Live at The Library on Thursday, 11th June 2009
Leeds based singer-songwriter Simon Wiffen, together with acoustic and vocal support from Mark Parrini, provides a packed Library audience with songs which are pure and tender. The sentiment behind Wiffen's voice reigns strong, as every finally tuned note, and every word feels like a carefully selected poem, setting an ambience capable of warming any heart. As the set builds up with personal favourites 'Life Support' and 'Lights Remain' the rawness of the lyrics are felt as he invites the audience to look deep into his soul. It is unmistakable to see that Wiffen exudes a natural talent, but despite this, there is almost a sense of vulnerability and modesty watching him perform. It is a joy to watch such an understated and humble talent.
The Jacs were next to take to the stage and without any hesitation, the band were well underway with their first offering of stomping, pop-tastic, guitar frenzied, Merseyside melodies. The opening song 'Rosie' grasped everyone's attention as a buzz about the room began to heighten. It was an instantaneous feeling of delight and excitement to see this young, sprightly four-piece execute such infectious, toe-tapping tales of being in love, sunshine, and adolescence. Their energy and enthusiasm was fresh and endearing to watch, and when meeting the band in person after their storming support slot, the same can safely be said of the lads themselves. Taken somewhat aback by the audience's attentiveness, singer Michael was grateful to be received so highly outside of their hometown of Liverpool, and with that The Jacs played the fitting 'Today's My Day'. Their amiable and charismatic nature together with simple summer-infused pop anthems made The Jacs a rapturous hit of the night.
On came Hope & Social, and immediately they infused the room with what the band have adopted to be their on-stage, and now somewhat traditional identity comprising of matching royal blue jackets trimmed in white. The band wasted no time in waiting for the roars of appreciation from the crowd to subside and went straight into their thunderous opener 'Living A Lie'. As far as first impressions go, Hope & Social were set out to make one that was both grand in scale and lasting in memory. With this in mind came the thrashing of instruments, the stretching of vocal chords, and the pounding of drums as the band gave it their absolute all in such a way that their first song could quite easily have signalled their very last. Thankfully this was not the case.
The usual four-piece were accompanied by a three-piece brass section during a selection of songs. Gary Stewart, a gifted musician across many aptitudes in his own right, provided the pounding heartbeat for Hope & Social, hitting every drum with power, purpose and precision.
As the set continued into the night, with the likes of 'Drink The Drink', 'Sunlight Hold Me', and 'Red Red Rose', the band's natural flair combined with a great sense of history of playing together is apparent. Although Hope & Social continue to set their professional targets high, with sights of this year's Glastonbury Festival just on the horizon, it is comforting to see them "let go". The evening is full of banter, story-telling and humour amongst all. Guitarist Rich, after some gentle persuasion, enthralled the crowd with his quirky rap about cold beverages. He then later made use of a certain leading brand touch-screen mobile phone by mixing into the set the infamous words of Daft Punk's 'Harder, Better, Stronger, Faster'. Gary Stewart so too added to the repartee with his comical rendition of Paul Simon's 'You Can Call Me Al'.
Hope & Social played an elegant and moving unplugged version of 'Looking For Answers'. Wainwright's vocals are thought provoking and full of passion, and when accompanied by the choir-like harmonies from the audience, a sense of unity is forged; an ideal song for any campfire setting.
Their love for playing live is easily noticeable and seems to shine at its greatest through crowd participation, this especially said during the mighty kazoo spectacle of EP track 'Buzzer Goes'. Each member of the audience is handed a small plastic kazoo in which to play when notified. Individual members are even encouraged to take to the stage and perform their 15 seconds of kazoo fame, that is, if they dare. The roars of laughter that follow are all in good faith, ensuring any contributions are much appreciated.
Before the band could even fully leave the stage, protests from the audience for an encore were far too loud to be ignored. Taking to the stage for the final time of the night, showing their gratitude, Hope & Social played the stunning 'San Francisco'.
What makes the whole live Hope & Social experience more than worthy of any entrance fee, is their innate ability to engage the audience. It is something that is programmed into them collectively as a band to perform, entertain and most importantly connect with the crowd. The brass section adds depth and character and demonstrates beautifully the dynamics of the band. The overwhelming encounter is one that fills you with joy and elation, exceeding all expectations.
To experience Hope & Social live, is to experience them at their best.
Simon Wiffen is a solo acoustic singer/songwriter from Leeds.