Douglas Dare + Ólafur Arnalds at RNCM


Douglas Dare and Ólafur Arnalds last week at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, as a guest of Sinfini Music, was definitely one of the highlights of my year so far. Both artists complemented one another and clearly have had a good time touring for the past few weeks.

Douglas Dare’s performance was amazing. He’s basically a poet who puts his words to music, although he describes himself as a new piano based, indie singer/songwriter from London. He held the audience in the palm of his hand with his melancholic melodies lightened by a lively repartee in between songs. His sonorous voice has a smoky edge to it (and almost felt like when Hue and Cry played live in the 90s). The highlight of the show was when he was joined on stage by Ólafur Arnalds’ quartet who had decided to add strings to a beautiful song called Flames. After the show he was handing out handcut paper slips with a free download code of his track, Scars.

Ólafur Arnalds was informal and even in the RNCM Theatre space felt quite intimate. He started by sampling the crowd for the first piece of his set, which featured works from the latest album release For Now I Am Winter, his first release on a major label, in addition to pieces from his back catalogue. Of course many will have recently become aware of Olafur Arnalds through his haunting music for the ITV drama Broadchurch, starring David Tennant. (I had chips with David Tennant on the top deck of a bus once, but that’s another story.) On the stage was a piano, various electronic devices, a trombone and four string players. The lighting for both acts was moody and atmospheric. At one point I imagined low cloud floating over the volcanic wilderness of Iceland with Olafur and his friends playing inside a log cabin. Each track showed something of his originality. Near Light is an almost perfect mix of classical and electronica.

There are elements of the stark simplicity of Sigur Ros and the heavy bass of his teenage metal band experience (This Place was a Shelter) which meet with something of his friend Nico Muhly, but this is sophisticated, elegiac music that wraps itself around you like a swirling Icelandic mist, engulfing you in an emotional knot until you succumb to its beauty and begin to weep. It is joyful and inherently sad at the same time. The highlight of this momentous performance came with the final song of the evening, when Olafur came back on stage by himself to perform the highly emotive Lag fyrrir Ommu (Song For Grandma) from his wonderful album Living Room Songs. This piece was written in memory of his grandmother, who died in her 90s. Olafur spoke of how she had introduced him to Chopin’s music and had been a real inspiration for him to become a musician. He began playing the simple, plaintive piano part and was joined from back stage by the response from the violin. This reduced me to tears as he had  managed to capture such a fleeting moment, such a fragile experience of the connections between people and memory, the dialogue that we continue to have with our loved ones, even after they’ve gone.

I’m currently listening to a playlist from the rather excellent Erased Tapes label, that Olafur Arnalds and Douglas Dare are signed to, mixed in with Max Richter, Sigur Ros, Damien Rice, Efterklang, Golden Fable and First Aid Kit.

Find the review here:


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