It's been over two years since Richard Hawley's last solo appearance in his beloved Sheffield promoting 2003's critically acclaimed 'Lowedges' LP. Since then he's been keeping some pretty heady company, touring with Nancy Sinatra and appearing as REM's special guest on their 2005 World Tour. Tonight he's here to promote his newly released third LP proper on Mute Records, 'Coles Corner', amidst yet more critical praise from the music press.

The sense of expectation from the diverse crowd packed inside the Leadmill is tangible as he takes the stage in a rather dapper cobalt blue two-piece suit. By his own admittance it's a nervy start ("probably because I know all you fuckers...and you're all pissed...and I'm not!"). Most artists save their "best song" for last. Such now is the depth and breath of his back catalogue that Hawley can now afford to launch into the shimmering beauty of 'Baby You're My Light' from 2001's 'Late Night Final', and follow it with the naggingly familiar and romance-tinged title track from his current LP. The new single, 'The Ocean', sees Hawley's voice at its deepest and best as the song swirls and flutters before gloriously unfolding into a crescendo of sound and the mantra of "Here comes the rain", one of many references to rain and water in tonight's set. Perhaps it's to be expected living in Sheffield.

Hawley's love of the city of his birth is well documented. It's also meant that his feet have remained firmly on the ground as his solo career has unfolded. In between songs the banter is humorous and very Northern. All in rather stark contrast to the beauty and sophistication of his songs. "Any mingers can go to the back" he quips early on in the set. Later a heckler is speedily dispatched. "I'm on nights" comes the song request. Hawley's quick-witted reply? "Are you? What are you doing skiving here then you lazy fucker? It's thanks to people like you that the steel industry's in such a mess"

Anyhow back to the music. The seven or so tunes we get tonight from 'Coles Corner' sit comfortably with older material. The feel of much of the new material is still melancholic in nature and there's been no major shift in direction, with previous reference points such as Elvis, Orbison, and Cash remaining firmly in place. Potential future single, the autobiographical 'Born Under a Bad Sign', one of many high points of the fourteen song set is the choice of the new material. Other high points are the 'Lowedges' material: a fantastic rendition of 'Oh My Love' where Hawley rocks out and the highly moving set closer 'Run for Me.'

Tonight is an exhibition in the craft of song writing and musicianship as his band fail to put a single note out of place. In the current musical climes where everything has to be the new Franz Ferdinand or the new something-or-other, it 's refreshing to see music that's unashamedly retro and shorn of pretence, played by an artist at ease with his music lot. It sounds corny but this is real music for real people. Q magazine, Mojo, the Observer, Sheffield and even NME love Hawley. So should you.


The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Dave Sleney













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Commenting On: Leadmill, Sheffield, 11/9/2005 - Richard Hawley








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