In 1998 Gunnar Lárus Hjálmarsson, aka Dr. Gunni, made with a little help of his musical friends an album for children called “Abbababb! Dr. Gunni og vinir hans syngja og leika fyrir börnin”. Gunnar is one of the central figures of the Icelandic underground music scene since 1980s, and prominent member of S.H. Draumur ('Black & White Dreams') which transformed into the band Bless. Bless made in the album “Gums”, on which Björk Guðmundsdóttir, the singer of The Sugarcubes, did some backing vocals on 2 songs. Dr. Gunni is a very active person who works as a freelance writer, a radiopresenter/DJ, but as well as a TV host of the pop music quiz show called Popppunktur on the Icelandic television. Not to mention Dr. Gunni is world famous in Finland, especially in Oulu. And the book by his hand, “Eru ekki allir í stuði? Rokk á Íslandi á síðustu öld” (translated as ‘Are we having fun yet – Icelandic rock music in the last century’), a sort of anthology or even sort of encyclopaedia of Icelandic (rock) music in the last century, is a milestone in Icelandic music history. The unique part of this book is a list of the 100 best records ever made in Iceland, accordings to various music specialists. The various friends who collaborated with Dr. Gunni for Abbababb! were, among others: Unun’s singer Heiða Eiríksdóttir, Reptile’s singer Magga Stína, Icelandic ‘Beatle’ Rúnar Júlíusson, gay popstar Páll Óskar, Iceland best known catholic and comedian Jón Gnarr, and Didda. Valgeir Sigurðsson, nowadays of Bedroom Community fame, was in charge of recording the album at Groðurhúsid. The Compact Disc, number 76 on the Smekkleysa hf (Bad Taste Ltd) label, became a huge hit. The song “Prumpufólkið” (translated in English as ‘The Farting Song’) is known by heart by everyone who was a kid in Iceland a decade ago.
Nearly 10 years later, Dr. Gunni decided to make a musical with the CD as a starting-point. With the help of the musical director María Reyndal Abbababb! The Musical was created. Some totally new songs were written to make a logical play for children, both big (read: parents) and small. February the 11th 2007, the musical had the premier at the City Theater of the town Hafnarfjörður, Hafnarfjarðarleikhúsið, just next door to the famous Norwegian-kitsch Viking Restaurant and Hotel Fjörukráin. By the 15th of June, it already won the Icelandic Theater Award Griman, the Award for the Child’s Play of the Year 2007.
While attending the Iceland Airwaves Festival this year for the third time in a row, I was so lucky to get a VIP treatment, sitting in the first row – for the adults – even seeing the rehearsal just before the real show started. So not just a lazy Sunday afternoon! I have to tell you that, while working in the local hospital of Akureyri back in 1998, I used the Abbababb! album to get grip on the difficult Icelandic language. So for me it was like sitting in a time machine straight back to the capital of North-Iceland and singing along with the songs.
A whole bunch of kids and relatives got a terrific show lasting more than 1.5 hours, with a candy and toilet break in between. The music, as performed live by the trio Birgir Baldursson on drums, Elvar Geir Sævarsson on guitar and Dr. Gunni as bass guitarist, fitted exactly with the play. The actors (and the band if functional) were using the whole stage and the visual and sound effects were perfectly integrated in the story.
The musical play tells the story of three young kids, Óli, Halla and Aron Neisti, who discover the world and got involved in a Rock ’n’ Roll adventure of a lifetime. Troubles by the bullying by the big boys (Stóru Strákarnir), the friendship with a female punk pirate Systa Sjóræningi (a Siouxsie Sioux but without Banshees, a character created long before Johnny Depp played hid rock pirate à la Keith Richards), 3 Russians with explosives, and some unavoidable American tourists in the land of fire and ice making a lot of noise by farting. The ‘boy meets girl’ story line, here Disco versus Punk music, making this musical also a sort of Icelandic 'West Side Story', with finally everybody rocking in a free world (unfortunately a world with schools): “Ástin er Rokk og Ról”. The punk (and rock) symbolism and behaviour were used well, even featuring some spitting and stagediving from a school roof and crowd surfing. The children saw John Travolta look-a-like transforming in Neil Young: “Disko Sökkar”. The musical show featured one of my Icelandic heroes, probably Iceland’s best drummer Sigtryggur (Siggi) Baldursson as Hr. Rokk. As a kind of Bogomil Font put in a rock outfit, he’s table dancing around the clock. But also as baby or dog, he proved that he is ready for Hollywood. I only missed the song about the kitten of the original album, "Ó kisa mín”.
Jæja krakkar, Þa er Þetta bara búid! Over and out. Now it is only waiting for Abbababb! The Movie, coming soon at a theater next to you. I hope that Dr. Gunni finds an actor to impersonate the cat.
See you at ‘Rokkland’ Iceland, and please note that the Hotel Borg of the 21st Century is now being moved to a place near the harbour of Hafnarfjörður.
Dr. Gunni, the man who learned the Icelanders how to rock from a young age. Maybe this is the reason why Iceland has so many great musicians since 1998…
Many thanks to Heida & Elvar (of Hellvar ekki Helvar) for this one of a kind Iceland Airwaves Off-Venue arrangement. Takk fyrir siðast. Dankuwel.
The CD Abbababb! is out on the Sögur ehf Label (number SOG007).
Copyright Wim Van Hooste, the 28th of October 2007.