Emmett Mullaney takes the trip to the Faroe Islands, a constituent country of Denmark, north of Scotland for an intimate festival experience.
Landing in Vagar Airport on the Faroe Islands on an unusually sunny Thursday afternoon a taxi whisks us through the magnificent lush green countryside dotted with towering mountains, islands and fjords, to the seaside town of Gøta on the island of Esturoy, and the G! Festival. Co-founded by local musician Jón Tyril, this festival has taken place every July since 2002.
First settled by Irish monks in the 6th century, the Faroe Islands consist of 18 major islands and are perhaps best known to Irish people these days as the place where Brian Kerr went to manage the national football team. Temperatures vary very little here between Summer and Winter which is very good for the breeding of wild Atlantic salmon but maybe not so good for the festival goer with an average temperature of 12 degrees Celsius in July.
First up is 24 year old Faroese musician, BENJAMIN who we catch on stage on the local astro-turf pitch, one of the three stages being used for the festival. The others being the main stage on the beach and an old derelict building a little further down the waterfront.
Looking a little like a young George Harrison and sporting a massive Native American tattoo on his chest, this supremely talented musician takes to the stage backed by a drummer and bassist who also takes care of keyboard duties. This young man has won high praise for his distinctive songwriting and high pitched, almost nasal singing style and he treats us to a selection of fine songs from his last album Ghost Without Skin as well as some older songs. In fact, over the course of the weekend he was to win the “Vael a Veg award” from Iceland Airwaves Music Festival which invited him to perform at the festival later this year. One to watch we reckon.
After this its down the beach to catch RETRO STEFSON. We knew what to expect from this gang of Icelandic party animals after catching them not once, but twice at last year’s Iceland Airwaves. We expected a party and a party we got. Mixing up a whole myriad of styles from rock to funk to disco to electro, often within the course of the same song, this seven piece waste no time in getting the crowd going and have us all down on our knees on the beach at one point before the whole audience jumps up in unison on cue. Massive fun, which gets even better when band member Halandor leaps off the stage and has a sort of a running conga going around the beach, until at the climax of the final song, he leaps into the fjord followed by five hardy locals. This band have so much energy they could fuel a small town .
After calming down and getting a bite to eat its back onto the beach and the main stage for sludge metallers HAMFERD. Cue six Viking looking types with long blonde hair dressed like they are going to a wedding with identical matching suits and ties. It’s just about getting dark as they take to the stage at 15 minutes past midnight. ( It doesn’t get pitch dark up here this time of year) . Describing their music as “slow, crushing and atmospheric”, Hamferd’s sound perfectly matches the dark grey murky coloured horizon out to sea. Lead vocalist, Jón Hansen’s magnificent voice soon has the first two rows of the audience headbanging in unison and arms raised flashing the two fingered devil hand gesture.
What would the Irish monks have though of that ?
Friday starts with a spot of breakfast – no Skerpikjøt (dried lamb) this time. We tried that the day before with some locals and it did not go down well. Then it was onto the bus to the capital Tórshavn and a visit to the record label and music store, Tutl. Founded in 1977 by Danish musician Kristian Blak, this Faroese label has been credited with giving many local bands their first break. After this, there is a visit to a state of the art recording studio down by the harbour where Teitur Lassen, the most well known and most successful of all Faroese musicians, gave a small concert.
Then it’s back onto the bus to the festival where we were just in time to catch KAJ KLEIN (try saying that three times after a few shots of Faroese aquavit!) , a Faroese musician with a voice as deep as a fjord. Sounding like a cross between Nick Cave & Tom Waits if they were Faroese fishermen facing down rough seas for half the year, Kaj gives a magnificent performance to the crowd packed on the beach.
It was around this point that we started hearing rumours (which turned out to be true) that the airport had been shut down due to fog. This meant that several international acts, including John Grant couldn’t make it and the running order had to be re-arranged at short notice.
