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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Hawley I would have to say that it’s been a pretty good year for Richard Hawley, with the release of his very successful album Lady’s Bridge and a stunning tour leading to a nomination for Best Male Artist in the 2008 Brit Awards. He didn’t get it – like the Mercury Award he was nominated for in 2006 – but I doubt that really matters as there seems to be a nicely understated momentum to his career at the moment, and a bit of brand-building buzz among the vicarious chattering classes, fascinated by his path to musical redemption.
That’s probably why the old Pickle Factory is full to the rafters with all sorts of folk for this NME Shockwave Awards show. Not that Hawley, or any of the support acts have been nominated for any of these, but it is nice to know, as he observed towards the end of the night, that a magazine struggling manfully to maintain its relevance in a digital age, “has got time for a fookin’ old fart like me”. And did I also mention that we’re here with Whiskyfun’s top editorial team, flown over especially from France? Hawley, as you may recall, won the Non Plus Ultra Award in last year’s Whiskyfun Music Awards, ‘the people’s choice’ as I like to think of them (God only knows how many times I voted), and they’ve come just to see how good he really is. Which is why, in the company of such distinguished civilians, we got here early and are upstairs, away (at least for a short time) from the Astoria’s unwashed hordes.
Vince Vincent
    Starting the evening are Vince Vincent and the Villains – with a sound that’s rather like Chris Isaak meets the Stray Cats – who have been doing the rounds of London clubs for the past couple of years. They’ve got some good tunes (surprisingly complex), a nice twangy guitar sound, and Vince can certainly sing (oddly he sounds a bit like a punk Keith Rowland), but there’s something wrong in the rhythm section (bass too slow, drums too fast – or is it the other way round?) and the sound is appalling – the engineers must have switched on the kit and then gone for a few beers. Still, with an album, Gospel Bombs, on its way, they should be around long enough for a more studied review – assuming of course they avoid the Sword of Damocles that’s hanging over them and so many of their fellow artists at major label EMI, currently being ruthlessly restructured by private equity supreme, Guy Hands.
Frankly in need of restructuring were second band up, Maps, whose tedious form of electronica (not helped by very under mixed vocals) was ill chosen for the occasion, and frankly far better suited to a funeral parlour. Sorry guys – wrong time, wrong place.
Richard Hawley Which leaves the triumphant Mr Hawley, with his very precise and quite excellent band, his lovely Gretsch and Gibson hollow-bodied guitars, and his shiny suit and his well-waxed quiff. And the sound engineers had returned to their duties to deliver one of the best sounding gigs I can remember at the Astoria: not only did it do justice to Hawley’s deep, creamy and crooning voice, but you could also pick up all the considerable subtleties of similarly shiny-suited Shez Sheridan’s guitar work (well, guitars really, as he rarely played the same one more than twice through a set of almost twenty songs). Hawley had chosen the best of his last two albums, starting with the topical recent single ‘Valentine’, ‘Roll river roll’ and ‘Just like rain’. Actually the songs, each a really crafted example of the songwriter’s art, came almost like punches. And I have to say (as I have before) that’s it no good simply writing Hawley off as a peddler of pastiche. It’s true that he’s fairly faithful to song structures often associated with the country and western and rockabilly genres.
But he injects these with a very twenty-first century sensibility, and uses them as a canvas to paint both very particular pictures of his home town of Sheffield, in songs like ‘Tonight the streets are ours’ and also broader and more expansive vistas, such as the very wonderful ‘Ocean’ with which the evening finally closed. And the guitar playing, both Sheridan’s and Hawley’s – the latter far more forthcoming on the fret board than he had been at last year’s Roundhouse gig - is as clever and contemporary as it can get.
The end result was really captivating, despite the fact that by now we had been joined by a crushing crowd of people, including three of the most tiresome loudmouths I’ve ever come across at a gig. I struggled, and managed, to keep them out of my head as I savoured the music, but their constant chatter (jewellery, furniture, holidays – you name it, they spoke about it at the top of their voices) was quite remarkable, and a display of utter selfishness only possible from the braying over-educated (yet terminally stupid) and over-privileged English middle classes to whom they belonged.
Asshole and the Assolettes
Downstairs Hawley dealt with a noisy heckler (whom I gather was later thrown out) with aplomb, but sadly there was no way of getting rid of these three idiots. The distinguished editor of Whiskyfun, who christened them ‘Asshole and the Assolettes’ (there’s a joke about food in there somewhere) had to be restrained by his daughter from drowning them in beer (“No Papa, you shouldn’t do that!”) whilst the Photographer made a game but futile attempt to throttle the Asshole. It’s just what you have to put up with these days, what with live music being “the new black”. But let that not detract from the excellence of this performance, which was really focussed on delivering the songs, with a judiciously spare amount of story telling (so quite low on the fookometer compared with the Roundhouse). The main set finished with ‘Born under a bad sign’ (“this is a song about getting pissed”), ‘Something is’ (from his 2001 album late Night Final), and ‘I’m looking for someone’. After a pause for an off-stage cigarette, the encore began with Hawley and harmonica player Clive Mellor playing Ricky Nelson’s ‘Lonesome town’ and Hank Williams’ ‘I’m so lonesome I could cry’ before ending with that sublime version of ‘Ocean’.
Hawley It was, as our large party scattered around the theatre agreed, a night to remember. And as a result of our unfortunate experience in the Astoria balcony you can expect more campaigning to come from Whiskyfun as we frame and shame the selfish bastards intent on ruining music lovers’ evenings out in our new ‘War on Wankers’ page that’ll be coming this way very soon. Wankers – you have been warned. - Nick Morgan (concert photograph by Kate, Asshole and the Assolettes by Serge)

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