29 April 2008
Thor's Hammer - Umbarumbamba
Year of release: 1966
Like any vain blogger, I regularly keep a beady eye on my statistics to work out what the hell people are "surfing in" for. It's telling. The vast majority of people, it seems, want to download Scott Walker's "'Til The Band Comes In", which should tell the music industry everything it needs to know about the demand for a reissue of that. Not far behind are a bunch of folk - normally from France, Japan and the Netherlands, it seems - keen to download some material by Jack which has never been deleted and was in fact recently remastered and reissued. Where do they think this place is, Pirate Bay or something?
A surprise new entry at number three, however, are a bunch of eager, keen googlists who are interested in the sixties Icelandic band Thor's Hammer, and in particular their Umbarumbamba film and EP. This is thanks to a very fleeting mention I made some time ago. No, I wasn't expecting this either, but perhaps it shouldn't be such a big surprise. When Rhino Records issued the "Nuggets II" boxset a number of years ago, the lead track from the EP "My Life" immediately caught the attention of a lot of people whose tastes veered towards the mod and garage end of sixties things. "My Life" is now a retro club favourite if you attend the right sort of nights, its 200mph urgency making it almost seem like something a modern mainstream garage band like The Hives might have come out with. Except, of course, the Hives don't have a drummer like Petur, whose jazz background lead him to produce high tempo work that would have left Keith Moon impressed if he'd ever actually heard it at the time.
The EP was recorded as a soundtrack for a short film of the same name made for Icelandic cinemas and television, which has never turned up on Youtube - although if anyone has it, I'd obviously be thrilled to see it. The other tracks are admittedly not as brilliant as the lead track, but still worthy of your earspace and indeed MP3 player space.
As for the history of the Thors, there's a full length mid-price CD out there on Big Beat called "From Keflavik with Love" (given that copies of Umbarumbamba have been known to go for a thousand pounds, guess where these MP3s were sourced from?) It contains the full story of the band and interviews with key members, documenting most of their recording career, and explaining their dalliances in studios in London, and how they acted as a backing band for many singers visiting Iceland from elsewhere (including Ray Davies, intriguingly). I won't summarise the full contents here and now, but it's noticeable that as soon as their drummer Petur leaves, there's a very large hole in their work. It's not that their later period material isn't likeable, but it's certainly some distance away from the explosive work they produced at their peak - which should put a smile on the chops of sticksmen (and stickswomen) everywhere who believe that their contributions aren't valued enough.
Here's to Thor's Hammer, anyway - proof there was musical life in Iceland way before Mezzoforte and the Sugarcubes.
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