Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Ólafur Arnalds - The Bridport homecoming gig

On 23rd February, Icelandic composer, multi-instrumentalist and music composer Ólafur Arnalds descended on the small Dorset coastal resort of Bridport. The previous night he'd filled the main hall at London's Barbican and yet he specifically requested the 500-capacity 1920s cinema/arts venue be included on his latest tour, which also takes in Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The reason? This was his homecoming gig, and yet this wasn't his actual home. But if anyone can claim to have given a town a theme, a soundtrack for its scenery, it's Arnalds. 

By scoring two series of ITV's popular crime drama Broadchurch, the composer has indelibly etched his mix of weeping string quartet, dissonant trombone, wayward horns and keyboard/piano on this stretch of Jurassic coast. Walk along the quay or up the steep incline of the cliffs up from West Bay and it's Ólafur's beautiful compositions that you'll hear, and that's why hundreds of locals and fans dragged themselves out on a cold and wet Monday night. Of course, the added attraction was the way that the gig had transformed itself from being just a date on the tour to being a local première of Broadchurch's season finale. 

Coincidence or just serendipity? Whatever the reason, the opportunity was taken to show the last episode on the big screen, with the added glamour of series star Jodie Whittaker introducing it. 

Series creator and writer Chris Chibnall was also to hand, taking the opportunity to get a live audience reaction to the cheeky twists and turns he'd added to the episode - ITV News was also on hand to capture the audience's shock/awe/screeches.

But the screening, celebrity intro and media interest were just the icing on the cake. The main event was Ólafur's wonderful music and he didn't disappoint with a set of nearly 90-minutes, carefully leaving time for the stage to be struck in time for the 9 o'clock screening. 

Primarily drawn from his Broadchurch scores and album For Now I am Winter, the latter includes collaborations with vocalist Arnór Dan, who also appeared on stage to perform tracks from that album, as well as So Close and So Far, the end credits songs on Broadchurch. Both Olafur and Arnór made light of the fact that only a few seconds of the tracks are heard on screen before the continuity announcer cuts in. So here was the chance to indulge in both songs in full without the interruptions.
Arnalds also played a track from the finale we were about to watch, and while it was possible to pick it out during the episode, it was competing with the on-screen drama. What we got here wasn't quite Broadchurch unplugged but Broadchurch uninterrupted - pure music without all the acting, sound effects and scenery. 

The last regular piece before the encore was Beth's Theme (or Jodie's Theme, as Olafur renamed it for that night in honour of his guest). Its simple melody, underscored by the melancholy strings, is the very heart of the show's soundtrack. Grief, loss and the stirrings of hope all come through. It's the score's highlight and goosebumps mingled with sobs as the sheer power of it enveloped the enchanted audience.

Hopefully not a one-off - Olafur said he'd like to return - this was a unique event. The composer has conjured sonic alchemy - he has turned some rock into music gold. Few towns can boast their own soundtrack, Bridport and West Bay have never had it so good.

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