For five months now, Richard Hawley’s Further has provided a fitting soundtrack to my travels north, south, east and west, the amount of personal playbacks fast approaching those previously afforded the artist’s landmark Coles Corner, Lady’s Bridge and Truelove’s Gutter LPs, getting me from A to B and the sea in style.
That’s included regular trips over t’ tops to his beloved Sheffield, but I’ve found our Richard – now two decades into an amazing solo career – sounds just as good in Cornish, Lancashire and Surrey settings, those beautifully-crafted songs proving universal.
The man himself suggested at Mountford Hall on Tuesday night that he feels he can say more about his true feelings in cities like Liverpool, Manchester and his own South Yorkshire birthplace, that after his withering dismissal of the ‘wrecking ball’ PM in charge of our political destiny right now (quickly changing that description to something more choice and even more apt, clearly warming to his theme).
He’s possibly right about reactions elsewhere, but if you’re reading this, Richard, feel free to say it wherever you go. You’ll be surprised how well that’s received by audiences everywhere.
Don’t get the wrong impression. Down to earth he definitely is, and genuinely affable, yet I get the impression he’d rather let his songs speak for themselves, nervous at asking much more than how we’re doing and if we’re enjoying ourselves at first, the responses to both questions on this occasion 100 per cent positive of course.
I’d like to think most of those who shelled out for tickets already had his eighth long player, and on the night we were treated to 10 of its 11 great tracks, leaving room for just eight oldies, the earliest being the title/lead track of 2005’s Coles Corner, gloriously received and forever timeless.
From the next record we had perhaps my highlight of so many on the night, his hope that ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’ might one day become a reality (bearing in mind his earlier political outburst) truly stirring, the sheer optimism of that number seeing tears well up for this audience member.
‘Open Up Your Door’ from 2009 had a similar effect, another classic slice of Hawley given a full band treatment and going down a storm, a feeling of communal love sweeping the floor. They don’t write songs like that anymore, right? Well, actually Richard does.
He started the night as he opens Further, with a tone-setting raucous double, the thunderous ‘Off My Mind’ and rollocking glam stomper ‘Alone’ paving the way for the title track, the inherent harmonies and musicianship apparent from the word go. Meanwhile, next choice ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ was the first to cause the hairs on the back of the neck to stir, the backdrop of Steel City high-rises a telling touch.
On that front, my eldest daughter, studying in Sheffield, has the better of me, having seen the musical which takes its name from that 2012 title track, so I’ll use this space to appeal to its inspiration, writer Chris Bush and his theatrical collaborators to bring that on the road too.
At the mid-point of his 12-date UK tour, this was quality fare in a city which famously appreciates sonic creativity and has a proven track record for warming to artists giving it their all. And as gifted songwriters who truly know their music history, Hawley and his band were a perfect fit.
Later we got two more cuts from Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Shez Sheridan (guitar) and his cohorts getting down and dirty on a mighty wade through old blues to The Stooges and beyond on the epic ‘Down in the Woods’, before the dreamy, slow-building ‘Don’t Stare at the Sun’.
Actually, I’ve … erm, a notion that a future Hawley ‘best of’ might be called Sun, Stars, Oceans and Open Doors. Every great songwriter has themes they return to again and again, and for our Richard those are themes that clearly resonate.
There were technical gremlins as he switched to acoustic guitar early on, deferentially suggesting it wouldn’t really matter if we couldn’t hear his strumming before launching head on into 2007’s high-tempo ‘I’m Looking For Someone to Find Me’, then back to the new LP for a typically evocative modern masterpiece in ‘Emilina Says’.
While so many tracks stand out on Further – and tonight the Smiths-esque ‘Doors’, equally exquisitely-reflective ‘Midnight Train’ plus a laidback rocking ‘Galley Girl’ (a reinvented sea shanty I’d like to hear Fisherman’s Friends tackle) also impressed, with just the deeply-personal ‘My Little Treasures’ omitted – I’ll put my neck on the line and say ‘Time Is’ could be my favourite song of 2019, Clive Mellor playing a blinder on harmonica, not for the first time that evening.
I should mention more about Richard’s bandmates, but what do you want to hear? I could mention that Colin Elliot’s violin bass looked the part in this Merseyside setting for starters. But like Richard himself, his fellow musicians don’t go out of their way to get noticed. They’re just there, dependable, perfect accompaniment for a top-notch singer and talented tunesmith and musician who’s probably still a little embarrassed it’s just his name on the records’ front covers.
I’m pretty sure they were enjoying themselves more and more as the night progressed though, and not just because of their leader’s occasional pronouncements and thumbs-ups to us, his stance, denims and greased-back hair evoking classic rock’n’roll cool.
We were taken to the sun again for rousing showstopper, ‘Is There a Pill’, a veritable mountain of a song that unfortunately arrived three decades too late for the Big O. And on returning there was one more delve into the grooves of Further, the poignant ‘Not Lonely’ pre-empting a gorgeous send-off, familiar tinkling announcing 2010 EP interlude ‘There’s a Storm a Comin’’, with chills throughout and hearts truly tugged, these North Country treasures leaving us on a high.
Remaining UK dates, with support from Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (most are sold out, check for details): Friday, October 11th – Sheffield Octagon; Monday, October 14th – Newcastle Northumbria Institute; Tuesday, October 15th – Glasgow Barrowland; Thursday, October 17th – London Roundhouse; Friday, October 18th – Brighton Dome. Visit Richard Hawley’s official website for more information, and check out his Facebook page.