Friday, September 21, 2012

cheek mountain thief

{aka the story of how my dream of playing glockenspiel with a band, on-stage, for one night only, came true in utrecht, the day after my birthday in september, thanks to this very lovely icelandic band}

(this story/these words were also published on an icelandic website, see here)
(and the gallery of photos appeared on, see here

Falling in love with Iceland – it’s not hard to do. Its mystical landscape and the unfathomable number of musicians per head of the country’s population are amongst some of the many awe-inspiring facets of this magical land. I fell under its spell after my first trip although, it has to be said, I didn’t fall quite as hard as Mike Lindsay, lead singer of the somewhat experimental folk outfit, Cheek Mountain Thief. It took Mike a few years before he up-rooted himself from his London life and moved his whole kit and caboodle to live in Reykjavik. It’s a long story that began over 6 years ago, which then transmogrified into a bright spark of an idea that would see Mike travelling northwards in 2011 to the small fishing village of Húsavík for a unique musical experiment.
cheek mountain thiefHe arrived in Húsavík with no preconceived ideas and little equipment, recording in a makeshift studio on whatever he could borrow from locals. After two months, the beginnings of an album were conceived, shaped by the people of Húsavík’s small community and backed up by a cast of Icelandic musicians, including the local school’s marimba band. With the breathtaking landscape around Húsavík as a constant source of inspiration, Mike recalls, “I remember feeling like we were in a mythical wonderland.” From the village there is a view of Kinnarfjöll – Cheek Mountain – from where the band gets its name, along with the self-titled LP which was released in the summer of 2012. Mike befriended a country and was impelled to write an album that is story of a land and its people, borrowing inspiration from his experiences living there, which is actually where the ‘thief’ bit of the name comes from.
cheek mountain thief
Having played a number of shows in Iceland, Mike and his merry band of Icelanders –   Lára, Leifur, Hannah, Gunni, Birkir and Óskar – recently had a brief sojourn to the UK and mainland Europe last month to promote the album. Which is where I come in, and where this chapter in the story begins of how I got to borrow something from the band and take away a magical memory. Since I failed to see Cheek Mountain Thief at last year’s edition of Iceland Airwaves, I had been keen to hear the new album upon its release. So when I discovered the band would be playing in Utrecht on the last day of the tour, I bought my ticket to the gig quick sharp. On listening to the album and hearing some glockenspiel sounds, it reminded me of my own long-standing dream that I’ve had for a few years now – to play glockenspiel on stage with a band for one night only. 

Next, I discovered a friend of mine was interviewing Mike for his radio show the week before the gig, my own bright idea was born. So yes, I put it out there that if Cheek Mountain Thief wanted an “emergency” glockenspiel player in Utrecht, I was at the ready. And the next thing I knew, numbers were being exchanged, texts were being sent and I had my first glock job! It wasn’t until I was outside the venue speaking to Mike that he discovered that (a) I wasn’t actually this reputed glockenspiel player who lived in Holland that he thought I was, and (b), I was just a girl with a crazy idea, who wasn’t technically a musician (i.e. not a musician at all), and couldn’t actually play the glockenspiel but was willing to give it ago.

I think one of the first things I said to him was, “It’s a bit bonkers, isn’t it?” To which he replied, “Yes, but if it wasn’t quite so bonkers, we wouldn’t have said yes.” Once inside the venue during the sound check – where everyone in the band was so incredibly friendly and welcoming to me – Mike picked up his guitar and Leifur the keyboardist picked up the glockenspiel and I was taught the parts that I would play during the last song of the night on the borrowed glock.

cheek mountain thiefFast forward an hour and I’m stood enjoying the gig and listening to the band, who sounded amazing – even more fuller than on record – and hearing the stories behind each song: about the one pub in Húsavík (that is only opened on Saturdays in the winter), about the Kaffibarinn Choir, and about how the horses stand up to keep warm – one of my favourite lines from the album that really conjured up an image of Iceland for me. I almost forget that soon I will be up on stage with this bunch of talented musicians.

Actually, I didn’t forget at all – I was quite excited to have a go at this, scary as it was (yes, I was actually a little bit scared, but in a good way!). After a very warm and wonderful introduction from Mike, I had the pleasure and privilege of joining the band on stage for “Snook Pattern.” It was quite a weird feeling being up on stage, but it was fantastic with everyone being so welcoming and encouraging. I had so much fun that now every time I hear that song (especially “my bit”), it puts a smile on my face.

cheek mountain thief
cheek mountain thief + me I have no doubt that everyone who sees Cheek Mountain Thief will have their own magical story to tell. Mike tells his tales in such an endearing manner, interweaving the story of the album and the background to each song, which added an extra dimension to the whole experience and really made for a special gig. I found it truly inspiring and I can’t wait to see the band playing on home turf during Airwaves. Perhaps if we’re lucky, at one of the upcoming gigs (the band will do one festival show and two off-venue shows), some of the many other Icelandic musicians who recorded with the band on the album will make guest appearances. If we put the idea “out there,” it might just happen!  (post-airwaves edit: and it did!)

more pics and videos on flickr! :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

into the great wide open

{itgwo = magical, magnificent, a hidden treasure}

ITGWO 2012
On an island in the northern Netherlands is a little-known festival called Into The Great Wide Open, which takes place in early September. It’s a weekend away from it all that takes you back to nature – there are no cars allowed on the island of Vlieland and everyone cycles from the campsites to the festival site, with its stages dotted around in the woods, on the beach (sometimes impromptu) and up on the hill next to the lighthouse. Many of the international acts who play this charming festival get hooked; sure, they may never have heard of it when they first got asked to play but once there, it’s not easily forgotten. Norwegian artist Erlend Øye, who headlined the opening night on a new stage at this year’s edition (the fourth), was playing for his third consecutive year and, now that it’s over, there’s another bunch of artists already wanting to head back next year.
paul thomas saunders @ ITGWO12

This beautiful and magical affair is a ‘precious secret’ according to Paul Thomas Saunders, who played in a natural amphitheatre in the woods on the Sunday afternoon, the perfect setting for an acoustic gig. The sun-dappeled crowd was captivated by Saunders’ stripped-down sounds, himself a delightful surprise for many of those watching who quite possibly hadn’t heard of him before. Before his set, some people sitting amongst the pines with a lunchtime beer in hand might have been disappointed that they hadn’t got one of the pre-allocated tickets for Perfume Genius, playing in a church elsewhere on the island at the same time, only to discover this young talent from Leeds as their highlight of the whole festival.

paul thomas saunders @ ITGWO

And of highlights there were many, not all of which were musical – as this is also an event with a full arts programme incorporated. One memorable point for me was at sunset on the Saturday evening when, whilst walking across the dunes, there was a big commotion happening down on the beach, which turned out to be a welcoming party of chanting children waiting for the arrival of a dragon – that, in true Blue Peter style, they’d made earlier out of tissue paper and bits of wood – being delivered by a beach-buggy JCB, only for it to be set alight as an unexpected bonfire. 
into the great wide open
The burning dragon on the beach
Meanwhile, alongside this on the same stretch of beach, members of the Dutch band Spinvis were lugging (with some difficulty) all their amps and instruments down to the strand for a night-time gig. This is one of the many enchanting aspects of the whole weekend, in that unexpected gigs and happenings can take place just about anywhere, at any time.

I am sure I missed out on some really random musical moments (maybe I didn’t get out into the wilds enough) but I did happen upon some delightful acts in some beautiful settings, like The Staves amongst the trees by the Armhuis and Daughter on the stage by the lighthouse – not that I actually saw Daughter, more heard their melodies drifting up the hill. It seems this was one act that was quite an attractive prospective for many of the Saturday afternoon music-seekers and the stage was over-capacity as soon as the band started to play but that didn’t stop the crowds – they just kept coming and from my vantage point by the lighthouse, they were like ants swarming over the hills.
the staves @ ITGWO12
daughter @ IGWO12

Discovering bands on one of the smaller stages who had already played elsewhere (or were yet to play) was another highlight of this festival – it seems that maybe there is some unwritten agreement between bands and the festival organisers that says, if you get the urge to play again, just do it! So having missed all of these acts the first time round, I managed in an intimate setting to get to see: Reggie Watts and his entertaining characters from indeterminate lands, We Were Evergreen’s Franco indie pop and Holland’s very own post-punk rockers Rats on Rafts.
into the great wide open

we were evergreens @ ITGWO12

rats on rafts @ ITGWO12

In the a mixing-it-up-kinda-way, Rats on Rafts were one of the bands that had a surprise guest join them on stage. Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand played guitar for one song, before he headed on over to the main stage a few hours later to entertain the crowds with the rest of his band mates.
rats on rafts @ ITGWO12
into the great wide open

Prior to Franz’s hit-filled set on the main stage was James Vincent McMorrow. This was the first time I’d seen the Irish troubadour with a full band albeit without a drummer, who it turns out had buggered off to Barbados. McMorrow was therefore additionally carrying out drumming duties, which he was clearly nervous about, yet it added an endearing quality to the well-rounded set. Concurrently Ben Caplan was wowing the crowds in the woods and, after all the reports I heard of that gig, I’m quite sad to have missed out on it (but then again, there are numerous acts I was sorry to miss, Angel Olsen being one of them but I was seeing a dragon being set alight then, so I can’t complain!). Probably the glory time on the main stage, for me (bearing in mind I missed the Sunday eve due to an early departure for the mainland), started at teatime on Saturday in the sunshine with Alt J, followed-up by Of Monsters and Men and topped off with a bit of Woodkid – the only band I saw with visuals, and rather impressive ones at that.

My favourite stage (not that I found them all) was without doubt Naar Buiten, the amphitheatre in the woods, and my musical-related highlight was possibly when I was walking towards this stage in the dark, under a falling-star-filled Friday night sky, heading to see none other than The Deep Dark Woods, the most magnificent setting ever for some late-night Canadian Americana (if that’s an allowable phrase).
the deep dark woods @ ITGWO12
Into The Great Wide Open is a festival that is aptly named, although it could also be called ‘Head Into The Forest and Follow The Music’, which is exactly what Paul Thomas Saunders was told when he arrived on the island and was searching for the Naar Buiten stage – bizarre instructions you might think but he and his band mate did just that and managed to reach their destination. And when asked if anything else bizarre had happened or if he’d had any strange occurrences, his response made me smile, summing up this absolute treasure of a festival succinctly, ‘Waking up and finding Willis Earl Beal sleeping in the hammock next to us was a highlight for sure.’

Bye for now Vlieland, I too hope to be back next year! & thanks to everyone at team-ITGWO for making it happen. a few more shots are on flickr here.
into the great wide open

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

trailerpark festival, copenhagen

{adding to the lists of posts to update}

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

sigur ros at paradiso

this gig which took place in late august was something special. magical.
(i've had a lot of magical musical moments this summer).