Originally posted on the Sofar Sounds blog on the 4th March 2013.
Words/Editor: Adam Wilson (Website)
Sorry to tell you this, but you missed it. That’s it; the best Sofar Sounds gig to date and you (probably) weren’t there. I bet you’re glad I’ve written as much as I can to convey something of what you missed. (Unless you were there; if so, ignore the first bit and start reading from here).
As I walked in, a rectangular room packed wall to wall with bodies was there to meet me. All super sexy Sofar Sounds bodies of course, but even Sofar people have arms and legs that need to be carefully folded and tessellated to accommodate everyone. It’s funny though, how marking out your territory for the evening seems so important for those first five minutes… Then the music starts.
Marika Hackman opened up the night with a track called “Retina Television”, from her album “That Iron Taste” (released 25th Feb) stripped of everything save her voice accompanied by her guitar. Appearing before everyone as a loan figure in a packed room, dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans she was at once disarmingly honest and absolutely magnetic.
As her set progressed, the eerie imagery and lonely delivery of her lyrics began to have an effect on us, catalysed by the Sofar atmosphere. Her music always slightly dodges your expectations, as you listen out for the phrase to end and the section to change, it lasts one more bar, or one less. Using what sound like simple, honest comments on elements of her life, Marika’s almost supernatural aura can completely fill the audience’s collective mind, using words to paint her peculiarly magical portraits across our perception.
Anna Phoebe, up next, is already well known for a career including collaborations with Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Roxy music, and being as a member of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This violinist is a bit different to the rest. No one seems to have told her that they traditionally do as they’re told, suppressing their personality in the name of perfecting the execution of a composer’s manuscript.
Instead, her music blends her personality with the full range of her band’s influences, utilising the underlying mechanics that first supported the music of Duke Ellington as the rhythm section sets up a smooth bed of warm sonic layers, on top of which the incredibly skilled Anna weaves complicated but beautiful melodic lines, occasionally textured with palm muted guitar. The interspersing and complimentary themes on guitar and violin echo the playing of two other jazz greats, Coltrane and Davis. Despite these comparisons, the music is definitely not jazz. Anna brings her signature blend of the concert hall and the stadium, swapping the heavier, rockier side of what she does for a chance to play something more intimate and intricate.
More than a bit Po-Mo, retaining an ambiguity only occasionally punctured using leitmotifs that anchor your attention. The range of influences and their arrangement in the live set made it feel like a live artistic answer to Sgt. Peppers, perhaps helped by the addition of the distinctive tabla, piercing the musical mix with flurries of triplets that fill out the sound and introduce more ambivalence to any sense of cultural place brought about the traditional line up of guitar, electric bass and drums that make up the rest of her band.
This lady, who narrowly escaped the possibility of becoming a politician early in her career, succinctly demonstrated to us the results of a life’s complete dedication to perfection in all aspects of her chosen artistic craft.
Coming up next and snapping us out of a trance, blowing away all mental cobwebs, were CC Smugglers.
At Sofar, we can’t help but love bands that break the rules. This band embraced that spirit wholeheartedly. Looking out at a sea of quiet faces ready to be enraptured by a delicate arrangement, frontman Richie got the whole lot standing on their feet – dancing, jumping and shouting.
Bit of a risky move, if their music didn’t completely back that atmosphere up with an explosive set of folky bluegrass numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtrack of that Clooney film “O Brother Where Art Thou?“.
They definitely look like they could have broken from a grubby chain gang and escaped to live out the rest of their lives on the road busking out the merriest music in the South (of England) before attracting too large a crowd and the attention of the local coppers.
If you’re wondering how to spot this lot as they go roaming round the wilds of Britain, listen out for the cheeriest folkiest sound and the madness of their crowd. Once heard, never forgotten.
John Smith. Think about the name. No, don’t just ignore me and read on, think about it… So commonplace and ordinary sounding that it takes on an almost transcendent quality, a unique air as we all connect with the inferred “everyman” statement in it. Plus I think it’s his name.
John Smith brought to us a knowing, twinkling humour that is at once hilarious and gently comforting. The sort of musician who writes songs about such desperately sad subjects as growing up in a place on the South coast where people go to die (I wont tell you which, so he can still tour there).
John rarely brings the dynamic of his guitar playing above the absolute quietest it can be, and he doesn’t need to raise his voice as he sings, yet you could always hear every syllable and every strum.
No one breathed a word. We all sat there absolutely silently, focussed solely on the music and the musician, with no chance of anyone wanting to risk breaking the safe and warming ambience that his music was able to bring to the rectangular front room in Hove.
Special thanks to our hosts for the evening:
Bow, Maud, Arthur, Phoebe, Jack W, Jack M, Thea, Hamish and Mel!
Sofar Sounds Website http://www.sofarsounds.com/ (Sign up to the mailing list if you’d like to come along to a future Sofar Sounds gig happening near you).
Marika Hackman http://www.marikahackman.com/
Anna Phoebe http://www.annaphoebe.com/
CC Smugglers http://www.ccsmugglers.co.uk/
John Smith http://johnsmithjohnsmith.com/