Eurovision 2017: [Iceland] Svala / Paper

Reviewing 43 Eurovision songs is no easy feat. The process has to be done in discreet chunks.

Iceland’s review forms part of the third chunk of reviews I’ve worked on so far this year. The first was a collection of five songs, the second was six songs, and this third chunk is a group of eight.

Beating a path through all of the songs is then about adopting a strategy which sees volume increase incrementally over time. That’s good project management. It’s also about preserving one’s sanity.

You wouldn’t set about decorating your entire house all in one go. You’d do it room by room, and perhaps, wall by wall. Or maybe, if you’re being really sensible, you’d pay a professional painter and decorator.

I mention this because in reviewing Iceland’s song, I notice that I’m either already very tired, or the track is so uneventful as to make even listening to the end of it feel like a Herculean effort.

‘Paper’ is not one of Iceland’s greatest contributions to the Eurovision canon. It’s fine, non-offensive, even serviceable perhaps. But it fails to trigger any enthusiasm in me.

Read more song and rehearsal reviews from Eurovision 2017

Eurovision 2016 – Iceland: ‘Hear Them Calling’ (Greta Salóme)

Iceland’s preview video for their 2016 song ‘Hear Them Calling’ apes Sweden’s winning stage production last year. ‘Hear Them Calling’ is up-tempo drama with smatterings of ethic pipes and drums. And that’s all.

It’s perfectly fine and all that, but it doesn’t flick any switches. In that respect this year’s song has similar impact as last year’s Icelandic song did, and that failed to qualify. Will the same thing happen this year for Iceland?

But, as with other countries, it’s worth reminding yourself that Eurovision can be a cruel beast, failing to recognise the good in songs and occasionally abandoning them at the bottom of the table. Take Iceland’s 2010 entry ‘Je Ne Sais Quoi‘ (19th), a fantastically crafted up-tempo dance number that has lasted longer than the contest it competed in. The ballad version is even more delectable.

Open Your Heart‘ (8th, 2003) is another good one from Iceland, so too ‘If I Had Your Love‘ (failed to qualify). Their second place in 1999 with the song ‘All Out Of Luck‘ is an oddity I had forgotten about until I started writing this review, and one I’d recommend is forgotten about from hereonin. ‘Is It True‘, their only other highest place in the contest, is undoubtedly the best entry in their 30 Eurovision canon. But, my favourite still remains their 1987 entry, the achingly sweet, ‘Hægt og hljótt‘ (16th).


Eurovision 2012: Iceland Never Forget Gréta Salóme & Jónsi

Gréta Salóme & Jónsi sing Never Forget for Iceland this year.

High drama, unbearable angst and folksy drum beats with a middle eight of solo violin embellishments. A winner, surely? All those boxes ticked in three minutes of pop.


Musically, this doesn’t move me. Less a song, more a video soundtrack suitable for a large venue. It fills time and it does go on a journey, just not really very far.

It’s fundamental problem is – I’m sorry to say – that it’s just not very memorable. And that’s rather unfortunate, given the title of the song.

That said, I do like Jónsi’s cardigan in the preview video. Very nice.

Iceland’s run at Eurovision has been solid and reliable since their debut in 1986. They may not have always turned in a proud place in the final scores, but their songs have been impressive, in particular the beautiful Hægt og hljótt in 1987, Open Your Heart in 2003 and the utterly brilliant Je Ne Sais Quoi in 2010

The country secured it’s best result with a second place in 2009 with Is It True despite singer Yohanna wearing an appalling outfit such as made Celine Dion’s in 1988 forgivable.

Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik

The Observer have a full-page spread on the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykhavik (pictured below).  There are a handful of pictures. That’s enough for me to set my heart pumping faster.

harpa concert hall

Reading Rowan Moore’s review, I’m reminded of one of the present-day contradictions in the classical music performance world. On the one hand – evidenced by my involvement in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s intimate pub gig on 8 September in the Star of Kings, Kings Cross, London – classical music bands, festivals and venues are looking for new ways to hook new, younger audiences in. The thinking is that we meet them on their terms, staging events in surroundings they feel more at home in. Or, if it’s not a venue, then it’s relaxing the etiquette so that things are quite so stiff and starchy.  Everyone needs to feel welcome. Let’s all loosen up a bit.

