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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London
September 5th 2007

“Fookin’ heck lads, give me a bit of room”. It’s Maurice Michelin Man, who edges past a puzzled Photographer (“lads”?), clutching two pints of beer in his hands, and heads for his chum, Maurice Michelin Man II, and his seat. For some unfathomable reason we’re seated in the balcony of the Roundhouse – the mysteries of on-line ticket booking I suppose – but to be frank, after another day of strikebound gridlocked London it’s nice to have a seat. We’ve got a fine view across the stage and the sound is as good as it is down on the floor.

On the stage it’s fookin’ this and fookin’ that as an animated Richard Hawley slips into a Northern pub comic routine (“This fookin’ fella went to the fookin’ doctors, and the doctor said, ‘Look, you’ve got to stop fookin’ wankin’ – ‘Stop fookin’ wankin’ – why?’ ‘Because I can’t fookin’ examine you ‘till you do’”) that most Northern pub comics would be pretty embarrassed by. He’s also in reminiscence mode, telling us about playing guitar in his uncle’s band in Sheffield, clubs, wedding, bar mitzvahs and funerals. He’s very rude to someone in the audience from Ipswich (so rude that I daren’t repeat it lest someone from that fair Anglian city might read my words) – and in fact immediately apologises after his next song finishes – “You know I went all the way through that song feeling guilty about what I just said about Ipswich”. And he’s generous in his thanks to what can only be described (certainly by the end of the night) as an adoring audience – once that is he’s stopped goading them with unfavourable comparisons to the crowd he played to on the previous night in Brighton. Of course like Hawley almost everyone in the audience seems to come from Sheffield. “Fookin heck lads, stand aside” Oh yes – it’s Maurice Michelin Man again, (or is it Michelin Man II?) on what becomes an astonishing number of journeys to bar and urinal. Fookin’ heck.
It’s just as well Hawley has Sheffield – it’s provided the backdrop for the four solo albums he’s recorded since the turn of the century. Before that of course he played with Pulp and his pal Jarvis Cocker (you can just imagine the conversation: “Fookin heck Jarvis” “Fookin’ heck Richard”) and before that the Longpigs. And in between all of this he has gained a reputation as, as they say, an “in demand” session man for his very unique style of playing. Coles Corner, his 2005 album, named after a famous meeting place in Sheffield, was widely acclaimed and nominated for a Mercury Prize. The spanking new Lady’s Bridge (named, you guessed, after a bridge in Sheffield) went straight into the charts last week at number six. Not everyone likes it – Hawley’s style is polarising and some apparently find it bland and insipid. You see he’s a crooner – or so they say – and apparently this offends people because it makes him lightweight, not worthy of serious consideration. Well, first of all the bastard encyclopaedia Wikipedia tells me that among current top crooners are Neil Diamond, Chris Isaak, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, and that’s not such bad company to be in. Secondly it’s not just about his singing, but also about musical arrangements, and Hawley’s recorded work is occasionally what one might call heavily orchestrated country schmaltz – hardly likely to be highly regarded by musical know-it-alls in the UK. It’s a shame because you can hear everything from Pat Boone through Johnny Cash to Nick Lowe in Hawley’s work. And I would admit that on disc Hawley’s individuality does get a little lost in the complexity of the arrangements, which can be cloying. Sometimes it’s hard to see through the pastiche. Delightfully on stage what you get is down-the-line Hawley; although the performance is almost studio perfect it’s stripped of some of the overwhelming studio sound thus allowing the songs, and Hawley’s quite distinct vocal style, to shine through.
I guess you really need to go and listen to some of Hawley’s albums to get the point, but believe me, his songs, which like all songs should be are about love, loneliness, leaving and returning, are very strong and very twenty-first century. And on stage Hawley doesn’t sound like any one (well, apart from his wonderful Nick Lowe false-teeth whistle) other than Hawley. The set list goes something like this: ‘Valentine’, ‘Roll river roll’, ‘Just like the rain’, “Fookin heck, move tha’ legs boys” (it’s Maurice Michelin Man again), ‘Dark Road’, ‘Coles Corner’ – hang on, like Berlin this means nothing to you. Just let me say this was a most excellent set. With really touching songs like ‘Darling wait for me’ (“We wrote this for our wives. We must be as soft as a bag of tits”), the wonderful ‘The sea calls’ (I’m sorry Serge, if you haven’t noticed I’m a sucker for sea songs) and ‘Born under a bad sign’. No, it’s not Albert King, it’s a Hawley original. “This is a song about getting pissed all the time. Actually I read an article about alcohol the other day and I was shocked by what it could do to you. So that’s it for me. After tomorrow, … no more …reading”. And as an encore, after one of the best and warmest ovations I’ve heard all year, ‘Tonight’ and then a wonderful version of ‘Ocean’ which only served to remind us, if much of the evening hadn’t, what a brilliant guitarist Hawley is too.
Yes, as you can see Serge, like everyone else here I really enjoyed this. And I should mention the excellence of Hawley’s band who played his deceptively simple songs with an economic precision, and particularly (although this is invidious) guitarist Shez Sheridan, who moved between a bewildering number of guitars and lap guitars and played to a very subtle point of perfection. And Mr Hawley, ramblings aside (“I know a talk a lot of fookin’ shite but I’d just like to thank you all for being here, really…”) played, posed with his Gretsch guitars and shiny suit, and sang to a point that must be somewhere slightly east of Coles Corner, and west of Lady’s Bridge. Very, very good. Take a listen. Fookin’ heck … - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)
Coles Corner
Coles Corner

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