“What the FUCK is THAT? I mean look at it. What are they trying to do to me? Fucking awful.”
Richard Hawley, the leather faced, bitter sweet singer renowned as the guitarist from legendary bands The Longpigs and Pulp is aghast about what the American’s have done to his cuppa.
The night before, him and his band played their first ‘proper’ US show at the ‘must-see’ gig alongside fellow crooner Morrissey in Austin’s town music hall; a knack which he seemingly inherited from his ancestors
“Aye ,me Mam sang on the steps of Sheffield town hall with the Everly Brothers in ’62 or ’63. She was waiting for them to come out and then she started singing with them on the steps round the back. She was a duo with my Auntie Jean, my Dad would play guitar and my Uncle Frank played in the Dave Berry Cruisers. Me Granddad played as well, he was a music hall performer.”
Hawley’s song craft and his timeless crooning cast aspersions to a bygone - perhaps imagined - sepia age of lost romance and misplaced melancholia. By his own admission his music is levelled at slightly older listeners: “It’s not like I am a heavy rocker or a rapper or it’s jazz, country – it’s not anything definable. I am not a young bloke any more and I have no interest in appealing to 16-year-old kids.”
A born and bred Northerner, his live shows are schooled in his family’s tradition of playing music to other folk; entertaining on the working man’s club circuit. His shows are worth attending for the relentless comedy involved with razor sharp quips deployed to the crowd in a blend of phrases picked up in smoky clubs and across the family dinner table.
“That’s where I got all the banter from. I started playing all the working men’s clubs when I was a kid with my uncle’s band so I had heard pretty much all the quick fire responses you can get. I hate it when people don’t engage with an audience; to me it’s something which distinguishes one gig from another. I once went to see Lou Reed and he didn’t say a single thing. And after about an hour someone shouted “Speak to us Lou” and he said (adopts gay voice), “I already am.” I thought, ‘You FUCKING KNOB END’… Arsehole!”
Northerners are renowned at not mincing their words. With his chasm deep Sheffield voice and working class background, Hawley is a classic northern singer song writer thrown up to society’s delectation thanks to his geographical and social situation. He, however, refutes this.
“Well I hate all that north/south divide bollocks. Maybe the sense of humour wouldn’t be there if I grew up down south. Coming from Sheffield has become a bit of a press thing now. Being a Sheffield band is no longer a hindrance. We’ve got Def Leppard, Human League, ABC…”
“Sheffield and its music feel very dislocated and I have a theory about this…. You know the old knives and forks, the Little Mesters? The people that forged all the cutlery - they were fiercely independent and quite secretive and somehow this attitude has seeped into the music.”
In his own words Hawley has been “happy as fuck for years at the back of a band… noodling away on me guitar” and only thought to start recording his own songs as a means of killing overbooked studio time after a Finlay Quaye session. The singer then sat on his mini album for 18 months shitting himself. “I suppose I was terrified of being laughed at. When you get to certain age you get pigeon holed and known for something and invariably guitarists who make solo records are always shit.”
I am not a young bloke any more and I have no interest in appealing to 16-year-old kids.
“The prerequisite of being a front man is to have an ego the size of Mars. Invariably, apart from Jarvis, every singer I have ever worked with has been the biggest pain in the arse - always. How many fucking singers does it take to change a light bulb? Just one to hold it and the rest of the word to revolve around it.”
Hawley however manages to subvert any sense of ego by routinely taking the piss out of himself high up on stage. His songs are a blend of strong narrative lyrics and melancholic and melody drenched ballads. A far cry from his Longpig days but a welcome cry and one that has at last given him an outlet from which to entirely purge his troubled mind.
“I have a melody in my head most days. It’s weird, it’s like being mentally ill and it does properly do my head in sometimes because you’ll be in the middle of Tescos and you’ll get hit with something. It’s a bit unfair.”
In his typical no-nonsense approach he describes how one song came to him whilst he was decorating a rehearsal room at the top of a ladder. Brushes were put down, a song was recorded. Equally his album’s title track appeared in similarly low fuss fashion.
“‘Cole’s Corner’ arrived fully formed when I was pushing my kids on the swings”. (He hums the festive melody gently but lovingly imagines pushing two small girls on their swings in alternation) “I had to get them out of the swings, stuff them into their pram and steam it home. It’s like fucking holding on to water. Luckily we only live 150 yards from the park so I pegged it upstairs, recorded it, jotted a few things down, wrote some words then fucked off back to park.”
Despite drug ravaged years as the Longpig’s guitarist and years touring with Pulp – he remains a dreamer. His recent album on Mute, ‘Cole’s Corner’, is named after the steps of an old department store in Sheffield where couples used to meet before dates. Now long lost through urbanisation to the human eye and it’s an anecdote which perhaps sums up his stubborn but day dreaming character perfectly.
“I see romance in fairly fucking ordinary things. Cole’s Corner, it doesn’t exist in the real world, well it does; it’s just a crappy bit of pavement by the HSBC bank. But it’s the fact that it exists in people’s hearts and minds. We still call it Cole’s Corner whether Hitler bombed it or the council fucked it up.”
And then, with a twinkle of possessive nature, perhaps as a steely descendant of the Little Mesters – he looks up and rounds off: “... and I think that’s quite good … because they can’t fucking take it away from you.”