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RICHARD HAWLEY

RICHARD HAWLEY LIVE IN MANCHESTER – WHAT HAPPENED?

At this point, Richard Hawley is a Sheffield institution, he is as much to the city as Joyce is to Dublin or Tony Wilson to Manchester. There is plenty of love in the North West for the ex-Pulp and Longpigs member and anticipation was high on the O2 Apollo’s sloped standing section as a devoted audience waited for him to take the stage.

With a catalogue of critically acclaimed solo albums to his name, the latest being ‘In This City They Call You Love’ released on the 31st of last month and an Oscar nomination for his and longtime collaborator Jarvis Cocker’s contributions to the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, the veteran rocker showed no signs of slowing down during his appearance in Manchester.

The son of a steelworker, an upbringing which solidified Hawley as a lifetime socialist, he took to the stage in his trademark rockabilly get-up; quiff, leather jacket, jeans and boots, to a raucous reception from the sea of loyal fans before him. He opened the set with the lengthy ‘She Brings the Sunlight’, lulling the audience with his grand arrangements and setting the pace for an evening of songs evoking solitude, lamentation and love.

This was followed by ‘Two for His Heels’ and ‘Prism in Jeans’ which introduced many of those in attendance to songs from his latest album. With a healthy dose of typical Northern modesty, Hawley later apologised for including so much of his newer material in the set. This apology, however, fell on deaf ears and I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that they provided a rockier, energetic edge amongst the rich melodies of his previous work. 

The crowd, now spellbound, swayed along to the introspective ‘Open Up Your Door’. This was followed by the lush soundscapes of ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ from his 2019 album of the same name which took on the most unlikely of afterlives as an Olivier award-winning play. 

The use of harsh red and blue-white stage lights throughout the performance allowed Hawley to play both the Devil and God, the latter role being a connotation many of his admirers wouldn’t view as too far from reality. The set reached its energetic climax with a thrashing rendition of ‘Deep Space’ which was followed by ‘Just Like the Rain’ and ‘Hear That Lonesome Whistle’, two tunes that hark back to the band’s love of rock’n’roll and country music. 

‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’, a ballad echoing the frontman’s everlasting love for Sheffield and perhaps the most catchy tune in his repertoire proved to be a fan favourite. Hawley’s love for Sheffield is so prevalent throughout his discography that it’s sometimes hard to devise whether his most beautifully written lyrics are an ode to his longtime wife, Helen, or the city where he still resides and can be spotted bar-hopping around the Irish quarter.

‘Alone’ was followed by another fan favourite ‘Coles Corner’ from the acclaimed album of the same name, an album which caused Alex Turner to remark ‘Someone call 999, Richard Hawley’s been robbed!’ after the Arctic Monkeys debut album pipped it to win the Mercury Prize. Hawley’s live rendition saw him returning to luxurious string melodies that sounded no less impressive than his studio version.

Those who left early, which wasn’t many, missed out on a four-song encore beginning with ‘People’, the lyrics from which his latest album gets its title, and served as a reminder of the joys northern life can bring, how something as simple as being called ‘love’ can at once restore a certain comfort in the uncertain times we face.

Manchester’s own Clive Mellor joined the band on harmonica for a lively performance of ‘Time Is’ and another country rock throwback ‘Have Love’ got the crowd going for the final time. The night came to a close with a gorgeous performance of maybe Hawley’s best-known tune, ‘The Ocean’. His nicotine-stained, baritone croon brought the audience back down to earth and proved to be a fitting curtain call on a gig that was at points close to a meditative experience. 

Despite the venue’s 3,500 capacity, Hawley created an intimate feeling through his anecdotes, John Cooper Clarke-esque deadpan quips and the gratitude expressed to his fans between songs. Live, Hawley and his band were incredibly tight, providing a perfect mix of country, ballads and more rock’n’roll sensibilities than his studio recordings could ever predict.

With ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’ ringing around my head I left the Apollo and made the trip back to Salford feeling uplifted. It’s hard not to wonder when, if ever, the rock veteran will slow down. 

WORDS BY SAM ROGERS

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