The hills are alive with the sound of music in Gøta, the small town in the Faroe Islands, which is the setting for the Faroe’s annual and legendary G! Festival.
Here I am, somewhere around half way in between Scotland and Iceland, watching people mow their turfed rooftops in preparation for a festival that three days before its beginning looks like it might not happen. The Faroese are so relaxed that it often occurs to one that their watches are rather meant for ornamentation than use.
So, I wait and watch. For fun, I try and get away with being a local by speaking Icelandic with a Danish accent and hope that people don’t ask me too many questions. A good tip for learning any language is to get drunk. A good tip for a festival whose main stage is on a tiny beach (which I am told is actually big this year) is to not get too drunk, in case you decide that you are enjoying or hating the music so much that you would like to hear it under-water. Don’t, it’s freezing.
The three stages each have their own charm. The D.J. stage is set in a ruined building on a hill coming up from the sea. Graffitied on the outer wall, the name of the venue ‘Ground Zero’ is cheekily displayed when you enter the town, as a pair of knickers and a vest hang on a washing line inside. The smaller stage, called ‘The Playground,’ does what it says on the tin, a built stage on the playground’s astro-turf football pitch, which generates a charm-ing oxymoron, with children playing on a see-saw whilst anything from folk to metal bands perform on stage. After being told that the main stage on the beach nearly sank into the sea last year, I watch in disbelief as it is put up. This is G! A fizzy pop drink of fantasy that has a distinctly homemade feeling.
THURSDAY: Guðrun & Bartal, Andy Irvine, Annamarie Zimakoff, Spælimenninir, Lisa í Dali, Mirror Men, Sic, Movitis!, Hamferð, Mugison, Fallulah, Dr. Mrgillis, HumanWoman, ÜberNörd.
Lisa í Dali: has a lovely voice but demonstrates the problem with singer songwriters writing in a second language, or perhaps singer songwriters in general. Her lyrics were trite with simple rhymes and one song that consisted mainly of the words “fuck the rest.” Now, I’m not going to get all Mary Whitehouse on you, but continuous and gratuitous swearing does not a good lyricist make; in fact it’s just a bit dull. In better moments, her song “I was made by lovers” was in the tradition of Faroese a cappella singing, full of depth, disharmony and strangeness.
Mugison: Not at his best, but always fun. His voice has chocolaty smoothness, rounded off by a smoker’s roughness. A bit disorganised at times (he arrived on stage without a guitar strap) however, despite technical problems, his energy was high and he got the crowd Mugie-boogying along with him.
Fallulah: was on top form, which meant there was a good party to be had. She wooed the crowed with catchy tunes and a rock-pop sensibility. Leaping about the stage with tambourine in hand, the performance had the crowd transfixed into a permanent mode of carefree happiness.
Dr. Mrgillis: Unfortunately I was a bit too drunk to make any proper or reliable commentary on this act, but I had a good time.
FRIDAY: Rod Sinclair, Katrina Petersen, Marius, Marstin & The Revelators, Nive Nielsen, Gipsy Train, Petur Pólson, Amnesty Vinnari, Budam, Travis, Hogni, Mesuggah, Picture Book, Swagnah Dangah, Herr Gott.
Nive Nielsen: Rarely have I seen such a strange attitude from a young, touring band. Yes, there were some technical problems; well there was an an-noying buzzing sound coming from the ukulele lead. However, trying to “sort it out” for half an hour of a forty-five minute set, well, it wouldn’t get you asked back to any venue I’ve been to. When they finally got to it, I was not only disappointed with the boring, clean pop—they were a shambles, to say the least. The singer was nervous, the band kept looking in despair at the soundman and I almost walked away until they played their last song. ‘Vac-uum Cleaner’ which involved a saw and a violin bow. Always a sucker for strange noises, and I thought it was a shame at that point that they hadn’t just got on with it in the first place.
