theartsdesk in The Faroe Islands: G! Festival | New music reviews, news & interviews
theartsdesk in The Faroe Islands: G! Festival
An embattled John Grant, a weather overdose and oceanside music at the land of maybe's annual festival
Iceland’s kings of heavy metal Momentum are launching into an assault called “The Creator of Malignign Metaphors”. It’s broad daylight and they’re playing about 10 meters from the kitchen window of a suburban-looking house. The stage is sited on an AstroTurf football pitch, with one of the goals pushed to the side of it. On the opposite side, kids are shimmying down a blow-up slide. Very little about G! conforms with the standard festival experience.
G! is the Faroe Islands’ – The Føroyar - annual celebration of its own music. The chocolate-box coastal village of Syðrugøta is the host (pictured right). On the island of Esturoy, it has a population of 500. It’s 70km north of the capital, Tórshavn. G! is in its 11th year and also attracts international acts like (last year) The Blind Boys of Alabama and Travis. This year, John Grant is booked. But here in the North Atlantic, at the mid-point between Norway and Iceland, north of The Shetlands, no festival could be as others.
One thing instantly springs to mind when thoughts turn to the Faroes: their permanence as a fixture in the shipping forecast. It’s soon obvious there’s a lot of weather here. If you like football as well as weather, their enviable international record will crop up. They’re just as keen on music. Outlanders are billed at G!, but the Faroes are teeming with music, despite the 18 islands having a population of just 48,000. There are more than enough local acts to fill the bill. Oh, this will only be mentioned once: Sarah Lund's sweater in The Killing was made in the Faroes (the Faroes are a self-governing, autonomous region of Denmark). And yes, similar garments are worn by natives (the evidence is at the end of this article).
Little is simple here, and coming to the festival requires tenacity. Access is difficult. The airport - built by British forces in 1942 - is west of Tórshavn on the island of Vágar. Roads twist, climb, descend, twist some more and then do the reverse. The environment means the Faroese have a particularly elastic relationship with time. They might be Nordic, but their outlook can seem Mediterranean. More than once, locals call their home “the land of maybe”. Any rendezvous slips so far from the appointed hour that you wonder if anything will actually happen. Knuckling down to schedule bands for G! must require something akin to reprogramming.
Planning – especially during the six-month winter period when virtually nothing can be done – is probably best avoided. I was told a story about someone dying. The church was in a neighbouring village 10 minutes walk away. Yet it was winter and nobody could go outside, so the body was stored for months. Apocryphal maybe, but the fact the story exists says enough.
The gales can be so fierce they’ve snapped the shaft of a wind turbine. Thankfully, during G! the weather had its glorious, balmy moments with clear skies and a luminosity that dapples the landscape with shadows cast by the looming mountains (flying the flag for G! in the shadow of the mountains, pictured above left). But it switches instantly: fog, rain and wind all come and go in an hour. The fog would become a recurring theme.
In July though, Syðrugøta and the Faroes are enchanting. Despite the breathtakingly beautiful, potentially overwhelming setting, G! was packed with grand surprises.
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