As unplugged as it gets

Árstíðir / Home – Old St. Stephen’s Church, Robin Hood’s Bay; October 24th, 2016

Árstíðir’s acoustic and completely unplugged performance at Old St. Stephen’s Church in Robin Hood’s Bay was one of their most beautiful performances ever, at least of the ones I have heard. Somewhat raw and uniquely beautiful, relying on the power of their un-amplified instruments and voices for the duration of an entire gig. At times one could have heard a pin drop. It was breathtaking. <3

This was the second concert at Musicport festival, about a 20 minute bus ride from Whitby. Somehow though, this whole Whitby trip had drama involved for me though. The bus was already late, then we had to switch busses because it was out of order and finally left Whitby about half an hour later than I had planned. I knew the bus would stop at Saint Stephen’s church. I also recalled having seen Old Saint Stephens elsewhere on the map, but could not find it any more when I checked. Anyway, I got to the stop and was in such a hurry to leave that I left my bag with my pyesa (!!) inside on the bus and didn’t notice until the bus was gone. 🙁 Luckily, the guys had stopped at the wrong church and gave me a lift up the hill to the right one. 🙂 Once there I realized the bus stopped there too. Th next one was dues in a few minutes. I waited, waved, talked to the very friendly driver and she gave me a phone number of the Whitby office to call. I did. Thy were nice and told me to call back at 4:30 that afternoon to find out more. From then on, I put the whole thing out of my mind until after the concert. NothingI could do anyway.

Next I walked across the old graveyard to the church, where the guys were already setting up. It was a beautiful small stone building with the pews in boxes of sorts. The guys set up where the pulpit was. I went upstairs, straight across from there and claimed my spot. This was the best view I could get. Since the gig was going to be completely unplugged (there was no electricity at the church), I opted for filming instead of annoying pople with the clack sound of my camera. 🙂 Slowly the church filled up while the band was figuring out how to go about the concert. Without electricity for the piano they had opted for a second guitar and a melodic borrowed from the local music shop. After some discussion the owner disappeared and reappeared later, bringing a harmonium. Ragnar tried it and decided to use that. It was going to be interesting. 🙂

First, it was time for their support act though. They were a local band called Home – two singers with drums and guitar, telling stories with their music. I liked them. The songs were nice, they played and sang well and told us a little bit about each song. I liked the acoustics at the church – without amplifiers the singing could still be clearly heard everywhere. Everything else could be heard clearly too, no matter how soft the sound was. Thus, people were mostly quiet an listened. It was lovely and Home were a good choice to tune everyone in for what was about to come. 🙂 A short break was announced after, they took down their equipment and Árstíðir set up. At times they looked like they were about to preach, making me smile. 🙂

The lady from the Musicport festival announced them and thy started with ‘Ages’, the strings ringing out through the church with no other sound being heard. The strings stopped, Gunnar and Ragnar started singing while Guillaume and Jean-Samuel were only plucking their instruments. Soon the guitars and the harmonium joined in as the singing grew louder. I was mesmerized and could not take my eyes of them. Any other thought was forgotten, I listened with all of my heart and soul.

Gunnar talked about how beautiful the festival and the city was, saying that he had the view of his life just looking out the window right there. Later I smiled at that, because there were sheep walking about in the graveyard. He further explained that they had picked songs that wold fit an acoustic setting and how Ragnar had never played a harmonium before. 🙂 They continued with ‘Days and Nights’, the guitars calling and the cello answering before the singing started. I knew their songs would work in such a setup, but somehow I never expected them to grab me that much. <3 The rest of the audience seemed to agree and clapped loudly.

They continued with ‘Someone who cares’ and ‘Moonlight’ with the instruments and voices coming together to form a beautiful whole. Ragnar slowly got the hang of playing the harmonium, getting better with every song. 🙂 Since some people might not be able to see everything. Gunnar mentioned that there were string players too and it was not the harmonium sounding like an orchestra. 😉 To my surprise I really liked ‘Moonlight’ this way. Even the quiet parts in the end could be heard well. 🙂

After ‘Someone who cares’ a lady from the audience asked them to please play something in Icelandic and they did with ‘Látum okkur sjá’. Gunnar took the opportunity to explain a bit aboutthe Icelandic mentality of “Let’s see what happens”. I was loving the setlist so far, getting many of my favorites and a new treatment. 🙂 It felt as if the guys were getting braver with each song, slowly unleashing their full vocal and musical powers on the audience. Not that they held back much to begin with, but there was obviously still room for more, fueled by the acoustics in the church or the audience reaction. Absolutely everything was perfect with the sounds rising to the ceiling and reverbrating in my body. I can’t imagine anyone in the audience not being taken over by the magic happening here. 🙂

Someone left while everything was quiet between songs and dropped some coins into the collection bucket. It was so loud that everyone started laughing and then applauded with some calling out for an encore. Gunnar thanked Home and mentioned he was told at the bar that Robin Hood’s Bay got its name from Robin Hood shooting an arrow in the air in Nottiingham that landed here, asking if that was true and being answered with moire laughter. ‘Sunday Morning’ made me happy as always. 🙂 As if we had not seen enough, we were in for a real treat. The band being joined by Marjana of iamthemorning, who traveled with them, for ‘And so it goes’. They stepped out onto the church floor, singing a cappella. For the first time I heard Jean-Samuel sing as well. It was a magical rendition, beautiful beyond words. <3

‘Ljoð í sand’ ended the set, no matter how much I wished for it to continues infinitely. This was one of the first songs I fell in love with four years ago and despite being played so often I still like it. It was the perfect closer for this setting where ‘Shades’ was not an option. It’s quite powerful without needing any effects. The audience was clapping and yelling for more though and they gave us ‘Góda veslu göra skal’. Gunnar claimed they had not played that in a long time. Well, about as long as they have not played those other songs. 😉 It was fitting as the very last song and left me happy. 😀

People stayed to chat and take pictures with the guys. I had hitched a ride back with them (thank you! <3) and stayed in the background. Soon it was time to pack and leave. One last look at the church and off we were. Driving with them was fun, they were joking a lot in the car. 🙂 At their hotel, we said goodbye and hugged, knowing we would see each other again soon. This last concert alone had been worth the trip and I started counting down the days to Iceland Airwaves immediately. They will play in the same setup there. 🙂

With the rest of the afternoon and evening to myself I successfully got my peysa back (thank you, Arriva bus!) and took a long walk through the city. When I was up at the Abbey after dark I ran into Marjana and Daníel who had done the same. We chatted briefly and went our separate ways. On the train ride to Manchester the next day I smiled at the beautiful landscape outside the window silently thanking the guys for playing in a place I would have never visited otherwise. Travel safely, big hugs and see you soon

Setlist

Ages
Days and Nights
Someone who cares
Moonlight
You just have to know of me
Látum okkur sjá
Sunday Morning
And so it goes
Ljoð í sand

Góda veslu göra skal

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