A highlight of Micah P Hinson’s recorded music is the lap steel guitar that appears on tracks such as Beneath The Rose and You Lost Sight On Me. When he appeared at Bristol’s Venn Festival last year, however, he played those songs without any lap steel. He’d flown from Texas with an average-sized band, but it was easy to understand how one more instrument could’ve rendered the whole journey financially impossible – he was hardly a household name. (Gasps went round the audience back then: “My God! Just how hard up is he? Is that a Squier Telecaster he’s playing?”)
Micah – pronounce it My-kah – still isn’t a household name, and there’s still no lap steel guitar. Tonight it’s just him, and an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica player. But Micah’s voice is deep and rich and heartrending – think Johnny Cash in better tune – and his presence has the kind of simplicity most singer-songwriters are damned to strive towards forever.
So, the sound is stark – but it turns out the harmonica player has brought more than expected. As Micah asks, “and when you sleep, what do you see – a million stars to wish upon, or just me?”, the shabby man beside him twiddles knobs on some homemade, suitcase-sized box. Delayed effects hiss from this box, complement the music (unlike the harmonica, which unfortunately jars with Micah’s guitar). Before he leaves, Micah suggests those in the audience who don’t already own his album buy a copy here to “help get [the shabby harp player and him] down the road”. But more than anything, they should buy a copy for their own good.
And then: “Are you up for it?” Richard Hawley asks. “Let’s ballad!”
Yes, he plays a melancholic music, as with Micah, but the five-piece arrangement sounds lavishly layered compared with what’s come before. Keyboards give out lush strings and usher in Coles Corner. Naturally, brushed drums, a warm double bass, and reverb-drenched tremolo guitars set the rest of the tone. We’re in formal wear and at candlelit tables. It’s a dream. We’re somewhere in ’50s Las Vegas-cum-Blackpool, watching the best lounge act that never was.
Richard Hawley’s music suggests as many melodies as it presents. It all seems so easy. It’s a real effort, of course, to get things to seem this easy. Hawley rightfully expresses envy at guitarist Shez Sheridan’s playing ability, and Shez rightfully looks very happy with himself. Sheridan also plays beautiful lap steel tonight, which helps make up for its absence on Micah’s songs. Sheridan also co-wrote the standout Darlin’ Wait For Me – and honestly, somehow its guitar lines seem to glide more magically here than they do on record.
Richard Hawley’s banter is a down-to-earth contrast to the music – but it sometimes feels (perhaps in keeping with a lounge act) as if he tries a little too hard in this direction. It goes down well with the bulk of this capacity crowd, but he doesn’t seem to realize his songs are enough. When he pushes aside the between-song routine for a straight line, the effect is marked: “This song is about addiction,” he tells us, before Hotel Room begins.
Hawley also tells us that he was last in town in ’93. If you want to know more, if you’re curious about anything to do with Richard Hawley in fact, visit his website. He’s an active member of the forum. It appears he’s on an admirable mission to be the most accessible pop star ever – but again, it mostly pales against the music.
Tonight he leaves with a rockabilly number (That’s All Right). It’s one more dream. We’re still in the ’50s. Reason enough to catch him live.