I totally go along with that. My personal mission is to share the thing I love with those around me, just like my University friend Pete did when he introduced his massive record collection with me soon after we first became friends.

But at the same time as that, there’s another aspect to classical music performance which is as appealing to me as a concert goer as the music itself. It’s the venue.

The very thing which we think might possibly be offputting to new audiences – the venue – is the very thing which makes my heart race. And it’s not just the interior of the concert hall which widens the eyes, but the approach to the building, it’s surroundings and the areas outside the concert hall which add to the whole experience.

Royal Festival Hall

My personal favourite – and most resonating example – is the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank. I fell in love with the concrete chique and seductive austerity glamour the first time I attended a concert there. And, every time I go back there it’s not long before the generous public spaces both inside and outside the building lull me into believing that yes, I really am hip and groovy even if the clothes I wear suggest otherwise.

Royal Festival Hall

The Festival Hall is home.  Any band could play hideously out of tune, or perform woefully under-rehearsed and it wouldn’t make any difference. The walk over Hungerford Bridge from Embankment tube to the Royal Festival Hall has already got me hyped up. There’s the Skylon restaurant – the location chosen for two of my birthday celebrations – to dream and reminisce about. Book stalls to browse. The National Theatre to consider visiting. And the promise of a concert to hear.

Royal Festival Hall - Level 3

Even if I haven’t got a ticket, I know it’s somewhere I can go to tap into free wifi. I can relax or focus, whichever is necessary. It’s at the Festival Hall I can just ‘be’.

Royal Festival Hall, London

You’d think classical music would be all about the music. The venue should be incidental to the music. It’s not. The venue – and it’s surrounding area – plays an integral part in my mental preparation (or rather, excitement) before the live music event which has been my touchstone for the past twenty-five years.

No surprise then, that seeing pictures of the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik gets me excited. It looks stunning. The interior of the concert hall is rich and luxurious. Pictures I’ve seen on the web make me think of the cocoon like qualities of the Barbican Concert Hall in London when the doors are closed. Soft seats. Polished parque floors. It’s enough to make me want to book my flights to Iceland this minute.

Sold out

The public spaces outside the hall enticingly grand. This is a location I want to go to and somewhere where I assume the acoustic qualities will be just as indulgently satisfying.

A new vision for the future

I don’t deny anyone classical music. There is no etiquette. There are no rules. But, for me the music is – as ridiculous as this might seem – enhanced by the venue. And that extends to more than just the interior of the hall. And the thrill I experience every time I go to a concert in the same thing I want other people to experience too.

Eurovision 2011: Iceland

Strict, proper journalism would demand that I followed Iceland’s national selection process closely.

The truth is, I haven’t. I can’t bear it. Keeping a close eye on what’s going on in the national finals seems to detract from the joy of the competition itself. I’m a purist. Serve me up the songs the countries offer up. That’s enough for me.

Where Iceland’s song is concerned, I’m glad I haven’t followed the process especially closely. By not doing that I have maintained my objectivity … at least maintained it as far as I can for a blog post which does necessarily include a certain amount of subjective assessment. When I heard it earlier today, I fell for it instantly. It has all the elements, you see. It ticks all the boxes.

But now I come to read up, I remember something I skirted over (Eurovision) news-wise a few weeks ago.

There’s a backstory to Iceland’s song, you see. A backstory which will surely carry it far into the competition and beyond it. This – regardless of Iceland’s performance in the voting – will be the song written by the bloke who died before he had a chance to sing it for his country. The song which his friends sang instead. The song which ended up representing the country. It’s going to be quite an emotional affair for Sigurjón’s Friends come Dusseldorf in May.

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