A Richard Hawley Retrospective

Image

I was walking through the park the other day and I saw a Sheffield United season ticket nailed to a tree.  I took one look at it and thought to myself, ‘I’m having that.  You can never have too many nails…’

As well as being a musician and songwriter of the highest calibre, Richard Hawley is well-known for the dry, laconic wit with which he delivers his inter-song links during his live shows. He would have been in his element at the recent 2012 ‘Spill Awards ceremony and I like to think that he would have shared some of that laconic wit with us on Friday evening – possibly making a reference to his two unsuccessful Mercury Prize nominations and his one successful ‘Spill Album of the Year prize and the relative importance of each in his life…

Image

Hawley’s rise to fame came via a somewhat torturous route.  The release of Cole’s Corner in 2005 first brought him to the attention of the record-buying masses but this breakthrough came after more than twenty years in the music business.  From his formative years in Treebound Story (a band formed when he was still at school – pictured above) via the relative success of Britpop band Longpigs, and a short spell in Pulp (Hawley and Jarvis Cocker have known each other since the early 1980s), Hawley had always been on the fringes of whatever it is that constitutes ‘success’.  His decision, in 2001, to begin recording as a solo artist was a risk – described by Cocker in a 2002 interview in the Independent on Sunday as a ‘last throw of the dice’ – but it was a risk that paid off.  Seven solo albums down the road, Richard Hawley has become an established and hugely respected artist – perhaps not quite a household name but I guess it’s safe to assume that he makes a fairly decent living out of his music.  And surely no one can deny that he deserves that much at least.

He’s an unlikely pop star and it’s safe to say that nothing about his appearance or his musical background quite prepares you for his voice.  Essentially, he’s a 1950s/60s-style crooner who also happens to play a mean, twanging, country-tinged guitar and write some stunningly beautiful pop songs.  I love the guitar, I love the arrangements, I love the compositions but it’s the voice that does it for me – it’s clean and pure with just the occasional hint of a growl thrown in for good measure.  It gets into your soul and sits there, warming parts of your insides that you didn’t even know you had.  The music is as simple as it can be without being in any way anodyne, bland or insipid.  Many of his songs are four, three or even two-chord tricks and Hawley’s skill is in creating the variety, the light and shade, through his subtle use of strings and guitars (and that voice) to build layers of sound – the songs often reaching almost orgasmic crescendos (or maybe that’s just me!).

I had a great response to my original post with a nice range of Richard Hawley nominations from the ‘Spill collective.  Several tracks were chosen more than once and I’ve tried to include all of those while attempting, for the benefit of the uninitiated, to provide an interesting and representative cross-section of the Hawley oeuvre.  I was umming and ahhing about whether to include any material from the pre-solo career and I decided in the end not to.  It’s merely of historical interest and doesn’t really add anything to the listening experience.

Image

So my starting point was 2001’s eponymous debut mini-album from which I’ve chosen the track Sick Pay and I followed that up with Something Is… from Late Night Final, the first ‘proper’ album.  Both of these tracks show signs of what’s to come – nicely understated, simple arrangements with gorgeous, wistful melodies that you could listen to all night long.

Next up, from the 2003 album, Low Edges, I give you, Oh My Love – and for the benefit of DarceysDad, it’s the live version from 2008’s Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, the distorted guitars suggesting that Hawley’s love of the Phil Spector ‘Wall of Sound’ predates his most recent album by some considerable time.

Then we come to Cole’s Corner.  I’m desperate to avoid accusations of hyperbole here, but it’s hard not to come across as too gushing when it comes to this wonderful album.  It would be among the first records that I’d choose to take with me to my Desert Island.  It’s a rare example of an album without a weak track.  Alex Turner famously opened his 2006 Mercury Prize acceptance speech with the words ‘Someone call 999. Richard Hawley’s been robbed!’  It’s clearly not just Alex and I that feel so passionate about Cole’s Corner: no fewer than six tracks were nominated by various ‘Spillers and the title track alone was chosen by four different people.  It would therefore be wrong of me to leave it out.  So I haven’t.  I’ve also gone for barbryn’s choice of The Ocean which is a fine example of Hawley’s slow build technique in action.

