Music interview: Hope and Social

Hope and Social
Hope and Social
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Sixteen years ago Rich Huxley, Simon Wainwright and Ed Waring left their student digs in Lancaster on a musical mission.

They headed straight across the Pennines.

“We wanted to find a Northern city was big and exciting but not Manchester,” explains guitarist Huxley over a lunchtime pint.

Having enjoyed gigging in Leeds, they decided to base their band in the city. “We ended up getting a house – it was a bit like The Monkees. We started being Four Day Hombre.”

The band quickly took off – their second gig was Hyde Park Unity Day; their third was at Fibbers in York supporting Irish indie rock group The Frames, whose singer Glen Hansard went on to Oscar-winning success with the song Falling Slowly from the film Once. They still bump into him every now and again. “last time we saw the Frames they hired our van, the time before that was in Chicago Airport, and before that supporting them at City Varieties. Playing with them in 1999 though, it was like watching this five-limbed being. An awesome live band. Glen’s such a great communicator”

After their demo was inadvertently entered into BBC Radio 1’s “One Music” competition (an online battle of the bands) Four Day Hombre were playlisted across BBC Radio, they appeared live on Chris Moyles and Janice Long’s shows, record labels came calling and they got themselves a manager.

However, they quickly realised the conventional music industry route of sizeable advances that the label recoups was not for them. “We ended up not signing a deal; instead we started the world’s first fan-funded label,” says Huxley. “”We went to about 20 of them and said we could form a record label and sign the band. It’s very much how we worked – we’re an ‘everyone back to ours’ kind of band. We like being friendly.”

Recording and promoting their first album, Experiments in Living, was a hard business lesson. Huxley estimates the band burned through £70,000. “We spent that money like a major record label, we were haemorrhaging cash,” he recalls. “We recorded it in our dream studio, Black Box in France, with our dream producer Dave Odlum, and we got to do some amazing things, licence the record to a label Canada, we toured there for a month and had a long weekend in New York, flying home and then back out for two weeks in California for industry showcasesI in Los Angeles and shows in San Francisco. In terms of cash though, it simply was not sustainable.”

If they were to continue they had to do things a lot more cheaply. “At the same time our then drummer [Mark Ashwell] was very unhappy, and one deeply unhappy man on tour can make it very difficult for everyone involved. It wasn’t a good time for us. When he left it felt like we either had to pack it all in and go and get a job or start afresh. We became Hope and Social.”

Huxley remembers the renamed band made a pact: “No more love songs and everything we do from now on has got to be fun. By accisdent, that became the best financial decision that we could have made.”

They also drafted in three new members – Simon Goff, Gary Stewart and James Hamilton.

The serious indie band mentality of old gave way to something more inclusive, involving their fans all the way. “It was a healthy change,” says Huxley. “From there it’s got better and better.”

Their first act was to gather a choir of fans to sing on their new record, which was recorded at their studio base in the crypt of a church at Heckmondwike.

Their second was to turn the crypt into a restaurant for the night, fans were served food and on each table were tuned wine bottles which the band recorded.

On another occasion they hired double decker buses and took fans to the seaside, stopping at places along the way where Huxley and Goff had previously married their wives.

A festive ‘Ho-Ho Hope and Social’ event involved a 200-strong choir singing Christmas carols outside Leeds Town Hall while bemused Hell’s Angels, who’d gathered for a wedding, looked on.

Another favourite experience was dishing out 2,500 kazoos to an audience at Glastonbury. “That kind of stuff that involves people – it’s not a bolt-on,” says Huxley.

Such inclusiveness extends to regular blogging and use of social media; they’ve even invited fans to pay what they will for downloads of the eight albums that Hope and Social have released since 2008. The model clearly works – they’ve raised far more from the sale of downloads and physical copies of those records than they ever saw come back from sales in HMV and via iTunes in the FDH days, with fans being willing to pay on average £7 for the music. “It’s a different time now” says Huxley, “we can have a direct relationship with fans now, and when they buy, they know that their money goes to the artist that they want to support.”

Their bonhomie has been recognised by organisers of the Grand Depart Yorkshire Festival 2014. Hope and Social wrote the theme tune for the arts festival which will lead up to the Yorkshire stages of the Tour De France. It’s called The Big Wide and is available to download free from their website.

Next up is the Tour of Infinite Possibility, which follows the route of the Yorkshire stages of the Tour De France. The band will play 12 shows in all – three a day over two weekends – and 160 community organisations have signed up to be involved, including brass bands, choirs, rollerbladers and even Burnsall Primary School.

To prepare, the band intend to stage 90 workshops beforehand. In keeping with the Tour De France theme, their stage will be cycle-powered. “There will be six fixed bikes at the side of the stage and we will harangue people to help out,” jokes Huxley. “We’ve had a few triathalon teams up for it but if they’re not there we will get whoever is at the gig to do it.”

Huxley is delighted with the set-up. “Isophase are the company providing all the PA. Their sound system is amazing,” he says. “It will sound awesome.”

In between all their day jobs – singer Wainwright runs a theatre company, drummer Stewart has his own band and plays with Ellen and the Escapades, pianist and brass player Hamilton teaches a jazz orchestra, bassist Goff works as a violinist and as part of a dance project in Berlin, Waring is a photographer and produces other bands with Huxley, who also runs a ukulele group in Goole, a songwriting group in Skipton, and is Musical Director at City Varieties Youth Theatre – they’ve also recorded a new album, The Crypt Covers, which is out on April 1.

The idea involved fans emailing suggestions of songs for the band to cover with guest artists. They then had a day in which to choose a song, rehearse and record it – while all the while blogging and filming what they did.

The resulting album form the two-year project includes Addicted to Love with Ellen and the Escapades, Ghostbusters with The Wilful Missing, A Good Heart with Chris Helme, formerly of The Seahorses, and Golden Brown with Irish artist The Duke Special.

“For me, the interesting things are getting to work with other people and sharing audiences and being exposed to new ways of working,” enthuses Huxley. “We will release the record on a pay-what-you-will basis and everything on a Crypt Covers is live blogged, letting people into our world a little bit – it’s ‘Making Internet’, like making records, but for the digital age.”

For more details visit The Tour of Infinite Possibility starts at Otley on Saturday, June 7.