Secret Sofar Sounds Manchester show – 29th April 2014

By on Thursday, 1st May 2014 at 2:00 pm
 

After having attended my first Sofar Sounds show during SXSW 2014 in Austin in March (Carrie’s review and my photos this way), I was eager and raring to go for another one. I thought it was unlikely that there would be one in England while I was over on holiday, but it turned out there was one in Manchester on one of my free nights in the North West town. The whole point of Sofar Sounds is to provide a homey environment – literally: it’s usually done in someone’s home – where music lovers can be introduced to acts they’re likely never have heard of.

In this particular case, it made sense that our host for the evening owned a flat in the Northern Quarter, the hub of culture and all things things cool in Manchester. Cool, however, is probably the wrong word to use to describe the actual temperature in the flat, as Manchester was undergoing an unusual series of sunny, hot for April days, which were fine by me but made a room full of 80 or so people crammed in to watch bands a little stifling.

The first act of the night was Paris born but current Winchester native Josh Savage, accompanied by Jack Williams on guitar and backing vocals. Imagine my surprise when I looked on Twitter to find he was already following me! This kind of gig atmosphere benefits the artists who have good stage presence and can engage the audience between songs, either by speaking to their emotions or making them laugh. Savage has an EP out now that includes both studio and live at for BBC Introducing versions of the song ‘Your Lips’. Now, as you readers know, I tend to get quite emotional in my reviews when a song or artist touches me deeply, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a song with the title ‘Your Lips’ is about longing for someone.

A highlight of Savage’s set was the song ‘Lost in Paris’, which he prefaced by encouraging the audience that if you were ever feeling lost in their life, the way forward is to embark on a journey and live in a new, unfamiliar city, because that’s where you will find yourself. Another highlight was ‘Quatre Épines’; sung entirely in French, it allowed Savage to indulge in the language of his upbringing, managed to bring an unexpected element of romantic and also simultaneously made me wonder if Carrie would have a similar reaction to Savage live as she did with Glass Animals at SXSW. Basically, if you like Ben Howard, curly-haired guys and guys that sing in French, Savage is a no-brainer. I think Howard should be worried about his territory right now.

The next three bands were booked for the same Sofar show to take advantage of the fact that they’d all come over from Wales to do a tour of Café Nerros across Britain together. As an idea for a tour, I thought it was fantastic: three solo artists each unique to each other but also providing each other moral support as they get more experience gigging and spreading the word about their music. The first of the three was Sion Russell Jones, a ginger singer/songwriter from Cardiff who clearly has a good handle on humour. When he came out to play, he reminded me of a kid I went to elementary school with.

The best touchstone I can think of to describe Jones is Simon and Garfunkel; should you seek out his latest album ‘Lost No More’ released in March and listen to ‘Best of Me’, you will hear on record that his vocals are as rich as that of Paul and Art’s decades ago. The last track he played, ‘And Suddenly’, was an ode to the carefree atmosphere of Sunday lunch, including mentions of his mum carving the roast, details of the salad and gravy and being hung over. As we were all seated, the jaunty, fun song begged for seated / chair dancing. Watch a filmed live version of Jones performing the song back in 2010 for Welsh telly below.

Third act up and second Welsh act was Kizzy, who held the distinction of being the youngest performer of the night. Having just turned 18 a week prior to the gig in Manchester, the bilingual artist in an amazing multi-coloured headwrap sang in a soulful, almost jazzy way of growing up (you see, she’s quite thoughtful and wise beyond her years) and love lost, such as the beauty that is ‘The Starling’, a single that has already gotten BBC 6music and Radio Wales airplay. After looking over her Web site, even if I couldn’t understand the words, I’m kind of disappointed she didn’t sing any songs in Welsh. She did, however, incorporate her heritage in the song called ‘Love Lost Game’, giving us a history lesson, as it was based on an old love story between Siwan (Princess Joan of Wales) and her relationship with the Welsh Prince Llywelyn the Great, Lord of Snowdon.

Sera, the third and final Welsh act of the night, is a singer and guitar and piano-playing artist. Think the piano playing of Sara Bareilles crossed with Joni Mitchell’s songbird twang and guitar playing, with a pinch of the more animated and upbeat vocals of Amanda Palmer (‘Coin Operated Boy’ like), and you’re nearly there. The way to stand out these days if you’re a female singer/songwriter is to be unique, and I don’t think I know any other women who play those two instruments and have such a special voice that I hope comes across as a compliment, but the only word I can come up with that makes sense is ‘precious’. She began with the track ‘Fireworks’, which thankfully sounds nothing like the Katy Perry song of the same name. It reminded me a lot of Van Susans’ ‘Glow’, using the imagery of sparks and chemistry to describe the search for true love.

The fifth and final band of the night was four-piece local Manchester band Thugs on Wolves. The wife of the bass player assured me that despite their aggro sounding moniker, they were not a metal band. (Phew. Somehow I didn’t think a metal band would fit into a Sofar lineup anyhow.) No, they weren’t anywhere near as scary as their band name would seem to suggest. They turned out to be the best band to close the night out with, because not only were they funny with their banter, they also proceeded to give us a foot-stomping, knee-slappingly good time with their music, as in their tune ‘The Laugh of the Jackdaw’, which I’d say was the song of the night. Check out some free tracks from them from this MP3(s) of the Day feature we ran yesterday.

Their lead singer is James Marsden’s doppelganger, but as soon as he opens his mouth, you can hear he’s clearly got folk vocal singing chops. They’re Mumford and Sons but less farm boy and don’t wear tweed waistcoats; they’re Noah and the Whale but certainly not American-sounding (second phew of the night); they’re Fleet Foxes but more like when Fleet Foxes were actually good and not beloved by hipsters. Definitely worth further investigation, as are the other acts appearing this night. Cheers Sofar Sounds Manchester, for such a memorable evening of music!

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