A splash of Icelandic charm
Cheek Mountain Thief - Live At Purcell Room, London

Mike Lindsay looks a bit nervous as he enters the stage of the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room. It’s nowhere near sold out, which is a shame, but there are enough fans of the Tunng frontman to make a good vibe.

There is also a splash of Icelandic in the crowd, cheering on this new band built upon Lindsay’s time on the chilly island. It definitely makes for more than just an album – it’s a project, based on his time in the small town of Husavik, where he met a bunch of talented so ‘n’ sos in the pub, including “the third best drummer in Iceland” and his future wife.

Lindsay rambles sweetly about his new songs and it’s nice to get an insight into where they come from - ‘Spirit Fight’ about a giant question mark that appeared in melting snow on a mountain during Iceland’s period of 24-hour sunshine and, of course, ‘Cheek Mountain’ about the very mountains he saw every day during his two months out there.

There’s an unmistakable likeness to Tunng in CMT – the basic vocal melody, the balance between Lindsay’s voice and a female vocalist, the role here taken by violinist Lara Soley, the layering of voices, a few pips and fuzzes of “space guitar” and toy xylophone, and songs winding and climbing in and out of their own little sections. But this is not Tunng. It’s much folkier and it’s different enough to stand on its own glacier.

The songs are sweet, full of imagery, and the musicians on stage, including synth and trumpet, are excellent, especially drummer Gunni who plays with varying softness and sounds, as well as being an excellent devil/demon/drunk fisherman.

It’s the more eclectic than folky songs that stand out live, even though a rendition of a traditional Icelandic folk song is beyond beauty. ‘Strain’, with its trumpet opener and dual of vocals between the double tracking of the men in the group and Soley, is probably the Tunng-iest played tonight, but it’s jolly and wonderfully clattery. ‘Darkness’ softly sways to its sweet melody before crashes of drums spark up the end and ‘There’s a Line’ ends the night with its repetitive chorus and thud of percussion. It’s just lovely. ‘Wake Him’ may be the only song not to impress so much, but that may be my personal issue with the chorus resembling Deacon Blue!

The best bit of the night is seeing and hearing the crowd coming round to Lindsay’s new(ish) sound and the melting of his Icelandic heart all over the stage. By the end, he’s jumping round to whoops and squeals of enjoyment, which ends in a much deserved standing ovation and toasty acceptance of his new-found Icelandic loves.

Words by Gemma Hampson
Photo by Richard Gray

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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