I am a suspicious man.
I am suspicious of all sorts of things. Of optimism, of uniforms, of high spirits, of symmetry. If you say the words “music”, “matching outfits” and “audience participation” in the same sentence I’m either going to imagine Butlins or a cult.
But I love Hope & Social. And all my suspicious, cynical, grumpy colleagues in The Bedlam Six are, for once, in complete agreement.
The two bands played a brace of shows together last weekend, with us supporting H&S in Leeds and them supporting us in Manchester. Each event culminating in a moment where we’d all squeeze onto the stage together and play as one supergroup. It was a lot of fun.
We are as similar as we are different. On the one hand we share a lot of attributes: both independent, both largely self-sufficient, both in favour of a certain transparency of operation, of direct interaction with the audience etc. Most importantly, we all like to have a good time doing what we do.
But on the other hand we are thematically very much at odds. The songs Hope & Social write tend to have messages like “it’ll all be ok in the end” whereas I am generally of the opinion that things will get bad before they get worse. Indeed, we joked backstage that the two bands being in the same space at the same time was a bit like that episode of Red Dwarf where the crew encounter their evil and grotesque alter-egos (I’ll let you decide which band member corresponds to which character).
I guess another way of looking at it is to say opposites attract.
Now, there are two courses of action open to anyone sharing the bill with an amazing, accomplished and crowd-friendly band. You can try to outplay them – wage war and see who the audience likes best, make people take sides, maybe try to recreate that ridiculous Blur and Oasis spat from the mid-90s. Then at the end of the night you have one winner and one loser. And nothing changes. No one gets better, the world just keeps turning on its inevitable and insufferable axis.
Or you can enjoy it. Enjoy the company of like-minded souls who believe in putting on a show, who don’t mind looking silly, who are happy to admit their geekiness over the equipment they use or the orchestrations they dream up. And relish that rare occasion: the perfect event – playing with a band you can quite happily watch for an entire set without unpicking the component parts of what they do; being reminded of why you started playing music in the first place. Because we’ve all done this for a long time, we all have extraordinarily powerful bullshit filters in place. Between us we must have played every dive and dump in Britain, with every kind of joker promoter and chancer performer. We’ve got the best part of two hundred years combined gigging experience of just how cheap this country can make a musician feel. And we all still love what we do in spite of it.
I adored these two shows. I loved being a member of the crowd and putting my cynicism on hold for an evening. I loved bypassing the crippling slump in spirits I usually get before going onstage. I loved playing the barely rehearsed covers and looking around my various co-performers to see if anyone had a clue what was going on and witnessing a bunch of people giving themselves up to the enjoyment of jamming.
I just wish the nights could have gone on a bit longer!