Bloodgroup’s set seemed even more full of energy than their “official” Harpa gig was later in the week.

By the Throat at Hallgrimskirkja

By the Throat at Hallgrimskirkja

So onto my second day of taking-it-easy festivalling. I had a few things on my pencilled-in list, including the Bedroom Community evening at Hallgrimskirkja, (which was magnificent – hearing Ben Frost’s By The Throat on a cathedral pipe organ was menacingly breathtaking and the acoustics just added to the sense of enveloping doom) – and a mysterious band called Camp Keighley just beforehand. I say mysterious because there was no information about them on the festival programme/app, not even what genre they dabbled in. The band are Icelandic, yet Keighley is not a remotely Icelandic word. Keighley is a town in Yorkshire where I grew up, and where my mum still lives.

I’d been ambling about Reykjavik’s craft shops looking for some lopi wool and a needle with which to mend my favourite but ever-more decrepit denim skirt, pretty chuffed with myself that I think I managed to pass for Icelandic in the haberdashers (probably because only locals go in there but I’m going to go with it…) and just made it back to my hostel to dump my stash of craft-tat when I twigged that what I assumed to be the Brontë-obsessed Icelandic band were about to play in the shop window next to where I was staying.

Shop WIndow Gigs are also Good

Shop Window Gigs are also Good

Of course I had to ask where they got their name from, and Hilmar, their guitarist, explained that Camp Keighley was the former name of one of the old-US airbases in Iceland, back from when the base was British for a couple of years in the ’40s. Still none- the-wiser as to why the Brits picked Keighley of all places to name their camp after, it was turning out that the band were more fascinated by my pronunciation of their name than I was in why they chose it. Keighley is one of those bizarrely-spelt British town names that (understandably) catches people out, and alternative attempts at saying the name (Kylie [as in Minogue], Ceilidh, and so on) are a source of amusement to its natives. That said, I wasn’t expecting that the correct way (“Kee-th-lee”) would be such a surprise as I’m so used to hearing it myself. But to their credit Camp Keighley took it upon themselves to learn the proper Yorkshire way of saying it, and then had a story to tell their audience for the rest of the festival… sorry about that!

I stayed to hear what their music sounded like and it didn’t take much to persuade me to stay till the end (and catch them twice more during Airwaves). Their pop is ridiculously catchy, with generous percussion, synths, and falsetto melodies shared joyously between male & female lead singers Þorvarður & Ólöf. I videoed them playing their song “Necessity for Consistency” in the Cintamani off-venue store, take a look and then don’t forget to follow them on Facebook and badger them to record some more!



Filed under Europe, Festivals, Gigs, Iceland, Music, Reviews, Travel



I played the flute when I was a kid, right.

Well, when I say played, I could get notes out of it, and read music, and produce most of the notes the dots and lines told me to. As long as they weren’t too fast or close together.

Now I was in a bit of a catch 22 situation really – I’d had to wait so long for lessons (y’know, the free ones at school) that I’d lost interest and sight of my original inspiration (some beardy flautist who played on Saturday morning kids’ TV in the very early 80s; I was 3 or 4 so easily influenced), and I just did what I was told by my teacher, expecting for it to click one day. Obviously if I’d have practiced really really hard, I’d have understood it better and been able to play around and enjoy it a bit more, but I didn’t really get that I could do things other than what grown ups told me to do. (Cut me some slack, I was only 8, and scared of grown-ups).

Laura plays the TestSpace instore gig at Crash Records

But now for someone who does get it.

This is a problem that Laura J Martin clearly doesn’t have. Laura plays her flute just exactly how she wants thank you very much, and along with her girly, pixie-like voice, mandolin and loop pedal, her playing breathes life and imagination into the er – glamorous world of woodwind.

I saw Laura play live twice the other week, once by accident in the basement of  Crash Records for TestSpaceLeeds, and once for her single launch at the Brudenell Social Club. She’s a cheeky performer who obviously really enjoys pushing the boundaries of flutey convention to make the most imaginative, happy, enjoyable folk music I’ve ever heard (I use folk in the loosest sense of the word, Laura’s not that easily classifiable). She plays Tease Me live, the only cover in her live set but a brilliant choice – its delightfulness creeps up on you until you realise what song she’s singing, and *then* you have to contend with the unexpected reality of such a folky looking lass making such accomplished reworking of the ragamuffin pop classic. And she just *loves* your reaction.

Laura’s single Hangman Tree has been getting Radio 3 airplay and it’s another playful work of genius. You could do worse than to check her out. Lovely lovely stuff.


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Filed under Gigs, Leeds, Music, Reviews

Thanks Frank


People in slightly silly hats. Too many flags. Ace.

