Culture

Sofar, so good: The best kept secret in live music

Joe Dolman

Joe Dolman playing his set. Credit: Amy Beveridge

This is my third Sofar Sounds gig in as many years. That might not seem a lot, considering I’ve applied to go to one every month since I first discovered what they were in 2014.

And what they are is this: secret intimate gigs held in homes or tiny public spaces. The location is not released until the day before and you don’t find out who is playing until you get there.

Intriguing? I certainly thought so when I went along to my first gig in April 2015, and listened to live music in a coffee shop while watching the sun set over the Clyde. I’ve been hooked ever since.

There are regular Sofar Sounds gigs in cities all around the world, and in Scotland it is pretty well established, with shows playing in Glasgow and Edinburgh most months.

It’s a great way to discover new local artists who may be tipped for the top. Acts such as Bastille and James Bay featured in Sofar shows early on in their careers.

I was secretly hoping this could be the future for one of the artists playing tonight when I headed to their latest show in Glasgow’s West End on a cold and rainy October night.

Tonight’s three artists were John Joseph Brill, Tiny Murder and Joe Dolman, each as good as they were different. The night’s audience were packed into the tiny New Glasgow Society, a minimalist art space with white walls and not much else.

All of the shows I’ve been to have followed the same pattern – three local artists or groups play short sharp sets, with breaks in between for drinking and mingling.

What I love about these gigs is how “good the vibe is”, as one of the Sofar organisers said. To the uninitiated, concerts can be too crowded, noisy and stifling.

These shows couldn’t be more different: everyone is sitting on the floor with drinks they have brought themselves, and they all genuinely want to be there. It can be cramped, but the atmosphere is chilled out and cosy. And the respect the audience have for each artist playing is truly refreshing.

The show was kicked off by John Joseph Brill, whose powerful voice sang songs of heartbreak and desolation. The singer-songwriter played songs, he said, he did not usually perform acoustically, but he seemed right at home with his guitar (we’ll overlook the fact he forgot to bring a plectrum).

Next up was Tiny Murder, a synth-pop duo on vocals, keyboard and electric guitar. There was more than a hint of the 80s in their music; they were in some way reminiscent of another Scottish band, the Cocteau Twins.

Closing the show was Joe Dolman. He was also on guitar, yet was a complete contrast to Brill’s earlier performance. Quiet and personal, he blushed as he spoke of his mother in between songs.

Everyone was in good spirits as they filed out into the autumn night, and the rain had even gone off. In a time when it can be time-consuming to search for new music to get into, this is the ideal way for young hip twentysomethings to discover some local artists, and have a fun night while doing it.

Sign up for the next Glasgow Sofar Sounds show here.

Catch the acts when they play in Glasgow later this month:

Joe Dolman on November 16 at The Glad Cafe
John Joseph Brill on November 16 at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
Tiny Murder on November 20 at Stereo

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