I’m surprised it’s taken so long for Richard Hawley to step out of the shadows. For way too long, he’s provided guitar for other people’s records, or been a player in someone else’s band (like Britpop also-rans The Longpigs, and latterly in Pulp). Somewhere along the line he must have decided that it might be a good idea to be a frontman in his own right, and what a good idea that was.
However, it’s also taken quite a long time for people to catch up with Hawley and his wonderful late night smoky bar-room crooner-with-guitars music. As a Time Out journalist amusingly confessed this week “had Richard Hawley been a party, his lights would long since have been turned up and his stereo unplugged” by the time she arrived. But she’s not the only one. His latest album Coles Corner has been his highest profile one to date, and this is easily his biggest London gig (maybe his biggest ever headline show?). So there are clearly quite a few people who have only recently discovered his charms. But one of the good things about being in that position is that you’ve got three delicious previous albums to discover as well.
Hawley is doing something quite unique in modern music. Whilst the youngsters are spiking up their guitars and bringing out the retro synths, Richard’s slicking back his hair, putting on a suit and revelling in his heroes of a bygone age – Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Scott Walker, Sinatra and Hank Williams no doubt among them. His voice is rich and melancholic, and his songs are infused with Americana, but passed through the filter of his Sheffield home, which means that they evoke a Northern working men’s club, more than a Southern honky tonk. And I need to mention his band too. Virtuoso musicianship isn’t always what pop music needs, but here it’s just right. They’re all so tight and so good, and it works quite marvellously. Contributions like an ancient slide guitar and a classic stand up bass add nicely to the set-up.
Hawley’s showmanship isn’t just confined to his singing and musicianship. He also treats us to his foul-mouthed acerbic northern wit, telling dodgy jokes, amusing stories from Sheffield, and giving withering put-downs to any fool who dares to heckle (sample: to someone who shouts that they don’t like country music – “I don’t know what makes you tick pal, but I hope it’s a bomb”). And more seriously, he dedicates the lovely You Don’t Miss Your Water… to the late Grant McLennan.
There’s so much to enjoy here. Lush ballads, late night pop, extended rock-outs (betraying his indie rock roots a little), rockabilly, an impromptu cover of Long Black Veil, and to end it all a brilliant knees-up rendition of It’s Alright Mama which gets the whole place on their feet (with a little encouragement from the man himself, mind). He certainly rose to the big occasion. It’s probably the best I’ve seen him – a gig to put a tingle in the spine, and a swoon in the step. And you know, it’s still not too late to turn up to his party.
Discover Richard Hawley here...
From Coles Corner (2005)
Download: Richard Hawley - Coles Corner
Download: Richard Hawley - Hotel Room
Buy Coles Corner
From Lowedges (2003)
Download: Richard Hawley - You Don’t Miss Your Water (Till Your River Runs Dry)
From Late Night Final (2001)
Download: Richard Hawley - Baby You’re My Light
Buy Late Night Final
From Richard Hawley (2001)
Download: Richard Hawley – Happy Families
Buy Richard Hawley
More Richard Hawley gig photos on my Flickr...