Steel city songsmith Hawley shines at Screenplay

Heartfelt lullabies and a sparkling steel city baritone rose to the rafters when Richard Hawley came to town.

Richard Hawley playing at Mareel on Tuesday night. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Richard Hawley playing at Mareel on Tuesday night. Photo: Dave Donaldson

The South Yorkshire songsmith performed a stripped down set with musical compadre Shez Sheridan, complete glorious Gretsch-driven guitar swells and acoustic accompaniments.

It was Hawley’s first time in the isles, though he professed he’d heard a lot about the place from fellow Pulp member and Shetlander Candida Doyle.

Shetland, he said had its own musical tradition, and heading up north to play was like “trying to sell fridges to eskimos”.

Hawley, however received anything but a frosty reception, with whoops and cheers from the crowd and the audience hammering at the seating for an encore.

Kris Drever opened the night with a stellar single mic set-up, mixing driving guitar rhythms and emotive melodies with impressive aplomb.

Freshly returning home from tour Drever performed several tunes from his new album If Wishes Were Horses, inviting isles singer-songwriter Arthur Nicholson to join him onstage. Curry and garlic had been banned, he smiled as the pair gathered round the retro-looking microphone for If Wishes Were Horses and When The Shouting Is Over.

As a Yorkshire lad, Hawley’s turn of phrase and his observations have always pulled me into his music. There’s no pretence.

Much like his turned up jeans and well-worn leather jackets, Hawley’s voice is rich and comforting and there’s a timeless quality to it.

Understated opener As The Dawn Breaks saw Hawley deliver the lines: “As the dawn breaks, over roof slates, hope hung on every washing line”.

Guitar whizz Sheridan swapped between six and 12 string guitars, with chiming guitar picking and flourishes in The Sea Calls and  Tonight the Streets are Ours – dedicated “to the fuckwits who voted for Brexit”.

Hawley then strapped on a rather swanky looking electric, borrowed from Brian Nicholson, before delving into older tunes such The Nights Are Cold and For Your Lover Give Some Time.

The latter saw Hawley grab the mic with a subtle accompaniment from Sheridan as he crooned: “I’ll give up this cigarette. Stay at home and watch you mend the tears in your dress. Have your name in a rose tattooed across my chest. And be your lover for all time.”

For only two men on stage, the delays and echoes of the strings made for a glorious soundscape, with Hawley cutting loose in Remorse Code and really making the guitar sing as he danced up the neck.

Modern technology was thrown into the mix with a mobile phone acting as a drum machine. “Massive” quipped Hawley at the recorded beats.

While a drummer would have been better it didn’t detract from the quality of the guitar playing and vocals, and Hawley’s patter, peppered with expletives, from tales of Banksy to his daughter leaving home, was top drawer.

Heart of Oak and What Love Means made for a strikingly beautiful encore, written for two important women in his life, folk singer Norma Waterson and his daughter.

Hawley said he hoped to return soon.

I’m sure there will be many queuing up for a new freezer.


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