SoFAR Sounds at the North Docks

You might not be familiar with the SoFAR Sounds movement, and truthfully, that’s kind of the point. What started as a live music night in two friends’ front room has since grown into an international network of promoters, artists and fans, all looking for something a little more intimate and special compared to your usual live music scene. Think an episode of VH1 Storytellers, sans some mug with an awful mullet and gaudy sunglasses pining for the ‘good times’.

Make Liverpool invited SoFAR into their Atrium for the first time, and such was the secrecy of how they operate that we didn’t really know what was going on until it happened. SoFAR confirm with the venue that a gig will be happening, then they’ll source out acts to perform, then they let the general public know that a gig will be happening at some location with some artists performing, it’s very need-to-know and that’s part of the beauty; you feel like you’re a member of a special club and that all this has been done for you.

First up this evening we had JJ Leone, a Norfolk based acoustic R&B styled singer/songwriter, his style a well-balanced cross between Newton Faulkner, Craig David, with some throw backs to the glory days of 80s blue-eyed soul. As he performed his first track, ‘Gin and Scotch Rain’, you instantly understood the nature of SoFAR; they pride themselves on the audience showing respect for the artists and their craft, and politely ask that all attention be focused on the performers on stage – no phones, no heckling, no rowdiness in general. As a result JJ doesn’t need any amplification of any sort, just his acoustic guitar and his vocals (mic’d only for SoFar’s personal recordings). He gives the audience samples from his EP ‘Rebuild’, as well as what he calls “20 years of hip-hop in three minutes” (Blackstreet, Aloe Blacc, Macklemore et al).

Each artist has a four song set, roughly taking up between twenty and thirty minutes each. The laid-back nature of the setting and evening gives a warm and friendly feel, leading to a more open almost conversational vibe from the artists performing. They delight in explaining and talking us through everything they do, have done, and are doing, and you invest in them for that half an hour, and beyond.

Second on stage were Lukas & King, a two-piece from Brighton/Southampton fresh from supporting Ray Davies. Their sound is an ethereal blending of Americana with Stevie Nicks-esque vocals, which are almost haunting, regardless of the warm setting of the Atrium. The folky country tones bely their Southern-English roots, but not in a negative way. Their sound is very authentic and easy on the ear, regardless of the fact that “people used to say they fell asleep to our songs”. They are hoping to release their next EP in June, and we’re hoping they’ll pay us a visit again when it is out.

Liverpool regards itself as a City of music and entertainment, a rich history that you need not hear from us as we’re all aware of the city’s biggest musical export (of course, Space). It would therefore be criminal to not have an artist representing the City play for us tonight. That honour fell to She Beat, a solo indie-pop artist with a folk twang (an accidental running theme of the evening). She Beat harks back to the heady days of the Merseybeat sound, her stripped back cover of Beatles standard ‘She Loves You’ evidence of this, alongside some stylistic nods to Billy Fury amongst others. She comes across as a hopeless romantic, her songs full of optimism, whilst referencing an underlying melancholy, opining that “even Dolly Parton said ‘you can’t have rainbows without rain’”.

Our night is rounded off by Black Mountain Lights, a ‘fifty fingered’ modern-folk combo from the Wirral, who produced some very dramatic rough-round-the-edge sounds, whilst softening those edges with some clean slide-steel guitar and five-part vocal harmonies. The best way to describe their sound is modern day sea shanties, which considering their heritage and some of their song titles (‘Submarine’ and ‘By the Sea’ in particular) is very apt. There is a brooding to their music, and a somewhat understated menace, characterised as “audio Nordic crime dramas” – all full of grisly murder and black humour. That’s what true folk should be, classic tales of foreboding and danger set to haunting melodies, and Black Mountain Lights delivered it in spades.

If you joined us at Make. North Docks for SoFAR then you know how excellent an evening this was, if you missed out, then make sure that you are ready next time, but don’t tell ‘em who sent you…