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 that 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 out 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 Falling Slowly from the film Once. They still bump into him every now and again.
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 in 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 showcases 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 accident, 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 before, 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 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.”
www.hopeandsocial.co.uk. The Tour of Infinite Possibility starts at Otley on Saturday, June 7.