Cole’s Corner was never going to be easy to follow but Richard Hawley made a pretty good fist of it with 2007’s Lady’s Bridge.  The bishbosh and DarceysDad nominated Valentine and CaroleBristol’s choice of Tonight, The Streets Are Ours are the two tracks I’ve chosen here, the latter neatly representing the more up-tempo side of Hawley’s work.

Image

It took a while for Truelove’s Gutter (2009) to grab me but I would now rate it as highly as Cole’s Corner.  It features Open Up Your Door which, quite rightly, made it onto the recent RR Songs About Doors list.  I was personally disappointed that makinavaja beat me to the nomination but this was more than made up for by John Dennis quoting my “one of the greatest songs of the 21st century” dond in his write up.

I’ve included the song here, as no Richard Hawley playlist would be complete without it and I’ve also gone for Remorse Code (nominated by glasshalfempty, sessionblogger (who he/she?) and DarceysDad (again. Good taste that man!).  Finally, from Lady’s Bridge we have the beautiful, Abba-esque For Your Lover Give Some Time, another choice from our Bristolian friend Carole and one of Hawley’s greatest lyrics.

Standing At The Sky’s Edge was somewhat of a departure for Richard Hawley featuring a much noisier sound with distorted guitars fulfilling the role previously occupied by orchestral strings to achieve the distinctive wall of sound.  The album evidently struck a chord with the ‘Spill Massive as it was the clear winner of the 2012 ‘Spill Album of the Year award.  I know you’re all going to go out and buy it (if you haven’t already done so) so I’ve just chosen one song here, Before, which probably best serves to illustrate the psychedelic noise fest that the latest album is.

Image

I’ve ended the playlist with three extras.  First up we have a lovely version of Hushabye Mountain, a duet with the lovely Lisa Hannigan, as nominated by the lovely shoegazer. Bishbosh wanted to include Hawley’s cover version of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Some Candy Talking and who am I to deny his request?  And finally I’ve indulged myself by including a personal favourite of mine.  It’s a live cover version of The Arctic MonkeysThe Only Ones Who Know which features Alex Turner himself on lead vocals.


Finally, a big thank you to maki for putting the playlist together for me.  Hope you all enjoy it…

About these ads

22 thoughts on “A Richard Hawley Retrospective

  1. Not sure which Richard is getting bigged-up most here!

    Cheers, Toffee, on both scores.

    Standing At The Sky’s Edge is currently RIDICULOUSLY good value on everyone’s least-favourite mail-order website, at under a fiver.

    • It – and most of his other albums – is also available on play.com for £4.99, with free postage and Nectar points, Rich! They may fiddle VAT by being based in the Channel Islands (as do Tesco, HMV and several others) but they don’t indulge in the level of chicanery that ‘everyone’s least-favourite mail-order website’ does.

  2. Great playlist – enjoying enormously. I’m still a little ambivalent about Mr Hawley’s oeuvre. And I’m still not entirely sure why. It’s something about his voice, especially on the slower, quieter numbers where it’s more exposed. I’m not sure if I find it too studied/pastichey or just too ponderous/lugubrious but there’s something that makes my trigger finger itch for the fast-forward button. He definitely makes a lovely sound/has a lovely warm tone but it doesn’t always work for me as a means of emotional expression. I guess I don’t always believe him – perhaps just because I don’t believe anyone sings like that (without a measure of affectation) in ‘this day and age’. But when he comes up with a tune as undeniable as “Valentine” or “Tonight The Streets Are Ours” or that lovely live on from Benicassim, I’m completely won over.

  3. Sick Pay: pleasant. Not keen on the lines-with-a-few-too-many-words-to-fit-the-metre.

    Something Is…: pleasant again. Reminded me of Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’, with a slightly different rhythm, and there’s a riff borrowed from I Love You Baby, too.

    Oh My Love: Nice guitar and overall build-up. Shame about the awful drumming (I mean it: unimaginative, dull, soaked in thin cymbals that suck the life out of everything else.)

    Cole’s Corner: I’ve heard this before. It’s from a sixties romantic movie, isn’t it? That’s Jane Fonda skipping down the street in a miniskirt, with a lovesick smile on her face…

    The Ocean: This is from the same film, I think, when the lovers escape to run along the sands as the sun sinks slowly in the west.

