Hope And Social – The Duchess, 31/03/12

Sometime over the last few days I saw Jessie J being interviewed about the BBC’s awful new “talent” show, The Voice. (Don’t get me started on it. In my opinion there is so much wrong with the format that I could fill a whole post talking about them.) One thing she said that made sense was that she didn’t like being called a “judge” because, to paraphrase, even though she might not like one of the acts, it wasn’t for her to criticise because it was likely that somebody else would like it. I hope that anything I write about bands I don’t like is seen the same way – as non-critical and certainly not as personal attacks on the act in question.

I mention this because I didn’t really like tonight’s opening act. There’s not a great deal of info about Joseph & David, despite them having both MySpace and Facebook pages, the latter with over 1,000 likes, perhaps proving that my opinion shouldn’t really be counted. A folk duo, if I had heard the vocals before seeing the performance I would have guessed (correctly) that the singer would have his eyes closed and face turned upwards. Some of the music was pleasantly relaxing to listen to but I’m afraid there wasn’t anything catchy enough to grab my interest. The addition of Simon Goff on violin and, later, James Hamilton on trumpet, added extra interest but while the final song of the set –  Rising Sun, performed off-stage in the middle of the crowd, sans keyboard and with Joseph providing just backing vocals – was listenable, I’m afraid the rest did little for me.

Hope&Social on the other hand are, as I’m sure my regular reader will have realised by now, firm favourites. The thing is, you never quite know what to expect from a Hope&Social gig and I certainly wasn’t expecting The Duchess to have been decked out with tables and candles. That’s usually reserved for folk or acoustic acts, not a band that have been described as a Yorkshire E-Street Band. I should have realised, really – with a new album of acoustic versions of songs from the previous three just released, of course this was going to be an acoustic tour. Now, for most bands, that would mean leaving most of the members behind and performing with a couple of guitars and, maybe, a shaker or two. But not for Hope&Social, ohhhh no. An acoustic tour from them involves leaving two of the brass section behind and filling whatever space is available in whatever transport they are using with practically every non-electric instrument they can find. And not only that…

“We’re even more unprepared for this than was usually are,” announced Simon Wainwright as the band took to the stage. “We did rehearse at a gig in London last night, though…” As they launched into Family Man it became obvious that something was afoot. Rich Huxley was playing a glockenspiel while Ed Waring and Simon Goff were standing behind what looked like a magician’s card table which was ultimately shown to contain a variety of hand bells, what looked like an old-style car hooter and one of those whistles that you play by pushing in a plunger. April saw Rich move to double bass (complete with tape marks to show where he should be putting his fingers), Gary Stewart playing guitar behind his drum kit and James back on violin. Both Rich and Gary were on ukuleles while Ed and James shared a keyboard for Pitching Far Too High while Cotton Wool saw Gary and Simon W on guitar and Rich on keys. You get the idea? Between every song, the band more or less played musical instruments (in the “chairs” sense), switching around and yet still not appearing to waste time and string things out. Just about the only song which received its normal treatment was Looking For Answers, with Simon performing it off-stage without the aid of a microphone, but even then the packed audience managed to change that one, singing the full chorus instead of the usual backing. There was, of course, the usual between song banter. During one song Rich wandered over to re-tune Simon’s guitar mid-intro, prompting Simon to declare that “some people would call that being a smart-arse.” “A smart-arse would have made sure it was tuned first,” retorted Rich, to the amusement of everybody. Simon also explained the band’s new rule, introduced the previous night, “anybody talking during a quiet song gets our sound engineer’s thumb up their bottom. It worked. We had a very quiet room and one very happy lady…”, which then led on to stories about his past “bottom problems”. You need to have a certain sense of humour to attend Hope&Social gigs.

The instrument free-for-all continued all through the set. Ed played the three or four notes that he knew on the euphonium during Rolling Sideways, which also included folk(ish) versions of You’re The One That I Want and House Of The Rising Son. Living A Lie was performed with just a variety of percussion while Red Red Rose saw a lady from the audience invited onto the stage to play one of the hand bells (while dressed as a leprechaun – I bet she didn’t see that coming…) The set ended with the band’s only “love” song You’re The Lighter Side Of Life. The inevitable encore started, unusually, with a cover of Yazoo’s Only You, complete with Flying Pickets backing vocals before Knotted Wood, the only new song from the latest album and then audience favourite You Can Call Me Al and A Darkness Now Is Coming. Finally, there was a second encore consisting of Eurospin, which eventually saw both Simons, Rich and Ed parading around the audience playing a number of brass instruments. Some of the notes may even have been correct.

As I said, you never quite know what you are going to get from Hope&Social. You can guarantee a few things, though – good music, laughs, and entertainment. Definitely one of the best value live bands you could see. The new album, Cotton Wool And Knotted Wood, is available along with the three excellent previous releases on the usual pay-what-you-want basis from the band’s website.

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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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