Finally, when all reliability seemed to have been squeezed out of the Icelandic music industry, suddenly a nine-track album came out with a young and completely unknown musician, Bjarni Tryggva. This is considered great tidings when the large record labels have not only trimmed the sails but for the most part completely furled them.” These are the words with which Ásgeir Tómasson began his review of Bjarni Tryggva’s first album in the Helgarpóstur on 10. July, 1986.
Youth and formative years
Bjarni Tryggva is from the eastfjords, born 6. December, 1963, the son of Lilja Jóhannsdóttir and Tryggvi Vilmundarson. Bjarni was raised with his parents in Norðfjörður. With the way the fishing villages were in those times, the air was probably permanently filled with music. The cry of the seagulls, the roar of the waves, and the engines of boats that sailed in and out of the fjord, all of this mingled with the smell of the ocean, and molded the young boy. Real music was a great distance away, and yet so near, because at that time record-ownership and instruments had almost become a staple of every household while Bjarni was growing up. He was enchanted by the music, and remembers constantly singing in his youth. The road to his heart lay open to bands like the Beatles, Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, Magnús and Jóhann, Pink Floyd, and Pelican, and later also Bubbi, Megas, and many others. One would have expected that the guitar would have been his instrument, but it was for confirmation that he received his first instrument, and it was an organ. Half he got as a gift, but had to work to raise the rest of the money during the summer. Bjarni did not get his first guitar until he was 16 years old. Dreams of music prospered with every day, and Bjarni began to compose his own songs and lyrics about life in Norðfjörður as he saw it at an early age. For in little communities, like fishing villages in the countryside, all things become so intimate, the good and the bad. Fishing was what life had to offer young strapping lads in Norðfjörður, and as the tours to sea grew, so did his dreams of turning to music. Bjarni decided in 1985, then 21 years old, to go ahead and follow his dream of being a musician. He quit his job at sea and went to Reykjavík. There the dream of the musician Bjarni Tryggva would come true.
My life, offered something better
After a few months toil in playing, or more precisely in May 1986, Bjarni decided to go to a studio and record an album. All the while taking live jobs wherever he could. This young and promising troubadour had not gone unnoticed by the record companies, and in the middle of the recording of his first album Steinar hf. offered to take over the project and release it. Bjarni accepted the deal.
Some of the more famous musicians of those years make an appearance on this album. Special mention goes to the drummers Rafn Jónsson, the guitarists Þorsteinn Magnússon and Rúnar Þórisson, the base-player Jakob Magnússon, and Hjörtur Howser on keyboard, in addition to Bubbi Morthens who does vocals on one of the songs. The album was mainly recorded at Mjöt, but partly also in Hljóðrita. It came out on 16. June 1986. Mitt líf, bauðst eitthvað betra (My life, something better was offered) was the title of the work, which received mixed reviews from critics, but the public was thrilled with it and two of its songs hit the Rás 2 charts in the summer of ‘86. Ástardraumurinn (the dream of love), which was one of the key songs sat comfortably in 12th place for five weeks, and the opening number also managed to hit 24th place for a week. The record also introduced Bjarni Tryggva to the Icelandic music scene in the summer of ‘86, and it is safe to say that after its release every man, woman, and child knew of the existence of the musician Bjarni Tryggva.
Bjarni continued playing here and there, and soon began to consider his next album. Back to the studio he went, and now Sigurgeir Sigmundsson managed the recording. Bjarni hélt áfram spilamennsku hér og þar og hóf fljótlega að huga að næstu plötu. This time the publisher was Fálkinn. Önnur veröld (Another world), as the album is called, came out on Icelandic Music Day in October, 1987. This album was much better received and considered a much more sound composition by critics, though many found the subject matter of the lyrics slightly depressing. As before, the record was well received by consumers.
“The lyrics are as personal as before. I still sing of love, dejection, the black night, and death. I am preoccupied by death, he is intimate with us all. I also try to clear up my position on life, and why I compose on matters related to it” Bjarni said to Þorsteinn J. in DV in September 1987.
Bjarni himself thought that this album was closer to what he wanted than the first one. He decided to follow it up with a strong successor and formed a band to help him: Ný Augu (New Eyes), which worked with him for the next few months. The members included, in addition to Bjarni; Steinar Gunnarsson, base; Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson, drums; Örn Hjálmarsson, guitar, and Invar Jónsson, keyboard.
The band managed to get Ljárinn (The Scythe) onto the album Vímulaus æska (Sober Youth), which came out in 1987, and there Bjarni Tryggva contributes with two other songs as a co-writer: Treystu á þig sjálfan (Trust in yourself), which he wrote with Herbert Guðmundsson; and Gamli vinur (Old friend), with Magnús Þór.
