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Sofar Sounds Cork – A secret gig review

Sofar Sounds is an international day of secret gigs organised by local activists and Amnesty International. The initiative began in 2009, and gigs are hosted in over 300 cities all around the world. We received notice of the gig & location ahead of time, and sent two staff members to the gig in Nano Nagle Place. This is their report.

First things first; the location was perfect. Not only was it beautiful in and of itself, with the intricate and beautiful chapel-style wall paintings, classic church stained glass and a decorative alter in front of which the stage area was set up, the place so much suited the atmosphere that was created by both musicians and the laid-back audience. Everyone was sat either on the church-pew style benches, that framed the perimeter of the room, or sitting cross legged, sprawled out on the floor, surrounded by bags filled with light snacks and beverages of all kinds, including cans and bottles of wine (taking ‘bag of cans with the lads’ to a whole new, highly sophisticated level, in a somewhat out-of-place location too: a church).

The gig was opened by The Band Anna (not ‘the bandana’ which I learned embarrassingly late into the night) with all original songs, the majority of which were, as they admitted themselves, about love. Lovely, honest lyrics from four cool looking lads; the bassist, the violinist/vocalist, the guitarist/vocalist and the drummer/vocalist. Yes, three vocalists, which resulted in impressively tight three-part harmonies that were the perfect balance of smooth and intricate, reflecting a close musical relationship between the band members, subtly communicating with each other throughout achieving perfectly timed starts, finishes, and breaks in between. They gave off a very Mumford & Sons vibe, with a good balance of emphasis on the lyrical and instrumental aspects of their songs.

What struck me hugely was the way the violin was such a major component to each and every song, featuring in some way almost always, whether as accompaniment or even as a main melody during what could only be described as violin solos; highly, and impressively, technical and advanced. The violinist even sang while playing at times (as a violinist and one who sings, I can confirm that this is incredibly difficult to achieve, not only physically either, the coordination difficulty is akin to tapping your head and rubbing your belly simultaneously), and during the solos demonstrated some incredibly well tuned and timed improvisation. Similarly, the drummer also sang while banging out solidly timed and steady beats.

Their last song was nothing short of magical, really. Entirely acoustic, it took advantage of the echoing, hollow sounds created by the chapel-style room. Simplistic yet intricate acoustic guitar playing complimented the flawless yet raw male voices, which were perfectly woven into three-part harmonies that sent shivers down the spine of anyone with an acutely tuned musical ear. This sound, and the beautifully honest lyrics, proved to be some serious tear jerking material; the last song could almost qualify as a lullaby.

Overall, a very talented and lovely bunch of lads. They’ll go places, and I hope to see them again soon (psst.. they are playing at Docklands, so if you are going, do not miss them!)

Next up was Cara Kursh. Her performance felt intimate, with just herself and her guitar, sat down on a stool in centre stage. With her bright red hair and husky, raspy, voice, Cara’s music sounded as though it were highly influenced by the old Irish Sean Nós style, with her trills and conversational, story-telling style. At times, it was like she was talking more than singing, verging on rap-style,  telling us stories of experience with very personal, abstract lyrics. She has great power in her voice, with an impressively wide range. Most of her lyrics and the imagery expressed in her songs reflected and centered around themes of nature; she sang about flowers and birds, water and streams, wings and wind. Without any structure or definite divisions of parts to her songs, one could argue that they were disorganised and sounded almost made-up on the spot, but after a few songs you realise that this is her style, perhaps her stamp, what marks her out as unique. This free-verse, free-rhythm style reflects the freedom she sings about.

Before Lisa Hannigan, the star of the show, came to perform, we met Reuben. Reuben Hambakachere, a lovely man, was an asylum seeker from Nigeria who came to Ireland some years back. He shared his story with us, and urged us to consider the needs and feelings of other asylum seekers that come to Ireland; he spoke with us, and shared his story with us in the hopes that it would help us to put into perspective the difficulties faced by asylum seekers, and to make what we hear that bit more personal, by sharing his own personal experience. Reuben’s story was incredibly moving, and the lovely, passionate manner with which he delivered his story was nothing short of inspirational.

And then came the finale, the one and only Lisa Hannigan. I was somewhat surprised when I heard her speak for the first time; she speaks just like she sings, greeting the audience with a hollow, whispered “hello” and a sweetly awkward smile. Her songs, as expected, were beautiful, and so suited to the intimate, holistic and spiritual setting. She sings and plays her nylon-stringed guitar as though she is trying her best not to wake someone, or maybe trying to keep someone asleep, as her music is indeed dreamily soothing, so close to haunting but just that bit too sweet to be so. Lisa’s breathy, effortless sounding voice was, as always, perfectly complimented by her exquisite, intricate guitar playing. The finger picking patterns seem so complicated and quick yet sound so simple and soft…

Not even Lisa’s flawless, sing-you-to-sleep voice and soothing guitar playing could put a stop to the deep-set “One More Tune” tradition. Lisa thought, it seemed she hoped, she would get away with just playing her planned set, as her reply to the audiences insistent chanting of “one more tune”, was “oh no, what will I play now?”. Lisa had no trouble improvising an encore however, performing another one of her originals, and what a beautiful finish it was.

To find out more about the Sofar Sounds project, you can find their Facebook page here. To keep in the loop on Sofar events in Cork, you can find their Facebook page here.