How thrilled was I, as the minister of Fitzroy, that our wee Welcome Area venue played host to Sofar Belfast last night. Sofar is a fascinating global phenomenon invading secret venues with great music in 291 cities across the world.
The Sofar deal is as follows. If you are a fan you trust the branding. You book on line and on the day of the event you get a message telling you where the gig is and who is playing. In Belfast, they do, at the moment, actually announce the artists ahead of time, BUT yesterday a message went out that last night’s Sofar Belfast was in Fitzroy. Our Welcome Area is a perfect little venue for such an event and was cosily full.
To be truthful I was gutted. I turned up late and missed Chris Wilson. I have been a fan of Chris since I first heard him open his mouth. He is heading back to Indiana after gifting Belfast his voice and songs for a couple of years and this was my last chance to hear him. Having heard him many times I know he will have blown some people away with the power of that voice, when he stood away from the mic there his head back and let himself go, and tender vulnerable songs like Fragile and Lower.
I did get in in time for Na Leanaí. The name means “the young ones” and these guys are the children of the Sands Family, a folk dynasty from Rostrevor. Hearing the Sands name brought me to attention but to be fair even I hadn’t been taken by the name the first few seconds of their set had me spellbound. The harmonies, with that Irish lilt to it, stilled the room with their Irish language version of the traditional Peigín Leitir Móir. Utterly beautiful.
After a wee trad tune that showed off their playing they introduced the anti-war song The Crow and The Cradle. Goodness. I know and love the Jackson Browne and Graham Nash version that they performed at the No Nukes concerts in 1979. As Na Leanaí sang I realised I might be the only one in the room old enough to sing along. Yet, the message of what war does to the next generations was more poignant than ever coming from the mouths of the young ones of Tommy and Colum Sands who have sung songs of protest and songs for peace and reconciliation for decades.
Na Leanaí ended their set with a David Ramirez song Find The Light. I was first amazed that I had never heard of Ramirez, not many such songwriters get passed the songwriter-fan-nerd in me. Then the first verse knocked me dead:
“I wish upon you peace
I wish upon you grace
I wish for less of what you want
And more of what you need
You’ll find the light
You’ll find the light”
We were in my Church Welcome Area. No more spiritual benediction could be brought… and in such a masterful way.
Last up… and more harmonies. Something of a music revival must be happening up the East Antrim. As if Ben Glover success in Nashville was not enough for a wee village like Glenarm here were a bunch more of their sons making the most exquisitely beautiful noise. Runabay is all about harmonies and cello and the gentlest of laid back groove. There’s a wee hint of Sufjan Stevens’ voice without all the production clutter.
They reminded me of Belfast’s Lowly Knights, how we miss them, in their size of numbers, cello and organic almost rustic feel. When the harmonies moved it was like the sound of a gentle wave caressing the east Antrim coast just after nightfall. The harmonies these boys conjure are extraordinary. Beautiful and soothing. All I Know from the new EP with it’s call to listen in the fade out, Cold Outside and the encore Moon Turns Blue were particular highlights.
So, my first Sofar experience. Can’t recommend it enough. Delighted of course our venue did a great job but more exciting I am home with Eps and albums of music I am thrilled to have discovered.