When it comes to music, Yorkshire has its fair share of legendary acts. There was a time when Heaven 17 and the Human League joint ruled the electronic airwaves from Sheffield, a city that has also produced Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys. The Kaiser Chiefs have represented Leeds with style and panache for the best part of two decades, The Housemartins and Everything But The Girl came out of Hull, York boasts Shed Seven and who can forget Wakefield’s Black Lace and their seminal 1984 hit Agadoo?
But it’s not just the big hitters who have successfully crawled their way up the slippery pole to the top of the music industry who should make Yorkshire folk proud. There is a thriving Yorkshire music scene filled with immense talent that doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves.
At the top of that tree is Leeds based Hope & Social. That is not to say that they don’t have their fans. They most certainly do. They tour the country regularly, selling out venues all around, but for some reason they have yet to go stratospherical (is that even a word?). And it is not for lack of trying. They are not just musicians, they create experiences with a fantastic musical soundtrack and they absolutely bloody love Yorkshire.
Before I begin to hold forth about the true musical magnificence of Hope & Social, it’s worth bearing in mind the quote often attributed to American comedian Martin Mull – “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
It is very difficult to describe what Hope & Social do in a way that expresses it perfectly in mere words. However, I am being paid to do that so I should at least give it a go.
First things first. The admin. Hope & Social are Simon Wainwright, Rich Huxley, Ed Waring, Simon Fletcher, Gary Stewart and James Hamilton. On stage they are often joined by others as well and they all sport natty blue and white blazers. Look, even just introducing the band is complicated.
At the very basic level, they are a rock band. But there is more to it than that. There are the guitars, the drums, the bass, the vocals of course, but there are also keyboards, there is brass (including a natty selection of H&S branded trombones) and there is fun. So much fun. Their live shows are a heady mix of joyous tunes and dour, self deprecating Yorkshire humour in between. They are a band who thoroughly enjoy being on stage together, revel in the (for want of a better word) banter (shudder) between themselves and the audience, and who want to do something different. Something unlike the other bands you can see day in and day out around the country.
Their recent homecoming show at The Courthouse in Otley featured an interval halfway through the set. Once the crowd had returned from performing their ablutions and recharging their drinks, the lights dimmed and the entire band pushed through the crowd, brass instruments aloft, beginning the second half of the show right there and then in the middle of the auditorium. With Hope & Social, nothing is simple. Simple is dull. They want to do things their way.
Whilst their regular tour shows are already more fun and innovative than anything the majority of bands will bother to lay on, Hope & Social take things a step forward with a host of special events.
Christmas is a fertile time of year for creativity and, in the past, the band have laid on a Manhattan style Christmas event in a former Leeds mill, titled A Fairytale of New Yorkshire, of course. It featured a petrifying bad Santa, glorious food trucks, a skating rink that was meant to involve strapping a block of ice to your shoes until Health and Safety stepped in (not literally) and plenty more festive frivolity.
Last year they created their own old school style Christmas TV special in the old M&S in Bradford, and previously they played 12 gigs in a day across Leeds in all manner of venues including the headquarters of Asda, they’ve asked fans to meet them at Keighley railway station to head out on a mystery tour and the list goes on. The band have been going for more than ten years and the ideas are just getting bigger and more ambitious.
Asked where the inspiration for these shows come from, bassist Simon Fletcher told the band’s website, “Every year we try to do something a bit special at Christmas as a way of saying thanks to all the people who help us keep doing what we do.” Rich Warburton, the Artistic Director of Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill, who collaborated with the band on the recent Christmas show, sums up what the band by saying, “H&S have always been a group that are really driven by the desire to create these unique memorable shared experiences” and that is exactly what they do.
But perhaps the events they might be known for best were the gigs they played in the lead up to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Yorkshire in 2014.
“FOR SOME REASON HOPE & SOCIAL
AREN’T THE BIGGEST AND MOST
FETED BAND IN THE WORLD, WHICH
PROVES THAT LIFE ISN’T FAIR”
Hope & Social teamed up with the Grassington Festival to play a number of dates along the route of the two Yorkshire stages. They played 12 shows over two weekends in towns such as Harrogate, Otley, Hawes, Knaresborough and Sheffield on a stage powered by cyclists. Over the course of the shows, they invited locals on stage to be part of A Band Anyone Can Join. Choirs, ukulele players, scout groups, brass bands and singing groups from round the county all got in on the action and the tour culminated with an appearance by Hope & Social at the team presentation night at the Leeds Arena, which was broadcast worldwide.
And yet, for some reason Hope & Social aren’t the biggest and most feted band in the world, which proves that life isn’t fair.
Yes, the cliche is that Yorkshire doesn’t like sharing its gems with the world, but a band as fun, joyous and innovative as Hope & Social deserve much more credit than they get. They do have an adoring fanbase, and there are some acts that never even achieve that, but after more than a decade of bringing light into the lives of those who see them play it is fair to say they must have served their apprenticeship by now.
If you want to see what all the fuss is about, Hope & Social are playing a string of dates in the autumn, including Halifax, Leeds, Barnsley and Sheffield. They will also (hopefully) have a new album out, having spent time this winter recording it in the book shop at Harewood House while it was closed to the public. You don’t get much more Yorkshire than that, right?