Ólöf Arnalds at St John on Bethnal Green
St John on Bethnal Green is hardly full as Ólöf Arnalds settles herself, mumbling a polite “hello” and “thanks for coming,” but she receives warm and sustained applause and you get the feeling the hundred or so who have turned out for tonight’s concert anticipate something special.
Arnalds doesn’t disappoint: right from the opening song her warm, ambling voice soars deep into every corner of the church, whose acoustics lend a helping hand in creating a wonderfully rich, cultured sound.
While her more famous cousin is rapidly making a name for himself with his ambient electronic neo-classical sound, Ólöf is Iceland’s best kept secret. Playing to such a modest crowd, it’s hard to believe this is a singer already on her third album, who has worked with Björk (with whom she shares a record label) among others.
This is her first release in which she sings exclusively in English and the truth is, as a country we don’t tend to go too much for artists who sing in a foreign tongue, no matter how good the music. Ironically though, these most recent, English songs are the weakest of her repertoire, seeming to reveal the simplicity of her 60s fingerpicking folk songs.
Perhaps it’s the exotic sound of Icelandic to English ears, but those songs in her native language are where Arnalds really flourishes – where she really separates herself from the scores of singer-songwriters in today’s era of Youtube and Soundcloud. Thankfully she sticks to these earlier songs for the majority of the concert, culminating in the majestic Innundir Skinni, with its distinctive, catchy guitar melody.
Despite her shyness, Arnald’s performance is confident, and while she makes no real effort to entertain between songs, she is communicative and exudes a certain charm. Surely hers is a name we’ll be hearing a good deal more of in the near future.
Photos: Sarah Tsang