Tonight was one of those occasions when there was too much good music in York. Local favourites Stolen Earth were playing at The Fulford Arms and Admiral Fallow, much enjoyed by Andy in the past, were at The Duchess, while Hope And Social were next door at Fibbers.
Regular readers know that Hope And Social are a favourite of mine and I already knew a few people who were planning on going to that gig. Combine that with the fact that I had spent the afternoon drinking – it was my work team’s (all three of us…) Christmas afternoon off – and the city centre venue was looking much more attractive than trying to get out to The Fulford Arms.
I arrived at Fibbers after Louise Petit had started her support slot and, with alcohol possibly impairing my judgement, I stayed at the back of the venue which made it hard to hear much of her set. She appears to be of the same slightly quirky style that a lot of H&S support acts exhibit, singing a kind of modern Americana while playing guitar and ukulele. Her backing band add double bass and drums and, at the end of the set were joined by Rich Huxley (of H&S) who helped in the recording of her debut EP, Fear And My Other Friends. Sorry to say but Louise probably deserved more of my attention that she got tonight.
Well before Hope And Social had taken to the stage, I had moved right to the front and was within touching distance of the stage. The band opened with Saints Alive, a track from their newly-released fourth original album, All Our Dancing Days before delving back into the previous album for Sleep Sound and Family Man. Then it was back to the new album for Let’s Be Bold before something went wrong on stage and Simon headed out to the middle of the crowd with his acoustic guitar for the now traditional version of Looking For Answers, along with the sing-along section. I can only hope that Rich, who ended up standing almost next to me, couldn’t work where the strange wailing sound that tries its best to pass as my singing was coming from…
Next, with the gremlins banished from the stage, we got a version of Marching On Through which not only included a smooth saxophone solo but also segued into My Girl, with Gary Stewart providing vocals from behind the drum kit. At any other time, this was a version which could have been a set-ender, but H&S were only just getting started. During Pitching Too High, trumpeter James could be seen jogging on the spot on stage. With the song still being played, Simon explained that they had set up races for him at every gig of the current tour (although I’m not sure whether the story that, in one town, he had to run to the corner shop and return with a copy of Razzle has to be taken with a pinch of salt…) Tonight, a young lady from the audience was invited to join him in a race to the bar and back, first time running, second time hopping and third time after swapping trousers. The crowd dutifully parted like the Red Sea under the command of Moses and the race was on, across a floor littered with plastic glasses and lager bottles. Thankfully nobody came a cropper and the “athletes” decided to swap jackets rather than trousers. As to who won… I honestly can’t remember.
There was a further sing-along section during One Way Home. Simon always seems genuinely appreciative of the audience participation and the added vocals always seem to add something to the songs rather than filling in gaps (or giving the band a breather) that can be the case with other bands. The organised chaos of Rolling Sideways was followed by the slower and emotionally-polar The Road Never Lies before Ed Waring took to the front of the stage for All Our Dancing Days. The set ended with more audience participation, this time including singing and gesturing, during Red Red Rose before an obligatory encore started with a comedy keyboard solo from Ed leading into Back To The Green and finished with Rich on banjo for A Darkness Now Is Coming.
As usual with a Hope And Social gig, there was plenty of banter to go with the music. It seems that drummer Gary may be about to tie the know and, with future relatives in the audience, there was plenty of gentle heckling before Simon pointed out that the band were actually contracted to play music, not just answer questions. There was also the requisite amount of “messing about” on stage, whether that entails band members switching instruments or something unexpected sparking a memory that has the band in stitches (in this case, a recently heard nickname for a part of the male anatomy…) Above it all, however, is that fact that this is a band at the top of their game. Not only do the performances seem to get better every time we see them, despite Simon’s oft-heard utterings along the lines of “We haven’t got this song right yet on this tour” or “I’m not totally sure I remember this one”. The wackiness and the sing-alongs add to the feeling that the band and their fans are part of one big family. I have said before that you don’t go to see a Hope And Social gig, but that you go to experience it. One thing that is evident to all the fans is that Hope And Social are a band that are not just fun to watch but is also fun to be part of.
All Our Dancing Days is available now as a physical CD or download, on the usual pay-what-you-want basis, on www.hopeandsocial.com.