Pete, the lead guitarist for York-born rock band Hello Operator, has one foot up on the MDF table we’re gathered around and is air-wailing to Guns ‘n’ Roses. He appeals jovially to the surrounding tables to join in. It’s 11pm on a Thursday night in Hackney’s Wetherspoon’s and the joint is pretty busy, yet no one is paying Pete any attention.
What the groups of drinkers sitting around us don’t realise is that the people they’re carefully ignoring are a band set to be a Pretty Big Deal. Maybe they’re misled by the salt of the earth Yorkshire accents and down to earth demeanour of these four lads.
Or maybe, to be fair, they’re avoiding making eye contact with what is clearly a pretty drunk group of people. Because Hello Operator, their friends and their girlfriends really are quite smashed. In the forty-five minute recording we have, at least a third is taken up by Max (vocals) and Pete’s lavish Cockney and Scouse imitations. Another third is banter. Which is a problem when it comes to deciphering what is and isn’t true…
“Destruction got us together” Max assures me: “I had a girlfriend and Pete tried getting with her so we had a fight on the back field.”
“He went home with a broken nose” deadpans Pete.
For all their taking the piss, Hello Operator are totally incapable of insincerity when it comes to the nitty gritty: the music. When we express our love of their sound (and it really is love – their set in the unassuming basement of the Sebright Arms is one of the best we see all year) the band are charmingly humbled.
“We had a fight on the back field.”
“Let’s not try and blow away from compliments” Pete intones, fixing us with a serious stare, “we love what we do and it means a lot to us for people like you to say you appreciate it. We’re not in this [industry] to go out and have people say we’re great. We’re in it because it’s music that we love to play. It’s very honest is what the music is…and if people say they enjoy it then that’s a massive buzz for us.”
Such modesty from a band who have had a BBC Radio 1 track of the week, played Leeds/Reading Festival and landed a recording deal with Sony ATV. And with visceral screamers of tunes like Vex Money and Operator Hour joining their incredibly popular debut Stephanie, it’s difficult to imagine a world in which people don’t enjoy their music.
This is rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form: lyrics, riffs and licks that evoke sex, drugs and screaming motorcycles in a cathartic crescendo all brought together by the gravelly yowl of frontman Max.
Their gig is in-keeping with this bespoke brand of testosterone. Glasses lie smashed among the cables at the foot of the stage as those in the front row steady themselves against the surge of the crowd with baseball boots planted on speakers.
But back to the banter…
Max and Pete – who share story-telling duties to a degree of almost rehearsed unity – are telling us about an awkward moment they shared with Ethan, the drummer for Welsh trio Tibet.
After asking if he could borrow their drum things at a gig they both play in October, Ethan reportedly makes a tremendous faux pas: “he was like ‘you know what I hate? I hate Northerners’” Max smirks.
If true, then suffice to say: poor Ethan is quite accent-deaf.
“We lent him the drums but we told him it’s about time he walked off before he got himself hurt” grins Pete.
Proud Northerners though they are, Hello Operator are keen to avoid a narrow world view. “We could play the best gig in York and think ‘Jesus Christ, that was amazing’, but then you just go home and get an Ovaltine…”
“But then you just go home and get an Ovaltine…”
Pete picks up on this amusing image provided by Max (it’s hard to imagine the wild-haired frontman cradling anything but a whiskey): “everyone prides themselves on how well they can do in York…but then you go anywhere else and realise: York is a miniscule place. You have to look at the bigger picture.”
London, for one, are delighted by Hello Operator’s drive to transcend the confines of their hometown. The Sebright Arms gig is an extraordinary show of talent, and culminates in a mad stage invasion led by an army of the band’s Yorkshire friends.
What else does this ambition mean for the troupe of rockers?
“There’s a big plan going forward. 2017 is going to be a big year.” Pete is serious again, and if there’s one thing we can take seriously, it is Hello Operator’s ability to make records. First stop: EP Love is a Loan which barrels from tune to tune in a rush of floor-stomping riffs.
This, combined with the popularity of their live shows and upward trajectory of fans, testimony to the fact that they won’t go unnoticed in Wetherspoon’s for very much longer.
Watch this leather-clad space.
Shit Band Names
Pete: Stood in the Room Waiting is one name. A lot can happen in a night is another name. The Stool That Cannot Stand. The Jolly Rodgers: “we do pirate rock.”
Eddy: Wet Lettuce.
Eddy: Chorizo, lemonade, pack of twenty.
By Jess Atkinson and Uchenna Aniedu, for a new initiative for young musicians set to launch in 2017.