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Jóhann Jóhannsson @ St Giles in the Fields

June 10th, 2010

This is the church where it all went down.

Not a good start. Alasdair  (who has bought these tickets and is therefore responsible) and I are sitting on the cold, hard pews of St. Giles church and my buttocks are aching as very real pain creeps up my spine. Around us people are looking confused as the tortured tinklings of an Icelandic man dressed in black fill the room. This isn’t Jóhann Jóhannsson: Master of minimalist arrangement. This isn’t the man we’ve paid to see and as warm-ups go it’s positively shady. The music is OK. It’s like watching an Autumn breeze ruffling an old oak tree in the calm gloaming of sunset before realising that there are better things you could be doing like watching TV.

I last what I guess are two songs (it’s almost impossible to figure out when the pieces are over, as the piano just sort of dribbles to halt before starting up again with more clunky minor chords) I then rise from the wooden slats designed to remind church-goers of quite how much Christ suffered for their sins and I walk away, Alasdair in aghast tow.

“We can’t walk out!” he hisses as the man in black hammers away at the low notes.

The pub is a bit loud with a cover band lurching between Jason Mraz and The Sex Pistols but the wine’s cheap and it gives me a chance to vent. Alasdair reminds me that he paid for the tickets. I tell him it’s a moot point.

This is not Johann Johannsson but it is in St Giles'.

When we return to the church its spacious interior has filled with people who seem to have got the memo about the late start. I find a prayer cushion and sit on it. It’s completely dark inside, the only light coming from glowing mobile phones and a few solitary candles on the stage. I think the musicians are taking their positions but I can’t see much beyond the man in front of me.

Then, slowly, the music starts and it’s like the voice of the wizard behind the curtain, everyone looks up at the stained glass above the piano where a projector starts rolling black and white clips of workers at a smelting plant, now a flower and now a trickling river. Somehow it’s not trite.

The pieces are audaciously beautiful with the feeling of grand tragedy about them, if the end of mankind ever needs a score it should be ‘Fordlandia’. Jóhannsson segues elegantly between strident riffs that verge on electronica and the flutterings of his 2006 album IBM 1401. He mixes pieces together, swivelling between the keyboard and his laptop to add in samples and effects. He’s a DJ with a Steinway.

This is the kind of arty stuff Olly hates.

Nobody has a clue how to react to this, it’s so personal, I feel like a trespasser watching a private recital. The woman next to me starts to clap and then abruptly stops as the music continues, barely audible. The man to my left has his eyes closed, head bowed down to the floor.

Suddenly I’m glad to be here – the muggers, rapists and rudeboys may be roaming the streets outside but here I’m watching a grainy film of an erupting volcano.

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