A rooftop of Stevenson Square in the centre of Manchester isn't your traditional venue, but hidden away on the top of the building that holds Ply and Guilty By Association is an intimate performance space with views across the city. We were lucky enough to be invited to attend an acoustic performance by Liam McClair and Sobi.
Opening up proceedings in the hazy Manchester early evening is Sobi, who plays a selection of tracks including some from her EP Creatures In My Mind that she released last year. Her songs with just her on an electric guitar work wonderfully well, they are set into stark focus, such as Just Like You where she lifts the song in the chorus by the power of her voice alone. Similarly In Too Deep is almost accapella in its approach, the song driven along by changes in tone and emphasis in her words rather than the guitar.
She also takes the brave step of covering The Spice Girls' Wannabe, which could have been the worst idea ever, if she doesn't take it and completely reinvent it and make it feel like a different song, stripped back down to its bare roots. Its upbeat lyrics contrast as well with the darkness of her own. She closes with Crawling, also from the EP, and we're mightily impressed by someone who we had admittedly never even heard of before tonight.
Liam McClair has been slowly making a name for himself on the Manchester gig circuit and it's no surprise to see why on the basis of tonight's short set. The great beauty about Liam's songs performed live is their innocent simplicity. The emotion and intonation in his voice is understated but affecting - Lose My Faith being a case in point, the sparsity of a gently plucked acoustic, a light tap on the guitar body as an improvised drum beat allowing the space for the words to take centre stage. Cowardly Man has some subtle blues stylings that give it a warm glow of familiarity without it ever sounding like a copy of something else. It also demonstrates a range in his voice that can transmit different emotions without the need for histrionics or effects.
He tackles one of Manchester's sacred cows with a cover of Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart, stripped back to just an acoustic. Cast in a different light, he makes the song feel like his own by not making the usual mistake people do covering it by trying to imitate Curtis' original vocal. He jokes at the end that if anyone didn't know it, then it was one he'd written - but he'd certainly made it feel like his own.
Someday is his forthcoming single, recorded with a band, and is a song of hope for a friend going through a bad time - "I'll find a light when it's pitch black" - and again in this stripped-back and down environment demonstrates his knack of exuding warmth from the simple means he has at his disposal, lifting his voice to emphasize feelings and the message in the song.
The final song Honey is another love song "you are the moonlight shining bright in the dark" and with a chorus that has the audience singing along. Like everything that's gone before, it marks Liam out as a songwriter who could appeal to anyone who has an appreciation of music - his songs are perfectly crafted, open and honest and devoid of pretense and unnecessary clutter, yet this makes them ever more intense and personal as a result.
Sobi is on Facebook and Twitter.
Liam McClair's website can be found here. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.
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