Review: Blue Eyed Pop by Dr Gunni

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland

Blue Eyed Pop: The History of Popular Music in Iceland by Dr. Gunni

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Named after the Sugarcubes song of the same name, Blue Eyed Pop covers the start of ‘popular’ music in Iceland which evolved early 20th century, through to the books publishing year of 2013, it covers everything from how various instruments were introduced to the country, to the influence of the American airbase at Keflavik and the inimitable country balls that so many artists have cut their teeth over the years.
For me the pace really picked up covering the period of the late 70’s as this is when recognisable names start to come to the fore (artists that are still playing live, releasing records such as Bubbi Morthens).
Obviously there’s a lot about Björk in the book, given that she released her first album at the age of 11, and being arguably Iceland’s most successful artist, but it also gives plenty of weight to newer bands such as Sigur Rós and múm etc..
The book has a lot in the way of facts: how many records each artist/album sold, venue history, who was in what band when and some amazing photos to go with them! It really shows what I think is the uniqueness of Iceland’s music scene, that an artist can be involved in multiple bands/projects at a time which can appear strange in a world of Western pop music where there is usually some acrimonious split in a band caused by creative differences. I’ve witnessed this phenomena myself at Iceland Airwaves, seeing a performer 5+ times across the festival, in 3 or 4 different bands/line ups. Airwaves of course gets a fair mention, being the Glastonbury of Iceland, sans mud of course.
The only thing missing from this book is a 2018 update, the music scene and artists of Iceland finally getting the attention and success they deserve abroad.
My only niggle with the book is that particularly in the last 4-5 chapters there are several mistakes missed by the publisher/proof reader, but I think they could be overlooked for the sheer joy the book brings. In the back there is a list of useful websites for experiencing some of the artists mentioned, and it was good to see that Dr Gunni’s website is still holding the fort with these

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Music to my ears

Day 3 of the Writing 101 challenge was – Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?, the first 2 came easily in a flash, but selecting a third and final was infinitely more difficult

Dj Shadow – Organ Donor (Extended Overhaul)

The Extended overhaul version is key here, as it’s the longer version (4 minutes ish) where as the shorter version on Entroducing is just not enough.

DJ Shadow aka Josh Davies performing at Manchester Academy 1 in 2006
DJ Shadow – Manchester 2006

Organ Donor is one of my all time favourite tracks, it must be over 15 years ago when I was introduced to Entroducing (‘scuse the pun)back when I was in University. The opening bars of the creepy almost out of tune organ still sends a chill up my spine when I hear it today. I’ve seen Shadow perform live at least 6 times (and travelled to far flung places such as Cardiff and Prague for a show)and unlike most performers who might tire of playing ‘their most famous / popular track’ it doesn’t seem to bother Shadow, he knows how to please a crowd, and no matter whether his show is Hip Hop based or Dubstep driven he drops this and the crowd goes wild, it becomes one big party!

This track may be heading towards its 20th birthday but I don’t think I’ll be tiring of it any time soon


Sigur Ros – Olsen Olsen

If you’re not familiar with the Sigur Ros film Heima then I strongly recommend a viewing, it’s a beautifully shot documentary film from 2006 when the band returned home to Iceland and played a series of free concerts for the people.

One of my favourite parts of the film starts with scenes of people getting ready to watch the band, on a very cold looking mountain side, lit with torches, all huddled together in cosy looking groups of friends and families, young and old and the notes of Olsen Olsen start filtering through, it’s so atmospheric.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to see Sigur Ros perform in the shadows of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank as part of their Transmission series. In stark contrast to a previous concert we’d attended there in June where it was a scorcher (it was so hot I had to buy a commemorative tea towel to wrap around my head and prevent sunstroke it was so hot!), the August bank Holiday instead was quite cool, patches of rain but not enough to ruin the fun of sitting on the grass. Sigur Ros took the stage late evening, and it must have been about 10pm when the field was in darkness save for the stalls around the perimeter, and I was thanking my lucky stars I’d brought a hoodie, as i snuggled up to the husband.

Sigur Ros performing under the Lovell Telescope 2013
Sigur Ros at Jodrell Bank 2013

The telescope was playing host to some wonderful swirling light displays and as the first notes of Olsen Olsen started, we swayed in time to the music and I could have been on that hillside in Iceland back in 2006…


Stereophonics – Dakota

This song epitomises summertime for me! It’s a favourite song of my husband and I, we even had it on our wedding reception play-list. I could easily imagine us both driving along a coastal road in an open top car (a girl can dream!) with this blasting out, the wind whipping through our hair, the sun on our backs. In fact the video for this track has Kelly Jones driving around in a red sports car much like the one in my daydreams, but his landscape is far less enjoyable, and having a couple of mates in the back isn’t as fun either. The lyrics are quite romantic as well without sounding overly mushy…