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Nothing to do with an orange fascist, nothing to raise fear or despair on this momentous November day. Instead, Wind Back Wednesday, prompted by the recent arrival of a Bruce Springsteen album (and the absence of a Bruce Springsteen show), returns to a time when someone could find a new way to cover I’m On Fire, and it not be a commentary on anything other than the people in the song.

In 2011 at the Sydney Festival, Iceland’s Olof Arnalds was that person. Her show was a joy. And today is a good day for joy.



The Famous Spiegeltent, January 22

In one sense it's not fair to focus too much on some of the covers which Olof Arnalds performed in this delightful show, instead of her own songs or the pieces written for her by other Icelandic composers entranced by a voice which crosses back and forth between a cheesecloth-wearing ‘60s folkie and a lieder-singing contralto.

For example, there's something pure and joyously captivating in her song Vinur Minn, which begins with an excerpt from an Icelandic poem before a sun-dappled melody is sung entirely with la-la-las instead of words - as she had explained earlier when performing a song so new it only had la-la-la for words, it's not like it made any less sense to us than any words she was singing an Icelandic.

And I'm sure I wasn't the only one during the delicate Skjaldborg who thought this really should have been played on a lute while we attended to our needlepoint before Evensong or who pictured a grove of trees, plates of dates and figs and someone reading Donne while listening to the flowerchild prettiness of Innundir Skinni.

But in her careful phrasing of Bruce Springsteen's I'm On Fire, which made the lust more shy than urgent, and a note of what may be naive optimism in Gene Clark’s heartbreaking With Tomorrow, Arnalds showed she had a unique ear for interpretation.

Best of all was her take on Neil Diamond's Solitary Man, which she introduced by saying she would be "roughing [the show] up a little bit" (probably the only time Neil Diamond and the words roughing up have shared a sentence).

As good a song as it is, Solitary Man can only be done properly if you treat it seriously, for any hint of ironic “knowing” can sink it quickly. Arnalds, who grew up with almost no exposure to music outside the classical canon but possesses a wry sense of humour, sang it as if she'd only just discovered the song and the emotion and felt it personally and deeply.

In her hands that song felt odd but true and really pleasing. And in the end, in her hands for 75 minutes, that’s how we all felt.

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