Hope and Social – Stereo, 24/04/10

It’s an old venue under a new name tonight. I’m fairly sure that the last time I saw a band in this room, the building was called The Bay Horse. I was still at school and was watching a band from Bradford called Haze. That was twenty-plus years ago. Now it’s Stereo and we’re here for a very similar line-up to that of a gig Roj and I attended last year.

The only difference is tonight’s opener. Robert Loxley Hughes was the flamboyant frontman of Idle Jack And The Big Sleep who have, we found out tonight, split up. Tonight it was just him and his (well, somebody else’s) guitar, some bad experiences and the resulting songs. Hughes seems to be a bit of a tortured soul who takes his experiences, chews them up and spits them out as lyrics. One song, very emotionally performed, was about an absent friend. Another was introduced as having its roots in a long story which boiled down to “very nasty lady” (tidied up for a family audience). The guitar playing varied from minimal to as close to thrash as you can probably get with an acoustic. The lyrics were mostly clear, except for a couple of times when the emotions got the better of Hughes, who has a strong voice. This was a very good performance bit it veered just too much towards angry for my liking. However, how many times are you going to go to a gig and hear a song with the word “hypothalamus” in the lyrics? The set was worth watching just for that – although, it has to be said that this was a David Ward Maclean song.

The last time we saw Dave Woodcock And The Dead Comedians, there was just the two of them performing (Dave himself and Chris Saunders on guitar) and both Roj and I commented that we would like to hear what the full band sounded like. Tonight we got that pleasure, as Chris Murphy (piano), Andrew Wood (drums) and Lee Bradley (bass) were all on stage. We were treated to songs from last year’s album release, Omaha High Low, as well as new ones from a forthcoming album. Songs about gambling and love, drenched in alcohol and wreathed in cigarette smoke (metaphorically, obviously, this was in indoor gig…) The music is a sort of mix of rock and roll and country, with a lovely steel guitar sound and the couple of songs that I remembered from the last gig had, quite obviously, a fuller sound. It was an energetic performance, with Dave gesticulating and dancing round the limited stage area. Indeed, at one point, he actually took the microphone into the audience and ended up singing while on his back. In another “rare song” event, the band played one song about Dave’s hometown – my guess is that there can’t be many more songs about Rotherham than there are about the hypothalamus… Anyway, I’m happy to report that the full band is a whole lot more enjoyable than the cut down version we saw previously. So much so that I bought myself a copy of Omaha High Low.

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of GT Turbo (a.k.a Boss Caine) and tonight saw another solo performance of songs from the album The Ship That Sailed. GT wore his annoyance on his chest (and back), with a T-shirt proclaiming “Shut the f*ck up, the band are playing”. Sadly the message didn’t get across to all members of the audience and, even after moving away from the group doing their best to define themselves as “loud and annoying”, we could still hear them over parts of the performance. GT’s set was comprised of what I assume to be his current standards, including my favourite Leaving Victoria and close second (though not on the album), Smoking In My Back Yard. Like Hughes, GT’s songs are based on his experiences, not all of which are good. Unlike Hughes, there is a lot less anger on show. I’ve mentioned before that his songs have an immediate effect on me and I was able to sing along (silently, for the most part) to most of them. There’s not too much more I can add, except to say that, somehow, GT’s voice, which is usually superb, seemed a lot stronger tonight. I’m assuming that was something to do with the acoustics or the mixing.

As good as the previous acts were, we were mainly here for one reason – Hope & Social‘s return to York. They are one of our favourite bands and are currently promoting their second album, April, which is available from the above link, using their usual “pay what you want/can afford” method. Honestly, try it – you can download it for free (if you really can’t afford to pay anything), they are a totally inoffensive, very talented band and I can’t think of any reason not to like them. What’s the worst that can happen? Right, plug over.

Tonight, the band, with very new drummer “he doesn’t know half the songs” Ian, and new bassist James Hamilton and a three piece brass section, all of them resplendent in the now obligatory blue blazers. The stage looked very crowded and I was beginning to fear for the safety of both the audience and band members given how little space there was for both the trombone and Simon’s guitar-playing. Thankfully, by the end of the night, there were no injuries and the brass section quickly mastered getting off and on stage quickly.

You don’t see Hope & Social perform, you immerse yourselves in the performance. Whether it’s singing the chorus to Red Red Rose, laughing at Rich and Simon’s jokes and antics, performing the backing to Looking For Answers, engaging in banter or (and this is a new one to me) being part of the kazoo orchestra, you are a part of the gig. Tonight was no exception. As well as songs from the new album, we heard some from Architects Of This Church, including a proper acoustic version of Looking For Answers which seemed to be brought forward in the set to give Rich some time to sort out his pedal problems. As usual, some of the songs as performed live are quite a bit different than as recorded, with some very heavy extended musical sections, but they work just as well in both versions. The added brass also provided a new dimension to some of the songs, especially when they remembered to play… I don’t think it’s possible to see a bad gig from Hope & Social, but I do know that tonight’s was the best I’ve seen so far.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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