It’s been a right funny festival this Glastonbury. Lots of hype for the 40th birthday on top of the usual hype – but without wanting to sound like a massive hippy, I found it really difficult to feel a part of it this year, and lots of my friends felt the same. The full moon might have something to do with it. Ok, really not succeeding in not sounding like a massive hippy am I? The heat didn’t really help, and while it’s SO lovely not to have to trudge through 2 foot deep swamp mud, the lack of shade seems to have made everyone really irritable and grumpy (I work in the medical tent so maybe I see the worst of it, who knows).

Naughty full moon

So I was well looking forward to Frank Turner at his “secret” Strummerville campfire gig, especially as I’d missed his Queen’s Head set with looking after nauseous, dehydrated and grumpy people on my medical tent shift), although I was pretty sceptical we’d make it in time as I’ve tried to battle through the crowds to Shangri-la several times before and failed. Not to mention my friend’s uncanny ability to add 2 hours onto most journey times and the fact I know they close the Strummerville field to crowds pretty early as it’s really, really tiny. So imagine my delight when not only we FOUND Strummerville through the crashed aeroflot jets and mechanical insects and pterodactyls, but that they were STILL LETTING PEOPLE IN,  and THAT FRANK WAS STILL TO PLAY! RESULT! The festy was starting to go right!

Not strictly an insect, but mechanical nonetheless

So right in fact that after donning my fake beard (a present from a dear friend), who do we bump into but Mariachi el Bronx, who are also ABOUT TO PLAY A SECRET SET AT STRUMMERVILLE! Embarrassingly I decide to show my beard off to Matt el Bronx, who nods and smiles politely while I ramble on about how much I enjoyed their Live at Leeds set and their rather stupendous costumes. Poor bloke. But – I’m now awaiting secret gigs from 2 acts I really love, I’m with my friends and we’re all finally in a good mood – YES…

Bearded lady and worried-looking Mr Bronx

…Until 2 kids fall out of the crowd past us and towards the exit. I’m about to ignore them (someone will help, right?) until I realise we recognise one of them. Oh dear, time to go and check they’re ok. Which they are sort of, although one of them’s really really pissed and the other one’s trying his best to help her stand up. Through the jager, my hospital head kicks in. Stupid bloody hospital head. Cue 3 hours reassuring this lass she’ll be ok, explaining to her how to walk (so we can get her to welfare), and the second missed Mr Turner gig of the day. Grr. Thanks to the jager I wasn’t really pissed off, but I think everyone else might have been. Anticlimax city.


BUT – all is not lost. Frank is booked to play one more set at Glastonbury on the Leftfield stage. We arrive and the tent’s already packed, but we cram in the back next to two incredibly excited lasses (bless them) who can’t understand why I’m not jumping up and down and screaming like I’ve gone to see the Bay City Rollers. It’s me age love. Oh yeah, plus I’m knackered from looking after pissed people all weekend.


Now it’s taken me a while to “get” Frank Turner. My best friend introduced me to his stuff about a year ago, and whilst I didn’t dislike his songs (very catchy some of them I said to myself), I kinda really thought – hang on a minute, you’re not singing about anything I don’t already know. I’ve thought about stuff too you know, I know exactly what you’re saying, it’s exactly the advice I’d give to the kids I teach at uni, and exactly the sort of stuff I tell myself all the time.

Mr Turner


That was before I’d decided to give up my job, leave the soul-destroying bureaucracy behind, and really think about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’ve realised I stopped telling myself, much less believing, all that stuff about falling in love, not growing up, having really really amazing friends, living life to the full, and the music maaan, years ago. I’ve realised my job has cultivated a distinctly boring responsible streak (I know no-one I know will believe this, but it’s true – check me out with the little old grannies and my bright, starry-eyed paracetamol pushers of the future). I’ve realised that my job, however much I love the idea of it, is not making me happy, and I can go and do whatever the hell I want instead.

And suddenly I get Mr Turner.


So here I am, in the Leftfield tent at Glastonbury, feeling tired and emotional as it is, trying not to cry my eyes out (again) while he plays Reasons Not To Be An Idiot (too many lines resonate. Just go listen. Call me a sap, I don’t care). I don’t stand a chance when it comes to blubbing of course when he plays Long Live the Queen; it’s one of the most heart-rending yet life-affirming songs I’ve ever heard (although it maybe gets to me more cos I work in a hospital and I do actually have to think about helping people live (in the yay!, rather than the technical sense of the word) while they’re ill).

So my third time lucky to see Frank at Glastonbury, after trailing up hill and down dale, after excitement then disappointment, then some jumping around a bit and looking forward to it some more, and he bloody goes and makes me cry.


But thanks, Mr Turner, you are bleeding awesome x

Happy festival times at last (Photo courtesy Dave Beveridge, beard courtesy Viv Youell)



Filed under Art, Festivals, Gigs, Music, Reviews

Going Live…

I’ve just finished my first ever live gig review then. Rather than start out simple, I’ve written about not 1 but 4 bands at the NME Awards Tour at the Leeds O2 academy, for the lovely people at TheCultureVulture. So no pressure then! But I had a great time at the gig and really enjoyed writing it up (thank god they didn’t give me any less than 500 words!).

