Author: Icelandic Traditional
Date/Studio: 1981 Spectrum, Portland, OR
Engineer: Dave Mathew
Producer: Baila Dworsky
Original Release: The Art of Dulcimer (KM217)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
This is a 12th century Icelandic circle dance-- arm in arm, two steps to the left, one to the right, then into and out of the middle, going faster and faster all the while clutching your Brennivin and loudly quaffing (Hey!) in the middle as the circle implodes. As the story goes, a person is riding his very short-legged Icelandic pony, similar to a Shetland, across lonely terrain on a winter's evening. He hears a noise.
Being a Viking and quite of the belief it could be a troll or goblin or worse stalking him, he is afraid to turn around. Rhythm has multiple meanings. To be riding a horse. That's one. He urges his horse to go faster. That's a second. It is used to describe the act of making love. Three. And, finally it also has a meaning something akin to “Oh my goodness!” but couched in a rougher, Viking manner.
After having been invited in the summer of 1972 to be with the Río Trío on a 14-city, 12-day road tour of Iceland, I thought turn about was fair play. I embarked on setting up a tour for them in the US. We had to change the name because I didn't think I could sell that they were from Iceland with a name like Rio Trio (which in Icelandic is a funny string of syllables in their consonant-heavy language).
They suggested, Allt' i Gamni, which means, “It's just a joke”. Perfect. I flew back to Washington DC and went to work. I created stationary that had a side bar with fact-ettes like, “there are no polar bears” to gain some attention for the blind mail-out I had to do. I got the names of the student activity directors of 300 likely colleges in the east and midwest and sent out a broadside with tapes and pictures asking for a booking. I got about ten replies. We were good to go, making front page news in Iceland.
Loftleiðir Airlines waived the airfare in exchange for the group playing the Palmer House in Chicago to celebrate the opening of their service to that city. They also let me to fly back and forth so I was able to arrange a mini pre-tour that included New York radio interviews. My long-time photographer friend, John Servais, really came through. Not only did he photo-document the group, he arranged a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and amazingly, got us all a special invite for a private tour of the White House.
Years later he told me that the US had been negotiating a renewal of the lease for the Keflavik Air Force base and it made sense they would bend over backwards to host the country's most famous musical act. That's how we found ourselves having our pictures taken by John on the steps of the White House early in the morning of a cold winter's day. I don't know if Nixon's famous taping system included the front porch. If it did, somewhere there is a record of us all shouting, “Rhythm, Nixon!”
A few months later the actual tour was ready. I had purchased a serviceable bus from the DC school district. The Embassy of Iceland issued us a letter stating we were on a diplomatic mission. I taped that letter to the bus' door and off we went, a rolling embassy. We went as far south and west as the University of Missouri and as far north as Winnipeg, Canada for the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba. At the gigs I played solo during an opening set and then sat in with the group on some of their tunes.
Two events stand out for me on that two-month tour. We were scheduled to play at Bucknell University in PA. When we arrived they asked if we would mind tacking on a performance for the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary, a maximum security prison. Sure. Once there one of the group remarked from the stage, “We don't have any jails in Iceland.” A quick-witted inmate replied, “Ya got any banks?”
My second was the Palmer House gig. I had never been to a such a big deal in my life. The event was formal and I needed to go down into the men's shop to buy a tie. Icelandic delicacies were spread out over acres of white table cloth with ice sculptures of Viking ships as centerpieces. I had just turned 24.