thu 05/12/2019

Richard Hawley, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Richard Hawley, Royal Festival Hall

Richard Hawley, Royal Festival Hall

Sheffield songsmith is a romantic at heart

Richard Hawley: romance - thwarted and otherwise - is at the heart of his lyricism

"So, we made it eventually." Having postponed this show two weeks ago due to the M1 doubling as a skating rink, Richard Hawley opened not with a song but an apology. It was hardly necessary. The sold-out Royal Festival Hall last night was prepared to forgive Sheffield's second-finest songsmith - after his chum Jarvis Cocker - almost anything.

Making it eventually could also apply to Hawley's career. After two decades and little headway he finally hit paydirt with Coles Corner in 2005, bagging a Mercury Award nomination. If he trod a little water with 2007's self-conscious sequel Lady's Bridge, he moved things on with the more sonically ambitious Truelove's Gutter, which included two tracks each clocking in at around 10 minutes.

This belated London showcase featuring old and new amply demonstrated that the bequiffed crooner is no mere Mark Lamarr-style Fifties throwback. One moment the immaculately suited 43-year-old was an aspiring Hank Marvin on "Lady Solitude", the next he was getting positively ambient on the extended play epic "Don't You Cry", complete with metronomic ticking clock motif.

Romance – thwarted and otherwise – is at the root of Hawley's lyricism. On "Ashes on the Fire", a song that wears its Nashville influence with pride, he sang about writing a love letter, only to see its charred remains in the hearth in the morning. He deadpanned that he wrote “For Your Lover Give Some Time” for his wife "to get a shag", but the tender ode, Jimmy Webb via Scott Walker, was no mere musical chat-up: "I will give up these cigarettes/ Stay at home and watch you mend the tears in your dress."

It might be Hawley’s name in lights but his incredibly disciplined band deserved plaudits as well

Hawley's most recent release has a darker hue: not on a par with Pulp's utterly bleak This Is Hardcore, yet an album where he got serious. Onstage he was more serious too. A few years ago he was cracking gags between each song like a rockabilly Les Dawson. This time the quips-with-everything approach was restricted to a few sarcastically non-PC asides that would have gone down a storm in the working men's clubs of South Yorkshire. He claimed to have been paid in ice cream when the dreamy "Open Up Your Door" was used by Häagen-Dazs and cancelled the deliveries when he saw that his wife was eating the profits and didn't want her "to be airlifted to the shops".

 

This was very much modern grown-up rock, to file alongside your Leonard Cohen and Elbow gigs – Hawley sang on the latter’s song, “The Fix”. On "Soldier On" the mood built to a heartstopping climax. He may not be the Platonic ideal of a soul singer but what he lacks in instinct he makes up for in graft. Offstage he is a grafter too, currently writing for Elvis’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley, following collaborations with Shirley Bassey and Nancy Sinatra. Not bad for the son of a steelworker.

It might be Hawley’s name in lights but his incredibly disciplined band deserved plaudits as well. Bassist Colin Elliot and drummer Dean Beresford put down the gentlest of rhythms. Jon Trier – “on keyboards and post office counter” – was a formidable presence and guitarist Shez Sheridan was undisputed king of the lap guitar.

And just when you thought you had heard it all, the old softy returned for an encore of “Hushabye Mountain” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While his lush arrangements might be more redolent of legendary producer Van Dyke Parks, Hawley demonstrated that he wasn't averse to a spot of Dick Van Dyke either.

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where you there for Neil Mc Sweeney...Sheffield's third finest wordsmith...how did the boy do? a star in the making!

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