There’s a joke in Iceland, not quite a side-splitter, more of a wry observation, that everyone in Reykjavik is in at least one band. You can’t help noticing that, for a country of 300,000 people, they’re pretty adept at making music judging by the quality and quantity of bands that make regular trips over to England.
This little joke proved to be more fact than fiction as members of Benni Hemm Hemm and Storsveit Nix Noltes freely interchanged like desperate housewives at a Surrey swingers party this evening in Shoreditch.
Brass instruments (of which there was a French horn, a trombone and a trumpet in action) all need warming up to produce the desired tone and after easing the audience in with the introduction that opens Benni Hemm Hemm’s latest album, Kajak, they played a varied selection of album highlights and Icelandic oddities.
It’s the sort of music that grows inside you like the nice warm feeling you get after someone you like smiles at you on the train home. The opening English-language track Fight starts to make you feel a little fuzzy inside and by the time the fantastic Brekken starts, it’s positively baking and you wonder how the jolly French horn player copes in his woolly jumper.
Gentle Icelandic-language folk standards and older material follow, all in the same slow-burning style with brass instruments gently building around some folksy acoustic guitar playing and vocals that are smoother than a greased penguin. You could argue that the band didn’t perform any songs that were musically impressive but subtlety is an important aspect of this band and the lounge-friendly folk they perform is more heart-warming than challenging or grandiose in style.
During the set, members of Storsveit Nix Noltes chipped in on various instruments and the favour was returned as the second band took the stage and several members of Benni Hemm Hemm, including the drummer and lead guitarist, stayed put. Storsveit Nix Noltes did boast the most impressive instrument of the night; a massive ceiling-height brass horn which was grappled enthusiastically alongside a double bass as two mysterious Romany-looking ladies took centre stage, brandishing a large accordion and a violin.
What followed was a sort of Gogol Bordello mash of Gypsy punk and Icelandic-influenced folk (harking back to a pre-Emiliana Torrini era) with no vocals and a lot of frantic crescendos where a better-lubricated audience might have broken out in some sort of faux traditional dance, or the Shoredtich equivalent.
Thankfully exiting Catch was easier then entering, the place is a nightmare to locate if you’re not an East London regular, and clearly Benni Hemm Hemm’s French horn player had found this too. He was standing round corner from the venue clutching the drunk Englishman’s late-night weapon of choice – a large meat kebab with chili sauce. He looked extremely happy with his purchase and everyone at Catch was happy that they’d made the journey too.
London needs more bands like Benni Hemm Hemm and Storsveit Nix Noltes to come and sample the fine cuisine on offer and teach us Brits how to enjoy such fine music more often.