AFTER a year of living under the pandemic cloud, The Howl & The Hum’s Sam Griffiths is judging his mood by a combination of his mental health and what TV programme is catching his eye.
“So, at the moment, I’m very well, and I’m watching Gordon Ramsay, and it does seem that everyone is feeling a little more positive,” says Sam, who will be feeling all the better for the announcement that his ground-breaking York band will play a live-stream concert at York Minster on May 25 from 8pm to 9.30pm.
The last time he graced a York stage with The Howl & The Hum, he was wearing angel wings with a nod to Christmas and Nativity plays at The Crescent in December 2019.
Might we see those wings again in the Nave of northern Europe’s largest medieval Gothic cathedral? “I feel like that’s been done,” says frontman Sam, whose show announcement promises “a unique set to compliment the unique venue”.
“We’re thinking about a different way to approach it because it’s probably the most important gig we’ve done. Definitely no animal sacrifices and no indoor fireworks! But we do have a lot of exciting plans, though some of them I can’t tell you!”
York’s long-standing independent promoters Please Please You, independent York grassroots venue The Crescent and legendary Leeds venue and promoters The Brudenell [Social Club] are teaming up with the Chapter of York to present this one-off live performance by the York alternative rock outfit.
Confirmed at the fourth attempt of settling on a date, the show will be live-streamed at 20:15 (GMT) via ticket.co, and depending on Covid-19 restrictions at the time, a “very limited socially distanced audience may be able to attend”.
Indoor performances with reduced capacities could re-start from May 17 under the Government’s four-step roadmap, and so updates on this possibility will be delivered exclusively via the band’s mailing list.
What’s more, this concert could turn into the first in a series of York Minster shows promoted by Joe Coates (Please Please You) and Nathan Clark (manager of The Brudenell), “though they will first see how this one goes,” says Sam. Watch this space.
So much happened for The Howl & The Hum last year, headlined by the May release of their debut album, Human Contact, but so much more should have happened until the pandemic tore up their diary.
“All the post-album tour plans were scrapped, hundreds of shows; that all got decapitated. Our jobs were deemed ‘unviable’ by the Government, and so many friends, musicians, technicians, sound engineers, are still not working, so we’ve got friends involved in our show,” says Sam.
“Joe and Nathan, and friends who are musicians, will help on the day, so this our attempt at rebirth and rejuvenating our corner of the music world, and we’ll be able to pay them properly and fairly.”
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Sam, bassist Brad Blackwell, guitarist Conor Hirons and drummer Jack Williams have all supported themselves through the past year by returning to past jobs when Covid measures permitted: Sam as a barman at the Cardigan Arms in Leeds; Brad and Conor in the Rafi’s Spicebox warehouse and Jack at Bettys in York.
“It’s been a really strange in-and-out time, but we’ve been in the privileged position of being able to regain employment,” says Sam.
Meanwhile, The Howl & The Hum have not gone into hibernation. “We’re now at the stage of discussing second album deals, and giving ourselves a wage again, and we’ve got a lot done, which lends itself to our mental health being healthier,” says Sam.
“We’ve been lucky that we’ve had the opportunity to go to our studio because it’s our place of business, so we’ve been there over the past nine months, wearing masks and social distancing.
“We’re in the studio four or five days a week this year with no distractions because there’s nothing else to do.”
Sam anticipates The Howl & The Hum releasing two themed EPs “not too far away”, over the months ahead. Will Covid loom large in the subject matter? “It’s a fine line, because I don’t think you can ignore what’s been happening,” he says.
“There’s no way to pretend it’s not happening, but it’s a challenge to address it in an interesting way, though I’ve always written about isolation. Some songs do allude it, some don’t.”
New material may well feature in the May 25 live-stream. “I reckon it will,” says Sam. “We’re really proud of these songs. They’re sounding almost irritatingly good! We really like them; I’m 80 per cent sure some will be in the Minster setlist.”
That setlist will be built around debut album Human Contact, whose prescient title chimed with pandemic times as such contact became more restricted, even barred, through the alienating cycle of pandemic lockdowns.
“At the time it came out, the title was a good line for the press and the press release, though I was worried it was going to haunt us and it would be seen as a joke, a bit of a throwaway, a sly little reference point, but at the end of the day, we were calling it Human Contact because it was about distance in the digital age.
“We’ve had people finding us on social media and telling us about their experiences, about love at this time. It has hit home in more ways than we would have expected, when we suddenly have no idea how to behave as humans towards each other.
‘“Human Contact’ has now taken on such a meaning in itself that the songs seem to resonate even more.”
The Howl & The Hum will be the first rock act to play York Minster since York singer-songwriter Benjamin Francis Leftwich on March 29 2019. What advice on performing there would Ben pass on to Sam, who happened to be busy co-writing songs on Zoom on the day of this interview?
“If he asked me, I would say, ‘sing from your heart, perform like your life depends on it, though I would advise that for all gig nights, and pray in your own way, whether you’re religious or not; just surrender to it,” he suggests.
This will not be the first time Sam has sung in the Minster. “I went to one of the Easter services there, in the congregation, singing along…to very few people around me, if any were looking at me at all! This time they’ll all be looking at me!” he says.
The cathedral setting will have an impact on The Howl & The Hum’s performance. “I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be religious, but there’s definitely a spiritual feeling to it, and the Minster is such an iconic representation of a city that has been so good to us: the city that gave me a fresh start ten years ago,” says Sam.
“Also, I think it was the week I moved to York that Laura Marling played the Minster, and I love the CD she released of that concert.”
A blue sky greeted The Howl & The Hum on the day they lined up for their Minster photoshoot. “It’s the press shot for a York band!” says Sam. “We were very aware we were there, standing outside the Minster, because we’re not comfortable as models…but it is one of my very favourite buildings.”
Looking ahead to the prospect of gigs resuming from the summer onwards with crowds, The Howl & The Hum have September shows in place for Paris, Milan, Zurich, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cologne and Antwerp, along with 13 British dates in October that will culminate in two nights at Leeds Brudenell Social Club, close to where Sam now lives, on October 30 and 31.
“It will be such a burst of joy to play to audiences again,” he says. “I think ‘overwhelming’ will be the word for how everyone will feel as we try to make our way through the first song.”
Live-stream tickets for May 25 are on sale via thehowlandthehum.com/.
Did you know?
THE Howl & The Hum’s guitarist, Conor Hirons, designs the band’s artwork. “He’s self-taught,” says Sam. “He basically got bored on tour, got himself an iPad to draw with, and now he’s so in demand he’s designing everyone’s posters and artwork.”