Árstíðir – Longyearbyen (Polar Jazz), February 7th, 2015
It must have been somewhere in November last year when Ragnar told me they would play Svalbard in February. I immediately considered going, saying something along the lines of “If you can make it there, I can!” Little did I know what I signed up for. When finally the date was announced I was torn between my heart’s desire to go to a place I might ever get to see otherwise and my inner voice of reason telling me spending so much money on one trip was not sensible. Of course, desire won – I have never been sensible when it comes to my favorite bands…
Now, after the fact and having returned from one of the most intense trips of my life with memories to cherish forever, I know that it really wasn’t a question of choice at all. Being there was the only option! Not only did I get to hear a beautiful concert, but I learned what it feels like to live in polar night, drove a dog sled under stars and northern lights, saw reindeer roaming the streets, almost froze my fingers off and got to party with friends until three in the morning.
It all started with a long night, going to Hamburg with an evening train and spending the last few hours until my flight at Hamburg airport. It was straight to Oslo from there and soon onwards to Longyearbyen, 78 Degrees north, the most northern permanent settlement. On the three hour flight I said goodbye to the sun, expecting to be in pitch darkness for the next few days. My expectations were wrong though. When we landed, everything was bathed in beautiful blue light that lasted for a few hours and gave the place a mystical feel. After checking in I sent the rest of the day walking around downtown, before calling it an early night. Meanwhile the guys were playing a gig in Barentsburg – so close, yet so far away, because in winter it can only be reached with a helicopter and I did not have access to one of those. This was one of the very few times a concert was really impossible for me to get to., so I tried not to dwell on it and caught up on some much needed sleep.
The next morning, after having breakfast and putting on most of the layers I had brought, I set out to brave the minus 20 degree cold and go ice caving. Despite going on a snow cat, our tour never reached the cage. It was just too much snow to get there. Thus we ended up driving around a little, encountering a few polar bear warning signs (luckily no polar bears) and reindeer roaming the streets to find food. It was a beautiful day and I was in such a state of bliss that nothing could bother me. It only got better from here.
The afternoon was again spent walking around and enjoying the view before resting a bit and finally setting out for the concert. Got there way too early, met Daníel and chatted with him for a bit. When the doors opened and I walked in, Ragnar was sitting at the piano and playing. He stopped and greeted me with a hug. We talked for a while before he disappeared backstage. Soon the concert hall filled up and we only had to wait a little longer, before the guys were announced and started the concert with ‘Himinhvel’. I immediately noticed how good the sound was – loud, clear and strong. The audience’ reaction was strong too and it could have been amazing if not for the two women behind me who talked loudly through the entire set. I considered telling them to shut up, but decided against it. It was distracting though and getting into the mood took me longer than usual. However, I was much too happy to be there (still somewhat in a state of disbelief at that pint) to let it get to me.
‘Things you said’ was next, followed by ‘Someone who cares’ and when ‘Moonlight’ started I wondered if they’d play the entire album in order. I would have liked that, but it ended here and thy continued with ‘Ljoð í sand’, ‘Á meðan jörðin sjefur’ and ‘Heiðin’. Watching them I could not stop smiling. They all looked so very happy, singing and playing with all their might. It seemed as if, with finishing the album, a huge weight had been taken off of their shoulders and now the music as once again flowing freely. With the pre-release of the new album to the Kickstarter backers, their process of reinventing themselves as a new band, had finally come to an end and now this new band was demonstrating their powers. Even the old and often played songs suddenly sounded fresh again, gaining a new life on that stage.
The audience thanked them with thunderous applause, starting a wave on energy that kept going back and forth between the stage and the people in front. That alone made it all worthwhile. 😀 The guys shared stories during the night, Daníel talked about arriving in Barentsburg in the moonlight and Ragnar shared memories of the first concert he had played in Longyearbyen 12 years earlier. Once again they made me remember why I fell in love with them in the first place. Not only can their music instantly cure any grief and take me to a better place, but their stories and on stage banter will always make me laugh.
We didn’t get to hear ‘Friðþægingin’ and ‘Unfold’ the two songs from ‘Hvel’ they had not played live yet, but many beautiful renditions of other songs from ‘Silfurskin’ and ‘Shine’ to ‘Nú gleymist ég’ and finally ‘Shades’. As soon as the last note rang out, people started clapping and screaming for more. Not that I understood what they yelled, but it must have been Norwegian for “We want more!” Being there, in the middle of it all and witnessing such a great reception, made me incredibly happy. Even at a place that felt a bit like the end of the world to me, Arstidir took their audience by storm. They ended the night with a killer version of ‘Kill us’ and I’m sure, if time had allowed, they could have easily played another encore or a few. 🙂
While the guys were collecting their instruments I finally got to say hello and hug Gunnar and Karl. Only Guillaume disappeared quickly and wasn’t seen again for the rest of the night.
Things you said
Someone who cares
Ljoð í sand
Á meðan jörðin sjefur
Days & Nights
Nú gleymist ég
Next up were Bo Kaspers Orkester, a band Daníel, Ragnar and Gunnar had all recommended to me. Thus, I had decided to check them out and was much rewarded. They were brilliant musicians, playing songs that got everyone dancing and singing along. Every note fit, watching them play was so much fun. I have no idea for how long they played, but time went by quickly and I left with a happy smile on my face.
Outside, in the café, I met the band again. Gunnar being all giddy and fanboyish about Bo Kaspers, hurrying backstage to meet them. Finally, I ran into Masha too, sharing big hugs with her. Everyone was chatting and there were many friends of the band all around. Eventually we left the Kulturhuset to explore the bars of Longyearbyen. A few drinks later, those of us who didn’t feel the need to sleep yet, ended up at Huset, dancing. Walking home at four in the morning, I could not have been happier. 😀
My Svalbard adventure didn’t end there though, because I went on a dog sledding trip the next day. Standing at the back of the sled, driving through polar night under a canvas of stars felt a bit surreal, but wonderful. Especially when the northern lights showed up I realized once again just how lucky I am. <3
The following day my time in Svalbard ended and I was homeward bound or at least that was the plan. Things didn’t go accordingly though, but that’s another story for another blog. 😉