So this is partly a thankyou to CultureVulture for having faith in me, and partly to jump up and down a bit and say yay! That was much fun!

You can read the review here.

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Filed under Culture Vulture, Gigs, Leeds, Music, Reviews, Writing

Hafdis Huld/Synchronised Swimmers

Now I’m a girl who likes her music loud, and preferably jumpable to. Sugar-coated, cute-as-a-button, girl-next-door, singer-songwritery pop just doesn’t do it for me. Or it didn’t until I heard effervescent Icelandic bombshell Hafdis Huld‘s Synchronised Swimmers. I don’t know if it’s the homemade handicrafts on the album artwork, the Icelandic tongue-in-cheek attitude, or the ukulele (it’s pink by the way. A pink flying V ukulele). Hafdis’ songs are lilting, cheeky, and optimistic. She tells it like it is, but with a puppy-dog charm that oozes kitschy enthusiasm. Let’s face it, you can’t help but like a girl who sings about friends, nosy neighbours, and her love rival having “really stupid hair”.

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Filed under Iceland, Music, Reviews, Writing

Tasty Icelandic Tunes: Bloodgroup/Dry Land

Smekkleysa (Bad Taste) Records on Laugavegur, 101 Reykjavik, have a reassuring end-of-aisle display of CDs bearing the title “Smekkleysa Recommends:”. Music (literally) to my English-speaking, tune-hungry ears. I pick out a few with covers that grab me (my tried & tested, yet not always successful, method of choosing brand new music) and ask the extremely helpful man behind the counter what delights are in store for me should I buy them.

He describes Me, the Slumbering Napoleon‘s EP (the cover of which reminds me of Leeds’ Tom Hudson‘s artwork) as noisy & heavy indie rock. I’m pretty much sold on this one and plump for the album as well just to be on the safe side. Apparently I also pick out another, heavier band (Morðingjarnir), and a reggae act (hjálmar) as well as the electro-pop Bloodgroup, (whose latest release Dry Land I later buy from ridiculously ace store Havari across town) and indie-rockers (with the emphasis on rock, apparently) kimono. I arbitrarily opt to buy the latter to accompany my first choice, along with the achingly gorgeous Hafdis Huld‘s new record Synchronised Swimmers. I’m very tempted by the rest but I force myself to take it steady for once – a decision I regret within about 20 minutes when I see a review (complete with live pictures) of Bloodgroup’s Dry Land in a cafe magazine, and instantly feel I’m missing out on a lot of beeps, beats and energy.

So – I resolve to track a copy down during our packed sight-seeing schedule (made tighter by us not waking up till sunrise (11am), leaving the hotel considerably later, and the shops inconsiderately shutting at 6pm). Havari is on our list of places to check out and when we eventually find it (on our last day), there is another very helpful lady (whose husband we discover designs gig posters) more than happy to explain to us what the bands are like (despite seeming mildly baffled by our untypically-English enthusiasm). She explains that Dry Land is being hailed as the “best album to come out of Iceland this year” – she’s not sure that any album deserves quite that much hype, but she does think it’s bloody good, explaining that their first release Sticky Situation was lots of fun but not much more – the band have taken some time out to “find themselves” though and she thinks it’s paid off – the songs are better written, more powerful, more exciting, and it shows she tells us. She says she likes it. I buy the record.
Back at the hotel, it doesn’t disappoint – the first track My Arms kicks in with haunting but instantly magnetic synths and a heartbeating kick drum. The pace is instantly addictive but relaxing. Track two This Heart has the beeps, twangs, clicks and determined syncopated beats I was promised – classily put together, singer Lilja’s voice makes the ever so slightly dirtiness of this track sound pure as her glacial voice. She shares vocal duties with one of the boys (they neglect to tell us which one) and the contrast between his and her voices only make it more electrifying. I’ve started to dance about to this in my head. This can only be a good thing.
The rest of the album is haunting, driving – god there’s that icily stunning voice of Lilja’s again – and upbeat, pacey. Overload and Pro Choice are Kraftwerk-tinged noughties gems, and while Moonstone and Dry Land are the token chill-out tracks, it’s hard not to imagine a crowd chanting the chorus to the raw beats of Battered. To say the whole album wouldn’t be out of place as a James Bond soundtrack would be too one-dimensional a description of Bloodgroup’s cinematic crafting of beats, synths, strings and THOSE vocals. Go listen, go dance in your bedroom, go chill out. Go dress up, go drink cocktails and pretend you’re in a film. A really really cool one.

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Filed under Iceland, Music, Reviews, Writing