Friday 25th March: It’s a sell-out at the Basement tonight as a favourite band (with all ages, judging by the audience) returns to York to headline what is being billed as an extravaganza. Sadly, one of the support acts, the excellent Dave Woodock and the Dead Comedians had to pull out at nearly the last minute, leading to a change in the line-up.
Standing in for the Dead Comedians, but further down the bill, is Rob Gambell, ex of Hijak Oscar and currently hailing from Canterbury. Playing acoustic guitar, Rob opened with a folky, country number which turned out to be a cover of William Elliott Whitmore’s Take It On The Chin, following that with what I think was another cover – Ben Harper’s Power Of The Gospel – and then If A Letter Makes It Better (Krissy and the Jackdaws). Switching to his own compositions, he sang Mama, I’m OK then Bucket and finished with another cover – Townes Zan Vandt’s If I Needed You. Rob used a variety of guitar styles and had a nicely clear voice along with an affable, almost nonchalant stage persona. The overall impression was of somebody singing around a campfire rather than at a gig. Personally, I found his covers to be more enjoyable than his own songs, despite the slightly humorous lyrics of Bucket, a song about loving somebody enough to look after them, which seemed to involve making sure they had something to throw up into. A pretty good start to the evening.
Rob was followed by Andy Gaines, ex of Cardboard Radio and The Runaway Sons and now a solo artist (and, I think, creative photographer and designer). No less affable, but slightly more bumbling (in the nicest possible sense of the word – “I have an EP for sale, but I have no idea where you can get it from. Just search for my name on the internet, something will come up…”) Andy seemed to be constantly trying to hide a huge grin underneath his extremely floppy fringe and was clearly having fun on stage. There was a nice mix of styles in his songs, most of which I didn’t catch the titles of. A “country-ish” number was followed by one that I can only describe as Billy Bragg sings about York. The Lights People Leave On was a jangly, catchy little number, while The Hand You Once Held was a passionate, almost angry song both musically and lyrically and was, in my opinion, the best of the set. He finished with The More Things Change, a much gentler folky song. Given Andy’s contributions to music around York, I’m surprised that this is the first time I have actually seen him perform. Hopefully, it won’t be the last. Oh, and for anybody interested, the EP is available from here.
I have waxed lyrical about Boss Caine a few times in the past but usually it’s GT Turbo/Dan Lucas performing solo under the name (presumably to avoid confusion when trying to sell CDs at gigs). Tonight, however, we were promised a few guests, making it a performance more akin to the musical collective of the name. GT started the set on his own with the song that I still don’t know the title of, but which I think is probably The Kind Of Loving (or something similar) before playing a brand new song – Ghosts And Drunks - which had been written for him by the wonderful Joe Solo and which will feature on the next album. It was a lovely yet melancholy tune which, like the best of GTs songs, both paints a picture and fits him perfectly. Another old song – Dead Man’s Suit – followed before Adam Rogowski, over from Russia, joined him on stage to provide a second guitar during Dreamer, a song which benefited from the harmonies of the two guitars by sounding more like the album version. (Roy commented that it was the best song of the evening up to that point and, as far as I know, didn’t revise his opinion.) Andy Gaines and Dom Smith then joined the pair for a welcome live debut (at least for me) of the brilliant Santiago, followed by another favourite of mine, Leaving Victoria. I have to say that I’m not sure whether the occasional sounds coming from Dom’s keyboard or Andy’s slide guitar (?) added anything to the songs, but I’m never going to complain about hearing them live. Everybody Loves You More When You’re Down On Your Knees (dedicated to “the prick currently running the country”) was another new song to me and included Vin North on harmonica, then Andy returned to the stage for the more upbeat Sha La La, a song which is at least partly about the demise of Cardboard Radio. Much was made tonight (albeit somewhat less than seriously) about the downbeat and, perhaps, depressive nature of GT’s songs. Admittedly, about half of tonight’s set was somewhat less than upbeat but, to me anyway, even the downbeat ones aren’t necessarily depressive and while some may be about the sadder parts of a life lived, they do show that it is possible to come out the other side and, maybe also show the cathartic effect of writing. Whatever, the songs remain some of my favourites of recent years and the makeup of tonight’s set, with its mix of new and old, regular and rarely heard provided a freshness to an artist that I never tire of seeing perform.
Another band that I never tire of seeing are Hope&Social who, even while recently performing more or less the same songs (new ones are just around the corner with the promise of a third album to be released in May) maintain a freshness and originality with their humour and what can only be described as on-stage antics. Opening the set with Living A Lie, with the audience joining in the frantic clapping opening, Simon seemed to forget that he, usually, performed a middle section on the keyboards, turning to stare at the brass section before exclaiming, “Do I do this bit?” Staged? Who knows. Bloody funny? Definitely! And that really set the tone for the rest of the evening. Pitching Far Too High was followed by a reminiscence of Simon hitting one audience member in a rather private area with a soup ladle (something which resonated with me given how close I was sitting to the business end of Rosie’s trombone…) A superbly extended version of Sunlight Hold Me included such delights of Rich seemingly trying to play guitar while cavorting around like somebody seen under a strobe light, Ed playing the keyboard with his palms and Simon managing to somehow prevent his microphone falling over without actually handling it. Compared to the set so far, Ripples Rock My Boat was performed uneventfully, which is not to say not brilliantly (if you see what I mean), although it might have been during it that a shout of “Zumba” (apparently “really good” in South Yorkshire) from the audience totally confused Simon. Normal service was soon resumed though when, during Red Red Rose, Simon felt the urge to get the audience involved in a Mexican wave backwards and forwards across the room, with Rich adding the suggestion that, at one end, the audience shout “Zumba, zumba” while at the other they shouted “Ooo, ooo”. Not only did we all comply but, in true pantomime fashion it developed into a competition between the two halves of the room and was soon followed by more audience participation as Simon got everybody responding to chants along the lines of, “I say Zumba, you say Ooo ooo. I say Zumba, you say Ooo, ooo, I say Zumba, you say <insert audience shouting “Ooo, ooo” here>”. Believe me, it works better when you are there. There was more to follow as the now ubiquitous acoustic version of Looking For Answers had us joining in the backing vocals for the chorus without any prompting – it has always been as much a song from the audience as it is from the band. Rich and his banjo weren’t quite ready for the beginning of A Darkness Now Is Coming which, somehow, led to Simon singing the first verse of Bon Jovi’s Living On A Prayer when Rich did start playing, before eventually giving up and singing the correct song. Add to that Ed playing an impromptu solo on his broken amplifier, matching hilarious facial expression to sounds something akin to dolphins singing while Simon Goff practically collapsed in hysterics, and James playing the trumpet between his legs (and seemingly to experience some dizziness afterwards) and you have yet another unique performance of a familiar song. The set ended with Marching On Through before continuing (or ending again) with an inevitable encore which was the only song of the evening that none of my group recognised. I’ve said before that you don’t see a Hope&Social gig, you experience it. They seem to get better every time I see them and, inevitably, this was the best so far. Truth be told, I doubt I’ve done it justice. If you fancy trying out their music, both albums are available on the above link on a “pay what you want” basis. Alternatively, if you read this and know me, ask and I’ll copy them for you (the band actively encourage it). Both albums are very good but, to be honest, the best way to experience Hope&Social is to see them live.