    Valentine: I’m glad he elected not to dramatise his vocals to match the arrangement. It might just walk the line between effective and crudely manipulative (musically-speaking)

    Tonight, The Streets Are Ours: another one where the backing singers and strings seem lifted from an old song.

    Open Up Your Door: lovely guitar. Otherwise, it’s another standard ballad arrangement.

    Remorse Code: again, some lovely guitar over a backing track which is all the better for using the toms in preference to the snare and cutting back on the strings. The best song so far, even at nearly 10 minutes.

    For Your Lover Give Some Time: this is not my idea of Abba-esque at all. Nicely understated but I’m not sure it quite delivers the implied emotional punch (I think bish is close to the reason why).

    Before: a much more interesting soundscape; we’re approaching the late sixties. The build-up is excellent but then gets curiously tossed aside. Pity.

    These are all well-crafted songs, tastefully produced, many of which would have made the hit parade in the fifties/early sixties. He has a lovely voice but it’s one that I can’t help but imagine having a go at the Great American Songbook in a few years’ time. To my ears, he’s a very good craftsman rather than an artist: in these songs, at least, there’s little original or exciting.

    Thank you for taking the time and effort to do this, TB. I have seen/heard Mr Hawley a few times (on TV) and never quite been able to match what I hear to the accolades. I still can’t, I’m afraid.

  4. I’ve only heard ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ (in fact ghe’s Festive Spill #1 was on my shortlist) so I’m looking forward to listening to this. Thank you for putting it all together!

  5. Just got as far as Tonight The Streets Are Ours so far. Beautiful music. I’m back at work tomorrow after more than a week off, and this is just right to soothe my enervated state. Thanks Toffee and Maki.

  6. I’ve been listening to this over the last couple of days and I think he has a gorgeous voice – which sounds something like Edwyn Collins, but warmer and nicer. I am still trying to figure out why he had recorded so many of these ballady types of songs and then gone on in a completely different direction with the new album. It’s a bit unexpected.

    I’ve been mulling over what bish said too. Has the day of the great balladeers gone forever and do modern attempts at it sound insincere or merely pastiches of former great artists work? Or, does a musical genre never die?

    Thank you, Toffeeboy. I really enjoyed this.

  7. Ooh, I think it’s probably always been the case that people who make beautiful music are undervalued, and criticised for a supposed lack of edge, or rebelliousness, or whatever. It happened to Tchaikovsky, and probably happened to the first singer-songwriters of the Stone Age.

    I’d like to get Magicman over to this thread, for his views on this sort of thing.

    • Sorry, that was a rather grouchy and unbeautiful comment… I mean to say, we all need a mixture of music for the different places we find ourselves. There is something eternally unhip about music which is melodic and lovely, and it will always attract comment for not being something different; but it’s probably just meant to be that way.

  8. Thanks for all the comments.

    I have to say that I agree 100% with DaddyPig’s assertion that ‘melodic and lovely’ music is undervalued. There seems to be a feeling in certain quarters that angry, angular, edgy music is ‘cooler’ or somehow more worthy and that melody necessarily means ‘saccharine’.

    Hawley’s music has something about it that lifts it above the sort of music that Chris describes as ‘the Great American Songbook’. It’s impossible to define exactly what it is – either you get it or you don’t. For me, there’s a lyrical and musical depth to it that makes any comparisons with the Michael Buble’s of this world seriously misguided. I don’t know Richard personally but I know enough about him to be able to guarantee that he will NOT be playing Ceasar’s Palace in a lounge jacket in ten year’s time!

    As for ‘original or exciting’, well… no… I can’t deny that it’s neither of those. But I think I can safely say that every single piece of music I’ve listened to in the 51 years and 361 days I’ve been alive is derivative and heavily influenced by what went before. My brother’s just made me a CD of banjo music from the late 1890s and early 1900s – it’s all good stuff but it’s heavily derivative of 1880s music hall…

  9. TB & DP: I’m sorry if I’m the cause of your defence of ‘melodic and lovely’ music. I have no dislike at all of such sounds or Richard Hawley’s delivery of them. Or his obvious sincerity, which I respect. I’m being over-critical: I keep hoping to fall in love with a new artist and I probably get a little picky if a possible turns into a probably not. (Having listened again to Oh My Love through headphones, I realise my ire was mis-directed: it’s the quality of the recording that undermines the song, not the drumming, which is simply hidden.)