After Ný Augu disbanded in 1988, Bjarni worked with the band Stiftamtmanns valsinn (The Waltz of the County Sheriff), including Hallur Ingólfsson on drums, Aðalsteinn Bjarnþórsson on guitar, and Flori Þorgeirsson on base. This crew managed to record six song which was released on cassette with a limited run, and has been unobtainable for quite a while. This co-operation survived until the year 1990.
In 1991 Bjarni decided to go to school and received his journeyman’s degree in netmending, as he had previously engaged in this work when gigs were few and far between. While studying he would play all over, and amongst others he worked with Brook A. Hood. This duo persisted until 1995.
As long as it is fun
In the year 1995 seven years had passed since his last solo album, and now and it was time for another one. The assistants were hardly less prestigious than before: Tómas M. Tómasson, guitar; Guðmundur Gunnarsson, drums, and steinar Guðmundsson on base, and then the cherry on top, Rut Reginalds herself featured in one of the songs.
The songs which adorn this album were of varying age, and some had followed Bjarni on his trubadouring adventures around the country, e.g. Veiðivörðurinn (The fishing guard) and Brúðkaupsnóttin (The wedding night), and of course some new songs. The album was much lighter in tone than the ones before it, it seemed clear that Bjarni no longer carried as much a burden as before, and with far less pessimism. Despite the good efforts, and lighter tone, the album received little attention. However, it can be safely concluded that fans of Bjarni invested in it.
Bjarni had now had various performances in the Icelandic music scene, and it was rumoured that the entertainer and troubadour Bjarni was completely different from the Bjarni one could hear on his albums. He was much more light-hearted at concerts and other shows.
The year 2003 Bjarni decided to saddle up and seek greener pastures, and so moved to the Canary Islands. Music, however, was in his blood, and continued to churn out songs and lyrics. At the tail-end of 2005 he proceeded to the studio once more. From then and until May the eleven songs of the album Svartar Rósir (Black Roses) were recorded and mastered, almost exclusively with local musicians, with the exception of Örvar Kristjánsson, who plays the harmonica in one of the songs.
As before Bjarni casts a wide net with both his lyrics and his music. Some of the lyrics are very personal, as in his earlier works, with societal issues and the injustices of the world thrown in for good measure. There is something special about Svartar Rósir , in that Bjarni includes a small introduction to each song, in addition to a more detailed description in the booklet. Quite an entertaining idea which other musicians ought to make use of, and thereby augment the listener’s understanding of their work. Nevertheless, most of the album’s lyrics are easily comprehensible.
Although inspiration and even musical genre is taken from those southern parts, Bjarni’s cardinal qualities are strong in his lyrics. As so often before one can find lyrics which focus on sensitive topics, as in the titular song Svartar Rósir, where the subject matter is the life of a black prostitute in the Canary Islands. Also in the song Þá himininn grét (when heaven cried) where the subject matter is betrayal and forked tongues, as Bjarni says in the introduction to the song. There are also some more personal songs, such as f.ex. In memory to his father, Tryggvi Vilmundarson. After a short stay at home Bjarni once more went a-raiding, and this time to Denmark. However, he stayed in touch with many friends, relations, and benefactors. Amongst them his childhood friend Steinar Gunnars, and together they began their work on the next product.
Bjarni and Steinar Gunnars tossed ideas on songs and lyrics back and forth and the end result was the album Vinir (Friends) which came out late 2016.
This has to be considered a very unique album and not likely to receive public acclamation. Besides, that is not the aim of the album, because this album is about the childhood friends from the east, from Norðfjörður, composing and singing about about the childhood hangouts, about the people and the life in the east. The genre of the album is also completely out of sync with modern music, heavily featuring the harmonica, in addition to their guitars, and more akin to if they were playing at a country ball in the ‘60s or ‘70s. This makes the album even more personal, and creates even stronger bonds to the eastern pastures: to the sea, the people, and the nature. Two songs feature a list of names. In one the people whom Bjarni and Steinar know from their youth, known faces with whom all locals are familiar. In the other Steinar recites the names of fishermen who have perished at sea in recent years, a sort of memorial to them and others whom the sea has taken to her bossom. This album contains, like much of Bjarni’s work, both joy and sorrow, and even both at the same time. Once more a very personal artefact, and perhaps the most personal if one looks closely. Simultaneously, however, the topic and its symbolism touches us all, and reminds us that there are people who stand with us. Always and all the way.Perhaps the title of Bjarni’s first album says it all when one looks at his career as a whole.
- This is my life, it offered something better. -