There was no such problems for local girl EIVOR who took to the stage on the beachfront just before midnight. Wearing a black leather dress and sporting long flowing blonde locks its easy to see why she is the poster girl (literally) for the Faroese Tourist Board. Sounding a little like Kate Bush and with the vocal range of Natacha Atlas, Eivor has the audience in the palm of her hand throughout. A multi-instrumentalist, she plays a theremin like no-one we have ever seen before and has us under her spell from the first song. A cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds Of Love’ follows and by the end of the show we are left in no doubt that this lady is a special talent. Let’s hope it’s not too long before we see her on Irish shores.
One international act who did make it (due to arriving the day before) was KAPTEN ROD, a Reggae/ Dancehall musician from Gothenburg. We were really looking forward to this, having done our homework and checked out both of his albums before leaving home. The captain (his name means Captain Red in Swedish) did not disappoint, laying the Reggae vibrations on this normally sleepy fjord town. He did however spent a lot of time chatting to the crowd during songs in what we presume was Danish (second most spoken language in the Faroes) so not for the first time this weekend we were left scratching our heads at announcements from the stage. The good captain sailed through the set with the sea of people in the crowd skanking like the beach was in the Caribbean rather than the cold North Atlantic.
The final day of the festival starts with an invitation to the “Vael A Veg” Awards at which Grimur Atlason from Iceland Airwaves Music Festival is to present an award to BENJAMIN along with an invitation to play Airwaves later this year.
We are then treated to a showcase of Faroese music videos and one short film directed by HEIDRIK A HEYGUM. To say that we were blown away by the standard of video making in the islands would be a serious understatement. In particular, Heidrik’s own song and video for his composition ‘Blonde’ left our jaws firmly planted on the floor. Most definitely a name to keep an eye on.
Then it’s back to the business of the bands where we are just in time to catch HOGNI REISTRUP on the main stage. The sun actually makes a brief appearance for a change and the crowd gathered on the beach waste no time in getting their groove on, to Hogni’s 80’s style catchy Faroese pop music. Single ‘Hvor segdi hetta var endin?’ goes down a storm. A catchier song you wont hear all year, taken from his 2011 album Samrodur Vid Framtidina, which we note from the album liner notes was actually written in a “tiny studio flat in Dublin”.
Down to the beach then in anticipation of some act that goes under the name Hiddenfjord Laksur ……….or so we thought. When no band was forthcoming on stage and instead a gang of chefs set up a row of tables and start handing out potato mash and wild Atlantic salmon, the penny finally drops. Laksur being the Faroese word for salmon and Hiddenfjord being the company name. Still, not a bad mix up as we tuck into not one but two portions of delicious seafood on the waterfront.
After this its back over to the astro turf stage to see SAKARIS, a hotly tipped act with their debut album I Have Beautiful Eyes having just been released.
What follows is a half hour extravaganza of keytars, electronic drum kits and general getting on down. Complete brilliance from start to finish. No need to move stages then as FROSTFELT are up next. Sounding not unlike Chris Martin, vocalist Líggjas Olsen soon has the crowd going with ‘Wake You Up’ & ‘I Have A TV Set’ . Another brilliant performance. Both of these acts have very bright futures.
At the main stage it’s Faroese favourites FRAENDUR. This band have been around for donkeys years and the local crowd are loving them. However it all sounds a bit Aslan-esque to our ears so we head off for the third stage down the waterfront to catch KIASMOS. This project is a collaboration between famous Icelandic composer Olafur Arnalds and Faroese musician and member of Icelandic act Bloodgroup, Janus Rasmussen. Indeed we have seen a lot of Rasmussen over the course of the weekend as he is involved in several of the acts that played during the festival. Here, he is on his own, Arnalds being on tour , but he serves up a fine set of minimal tech house that have the twenty or so hardy souls here dancing in a mini Atlantic storm. Indeed we soon found out ourselves that it was possible to get our dance on, wearing layers of waterproof clothing and ankle high boots. Rasmussen cooks up a fine pot of tunes as the wind and rain beats down on our faces. A tempest did in fact roll in later that night but three days and nights of G! Festival confirmed to us that its the Faroese who are going to take the music world by storm. Brian Kerr kept that one quiet .
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