    It may well be a generational thing. The era of music many of these tracks remind me of was the one I rebelled against, in which smooth, rich voices often sang a clear melody over lush strings. I’m able to appreciate the craft of such music but unable to love it. Blame the parents.

    So, apologies again for being a curmudgeon. I really do love melody and loveliness in music, but maybe using a different colour palette (I’ll say it: Deadmusic contains some exquisite melodies). ‘Coolness’ is not an attribute I value in music, although I may attach more weight to originality than craft, if I’m honest.

    My resolution for 2013: be more careful with words…..

    • Sorry from me too for mild negativity. I was just trying to work out why I don’t absolutely love Richard Hawley – swooning melodies and crooning vocals usually totally win me over! I do think it’s because it feels like he has consciously adopted a vocal style, which makes it sound a bit stylised to me. (But I’m sure all singers do that, so I dunno why it bothers me in him!) That quibble aside, I’ve now listened through several times and have enjoyed more on each listen, so perhaps he’s just something of an acquired taste!

  10. Chris and Bish, there’s no need to apologise for saying what you feel about music, I’m not sure why I got on my high-ish horse about it. Good point Chris about the music you rebelled against.

    I’d also like to distinguish between The Great American Songbook as 1) a late career move, which is rarely a good thing; and 2) as a Songbook, which is one of my favourite things in music. The Gershwins, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser….

    And while you can certainly have too many versions of said Songbook, I’ve seldom if ever met a version of the Wall Of Sound I didn’t like. Dave Edmunds, Roy Wood, Scott Walker and this here Sheffield version.

    Still got to listen to those last three tracks, mmmm…

  11. Chris et al – I’m interested in what anyone/everyone thinks – your comments are more than welcome. Please don’t be TOO careful with your words!

    I was born in 1961 and I think I went through several stages of teenage rebellion: in the early 70s, I discovered Prog Rock; Punk passed me by but I caught on to the New Wave/Ska thing and then, finally (or finally so far!) I got into the mid/late 80s indie scene. But it’s always been about the tune – about the melody. From Focus, Genesis and Hatfield & The North to the Jam, XTC and Madness and onto Orange Juice, The Smiths, The Bodines and the whole C86 thing, it’s always been the melody that hooked me.

    I guess we’re all hoping to find a new artist to fall in love with and thanks to bishbosh I’ve found a strong candidate in The Heartbreaks. ‘Delay, Delay’ (bishbosh’s #2 choice for the Festive ‘Spill) has been the soundtrack to my Christmas/New Year 2012/13 and I can’t wait to investigate further. There’s an exuberance about the song that I find utterly compelling. I’m sure that it’s partly that the song reminds me of one of my youths (not sure which one!) but whatever the psychology behind it, it’s definitely the tune, the harmonies and those jangling guitars that get me. And the point I’m trying to make here [there's a point? Ed.] is that there is absolutely nothing original about the song. It’s derivative, it wears its influences brazenly on its sleeve and I frankly don’t give a damn. More of the sort of music I like can only ever be a good thing.

    • “Delay Delay” is so derivative, isn’t it?! And I think that’s why I love it too: because it reminds me of the music I was listening to in my late teens: The Railway Children and Robert Lloyd & The New Four Seasons and so on. That and, as you say, a killer earworm of a tune. (I have to be careful about how often I listen to it each day or it buzzes insistently round my brain all of the following night!)

      I must admit to not having heard much else by The Heartbreaks – sometimes one perfect song is enough for me – but if you unearth anything else to match “Delay Delay”, do let me/us know!

  12. Great post as always and thanks for the shout out ToffeeBoy. ‘Remorse Code’ has to be one of the most spinetingliest songs ever, love it. Are you on twitter by the way? If so, please can you let me know your username so I can follow you. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s