Gipsy Train: Despite the considerable effort to be cool, with the backing singers smoking on stage and a bottle of wine being passed about, these boys pulled off their ‘cool’ mostly because of their sheer joy at playing together, what could have looked embarrassing but was just lovely. Young, handsome and topless, strutting about the stage, the lead singer couldn’t go wrong. A lanky, longhaired boy pointing his walking stick poignantly into the crowd, imitating a permanently drunk fisherman who tells stories to everyone who walks by, added a comedic element. The brass section created a much-needed musical effect. The stand out act in this band, however, was the one who wasn’t in it. The singer’s sister, Lív Næs, who was, to invoke Borat, ‘very nice,’ joined them on stage with a guitar. Amidst the chaotic set, she held the audience captivated, and not only because they had to look twice to check she wasn’t Eivør. Taking inspiration from the trembling vocal sound of the traditional Faroese a cappella, her voice has the quiet power of a soul singer. She might have stolen the show if the band hadn’t been so fun to party with.
Petur Pólson: Rock that hits the spot. Lyrical melodies and the ability to take you up and bring you down in the same stroke. It’s hard to believe that a small rotund man in a chequered shirt can generate this much power. The two drummers, facing each other, are not only a good gimmick but add a sense of drive to the music. The final number ‘I Sail Home’ is an emotive song with a harrowing harmony, which sounds like a conversation between a daughter looking across the horizon for a father lost at sea.
Budam: You have to see him to believe it. Simply, magical. The highlight was the story that he told about the local Faroese preacher from Skarvaness called Moses, who asked his followers to go to Israel. “They said, but Moses, there’s a big fuck off ocean between the Faroe Islands and Israel. Now this Moses wasn’t THE Moses, but he came up with an even better solution…a bicycle ship.” Cue a funny, ethereal, sexual tune that invited a chorus of hypnotised festivalgoers to join in.
Travis: For a band I don’t like, they were okay. ‘Why Does it Always Rain on Me?’ became the most appropriate song of the day as it poured down con-sistently. A great headlining act for a population that enjoys sing-alongs, and we turned, turned, turned and sang, sang, sang the night out.
SATURDAY: Laksagriling, Astrid Samuelsen, Lív & the Zoo, The Shallow Man, Cody, Benjamin, Skálmöld, Orka, Guðrið Hansdóttir, Blind Boys of Ala-bama, The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band, Týr, Sugar Daddy & Honey Pie, Hellzapoppin, Lorne Ashley, Páll Finnur Páll, Brynjolfur, Hallur Joensen, Sexy Lazer.
Skálmöld: Viking Metal has always struck me as a bit cringing, but the band was a steady force to be reckoned with. With a tight set, they delivered a solid performance.
Orka: An oil drum duck-taped onto a chair was just one of the many home made instruments that produced a strange disharmony with the vocals. Creat-ing a heavy, percussive, multi-layered sound, the band plunges itself into your body and takes over.
Blind Boys of Alabama: The beach flooded, and those blind boys led us onto the ark. This legendary gospel quintet absolutely stole the show. They may be old but their soulful harmonies and quivering command turned even the most devout atheists into believers, if only for an hour. The crowd lapped it up, and even if the stage had sunk, the crowd would have swum towards that sweet sweet sound.
The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band: Real life hillbillies from Nashville, Tennessee. And yes, there is a jug. Funny, melancholic and slightly ridiculous, the fellas brought warmth to a chilly night. Unfortunately and surprisingly to my innocent ears, there was a so-called ‘coon song’, referring to popular, racist songs that supported segregation in early twentieth century America. The song “Driving out the coons” unsurprisingly drove out some of the crowd. I’m sure the ones who stayed thought they were singing about raccoons, but the noticeable chill in the audience at that point had little to do with the weather.
“Well, I’m sick, sober and sorry, but look at the fun that we’ve had.”
Hellzapoppin: Closing the festival with a man balancing a child on a chair on his mouth, a fire eater, a wolf-man and a girl who catches darts with her bottom was so wrong it was right.
The G! Festival is a unique and uplifting experience, however much it rains. There were a few standout acts, but what never failed was the incredible elation of the crowds, only matched in scale by Gøta’s breathtaking landscape.
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