So I’m sure you’ve heard about pop-up restaurants or maybe pop-up shops, slightly renegade, DIY initiatives in quirky, intimate locations that disappear just as quickly as they arrived. So why not apply this to a gig? Well that’s exactly what Sofar Sounds is about!
So on a Thursday before the Easter Bank Holiday an unassuming hostel tucked away between the Northern Quarter and Piccadilly became the host to the latest edition of Sofar Sounds in Manchester, but what is Sofar Sounds? Well here’s a bit of background on the concept, Sofar or Songs From A Room was born in London out of frustration back in 2009 by a group of friends disillusioned with the usual gig experience, being unable to really appreciate the performance, so decided to do it themselves how they wanted! The idea is dedicated to bringing the best new music in an unplugged, intimate, unusual space or venue to a crowd of dedicated music lovers, other artists and industry types who become part of the event. The approach is clearly catching on as 18 cities around the world now host events, from London to Los Angeles from Sydney to Sao Paulo.
The Manchester chapter came about whilst organiser Tamsin Holleran was living in New York, heard about it and became a regular attendee. When back in Manchester travelled down to events in London until having the idea “I’m going to start this up in Manchester myself!” And that is exactly what she did and the reason we are here in the communal room of a travellers hostel waiting for the first of 5, as yet unannounced, artists to begin.
People sat cross-legged on the floor, perched on tables or those lucky enough to bag a spot on the couch where called to order, and we had a brief introduction to the night along with the golden rule – respect the artist, remain quiet during the performance and stay until the end. First up were Huddersfield alternative band Maia to treat us to some twisted folk music that at times could have been an extract from the Godfather soundtrack played by a Mariachi band. This multi-talented band switched between a variety of instruments including ukulele, banjo, mandolin and trumpet supported by some great vocal harmonies, the atmosphere felt like you were part of their jam sessions, even more so when we were invited to clap along and join in for the chorus of one particular song. A room full of people singing along with the band was a beautiful thing to behold and helped to reenforce the community feel of the night.
Next up were Leeds based outfit The Wax Collection to provide a 60’s infused soulful acoustic sound with the stand out feature being the wonderfully melodic vocal harmonies they created. With the audience sat around the band and the lights dimmed it felt like sitting around the camp-fire listening to your friends playing a tune for you. The simple recipe of acoustic guitar, bass and tambourine combined with those brilliant vocals was the perfect blend to create a warm and sunny ‘summer of love’ feeling on a cold Manchester night. The slightly bemused travellers who had wandered in seemed to be enjoying themselves as well!
Third act of the night were the fantastically named Six Toes who are a great example of what Sofar Sounds is all about, bringing the audience and artist, who may not usually meet, together in the same room. What this London band created was something I hadn’t seen live before, the best way I can describe it was a soundtrack to a really cool avant-garde film. Using stand-up bass, cello and violin to create beautiful soundscapes intertwined with melodic guitar and yet more great vocals (seems to be a theme of the night). There is something special about hearing strings live that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, the whole room was captivated by the performance.
After a short break we were next treated to folk singer Rachel Hillary who had the hushed crowd mesmerised from start to finish with just a plucked guitar and amazing voice but perhaps the most mesmerising moment was a rendition minus the guitar to leave a haunting a capella song. This was poetry set to music which you had been privileged to be allowed into for a brief time. Again this was not something I would usually go out to see but found myself total captivated by the performance.
And so to the final act of the night Age Of Glass an eclectic looking trio whose music matched their look. A mixture of blues, dub, reggae, funk, hip-hop, electronic bleeps and some amazing falsetto vocals; experimental and innovative with a unique sound that was underpinned by a great bass sound keeping everything deep. A house-party vibe had now descended on the room with the crowd now caught up in the seriously funky sound and captivated by the singer/guitarist’s vocals ranging from falsetto to rap plus some crazy dance moves thrown in along the way! A great way to end the night.
There was so much to enjoy about the night; the sense of community, the quirky location, the brilliantly eclectic line-up, but most of all being part of the event and not just going to a gig and demanding to be entertained.
The next Manchester event is planned for the 20th April, if you’d like to go along you will need to sign up to the Sofar Sounds Mailing List and drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to apply for a guest list place.
If you are an artist who would like to be involved in future events again drop an email to email@example.com with links to your music to be considered.
**All pictures courtesy of Matt Johnson Photography