Ólöf Arnalds: Takk, Manchester

The evening at Takk in Manchester is both as far away from Icelandic as you might imagine, and as Icelandic as much of England can get. The heat is uncharacteristic for the so-far non-existent British summer, and the calm, balmy air quickly heats up the tiny coffee lounge to stifling proportions. But this is Takk, Manchester’s only Icelandic hangout, serving a robust Icelandic drip coffee and the odd herb-infused Icelandic beer. The walls house framed prints of everyday life in Reykjayik, and there is a cosy, informal vibe, just like the slightly-shabby but much-loved coffee houses of the westernmost Vikings. And this evening, it will be graced with the presence of not one, but two talented native Icelanders: Ólöf Arnalds, accompanied by veteran composer and bassist Skúli Sverrisson, who co-produced her third and current album Sudden Elevation.

But first, Shield Patterns releases her eery yet comforting sugar-sweet sounds into the air with her opening track ‘Devil’s in the Detail’; her vocals complementing the twinkling sunny evening perfectly. The scenes she creates are magical, sometimes layering her vocals with echoes gently but firmly running through them, and sometimes clear and soft with the timbre of Kate Bush. Single ‘Underling’ is deliciously typical: a dreamy melancholy of a magical world of lost lovers, and watching her perform it with such sensuousness and feeling is a delight.

And so we are warmed up for Ólöf Arnalds – figuratively and literally, for by now Takk is positively sweltering in the heat of the early June evening and the throng of bodies now crowded into it. Her first song is met with resounding applause, the moody harmonies of her and Skúli’s guitars on ‘Call It What You Want’ folky enough to be reminiscent of seventies’ madrigals. But just as we relax into the rhythm of Ólöf’s gentle melody, her voice rings out crystal clear and reminds us how much she likes to play and delight with her voice. Fortunately Ólöf’s voice holds out better than her guitar strings in the heat, which she keeps remarking while she re-tunes “that they’ve gone like spaghetti” in the humidity, which she likens to a “tropical forest”. Sorry Ólöf, we were as surprised as you were by the temperature! Like a true pro she continues on, her smile of delight dancing across her eyes and lips as she makes eye contact with the crowd, bewitching us with the daintiness of ‘Innundir Skinni’. She’s definitely in a playful mood, as she tries to explain track ‘The Joke’ to us – but the heat is preventing her thinking of the correct definition in English, and the nearest she can get is “a happy night between intimate acquaintances that don’t last very long!” The accompanying song eloquently soundtracks the tongue-in-cheek tale.

It’s a beautiful gig in a fittingly low-key setting. Ólöf doesn’t disappoint with her tantalisingly birdlike voice delightful and lilting, contrasted with mellow guitar. She’s clearly developed an affection for the “beautiful” Takk too, and may well be back – but not before she’s recovered from the heated conditions by booking her next show “on a glacier”. We will see you there Ólöf!

www.olofarnalds.com