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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Rochard Hawley

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, October 8th 2009


Richard Hawley apparently thinks that his new album, Truelove’s Gutter, is probably the best he’s made, albeit one not likely to garner great commercial success, with less catchy tunes than his previous two offerings, and no obvious single material. UK chart performance to date would tend to suggest he’s right.

Truelove’s Gutter entered the top twenty album chart on release but has subsequently slumped in position. But as Hawley has learned through a long and not always easy career, chart success is not everything, and the satisfaction he takes from the new work is very evident from the live performances he has been delivering around the UK to promote its release. Not only is this the best live performance we’ve seen from Hawley, it’s also the most uncompromising. It started with Hawley, back to the audience, silhouetted in a spot light, as he teased the opening sounds and notes from his guitar for ‘As the dawn breaks’ (his playing, like his song writing, is all about creating layers and textures) before turning in the first of an evening’s worth of almost perfect vocals. What followed were all eight songs from Truelove’s Gutter, six from Cole’s Corner, Lady’s Bridge, and 2001’s Late Night Final. A surprise mid-encore performance came from Lisa Marie Presley, a current collaborator of Hawley’s, who sang ‘Weary’, their joint composition, with him.
Richard Hawley

Read the reviews of Hawley’s new album, and the tour dates for that matter, and it’s hard to get past the label ‘crooner’ which has attached itself so firmly to his vocal style. And though it’s a fair enough term to use, it has the effect of pulling a veil over his huge accomplishments as a composer, and his very twenty-first century style of guitar playing. This is displayed to the full throughout his new album, and this gig. Hawley’s guitar work benefits from the complimentary presence of Shez Sheridan, who jointly weaves delicate, albeit largely subdued, patterns of increasing complexity tonight, ending with a climactic version of ‘Ocean’ which saw Hawley break loose in spectacular style. Not that he hadn’t already displayed some considerable fret board flourishes, notably with astonishing solos on ‘Hotel Room’ and the new ‘Remorse code’. It’s not only Sheridan that’s helping, it’s a consummate band performance, which includes wandering troubadour David Coulter on various guitars and of course musical saw (an instrument first played to Hawley by his grandfather) on ‘As the dawn breaks’ and ‘Don’t you cry’.

The reception from the audience was remarkable, rapt, almost reverential (so I feel even more angry, Serge, about the loud-mouthed arseholes who tried to ruin the Astoria gig that you came over for last year) and at times you could almost hear a pin drop. After ‘Tonight’ there’s a huge round of applause, and then after a pause another spontaneous ovation that took even Hawley by surprise: “Steady on, we’re not in America you know’, he chided the crowd, and when that didn’t dampen their enthusiasm ‘Look, it’ll just go the band’s head, they’re not used to this’. Note the language: Hawley is far less talkative than normal, with a very low score on the fookometer. His main digressions are a pre-emptive strike against the cloying romanticism of ‘For your lover, give some time’, and a reminiscence about his grandfather’s saw playing.
Shez Sheridan
David Coulter on musical saw
Maybe it’s the presence of Ms Presley that subdues his normal foul-mouthed garrulousness, or maybe he’s just decided to focus on the music. But either way, it’s not a disappointment, such is the triumph of the latter.

Listening to Truelove’s Gutter makes you wonder if Hawley can manage to pull off another album in a similar style; surely he’s mined this rather nostalgic vein to exhaustion? Listening to a live performance like this however gives you no doubts whatsoever that there is more to come. And you won’t be surprised if I commend Mr Hawley to you as a very suitable companion for a late night glass of Scotland’s midnight wine, with no reservation whatsoever. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen: Richard Hawley on MySpace

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