The quirky talents of Iceland’s Hafdis Huld have beenwith us in England for a couple of years, but she’s been laying low oflate to work on her second album, the fruits of which formed thebackbone of her comeback performance tonight in front of a relaxed audience.
Following some wholesome folk noodlings from Fiona Bevan,a young artist with a fine voice and nice repertoire but a bit toomuch of the Women’s Institute about her to make it work in thebasement of an East London boozer, the peroxide-topped Hafdis casuallywanders towards the stage and introduces a song about a human spiderman.
You know the chap – the Frenchman with a mullet (“that narrows itdown” you’re thinking…) who scales shiny buildings with no harness andhad a film made about him. “You’ll never see him in an elevator / itmoves to slow / see you later / see you later” is the charmingriposte, and the rest of the set continues in a similarly witty andleftfield way, to the satisfaction of many.
Robot Robot, another newbie that follows the track Ski Jumper(from her 2007 debut, Dirty Paper Cup), features the timelessstylophone and is about breaking up with someone who may or may not bemechanical, although the acoustic guitar and keyboard (plus backingvocals) accompaniment maintain the usual live upbeat Hafdis sound – asort of acoustic pop with ladles of charm and sparkle. ThinkFeist writing songs involving banjos, glitter and DollyParton and you’re in the right fjord.
Interestingly, and by way ofdirect contrast, Happily Ever After – another oldie set-listeddirectly after a new track – comes across as very saccharine whencompared to the tighter, wittier songs from her forthcoming album. Agreater maturity and distinct sense of humour now pervade thesong-writing, whereas the earlier material can sound a little toohonest and innocent when compared directly.
A stripped down version of The Velvet Underground‘sclassic Who Loves The Sun, the harbinger of the famous pink flying-vukulele – an instrument wielded with expert precision by AlisdairWright – came next to warm applause and was swiftly followed byHomemade Lemonade, the evening’s third new track.
As Hafdis explainsin her usual charming manner, the song is about men who get on thefront of Icelandic newspapers with pictures of large fish becausethere’s not a lot else going on of interest – if you want to befamous, catch a whopper. It has a laid-back feel; that of a sunny dayon the prairie with the local radio churning out sleepy country music,except the lyrics (e.g. “everything is basic in a town like this / youget your picture in the paper if you catch a fish”) still have adefinite humour about them.
Tomoko then precedes two new songs – Boys And Perfume and ActionMan, the latter being about a man who lives next door to Hafdisand is possibly a superhero as he goes to work in a Clark Kent-stylesuit. You may think that move to Kettering would be a backward stepfrom London in terms of creative stimuli, but when your neighboursprovide you with enough material for two whole songs (the penultimatetrack was also about her neighbours, who think she might be a vampiredue to her unusual hours) then the evidence suggests otherwise.Inspiration comes from the strangest of places.
Another favourite from the first album, Diamonds On My Belly, wasthe democratically-chosen final song and a fitting end to an eveningwhich provided the perfect showcase for what promises to be afascinating second record; one that sounds full of wit, melody andcharm. And if it fails, which seems unlikely, then a career in standup comedy awaits.