In a special live review, writer and Drowned In Sound photographer Carmel McNarmara, tells of experiencing Cheek Mountain Thief at first hand in Holland, and how Mike Lindsay ended up roping her in as a band member for the night…
Who: Cheer Mountain Thief
When: September 16th
Where: Tivoli Spiegelbar, Utrecht, Holland.
By Carmel McNamara
Falling in love with Iceland – it’s not hard to do, as some of you first timers to Airwaves will soon discover. 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.
He 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.
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 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. So when 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.
Fast 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.
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!
Carmel (also known as carmymac) is a book editor for her day job (frameweb.com), a writer of Nordic-niceness for fun (nordicvibes.com/author/carmel) and a music photographer when the lights go down (flickr.com/carmymac). you can also follow her on Twitter
Cheek Mountain Thief are performing on Thursday 1st November, 2050, at Iðnó.