Richard Hawley is finally coming into his own.
With a move to Mute and a showcase gig for an invited audience, it’s surely (finally) possible to talk about Hawley other than by referring to his past record with some rather famous bands.
But history’s a very important part of the Hawley persona, and especially the Hawley sound, coming from a family steeped in music from the ’50s and ’60s.
One family member being Uncle Frank, the unsung hero of the guitar break in Dave Berry and The Cruisers‘ The Crying Game. (Usually listed as Jimmy Page, and credited to Jim Sullivan on the Dave Berry website, Hawley swears it was his uncle, who couldn’t be named as he wasn’t in the Musicians Union…)
But I digress. Suffice to say that the young Hawley grew up surrounded by people playing rock’n’roll, rockabilly, country and blues and it wasn’t long before he had the first of many guitars slung round his neck (it was his father’s, who once played with Eddie Cochrane).
The venue was… the Venue Theatre, off Leicester Square, “the friendliest theatre in London” according to the barman. It certainly seemed so when a diverse bunch of music journalists, friends and the odd famous face gathered to hear a preview of songs from Hawley’s forthcoming album, Coles Corner (out 6 September).
It was also the launch of a series of events organised by Rough Trade’s Albums Club, introduced by Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq. The DJ and Hawley kicked off the evening perched on a couple of very spindly chairs, with a chat about the past and the inspiration for the new album.
Coles was a big department store in Sheffield, and the meeting place for generations of Sheffield friends and lovers, young and old. Coles closed in 1969, and there’s no sign, but people still say “meet you at Coles Corner”. So as Hawley says, it still exists somewhere in hearts and minds. He’s been gathering stories from people who remember meeting there, and tells us some of them – including one about a couple who met there, hit it off and are still married 40 years later. “You really are a romantic, aren’t you,” says Lamacq. Hawley grins and hangs his head. “Fook off.”
There’s not much doubt about it though, despite the overall black and longer, slicked-back hair that could have come straight from a ’50s still. This is the man on who, on coming home after a long tour of America, was reduced to tears by the sight of a bottle of sauce – Sheffield delicacy Henderson’s Relish – on his kitchen table.
The song Coles Corner was written while pushing his son on the swings, he says – that’s what gave it the 6/8 rhythm. There’s a pause while we all think about this. “I was pushing him quite high”, he smiles. “I had to put him in the double buggy,” – cries of “Posh!” from the audience – “steam home, hand the kids over to my wife and rush upstairs to write. And there’s nowt posh about me, love – I haven’t got a range of designer clothes named after me, I’ve got a fucking pint.” The result, as we hear a little later, is a rich, warm, optimistic song tinged with sadness – “Maybe there’s someone waiting for me / With a smile and a flower in her hair.”
“There’s nowt posh about me. I haven’t got a range of designer clothes named after me, I’ve got a fucking pint.”
– Richard Hawley
Posh or not, it’s time for Hawley to take to the stage with his band, and give us a taster of the new album. Just to get us in the mood though he kicks off with one of loveliest songs from second album, Late Night Final – Baby, You’re My Light. It tells us that his velvet voice is better than ever, and it’s going to be a good evening.
The title track of the new album follows, and we’re bowled over. It’s Hawley as we know and love him but with a bigger sound, the keyboards floating above his deep voice, the rhythm hypnotic and lovely. And it’s very, very romantic. Another oldie from Late Night Final next, the bitter-sweet Something is… in a jazzier version than on the album.
Then comes what will be the first single from Coles Corner, out in August. The Ocean starts quietly and creeps up on you, ending as a grand wash of sound. Not standard single material, one would think, but certainly gorgeous. Here In My Arms includes a stunning Hawaiian guitar break and long-time band member Colin Elliott kicking up a storm on double bass.
The rest of the band is in fine form too – Shez Sheridan on lead guitar and lap steel, Andy Cook on drums and John Trier on keyboards. Shez and Colin provide some great backing vocals on Coming Home, an upbeat new song, and Shez reminds us that Hawley isn’t the only one with some talent in the guitar department.
The romantic label is further reinforced by Darling Wait for Me – a slow croon and a real tear-jerker. A song from Hawley’s last album Lowedges follows – Oh My Love. It sounds so good live it will prompt me to go back that album – I think I’ve underestimated it.
Wading Through The Waters Of My Time features Shez on lap steel, looking the part in embroidered denim shirt. “Lets kick some shit!” says Hawley, and indeed they do. Rockabilly for today. And then the last song, with a Hawaiian guitar intro, Keep Me In Your Heart. There are six different guitars on stage, not counting Colin’s bass – three each for Richard and Shez – and they all get a good workout.
That in theory is it, but of course we get an encore – a charming, simple lullaby that Hawley says has crossed the Atlantic at least twice, and that he now sings to his own kids. (Lucky kids.) The real last song is another old favourite, The Nights Are Cold. And then it’s time for all of us, including the band and Richard Hawley himself, to get stuck into some pints of real ale – Coles Corner, no less.
So it’s all looking good for the future. The retro sound is growing in confidence, the voice is getting even better – when you need a break from the jagged edges of modern life, Richard Hawley has to be the perfect relaxant. And I got all the way to the end of this without mentioning The Longpigs or Pulp, which is just as it should be. Hawley stands alone.