Sofar Sounds In Sheffield
Hush! Hush! Whisper who dares! There’s a Sofar secret gig going on upstairs!
Well, not only upstairs, but in the front room too, in a terraced house on Hoole Street, Walkey this very week. Sofar Sounds was set up by a couple of lads who were fed up with the usual live music experience. You know the score. People talking, poor view, everyone obsessed with filming the act rather than enjoying them; very annoying if you’re a real music fan. They asked themselves, wouldn’t it be better to gather a few true fans and ask some musicians to play in your front room? So they had a go, and did just that. After the show in a tiny North London flat, the people who came told their friends and thus, Sofar Sounds was born. Five years, 86 cities and 37 countires later they claim to be the world’s largest music discovery community, curating secret, intimate gigs in unlikely places, and bringing back the magic to live music. Anyone who wants to go simply has to register with the website, and then wait. If you’re successful you’ll get an email a few days before, the address 24-hours in advance, but won’t find out who’s playing until you turn up.
My name came out of the virtual hat recently, so I turned up to Hoole Street at the prescribed date and time. The first act on were Lazuli, singing a few delicate songs, the last of which was an acapela joy, with the singer showing what a lovely voice she has, and so much easier to appreciate when listened to in the hushed silence of a back room of a Walkley terraced house. After them came Kimberley Anne. Now she is currently on tour with a full band, supporting Ella Eyre, and after that is on the New Faces tour with Communion Records. This is what happens at a Sofar gig. Artists ask to come along who just want to be part of the evening and have an onion bhaji in the kitchen afterwards with anyone who wants to have a natter. As I said, you never know who’ll be there. The last band on tonight were Turning Plates, all the way from Glasgow. There were five of them, so we had to go up into the attic, but hey, that’s part of the fun. In this house’s many years of existence in a sleepy Walkley street, there have probably never been more people in the attic space than there were tonight. Turning Plates create a lovely sound, with songs from their debut CD, a concept album about wilderness, discovery and isolation, and how the internet has changed society. They played carefully constructed songs, making a lovely sound bed for some gentle singing. They made a lovely ending to a predictably unique event. I was so impressed that, a few days later, I had a coffee and a chat with the Sheffield organiser, chanteuse Gina Walters, about how she became involved (She’s the wonderful vocalist with Screaming Maldini by the way).
Tell me about Sofar Sounds and how you became involved.
It was started in 2009 by two guys who were sick of the usual concert experience: going to gigs and being surrounded by people talking, not having a good view, and not being able to hear the songs. They thought how great it would be to have bands play in their flat, with people who really wanted to listen, so they just did it. The idea just spread by word-of-mouth. In May, my friend Emily Brinnand, who writes the ‘New Band Up North’ feature in the Guardian, tweeted that she’d just been to a brilliant Sofar gig in Manchester, and I told her we needed one in Sheffield. She said just go on and do it, and before I knew it, I was putting on Sheffield’s first Sofar gig, in my own house!
How do the acts get selected?
Well, I decide who it’s going to be, but we do get offered big acts who are keen to play. It’s now in 86 cities around the world, and artist who might be on a tour, when they have a free date, get in touch with the main guys at Sofar, and ask if there’s an available gig nearby. That’s how we got Kimberley Anne for our most recent gig. She’s signed to Polydor, and had a gap in her tour schedule when our gig was planned, so we put her on.
How do people find out who will be playing?
They don’t! You don’t know until you turn up. Recently in Manchester Hozier played a show, and in London Tom Vek played, so you never know who you’ll see. You apply online, and we let you know if you’ve been successful a week or so before. On the day we’ll tell you the address, and it’s only when you show up that you’ll find out who’s playing.
How do you decide on venues?
We need people to people to volunteer to let us use their houses. In return they’ll get a totally unique gig, maybe something they’ll never forget. We’d also like to use other more unusual spaces too, perhaps somewhere where music’s never been performed before. Factories, warehouses, shops, anywhere a bit unusual. The more people I can get in the room, the bigger it will be, and it all spreads by word of mouth. If anyone’s interested, just go to Sofarsounds.com and register and I’ll be in touch.
Is it all free?
Totally, although we do ask for a donation if you can afford it, which goes towards mastering a video for the Sofar Sounds YouTube channel. We use Seven Hills Media, who are a local videographers, so if you go there you can see some of the acts who’ve played all over the world.