Snorri Helgason & Ásgeir – Deaf Institute, Manchester

Last night I headed on down to Manchester’s Deaf Institute for a gig featuring not one, but two Icelandic artists in the form of Snorri Helgason and Ásgeir who are both often described as folk, melodic sometimes poppy but most definitely folk.

I was looking forward to this immensely (despite only hearing of and booking my ticket less than 2 weeks ago), as I’d previously had the pleasure of seeing Snorri perform back in November at Iceland Airwaves festival, against the interesting back drop of a men’s clothing store, surrounded by deer stalker hats!

Up until a couple of weeks ago the only Ásgeir track I’d heard was a cover of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box on YouTube (and only a matter of days before Gizmodo ran an article entitled ‘watch this one woman band cover an uncoverable Nirvana song’ err yes not that uncoverable then). I’ve since listened to the few tracks available on Soundcloud and liked what I’d heard.

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The Deaf Institute is a wonderful gig venue, small and intimate without feeling overcrowded, bird print wallpaper lines the stage area which is draped with deep red, luscious curtains, there’s even a fireplace if you look hard enough!
Snorri kicked off proceedings with an all too short 30 minute set, playing at least a couple of songs I recognised from his most recent album Autumn Skies (give it a listen on Soundcloud) and the harmonica made an appearance. There was new track he wrote whilst in Nashville which at first I thought was called mad cap (and didn’t know what to expect!) But by the end of the anecdote I realised that as someone had described the song to him as ‘like the last you drink before you put the candles out’ I realised it was called Night Cap.
Then it was all over, I managed to grab a copy of Autumn Skies directly from the man himself after the gig and managed to not to say anything too embarrassing in the process.

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After a short break Ásgeir and his band took to the stage and started with two songs in Icelandic before introducing himself to the crowd and later on the rest of the band which includes his brother.

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The afore mentioned cover of Heart Shaped Box was in there along with Dreaming, new single Going Home and finishing with the upbeat Torrent. great night all round, I’m hoping to catch both artists back at airwaves in November.
Oh BTW Ásgeir’s record Here It Comes with Heart Shaped Box on the B side is a Record Store Day release on Saturday 19th April – go buy it!

3 Music Inspired Exhibitions in Manchester

This week I took in no less than 3 exhibitions with a musical inspiration. First up was Manchester Marauders at 2022NQ, a fantastic exhibition dedicated to Manchester’s Hip Hop scene by photographer & DJ Air Adam. 20 years after the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, whose eponymous album cover paid respect to fellow artists on the scene, Adam’s exhibition centrepiece is of his very own Manchester Marauders. A cleverly crafted homage to the original,  featuring people who’ve inspired Adam within Manchester’s thriving scene,  over the years since he moved to Manchester in the mid 90’s. I really enjoyed this exhibition because if you’ve ever been to any club night with a hint of Hip Hop on the bill over the past 15 years or so, you’re bound to recognise at least one of the names, if not faces from this collection. For me the exhibition as a whole acts as a celebration of Manchester’ s music scene that doesn’t seem to get recognition outside of the guitar bands and Hacienda nights.

Manchester Marauders © Air Adam 2013

The exhibition features shots from various club nights within Manchester (the only exception are some photos of Tribe themselves, earlier this year at Wireless Festival in London) but it’s not all about the Dj’s & performers though, the audience participation at various events are equally represented in Adam’s shots  which are a mix of crisp black & white shots with some atmospheric silhouettes against the ambient light. This exhibition runs until 26th October 2013 – prints are available to purchase here.

Next up was the ‘Defining Me: Musical Adventures in Manchester’  in the oft forgotten or at least not well publicised ‘side gallery’ of the Lowry, the exhibition is an impressive array of photographs, posters, and artefacts from personal collections of people who’ve been involved in the Manchester music scene who you might not recognise alongside some extremely familiar names such as Kevin Cummins.

