I’m not sure how I ended up on their mailing list but this month I decided to try out Sofar Sounds. For those of you who are not familiar with it you basically pick your city – or the nearest city to you – and it shows you available secret gigs in your location and on what date. You can pick your chosen one, pay a small fee, and receive a ticket including a +1 if you want one. Then on the day before your chosen gig you receive the location and on the night, when you arrive at said place, you discover who is performing. It could be a surprisingly big band, it might be someone breaking through, or it might be a local artist.
I broke my Sofar Songs virginity in Leeds on Tuesday heading to The Riverside café in Leeds, a nicely sized bistro on, unsurprisingly, the side of the river that sells a mixture of ales and during the day what look to be nice sandwiches and smoothies. With a quick check of name on the day to ensure exclusivity we were in, ordering drinks and awaiting the acts. The venue was already pretty full with the audience stood by the bar, perched on chairs or sat cross legged on cushions.
At just after eight the organiser came on to reveal the line-up for the night, an impressive three acts on the bill. Without any microphone the compere was a little difficult to hear even when the audience was quiet, but there were no problems with the acts who at our location were going through a small speaker. The Sofar team were also on hand taking photos and recordings of the first song for each act so hopefully these will be online soon.
First up on our night we had Ben Maggs whose friendly personality between songs shone through. Bearded and telling tales of travelling around Scotland, his down to earth style and quickly loveable songs were a welcome introduction, his use of a loop pedal on two songs really adding to the depth of the pieces even if he was wary of the technology’s reliability. Soon to be supporting the Proclaimers he’s definitely an artist to look out for.
His set of around half-an-hour included some really great songs, old and new from his catalogue, which were of course new to the audience. Stand out numbers were ‘The Traveller’s Song’ and ‘Bread of Life’ which thanks to a strong live sound were even more vivid than on the recorded versions. Mixed in with his interesting anecdotes and tales of travelling and this was a great start to the show.
After a short break we got four piece local band Citrus Heights whose unamplified lead singer really captured the mood of the night, the funky basslines of their songs really resonating in the venue, combining indie sensibilities with the sound recently re-championed by artists like Nile Rodgers. Though outside it might have been raining inside it was sunny thanks to their warm, uplifting sounds.
With another short break following the headliners of the night came on in the form of the globe-trotting indie-rock band the Dunwells, who lifted the spirits even further with their set, with standout tracks like ‘Animal’ selling them for me. Combining three guitars and a small drum kit alongside some very impressive harmonies, their sound was big but not overpowering for the space, and they showcased their credentials as a tight band on the evening, newer material like the lighters-out ‘Light Up The Sky’ sitting well with their older material.
As the crowd slowly disappeared after two hours of music, there was time to focus on what had been a great night of music, and goes to show that taking a punt on an event in an unknown location with unknown acts can reap rewards and I’ll be certainly exploring Sofar Sounds again in the future.