There’s a pub in Sheffield called The Washington, which really should have some sort of plaque outside. Once part-owned by Nick Banks of Pulp, on any given evening you could see Phil Oakley, Steven Jones of Babybird, or Jarvis Cocker and sundry other members of Pulp drinking there.
Richard Hawley can still be spotted there in fact, a man so enamourned of his hometown that his last two albums, Lowedges and Coles Corner, have been named after districts in Sheffield. This homecoming gig at the Leadmill therefore had something of a celebratory air about it, although Hawley admitted at the start to being nervous – “probably because I know all you fuckers…and you’re all pissed…and I’m not!”. “That’s a first” came a voice from the audience. “Aye, you’re right there”, chuckled Hawley.
One thing that’s obvious straight away is the warmth and care that are lavished on these songs. Hawley’s voice is as deep and luxurious as a warm bath and his excellent band recreate the highlights from all four of his albums so far. The tempo doesn’t change much – he saves that for his Feral Cats gigs – but you don’t come to see Hawley to mosh or crowd-surf.
Songs from Coles Corner sounded particularly great tonight – the single The Ocean is an absolute gem. Although the lush strings of the single version are inevitably missing, the sheer romanticism of the song cannot fail to move. Has there ever been a more simple and touching declaration of love than “you always leave me tongue-tied…I love you just because”? If there has, I’ve yet to hear it.
Other highlights included Hotel Room, Something Is, and a gorgeous rendition of The Only Road, but it was the between song banter that made the evening so entertaining. In the unlikely event that Hawley’s songwriting skills dry up, he could easily make a second career as a stand up comedian.
In response to a request for I’m On Nights, Hawley batted back with “Are you? What are you skiving here for then, you lazy fucker? It’s thanks to people like you that the steel industry’s in such a mess”, and also told tales that his dad related to him involving a young David Bowie, a sink, and a working men’s club. It’s this intimacy that makes a Hawley gig so special.
Then, in a heartbeat, he can have you laughing uproariously before blinking back tears, as his hushed lullaby of Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet proved – a song sung to him by his mother which he now sings to his three children, he managed to stun the rowdy crowd at the Leadmill into silence with just a voice and a guitar.
Finishing with a muscular version of Run For Me from Lowedges, this was another 90 minutes of magic from Hawley. There’s a bit of a buzz around the Sheffield music scene at the moment, with Arctic Monkeys and Harrisons causing a stir and there’s a definite sense that Hawley could, at long last, be set for the big time. It couldn’t happen to a nicer feller.