Alex Roe performing at the Hodson Guitar Company's 'Sofa Sessions' in Athlone last Friday night. Photo: Ken Browne.

'Sofa Sessions' aiming to help revive Athlone's live music scene

A weekly series of live-streamed musical performances at a guitar business in Athlone has been steadily growing in popularity and helping to revive interest in the music scene locally.

The 'Sofa Sessions' shows are being broadcast each Friday at 9pm on the Hudson Guitar Company's Facebook and Instagram pages.

The business, operated by Bonavalley native Gordon Clarke, hosts the performances at its recently-revamped store and showroom in the Summerhill Business Centre at Crannagh More, Athlone.

Last Friday night's 'Sofa Session' featured a performance by Clara's Alex Roe and his band, while in previous weeks Trevor Moran, The Bensons and Ian Deery, The 40 Watts, Martin Ward, Thunderslap, and others have taken the stage.

Gordon Clarke explained that he started the weekly performances in an attempt to showcase performers who have supported music businesses like his down through the years.

He said that by highlighting talented local artists, he was hoping to encourage the hosting of more live shows in Athlone pubs once restrictions are lifted.

"I go to Kenmare as part of my job and, starting at the top end of the street, there would be a band playing in every single one of the pubs all the way down. I would love for Athlone to have that," he said.

"That's been a thing for me for a long, long time. We need to generate the appetite for live music. I make guitars so I need musicians, and what musicians need is gigs."

He said the opportunity to perform has also been welcomed by the musicians who in many cases hadn't had a chance to play to an audience of any kind for more than a year.

"Some of the musicians were saying that they were quite nervous about it, because they would normally get a reaction from a crowd, but I was telling them it doesn't have to be perfect. In fact, if it's not perfect that's nearly better because it's a bit of craic and a bit of fun then."

The 'Sofa Sessions' initiative has received support from Maryrose Lyons, of Bright Spark Consulting, and a team of digital marketing students in a mentor group.

The online reach of the performances has been growing since the sessions began in March, with last Friday's Alex Roe appearance attracting over 200 comments on Facebook alone.

Alex Roe and his band in action last Friday. Photo: Ken Browne.

Gordon pointed out the reach on the Hudson Guitars page extends overseas, to countries such as Wales, England, the Netherlands, the US, and Brazil, so the performances were also a way of putting Athlone on the musical map internationally.

Tomorrow's Sofa Session (Friday, May 21) will feature a performance from Brian Minnock's band 'Last Minute'.

The weekly shows are then expected to continue at least until late June, with performances being lined up in the coming weeks from Dust and Bone, Louis Burgoyne's Blue Note, Kiltoom's Gavin O'Connor and his traditional band, and others.

"It's been a lot of hard work getting the stage and technicals sorted for a live stream, but we're learning all the time," Gordon explained.

"For the safety of all involved we adhere to strict Covid protocols in the store, which has been reconfigured to accommodate our stage set up."

In recent years Gordon took over the Hudson Guitar Company, which had originally been founded in Wales. He is the former proprietor of the Sound Factory in Athlone, which is now operated by Benny Dermody.

Gordon supplies music businesses all over Ireland with Hodson Guitar Company guitars, which are designed locally and then manufactured in Indonesia and China.

* The 'Sofa Sessions' are broadcast live every Friday night at 9pm on the Hudson Guitar Company Facebook page and Instagram.

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