Tribute to The Hoax

You might never see the Hoax again. That’s quite a thought. What if, in years to come, someone asked you to analyse the band which almost broke the mould? Where would you start? What would you emphasise?
I’d start by describing a moment which summed up my love affair with the music of this unique band. It was the moment I felt compelled to confess to Jon Amor that I, the most hardened and cynical of rock journalists, a slave to rock music for over thirty years, had never, ever seen a better band. Well, I’d had a few drinks, but like a declaration of passion, it had to be said. Jon looked slightly startled, maybe even blushed slightly, then responded: “Gosh, that’s quite a tribute.” He knew it was genuinely meant; and he wasn’t so modest that he didn’t believe it. The Hoax is the best band I have ever seen.
Or rather, was the best band. Because, unless you catch one of their farewell shows next month, you’ve had it. The Hoax have decided to go their separate ways. The dream is over. The band which seemed destined to do what few other bands have done before – take on the music industry and win – has done what so many others have also been forced to do: admit defeat.
Think back to what made the Hoax so unique, and try to explain it. Well, they were sort of blues based, but there was some hard rock in there as well. And some funky stuff. People kept arguing about them. Why were they so bloody loud? All right for the band, they always wore ear plugs. Apparently it was all something to do with Jesse Davey’s Leslie cabinet, which needed a certain volume to function properly. Who cares, we didn’t mind the volume anyway, once we’d got used to it.
And then there was their image. Do you suppose they thought about it, or was it pure chance that they were so stylish despite being not stylish at all? Believe it or not, people would hold endless discussions about whether Jesse should cut his hair, whether Jon’s baggy suits were appropriate to the kind of music he was playing, whether Robin really should be wearing sunglasses on stage.
And the playing: Hours of innocent debate would centre on who was the better of the two guitarists. Acknowledging that both were brilliant, everyone who ever saw the Hoax would have an opinion. Was there any sense of rivalry on the stage? Not as far as anyone could tell. On the face of it, Jesse was the more flamboyant while Jon was content to be slightly more straightforward but possibly more emotionally committed. Who can tell? Like everyone else, I have an opinion, but I’m not about to divulge it.
And which party piece was the better? The full scale stage front guitar battle, or the later effort in which they played each other from behind, as it were?
Guitarists, guischmarsists. What was the magical element that drummer Mark Barrett brought to the band which enabled them to take such a quantum leap forward when he joined them prior to the “Humdinger” album? Why, at the same moment, did Robin Davey decide to depart from the role of taciturn bassist and start careering round the stage since no bassist since, frankly, Captain Sensible? And how on earth did High Coltman summon up such depths of emotion from both harmonica and voice on the stunning “Don’t Shake My Hand” night after night after night? My theory is that still waters run deep and they don’t run much deeper than Hugh.
So this short story is over, and perhaps it’s better that way. Here’s a summary: Robin and Jesse Davey met Hugh at Great Cheverell Primary school. Jon had already departed for Levington Comprehensive School, where all four of them worked on their blues obsession. They were called the Hoax from the start, and with their third drummer, Dave Raeburn, they were spotted by Mike Vernon at the Boar’s Head in Wickham. They had already recorded a commercially-available cassette, and this formed the basis of the first Code Blue album “Sound Like This”. It almost looked as if the breakthrough was going to be achieved instantly, as Mark Cooper, who reviewed the album for “Q”, also booked the Hoax onto Later with Jools Holland. But, in time-honoured music business fashion, it soon started to go pear shaped on the recording front. The clearer identity the band sought to display on the second album “Unpossible” wasn’t to the liking of the record company, which demanded a rethink and – unbelievably – three potential singles.
Pleasingly, the Hoax actually achieved their greatest success after regrouping and setting up their own entirely independent operation. They armed themselves with the incalculable advantage of the ideal drummer, Mark Barrett joining them from a band which had supported them in Lincoln, from where he was destined to commute until the end. Turning down several proffered deals, they instead formed Credible Records. As Robin said: “To do what we wanted to do, we needed total freedom.” The “Humdinger” album and its spin-off video represented the nearest the Hoax would get to conveying their live magic on record. Nonetheless, they had hoped for more. American deals were not forthcoming and the enemy of all creativity – economics – reared its ugly head.
Thinking about this tribute has given me that chance to listen back to most of the Hoax’s recorded output. “Sound Like This” now sounds misconceived, an attempt to make them sound like “just a blues band”, which was always out of the question. “Humdinger” is acknowledged as a triumph, perhaps an appropriate note on which to bow out. But, amazingly, “Unpossible”, despite the fraught circumstances of its creation, throws up all sorts of Hoax possibilities. “Fistful of Dirt” (retained in the live set almost until the end) was an essential dirty-sounding grunge lope for which Jon Amor wrote the sinister lyrics. “Will Be True” points to a whole soul area which largely remained unexplored, while “Realisation Dawns” can easily be interpreted as a gigantic metaphor for the band’s disillusionment with the industry.
Another matter which made the Hoax unique was their extraordinary self-sufficiency. So talented are the individuals involved that they had no need for designers, producers, video makers, animators, agents or publicists; they could do it all themselves. The indefinable something which made their stage shows so intriguing was a stage-audience connection which made you feel part of the show as well as being in awe of the performance. And it has been well-documented how each member of the band liked to observe the audience almost as keenly as the audience observed the band. Not to mention, of course, the thorny old “Is it blues?” question. The answer is yes, by the way.
On the early Hoax track “Wake Me Up”, Hugh admits that “Everyone tells me ‘Get a Job and Cut Your Hair'”. They’ve mostly done the latter, but is it likely that any of the Hoax will, inconceivably, quit music altogether? At first, that seemed possible but, according to Robin, both Jon and Hugh are working on new musical projects, Hugh from a new base in France. Jesse, Robin and Mark plan to stay together; as Robin says, “Jesse and I never considered doing anything other than music”. The unique pot-pourri that threw up the Hoax could never be recreated, but maybe, just maybe … for once, the parts could be greater that the whole.
From Blueprint magazine, October 1999

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