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…
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.
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.
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.
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 Monkeys’ The 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…