Everything comes to he who waits, runs the old adage. Richard Hawley’s back story is well-told by now (forever overshadowed guitarist in The Longpigs and Pulp, before word-of-mouth cult solo success blossomed into a Mercury nomination six years after his debut), but it never fails to warm the cockles of the hearts of long-term Hawley fans to see how far he’s travelled.
Before he stepped in front of an adoring City Hall crowd, it was Kate Walsh’s job to warm up the crowd with her intimate half-hour set. Walsh’s success has been built on iTunes, her self-released album knocking Take That off number one on downloads alone. This success has prompted Mercury to sign her up, and Tim’s House is re-released officially next month.
Standing before a half-empty City Hall (Richard Hawley fans like the bar) with an acoustic guitar clutched in hand, Walsh looked understandably nervous, but as soon as her songs started, those nerves seemed to disappear. Her songs are fragile, quiet and often desperately longing, and numbers such as Don’t Break My Heart and Tonight just ache with vulnerability.
Walsh also has a nice way with audience banter, entertaining with tales of how she slagged off inhabitants of her home town, only to find herself quoted in the Guardian (“it’s ok, nobody there reads the Guardian”), or sheepishly apologising for tuning up between songs. It’s fair to say the acoustic versions of these songs would sound better in a little club or bar rather than the huge space of the City Hall, but by the time the lovely closing track of Your Song had rolled around, there were a fair few people waiting in the foyer to gain a signed copy of Tim’s House.
After a rather excellent pre-gig mix tape consisting of John Barry and Ennio Morricone tracks, the lights dimmed and it was time for one of Sheffield’s favourite sons to take to the stage. After a bit of teasing the audience about the evening’s international football score (“I’m not telling you the score…”), Hawley leaned into the microphone to intone “let’s rock”.
Of course, rocking out is the last thing you’d expect at a Richard Hawley gig. His excellent four-piece backing band are musicians in the proper sense of the word, lavishing care and attention of every note, with the amount of classic vintage guitars being brought on stage by the trusty roadie simply staggering. The swooning Valentine made for a lovely set opener, followed by Lady’s Bridge highlight Roll River Roll.
With five albums now to choose from, the set-list was pretty varied, although there was obviously more emphasis placed on the more recent Coles Corner and Lady’s Bridge material. One nice touch was the inclusion of oldie Darling Wait For Me, introduced with the frankly staggering snippet of information that the song was written when Hawley was just 16 years old. The tempo was also raised from the usual ballads by Serious, I’m GonnaFind Someone To Love Me and a glorious Tonight The Streets Are Ours
Onstage, Hawley is a proper entertainer. It’s not just the songs, as magnificent as they are. It’s the mirror ball sparkling over the stage, casting magical shards of light on the audience, and best of all, it’s Hawley’s jokes and stories inbetween songs.
Tonight, we were treated to thoughts on Sheffield’s expensive new railway station redevelopment (“It’s brilliant, but it looks like the world’s most expensive urinal”), the smoking ban (“it’s the Nazi aspect of it that gets me…”), and appeals for the Samaritans (“you’ll see ‘em walking round with buckets, please give generously. Because, let’s face it, you may need to give ‘em a ring later after listening to this shite…”). All that plus jokes about men masturbating at the doctors and collapsing balconies…
The encore saw a guest spot from Mancunian harmonica player Clive Mellor, who Hawley met in a pub in Manchester (“yeah, what a surprise, I know…”) who shone during a cover of the Hank Williams standard I’m So Lonely I Could Cry, before a storming version of The Ocean (with the trusty keyboard doing a pretty good job of recreating the studio version’s huge string section) finished off proceedings.
“Thank you, Sheffield. I love you” said a genuinely touched Hawley as he left the stage. And Sheffield loves you too, Richard.