Richard Hawley at the Forum
Richard Hawley took to the stage at a sold-out Forum last night 8th June in a wheelchair, pushed by a diligent roadie. Sadly, this was no Cobain-at-Reading stunt: an accident in Barcelona earlier in the week had left the Sheffield crooner with a broken leg and damaged pride.
“I’d like to say it happened during a wild party on ecstasy”, he deadpans by way of explanation, “but in fact I slipped on a marble staircase while wearing leather shoes”. Taking a leaf from his song Soldier On, he took up residency on a stool centre-stage and apologised for “not doing the dance routines” as planned.
Such quips exemplified the charm and charisma of Hawley as a live performer. On record and in the public eye, he appears strangely timeless, his quiff and sunglasses unchanged since his stint in Pulp a decade ago. Meanwhile, his tendency towards Scott Walker string arrangements and bittersweet melodies betray a gruff melancholy and old-fashioned tenderness behind all the rock ‘n’ roll attire. But in the flesh, he is personable, unreservedly grateful (“without you lot we wouldn’t be able to afford all the booze and cocaine”) and a razor wit, referring to the elaborate stage set-up of trees and ferns as the “Richard Hawley Garden Centre” and throwing in off-the-cuff jokes about Sheffield United. Not bad for an invalid mixing “some serious drugs” with lashings of red wine.
Musically, the older songs sounded as gorgeous as ever, with Tonight The Streets Are Ours and Hotel Room receiving a huge reception. That distinctive Cash-meets-Orbison croon can still make grown men weep and helped rescue album tracks such as Lady Solitude from the perils of a mid-set lull.
The gig also marked the UK début of material from Hawley’s new album, Standing At The Sky’s Edge – a brash and brooding collection of bona fide rock songs unlike anything he has produced before and the potential catalyst for a much wider audience. Backed by a fantastic four-piece band, he didn’t disappoint, unleashing an ungodly racket on tracks like Leave Your Body Behind You and drawing out Time Will Bring You Winter into a psychedelic, Zeppelin-esque jam of epic proportions.
Even more revelatory in this context were the handful of tracks from 2009s desolate Truelove’s Gutter album, which by rights should not have worked at all in front of this Friday night crowd. