So while some of you have been enjoying a little festival called Airwaves, Mr I’dratherbeinIceland went to check out Hafdís Huld in London and get a preview of the new album! Here is his review…
Hafdís Huld is an Icelandic musician and singer who previously sang for the Icelandic electronic band GusGus, but is now about to release her third solo album in the new year. She had intended to release the album and embark on a tour late in 2013, but has now delayed both until early 2014. However, she recently played a one-off gig in London. We had recently seen Hafdís on tour in Ísafjörður in August 2013 with Lára Rúnars, Védís Hervör and Ragga Gröndal promoting KÍTÓN, the association of Women in Music in Iceland. During that short tour, the four accompanied each other on various instruments, playing a selection of songs predominantly from their back catalogues. All four ladies are extremely talented, but the prospect of a Hafdís show in London was a great opportunity to see a whole gig of just her own material.
The scene is “Surya”, a small bar which has a live music venue in the basement near King’s Cross in London N1 on 30th October 2013. The venue has a small stage area in one corner opposite the entrance staircase and I would estimate the audience on the night to be approximately 100 to 120 people, which was a comfortable amount for the size of the room. There were two support acts and during the second, Hafdís arrived and stood in the audience to listen and interact enthusiastically – essentially showing great support for her own support act!
Hafdís took to the stage proper at approximately 10pm – her accompaniment was simply two acoustic guitars (one played by Steve Ling, and the other by her husband Alisdair). Apart from a little bit of electronic trickery which allowed Alisdair to play a short rhythmic introduction on his guitar which then continued to play throughout the song as a backing track, the two guitars were all there was (with a very brief outing of what looked like a child’s toy keyboard!). I would describe Hafdís’s solo work as somewhat quirky semi-acoustic pop, so this basic accompaniment worked very well for the material. The sound was very clear, uncluttered, and at an appropriate volume for the size of room. The simplicity of the dual guitar musical arrangements allowed Hafdís’s effortlessly-in-tune voice to shine through.
The set lasted for over an hour and included a good selection of songs from both of her current two solo albums and, as a real treat, she also previewed several songs from her upcoming new album. It can be difficult sometimes when you see a live act and don’t know the music well and this can therefore be a concern when you know an artist will be playing songs from an album they have not yet released. However, without exception the new songs gave the firm impression that the new album will be very strong if you like her previous two albums. I don’t know if these were the first outings for the songs to a live audience, but the reaction must have been very pleasing. One particular favourite that sticks in my mind (I think it was called “Wolves”) is a lilting, very catchy medium tempo number in 3/4 time and should surely be a hit. Another new song that was also a highlight was a poignant one that addressed the issue of sudden loss of a loved one. Yet another was a fun song about acquiring a new dog, which came with its own amusing back story. I can’t wait to hear any of them again.
One thing that is hard to describe about a gig is its atmosphere. In terms of the room itself, well, it was all painted black and the stage and performers had unblinking red lights trained on them throughout. However, if you’ve ever seen Hafdís live you’ll already know that the room was hushed when she was singing and filled with either applause or laughter when she wasn’t. Hafdís certainly has a strong personality and I think it’s fair to say she does like to be the centre of attention! This is not a bad thing as it means she really connects with the audience – the songs are mostly punctuated by anecdotes, introductions explaining the meaning behind the songs or just odd comments that are genuinely funny. When we saw her in Ísafjörður the gig was conducted in Icelandic and we were sat there stony-faced and unknowing while the room was periodically filled with laughter – we could tell something funny was going on but were not sure exactly what!
I never wrote down the entire set-list, but in addition to the five or six new songs, I remember her playing “Ski Jumper”, “Tomoko”, “Plastic Halo”, “Action Man”, “Kónguló”, “Synchronised Swimmers” and “Vampires”. When an encore was called for, she made reference to the recent passing of American legend Lou Reed and played “Who Loves The Sun”, a Velvet Underground song which she had covered on her first album, “Dirty Paper Cup”. A great show, despite the lack of a rhythm section to fill out the sound just a little bit more – highly recommended when the new tour kicks off next year.
If you’d like to hear some of Hafdís’s work, here are some links to just a few of the official videos on YouTube – there are many more available: