It was a family affair at the 100 Club. If anyone was expecting the recorded sound of Richard Hawley – so lazy and laid back it’s like a stoned cat stretching – the announcement that he and his band, the splendidly named Feral Cats, would be joined by Richard’s Uncle Frank might have made them think again. That’s Frank White of Dave Berry and The Cruisers, who had a Top 5 hit with The Crying Game.
Considering that was back in 1964 Uncle Frank – who Richard Hawley says taught him all he knows about guitar playing, and that’s a lot – is looking very good indeed.
Before that guest appearance however there was plenty to enjoy right from the start. “I usually do quite mellow stuff, as a couple of you probably know… but not tonight.” Hawley is such an endearingly modest figure, totally without pretension. “All those people sitting over there (talking to those decorously seated at the tables to the right of the stage) – please come here and join in. We’re going to rock!”
We’re in the cool cavern of the 100 Club to see him have fun, ably backed by the four-piece Feral Cats – keyboards, guitar, drums and a double bass that has obviously travelled the world by the scratches on it (and that’s just the instrument).
Gone is the slow, deep, softer-than-silk voice we know and love. Instead Hawley the unreconstructed rock & roller is a new revelation, the voice going up an octave and showing it has much more steel to it that you could possibly imagine.
They kick off with a fast and heavy Tell Me Mama. This is classic rock & roll, the like of which most of this audience of thirty-somethings can’t have heard live before (though a good few of them do sport ’50s haircuts and Buddy Holly glasses, so I may be way off beam there.)
A bluesy Train Arriving is next (featuring the long black train that appears in Late Night Final) – again, classic but we start to notice that the guitar playing from the Feral Cat is wild, and giving the sound a completely modern twist.
There are covers of Fats Domino, Little Walter, Little Richard, Johnny Horton – and 50 years after Elvis Presley recorded it, That’s All Right, Mama. Hawley throws in the occasional slow one (“this is one you can smoke to”) but observes that we really like it fast and furious. “So do I” he says, and he’s not lying. He may have been up half the night before – “the neighbours threw a street garage party… on a Tuesday. What’s all that about, then?” – but he’s got enough energy to light up the whole of Oxford Street.
The addition of Uncle Frank to the stage ups the tempo further. It’s a real delight to see Hawley standing back and admiring the pro in action – in fact he’s so busy watching he almost misses his harmonica cue.
What a thoroughly enjoyable gig. You really can’t beat genuine enthusiasm for the music, especially when combined with these musical talents. The Feral Cats may look like an assorted bunch of miscreants but they sure can play. Terrific to see this side of Richard Hawley too – though I hope he doesn’t give up on the dodgy cowboy songs. The mellow notes on this occasion were mostly left to his mate John Naylor, who supported with a short but sweet set of his own songs – lovely bluesy melodies with the simplest of acoustic guitar.