Photographed by Paul Webster
They represent one of the new paradigms of how to make a business out of a band, semi DIY and keeping control strictly in-house. Whilst the public perception may be one that borders on them being relatively corporate as a result of a highly creative and comprehensive online image, reality is a bit different. Their mission is to produce quality music, to go out and entertain by giving their all on stage and to do it all superbly. They are not phased by a lack of current worldwide success and have a refreshingly realistic attitude about the modest but desirable extra income that the band supplements with other sources of revenue. These sort of subtle distinctions set them apart and I'm confident careful analysis would reveal even more than covered here.
So despite all the full-on hard graft, the serious amount of traveling and all their crazy mishaps you come away from meeting them thinking they are actually quite happy with their lot. However, the first distinction would be to declare that 'Happy' does not convey enough about the Hope & Social (H&S) phenomenon and instead use the word 'Joy' in preference to 'Fun', and even 'Content' instead of 'Happy'. This is not to say they are not ambitious, but theirs is a compelling mix of quirkiness and contentment with a convincing lack of fear of failure.
They are quick to point out that one of the elements that helps define their musical identity is their studio, The Crypt, which is their inspirational workspace. This is mainly a private recording studio, a rented crypt(!) of a church near Leeds, which they have made their own. With recording equipment they describe as compact yet comprehensive they definitely make the most of it as listening to their recordings clearly shows. Whether the whole band or a subset are in residence there, they then becomes H&S at that moment, the music flows and develops without the potential open chequebook approach when working in a commercial studio.
There is also a candour about how the band works together. Clearly there are different skill-sets and abilities and, because other jobs get in the way, varying availability. However, there is a sense that there is not the strain of jealousy and demarcation that often is rife within other bands. They seem to operate in true community and long may it last!
Last night they nipped down to the metropolis during their current UK tour to play the iconic Union Chapel in London as part of the Greenbelt Festival's inaugral ADVENTurous day conference, of which more soon. It's inevitable that the venue adds or detracts from the performance, out in the audience last night they sounded superb, honed from their current busyness. Early on in the set singer Simon identified that the layout of the Union Chapel, with everyone seated in its formal pews, was radically different to their previous nights gig in a packed Working Men's Club in Halifax and maybe they were not quite as relaxed as usual, having to work harder to woo the seated 'congregation'.
They kicked off with a sublime version of 'Ripples Rock My Boat' from the CD 'April' and rattled through a relatively short set with favourites such as 'Pitching Far Too High' and the walk out into the audience H&S classic 'Looking For Answers'. Songs from their new album 'All Our Dancing Days' included 'Let's Be Bold' and the Springsteenesque 'One Way Home', all played with an exuberance and confidence that so characterises their shows.
H&S are an ultra hard working bunch of gifted guys who love what they do. They are proud of their material, committed to entertain as a primary artistic mission, all with the inescapable sense that the listener may take deeper meanings from the layered lyrics. They acknowledge the influence of the E Street band on some of their writing style and would be proud to wear 'What Would Bruce Do?' wristbands, yet turn out accessible music which is distinctly theirs.
These distinctions occur in the lyrics too. They maintain a balance weighed toward sentiment rather than schmaltz, whimsical rather than emotional and, as mentioned earlier, joy in addition to fun. Their songs make you smile one minute, then you're hiding the tears the next, and it is actually almost too easy to pick songs appropriate for weddings and funerals!
If success could be measured as commitment then they would rule the roost. When Hope and Social take to the stage, wherever and whatever the size, they do exactly that!
Catch them on the last few dates of their current tour:
Dec 04 - The Yorkshire House - Lancaster - buy tickets
Dec 05 - Hare & Hounds - Birmingham - buy tickets
Dec 07 - Fibbers - York - buy tickets