In a previous incarnation, Hope & Social were BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles’ favourite band, now they’re Yorkshire’s Tour de France musical ambassadors for the country’s 100-day cultural festival. GRAHAM CHALMERS talks to the band’s Ed Waring and learns the secrets of their success.
These things don’t happen in real life. In real life Billy Elliott didn’t go to the Royal Ballet School.
Bridget Jones didn’t get together with the Colin Firth character.
ET never phoned home.
And Hope & Social weren’t chosen to write the official song or lead the official musical tour for The Yorkshire Festival in the build-up the opening stages of this year’s Tour de France.
Except they were.
It’s a coup which, it’s fair to say, has shocked this likable band with big hearts and big hooklines itself.
Keyboard player Ed Waring said: “We were surprised to win the role. We only applied four days before the deadline set by Welcome to Yorkshire.
“Phoenix Dance Theatre Company are a safe bet but we’re a bit of a risk, I suppose. But we do know what we’re doing. We were confident we had a bigger and better idea than anyone else.”
Having successfully come up with the stirring The Big Wide song for The Yorkshire Festival, mssrs Simon Wainwright, Rich Huxley, Ed Waring, Simon Goff, Gary Stewart and James Hamilton are now busily planning an ambitious Yorkshire-wide tour with lots of community participation which will kick off on Saturday, June 7 in Otley and takes in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon before the music stops and the cycling begins.
Called The Tour of Infinite Possibility, if anyone can pull off playing three shows a day for two whole weeks on the route of ‘Le Tour’ with various helpers from whichever town or village they happen to be in, it’s Hope & Social.
The success of this six-piece rock band in their trademark blue jackets with white trim is a triumph of effort over circumstance, belief over calculation, talent over playing the game.
Pioneers of the ‘Pay What You Want’ ethos, Hope & Social have always been a band of the people for the people.
As such they were born for their role as Yorkshire’s musical Le Tour ambassadors.
The irony of the high-profile position this most positive of bands find themselves in that their success is largely built on what they learnt from their experience of ‘failure’ in the cut-throat music industry.
Originally called Four Day Hombre when they first formed in 1999, this likable group of personalities were an exciting live act from the start.
Called the E Street Band of the indie music world by some, they prided themselves on connecting with audiences, not the coolest thing to do at the time.
From modest beginnings, (they once put on an energy-packed show for one of my ‘Charm’ nights at The Tube in Harrogate), they made rapid progress.
Ed said: “Ten different record labels came up to see us in Leeds at one early gig. When we went down to London to play The Barfly, we were told Chris Martin of Coldplay was in the audience watching us. The director of Parlophone was there, too.
“Altogether, 40 A&R people were in the audience. The venue only holds about 100.”
The band’s self-produced debut single, The First Word Is The Hardest caused such a stir when it came out in 2003 that Four Day Hombre were hailed by BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles as his favourite band in the world.
For a variety of reasons it never quite happened for Ed and his perpetually upbeat colleagues.
Like many other bands over the years, they came close to mainstream success but not close enough.
Ed said: “The problem is you end up trying to please A&R men and record companies who always advise you to change this and change that. You can lose your momentum. But in the end it’s not about pleasing them, it’s about pleasing the audience.”
Inspired partly by the rewarding experience of creating the world’s first-ever fan-funded record label to release their debut album, Four Day Hombre decided it was time for a complete rethink – and a change of name.
Talking about their new approach in 2009, the band’s chirpy guitarist and vocalist Rich Huxley summed it up succinctly on the Creative Deconstruction website:
“When we relaunched ourselves as Hope and Social, we realised that pretty much all the good that had come to us had not originated from pluggers, press companies and PR people.
“The happiest artists we know are those who directly connect with their musical world; with their fans, venues and promoters.”
The band’s back to basics approach involved giving priority to just two things, says Ed – enjoying themselves and thinking local.
“When we started again as Hope & Social, we came up with a new rule. Everything we did had to be fun.
“We also came up with a band slogan which goes ‘thinking small to think big.’
“Most bands think on a national scale and worry about making it in London. But we’ve found you can succeed better on a local level.
“The moment we decided to focus on doing things right at a local level is the point we started making money.”
Not that enjoying themselves in any way involves taking it easy. That isn’t part of the Hope & Social blueprint.
In the five years before they won their new Le Tour role from organisers Welcome To Yorkshire, the band had already released four albums, as well as building their own working studio in a church crypt.
It’s just as well Ed and the boys possess a work ethic that might have impressed even the early Beatles.
When I last talked to the band, they’d already had 150 enquiries from people hoping to join them at various points of The Tour of Infinite Possibility.
From church choirs to scout groups, brass bands to girls on roller skates, everyone wants to join them on the great tour, it seems.
Ed Said: “The whole thing is crazy. It’s actually impossible to do but we’re going to do it.
“We make records very quickly - The Big Wide took us four days to write and record - and we are used to doing things spontaneously.
“We can rock up in a moment and do it anywhere.”
Their Harrogate show will be the last gig of their tour’s first weekend. The town’s Spa Roller Girls have already booked their place and there’s more auditions taking place for would-be participants in the town’s Monteys Rock Cafe this weekend.
One thing that does worry Ed and the boys, however, is the prospect of getting on a bike again. Proud of Yorkshire and its role in this summer’s Tour de France, Ed admits cycling isn’t really Hope & Social’s strongest point.
“We had to be filmed riding bikes on the video shoot for the song. It turns out we didn’t have the legs for it. We were exhausted after 10 miles.”