The History of Icelandic Rock Music: Part 12 - The Reykjavik Grapevine

The History of Icelandic Rock Music: Part 12

The History of Icelandic Rock Music: Part 12

Published October 28, 2009

By the mid-seventies, indolent hippies were passé and nobody was really singing about love and peace anymore. Heavy drinking and wild hedonism were the order of the day, and this showed in pop lyrics. The word “stuð”, which means something like ‘fun,’ ‘rush’ and can also mean ‘mood,’ and ‘electric shock’ kept coming up. The nightlife war cry became ‘Eru ekki allir í stuði?’—‘Are you all in the mood to have fun?!’ Lyricists also drew much from the fact that ‘ball’ rhymes with both ‘skrall’ (‘ratchet’) and ‘rall’ (‘debauchery’).
The toughest of the stuð-groups was Haukar, ‘The Hawks.’ “If we are having fun, the people will have fun,” was their motto. When the band went on the road in Iceland, one Brennivín-bottle was administered to each member in the tour bus. The origins of the band can be traced back to Húsavík in the early sixties, and around eighty people would play with the band until it frizzled out in the late seventies. By 1970, Haukar had relocated to Reykjavík, where the band got hip playing old rock standards at the clubs. The band stood out as all other bands were growing their hair long and acting all “deep.” Haukar behaved in a saucy manner on stage, saying stuff like: “Now fuck off to your tables and drink your booze.”
“We are saucy to make people free,” said Helgi Steingrímsson in an interview in 1972. “90% of Icelanders are bourgeois and they will not feel comfortable at the dance until they have boozed up. If we can make people forget about themselves for a while by being more rude than themselves, they will feel good. We are rough for the people.” Haukar did not put much effort into being good musicians. The best chance to see the band play well was on Mondays according to Helgi, “as we have hangovers then.”
Helgi quit in 1973 and lanky bassplayer Gulli Melsted took over as the Haukar leader. In 1975, their first record came out, a 7” with Elvis’ Return to Sender amusingly translated (by maestro Þorsteinn Eggertsson) and sung in Icelandic as ‘Three tons of sand.’ The first LP came in 1976 and has one song by Jóhann G. Jóhannsson that has lived on as an Icelandic standard, ‘Fiskinn minn’, with the chorus ‘My Fish, yummy yummy yumm.’ The year after, the second album came out, but by then Haukar had strayed from the stuð path towards deeper territories. Naturally, the album sold poorly.
Another popular stuð-band was Deildarbungubræður (‘Deildarbunga brothers’), a stuð-band derived from the progressive and serious combo Eik. In the seventies Eik (‘Oak’) made two prog albums, but as Deildarbungubræður the members played cover-songs at dances and did two albums with cover songs and originals. The Icelandicized version of Swedish pop star Harpo’s track ‘Maria’ was the band’s biggest hit.
In the stuð-department, Brimkló (‘Surfclaw’) with singer Björgvin “Bo Hall” Halldórsson in the front made big waves in the mid-seventies. The band had originally been formed in 1972 but lay dormant until Björgvin revived the band in 1976 for its first LP. Originally influenced by country rock acts like Poco, Eagles and The Byrds, Brimkló would lighten-up and play fun pop songs, often sporting amusing lyrics by Þorsteinn Eggertsson. Their first LP, Rock ‘n’ Roll, öll mín bestu ár (‘Rock ‘n’ Roll, all my best years’), was a huge hit, and the band went on the road with comedy half-brothers Halli & Laddi as sidekicks. Brimkló was to make a new LP yearly for the rest of the decade, and each one included a new mega hit for tiny Iceland.
The roadie-profession got popular in the seventies. Some of the roadies, like Stebbi “The Red” and Albert Icefield, even overshadowed the rock stars with their wild lifestyles and womanizing antics. They reached star status, culminating as Albert got interviewed by Samúel, a seventies men’s magazine. There he told in details which bands used drugs or booze. Brimkló answered with the songs ‘If the Roadies blab’ and ‘I read it in Samúel.’
Björgvin’s was Iceland’s pop king in the late seventies. Along with Brimkló, he did solo albums and sang with Halli & Laddi in a group called HLH flokkurinn (‘The HLH group’). HLH did the early rock routine, dressed accordingly in leather jackets, singing Icelandicized early rock songs along with some originals. Their first LP, Í góðu lagi (‘In cool order’), came out in 1979 and I got it as a confirmation gift. I remember I didn’t like it so much, at least not openly. A new wave was looming—big changes were about to be made in the Icelandic music scene—and I was ready.
Brimkló’s last LP—before later comebacks—came in 1981, when the Icelandic pop landscape had changed considerably with the surface of rock star Bubbi Morthens. One of the first songs he made popular included the infamous line: “I’m a certified invalid, listen to HLH and Brimkló.”  
By Dr. Gunni, based on his 2000 book Eru ekki allir í stuði? (Rock in Iceland). A revised update of the book is forthcoming in 2010.


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