Sigur Ros’s Georg Holm on Iceland at Euro 2016: ‘It’s kind of beautiful to watch’

The founder member of Sigur Ros on scaring people in pubs and watching England v Iceland: ‘I think we do stand a chance. It’s a pretty good achievement’

Being an international rock star in a band that have been described as the coolest in the world usually has its fair share of perks. But for Georg Holm – a founding member of Sigur Ros who plays everything from bass guitar to toy piano – keeping up with Iceland’s remarkable progress at Euro 2016 has not been easy.

Having spent the last three years mainly in the studio apart from making guest appearances on Game of Thrones and The Simpsons, the experimental quartet known for their ethereal sound and innovative videos released a new single Ovedur (Storm) last week and embarked on a world tour at the start of June.

“We’ve been watching them everywhere – it’s been quite difficult to be honest,” explained Georg as the band prepared to play the John Peel stage at Glastonbury on Friday night.

“I actually stayed behind to watch the Austria match in a pub in Covent Garden and took a later train to catch up with the tour bus. Unfortunately I was watching the English commentary but I heard the Icelandic version the next day. Gudmundur Benediktsson is famous at home for being very enthusiastic and he really feels the game when he is commentating.

“But being Icelandic and watching that goal being scored in the last second of the game, I understood how he was feeling. I was shouting and screaming at the top of my voice and I think people in the pub were quite scared of me!”

Affectionately known as Gummy Ben, former Iceland international Benediktsson’s near-meltdown of the last-minute goal that secured a last-16 tie against England has since been described as the best piece of commentary of all time. With an estimated 10% of the entire population of 320,000 currently in France, fervour for the national team runs deep in the land of fire and ice.

“I love football. I went to most of the home qualifiers in Reykjavik and it was just unbelievable,” says Georg, a lifelong Liverpool supporter who still plays five-a-side when time permits.

“It’s been difficult [to believe] because they’ve never been this good. We’ve had fantastic players in the past but they have never played as a team like these guys do. It’s kind of beautiful to watch. Finally we have this amazing team from Iceland. I’ve been waiting for this a long time!

“I remember going to school when I was a kid and if we had gym class then I had this little brown Liverpool bag that I always brought with me. We grew up watching English football all the time so it will mean a lot to play against them.”

A hectic schedule that began in Barcelona on 4 June means he and the rest of the band will not be in Nice, although Georg and drummer Orri Dyrason, whose father Dyri Gudmundsson made five appearances in goal for Iceland and “was close to making it” as a player himself, have already made plans for Monday night.

“I can’t go. I really wish I could. We only have two days off and I have to go home,” he says with a deep sigh. “But the next best thing is to watch it in on the big screen in Ingolfstorg square while I’m wearing my Iceland shirt. I think we do stand a chance but in all honesty if we lose then I will still be proud to say we made it through to the last 16 and lost to England. That’s a pretty good achievement for a nation of just 300,000 people.”

Yet while England’s notorious fallibility at penalty shootouts should give Icelanders hope, Georg is not getting carried away when it comes to making any predictions. “I don’t want to jinx it because I’m quite superstitious but I definitely know that Gylfi Sigurdsson will score one. He is probably the best penalty and free-kick taker I have ever seen and probably one of the best in the world.”

Sigur Ros made their international breakthrough with their second album, Agætis Byrjun, in 1999, and tracks such as Hoppipolla (Hopping in Puddles) and Staralfur (Staring Elf) have been featured by several TV channels as the soundtrack to sporting events, including the 2006 World Cup and 2012 Olympics in London. Their video for Viorar Vel Til Loftarasa (Good Weather for an Airstrike) in 2001 even had an impact on the debate about the lack of gay footballers in the professional game. Set in 1950s Iceland, it depicts a junior football match and culminates in a kiss between two boys that is eventually broken up by an enraged father who runs on to the pitch.

“The football world is so macho – especially some of the supporters who follow the game – so we wanted to do a twist on that,” Georg explains. “There’s probably a lot of gay players that can’t even come out of the closet because they’re afraid of what the reaction might be and that’s a shame.”

A new album is being worked on, although in language that Sigur Ros fans are probably accustomed to by now, “we don’t have a 100% plan yet”, according to Georg. “We’ve had a lot of ideas but we haven’t really finished anything yet,” he says. “We just need to find some time in between gigs.”

And the football.


Ed Aarons

The GuardianTramp

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