29 April 2008

Thor's Hammer - Umbarumbamba

Umbarumbamba

Year of release: 1966
Label: Parlophone


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.

http://sharebee.com/eae3e757

6 comments:

Keith said...

All the Parlophone tracks are incredible, "Better Days" is at least as good as "My Life". "I Don't Care" is certainly one of thee nastiest garage numbers of the '60s. The drumming on all the EP cuts leaves Keith Moon in the dust!

Special mention should be made of the folkier numbers on those 45s as well. They are amazing both musically and lyrically, particularly coming from Icelandic teenagers! "Once" is about the most crushingly sad and poetic love song I've ever heard.

The guys in the band have not laid eyes on the movie since '66; the director owns it and will not relinquish it. Seems to me I've seen a still from it several years ago, I believe they were on horseback. Maybe I dreamed it....

Know anyone looking to buy the EP, 45s, and US Columbia 45? I've also got the three LPs they did as Hljomar. I've had these records since 1991 but I'm afraid the time has come- my unemployment checks are running out!

23 Daves said...

I very rarely use the phrase "that drummer is as good as Keith Moon!" lightly, but in this case I think we can do it. He really is astonishing.

As for other tracks on the album, I always feel compelled to mention "Heyrdu Mig Goda", which predates a lot of seventies folk revival material.

My bank account is so depleted at the moment that I can't afford to consider taking on any rarities, but if there's anyone else out there...

gromitradio said...

I was stationed in Keflavik naval station from 1966 to 1967. I saw thor's hammer at the EM club one nite. After the show, I was able to buy their EP album Umbarumbamba on parlaphone records. I got the band members to autograph the album as well. I only played it a couple of times. It has been sitting in a cabinet for the next 43 years. Anyone want to make a reasonable offer?

interested party said...

gromitradio, I'm interested.

Loempiavreter said...

I'm looking for the Zonophone re-release,. If Anyone wants to sell it to me please email: loempiavreter2 at hotmail.com

mndandy said...

Also regards Petur Ostlund, he wrote all the English lyrics for the Parlophone tracks. For someone using a second language they are beyond amazingly insightful for a such a youngster. In other news, bassist and all around good guy Runar Juliusson sadly passed away not long ago. I am sadly parting with my all my Thor's Hammer originals on eBay next week...