Denise, Joan and Jodie © Kevin Cummins 1977

Personal highlights were a ticket stub for LL Cool J from 1987 and a poster for a Grand Central album launch mid 90’s.  It’s an exhibition I intend to revisit and have a really good nosy into, there was a lot to soak up and it was unusually busy when I visited.  Exhibition runs until 23rd Feb 2014.

The third exhibition I visited was the highly anticipated Alison Goldfrapp: Performer as Curator http://www.thelowry.com/exhibitions/microsites/performer-as-curator-alison-goldfrapp/home/ which has seen a massive amount of hype. I can honestly say I’ve never heard so much buzz about an exhibition at the Lowry before.  The exhibition is the first in a series of Performer as Curator, with this exhibition being a collection of works that inspire Goldfrapp’s whole artistic vision not just the music. The exhibition is an eclectic array of books, paintings, photographs and objects from Goldfrapp’s home, despite all this the exhibition left me cold, in fact my favourite part of the show was the promotional black on gold silhouetted image of a girl with  deer. I don’t know whether it was the layout of the gallery or the poor lighting but I just didn’t feel compelled to linger and explore.

There were some books of beautifully illustrated books of fairy tales, but the lighting above them made it difficult to see detail properly, with parts obstructed by shadows and reflections on the glass and the name plates of all the exhibits were white lettering on gold-coloured background which again made it difficult to read. This coupled with the lack of an exhibition pamphlet left me feeling that someone thought the objects & imagery alone, would be strong enough, but without some sort of explanation or dialogue, this exhibition felt seriously lacking something (I do not consider the brief notations from the curator on a couple of the walls a good enough explanation or reason to tie all the loose ends together) and I felt there wasn’t enough information to put everything together into a coherent context, for example the photographs from Francesca Woodman were presented without explanation.  I have no idea why or how this series of photographs influence Goldfrapp or why they were important enough to be included in the exhibition? maybe this mysterious element was intentional, but I’m afraid that if it was, it was just too mysterious for me to fathom and impeded my enjoyment. Exhibition runs until 2nd March 2014.

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Of Monsters And Men & Mugison – Manchester Academy

At the end of February (the 24th to be precise) we went to our first gig of the year, I would’ve blogged sooner but it was not long after we headed up to Scotland for another gig (more on that later) mixed in with holiday so haven’t really sat still for a few weeks.
Unusual for us, we arrived early for the OMAM gig as I’d heard that fellow Icelandic artist Mugison was supporting them, and as I’d listened via his facebook page to a few tracks and decided we should get there early to check him out, we arrived at Manchester Academy 1 (the big one) before 8:30pm. At this point the place was fairly packed, but not with the usual teenage crowd I’d expected for a band that had hit the top ten in the UK and would be flooding a gig that catered for the age 14+ market. Instead plenty of people who made me feel young (which at early 30’s is usually reserved for bands who are on their reformation tour having split up at least 10 years ago), not to mention an abundance of Nordic inspired heavy woollen looking jumpers, which seemed a bit over kill for what was to soon become a hot sweaty venue.

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Mugison at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

Anyway, onto Mugison: every bit as excellent live as I heard from the tracks I listened to online, only with this very amusing off the wall banter, about sending farts in a jar to Andy Votel and his family having to hand-craft thousands of CD covers. He played in no particular order Poke-A-Pal, Pathetic Anthem, Itrekun (which my other half describes as very Nick Cave-ish, in a good way) and Murr Murr the latter of which was song of the year at the Icelandic Music Awards in 2004 and you can catch a a live performance of it here, he actually played a few more tracks that I didn’t catch the name of (we’re pretty sure Kletturinn was on there though), but I’m sure I’ll learn them all after I picked up a 5 (yes, 5!) CD pack of his albums for a mere ten quid at the merch table.

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Mugison at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

If you want to find out more about Mugison or read the full story about the fart in the jar, check out the extremely well written & researched wiki page.

