17 Jun 2013

The Band Anyone Could Join

Dom Burch reviews Hope & Social’s A Band Anyone Can Join gig at Grassington Festival.

Thanks to The Culture Vulture website, where this article first appeared: http://theculturevulture.co.uk/blog/

What do you get if you cross a lady’s rounders team with a bunch of seven year olds in a Town Hall in Grassington? A typical night out with Hope and Social of course. They are the band anyone can join.

At first you’d be excused for thinking this was going to be like any other normal gig on a Saturday night. Electric guitars, plenty of bass and drums to boot. Loud enough to warrant leaning in to someone’s ear to make yourself heard.

However this group is anything but ordinary.

Standing proud in their bright blue jackets like a slightly dysfunctional Yorkshire brass band, Hope and Social are almost impossible to pigeon hole.

They don’t fit neatly into any musical genre. They are a cocktail of complementary ingredients – professional musicians, teachers and performers – one third rock band, one third cabaret and one third artiste, with a few extra lashings of community goodwill chucked in for good measure.

These six (youngish) men share a drive and passion to make other people happy. Having realised being in a band is bloody good fun, they’ve gone and crafted a unique way of sharing the experience by inviting everyone else to join in.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of a band like Hope and Social. They sport grins wider than the most contented of cats residing in Cheshire. And spend almost as much time having banter as they do performing their own songs. The japes are often well rehearsed like Gary Stewart (the Paul Simon looking drummer) doing his Call Me Al rendition midway through Red Red Rose, or guest saxophonist ‘Single’ John, as he was dubbed by Simon the lead-singer, breaking into the Baker Street solo in the middle of The Darkness Now Is Coming. ‘Come on ladies he’s hung over, so he’s vulnerable too,’ says Simon fishing for a date for his blushing band-mate.

The audience too are not your run of the mill gig-goers, made up of young and old (three weeks old in one case and 84 in another). Teenagers rubbing shoulders with the lovely ladies of Grassington who are serving ice creams from cinema style trays, and tea in China cups.

Everybody in equal measure though is cajoled and coerced into joining in almost from the start, with song after song requiring choral support or rhythmic clapping.

As one of the audience you grow in confidence to sing out loud. There’s safety in numbers it’s true, but there’s also the thrill of actually feeling like you are an important part of the performance, not merely mimicking the sound or slavishly singing back the lyrics on demand.

The stage at a Hope and Social gig is not a barrier or a divide as is often the case between audience and artist.

At no point is this made clearer than when the room is hushed to complete silence, even those at the back by the bar are politely shushed as Simon unplugs his guitar, the lights dim and he steps forward to the edge of the stage to sing Looking for Answers.

It is spine tingling moment.

The song, if it is to work, needs the audience to sing all of the backing harmonies. It requires a leap of faith on both parts. At first it takes you by surprise, and last night too there were a couple of bewildered expressions. Slowly people realise the beautiful choir they can hear all around are their fellow plain clothed audience members. The ones in the know feel compelled to sing even louder and with even more vigour so as to encourage those who don’t to join in and pick it up as the song develops.

Without noticing, the rest of the band at this point have left the stage and have quietly rejoined the audience from the back of the room.

All of a sudden you are part of the band, and they are part of you. Simon the lead singer jumps down into the crowd, and is joined by lead guitarist Rich parting the audience like the proverbial red sea.

Cue 20 Kazoo bearing locals, a loud hailer and a whole load of stomping to Marching On Through. And the Grassington locals who have spent the last six weeks learning chords on ukuleles and how to ring bells in time were now centre stage. Assembled pride of place to help perform the last four songs of the set, including of course an impromptu ‘I’ve got sunshine on a rainy day…’ midway through Rolling Sideways. The expressions on their faces told the entire story. For those precious moments they were playing in a rock band live on stage – but more than that, they weren’t just playing new found instruments, they were having the time of their lives with their new found friends.

Last night was a magical experience, more than a gig, and more than a show. It was a triumph in community collaboration, where everyone was invited to play an equal part in a memorable performance.

Or as one lady was overheard saying: “They’re really good aren’t they? It’s not about them, it’s about everyone else. I like that.”

If you ever get a chance to see them, I’m pretty sure you’d like that too.

A Band That Anyone Can Join
was part of the NYMAZ Musical Inclusion programme for North Yorkshire, funded by Youth Music

You can listen to the full gig on the East Leeds FM website here: http://www.elfm.co.uk/listen-again/hope-social-a-band-anybody-can-join/

Hope and Social: http://www.hopeandsocial.com/

Grassington Festival
: http://www.grassington-festival.org.uk/

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