Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tuesday 18th November 2008

"We could always go into a sideline of running a guesthouse," commented my co-label owner. By the looks of the Libris household on Tuesday morning, he had a point. Clean sheets adorned every bed. Air beds sat neatly in every room, with brand new pillows and pillow cases on top. Fresh towels folded neatly beside them. The place was immaculate. Luke and the cleaner had hoovered and tidied. Furniture had been rearranged to provide the maximum of space. The tent had been erected in the back garden for the hosts to sleep in. The fridge lay groaning with bacon, bread, fresh vegetables, eggs and milk. Wine, beer and whiskey lined the shelves. The heating was up full. Amidst the unsuspecting suburban quiet of Longbenton, lay a haven of plenty for a traveling rock band.

It's unusual for a Cumberland Arms audience to demand an encore, but Mugison had them on their feet. Stripped to a three piece, their music was muscular and ripped, like the arms of a prison labourer. Gone were the Stevie Wonder-esque keyboard freak outs of their last Newcastle gig at the Carling, replaced with sinewy bass heavy arrangements that arrowed in and out of distorted acoustic guitar. It was heavy, metallic, satanic. "Thish ish a shong a beet like Sepultura," said Örn, before delivering a punishing blues riff at full volume.

Then, a complete change of direction as the singer triggered a stomp box linked to some Ableton Live-type software on his laptop, and we were back in Niceland synth territory. On another song Örn unveiled a homemade sampling device preloaded with broken guitar sounds, from which he crafted an entire melody while his Dr. Spock rhythm section kept things interesting at the back.

The barman protested that the music end immediately, we dutifully ignored him ("You've got at least half an hour if you want it," shouted Luke from the side of the stage) and by the time they had played their Singing The Blues showstopper, in which the audience were confronted by Örn striding into the audience yelling joyously at the top of his voice, we had been treated to a full overview of Mugison's eclectic back catalogue.

After dispersing an enthused crowd (who demanded that posters be signed and albums sold) it was back to the batcave then for a post mortem. Beers were distributed and vinyl put on the player. Curry left overs passed around, cigarettes smoked. I was expecting Viking hell-raising; instead these gentle, broad shouldered men sat quietly chatting about Iceland's credit predicament, the shows they had enjoyed the most (including an urban festival in Poland) and the bands that had caught their eye recently, the new types of software they had been using. Örn outlined his plans for forthcoming albums: a metal record, another soundtrack, and a collection of Icelandic folk covers.

I cornered the tour manager Felix in the kitchen and lapped up words of d.i.y. wisdom. "I've been putting on shows since I was fifteen," he explained, describing how hardcore punk shows evolved into running his own vegan cafe for a few years in Cologne, with its record store in the back room and a badge making machine on the counter. People like this rub off on me in a big way. Inspirational stuff, fuel for the fire.

After a night in a tent, we cooked breakfast for the guys, and then with the minimum of fuss they were off to Glasgow. Goodbyes were said with sturdy, fishermen-sized handshakes. Their bespoke badges pinned to their jackets. A casual mention from sound man Biggi's previous projects (including producing () by Sigur Ros (see pic), and doing all the live recordings for the 'Screaming Masterpiece' movie no less). When the door shut and their van pulled away, only then did I become completely starstruck. Their musicianship and manners meant that one could not help but feel completely at ease when they were around, but from a label perspective it was a huge achievement, especially since we broke even and managed to get them the crowd they richly deserved.

As soon as one show was completed, another was confirmed for the New Year: Hefner's Darren Hayman will be visiting us in February for a solo show at The Star & Shadow Cinema.