On to Of Monsters & Men, well they started right in there with Dirty Paws which got the crowd riled up and ready to sing along and dance their socks off! I loved the way they almost marched back & forwards in sequence with each other, like a well rehearsed marching band

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Of Monsters & Men at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

Swiftly followed by From Finner and Slow & Steady, if I can remember it wasn’t until another few songs before they actually spoke to the crowd. They played what we assumed to be a new song but has turned out to be a Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Cover, and finished the set by playing the rest of the album (yup all 12 songs played) with Sloom & Yellow Light being the encores, before the lights went up. I was more than impressed with this gig, although I’ve seen live versions on youtube etc and knew they could pull it off, I wasn’t quite prepared for the extra oomph of the bass and what felt like more complex musical arrangements at times than on the album (or maybe I just don’t have a good enough pair of headphones?).
Highlight of the night? Possibly the fantastic trumpet solo from Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, possibly the slightly disconcerting moment when the lead fell out of Nanna’s guitars almost creating the illusion of miming as the music continued…
Of Monsters & Men performing at Manchester Academy gig
Of Monsters & Men at Manchester Academy 1 © Karen Morecroft

Non the less one of my favourite gigs of the last few years, I’m hoping to see them again somewhere soon

Beer

On Friday night I discovered a bag of different beers I’d bought last week from Selfridges that we’d filed away in the cupboard. First up was the Lapin Kulta from Lapland, brewed since 1873. It was a fresh and clean, light tasting lager.

Lapin Kulta

Next up was the Flying Dog brewery’s Snake Dog IPA, very strong and hoppy tasting 7.1% beer – I’m pretty sure I could smell hints of caramel but I’m no beer expert (although I enjoy trying).

Snake Dog IPA

Lastly was Chicago’s Goose Island Honker’s Ale, described as an English style bitter, but that wasn’t my first or second thought. It felt much lighter than most bitters I’ve tried, but still tasty.

Honker’s Ale

If anyone wants to send me beers to try, and so I can practice my tasting and reviewing I am open to offers.

Christmas Coffees

It seems that Christmas Coffees are bigger business than ever, with every high street coffee chain getting in on the act. So being a lover of coffee and a lover of Christmas, and of Christmassy flavoured things, I’ve decided to sample a few of the seasonal drinks on offer all in the name of research.

Costa Coffee: Not usually a Costa visitor, but fancying a change I ventured in and was instantly attracted to the Praline & Cream coffee. I ordered a small one, but regretted it as it was so delicious it was finished all too soon, although I found that like a lot of hot drinks that come with a lot of cream on top, that the cream cools the drink too much and it went lukewarm all too quickly. The flavour was spot on and as you’d expect praline coffee to taste 7/10.

Caffé Nero: Usually my coffee house of choice due to their unbeatable Frappé Latte (no other iced coffee comes close). Here I chose an Amaretto Latte, again small – although this was more than enough as I am quite a fan of Amaretto. The coffee was overly sweet and surprisingly (or not) tasted like amaretto flavouring rather than having a shot of actual amaretto in it (although again, why was I surprised), it was also served with amaretto biscotti which was the sweetness overload that I wasn’t really after, 6/10.

Eggnog Latte from Starbucks

Starbucks: was my final stop, although I hasten to add that these visits were all on separate (but equally cold) days in December. Starbucks is arguably the leader of the coffee chain Christmas drinks market and here I opted for their Eggnog Latte. Not really knowing what to expect as I’m not sure I’ve ever had traditional eggnog, but I expected it to taste something like advocaat and apart from the obvious lack of alcohol it didn’t disappoint. Again I chose a small drink which comes in quite a large mug but without being over facing, the latte was not overly sweet and something I’d definitely try again, 8/10.

That means Starbucks is the winner, despite it being my least favourite coffee shop. They do a mean sausage butty as well (if sausage on a panini can be considered a butty). However it’s not going to stop me going back to Costa & Caffe Nero to sample their other delicious sounding seasonal treats either!