Ólafur Arnalds at Leicester Cathedral

It’s rare to discover music that perfectly expresses emotion but I found it yesterday seeing my favourite Icelandic composer, Ólafur Arnalds, perform in Leicester Cathedral.

Initially I was after tickets in London as I knew I’d be back down south for when Ólafur was on tour but there weren’t any concerts listed. Leicester was the closest venue and I hummed and harred until I asked myself when will I next be seeing Icelandic neo-classical post-rock in a cathedral? It was a no-brainer after that. Luckily I have a mother who was kind enough to drive me the hundred miles from London and attend the concert with me, and an aunt who lives just outside of Leicester so we had a place to stay afterwards. Of course then they announced London dates but nevermind – I’ll happily take the cathedral!
We arrived in Leicester around five and pootled about for a bit. My mum, being incredible as ever, managed to bag some free L’occitane samples for a charity perfume event she’ll be putting on in a few week’s time by chatting to a salesperson. We headed down by The Lanes for dinner and then made our way to the cathedral. What I loved about queueing up was that you could see the wide range of people in the audience. There were the elderly, couples on dates and one or two groups of students.

The cathedral’s entrance

Douglas Dare was the support act and I can honestly say he absolutely blew me away. He has a gorgeous, crooning voice that reminds me of a mix between Patrick Watson and strangely enough Jack Steadman, the lead from Bombay Bicycle Club. I was captivated from the very first note of the haunting song ‘Heartstrings’. He began another one of his songs by singing acapella and I was absolutely stunned by how right it felt inside the cathedral. It was such an incredible space in which to experience music.

Later on, Ólafur’s string quartet joined him for his song ‘Flames’. While on tour, the viola player asked if he could write a string accompaniment for the song and as a result, it had only been performed three times on tour. Ólafur even joined him on the piano. By the end of his set, I was speechless and my mum was next to me crying. To top it all off, he’s a lovely guy. I highly recommend you check him out and watch out for him in the future – I will be first in the queue for his forthcoming release from Erased Tapes Records!

Ólafur began his outstanding performance by having the audience sing a C which he recorded on his iPad and used to begin his first song. From there, we were taken on an atmospheric journey that dipped back and forth from melancholia and mourning to joy and hope. Over the course of the evening, he recorded our applause and used it in different songs. He’s an exceptionally talented composer and musician and we were treated to a wide range of his works, from his very first album to his newly released ‘For Now I Am Winter‘ and as a bonus, two tracks from his OST to the ITV show ‘Broadchurch’ – one of which was dedicated to the creator of the show, Chris Chibnall, who was somewhere in the audience.

Ólafur is not only extraordinarily talented but a very down to earth, funny and humble guy. It was a dream for me to hear the Icelandic accent in person for the first time too, as I have such an inexplicable love affair with the country. It’s absolutely at the top of my bucket list.

The performance area

I was particularly interested to see what my mum would make of Ólafur but after her reaction to Douglas Dare, I knew she’d adore him. I made sure we had his albums on repeat for the drive back. The whole evening was a feast for the senses – an incredible, moody performance for the sole pleasure of excellent music in an unique space.

I’ll leave you with the song Ljósið (meaning ‘light’ in Icelandic) and the tidbit of information Ólafur told us. He explained he often reads the comments on this video about how – and I’ll quote here – he “must be so inspired by the Icelandic nature” when in actual fact he was originally commissioned to write the song for an advert about bathtubs.

Bathtubs. One of my favourite songs is about bathtubs.

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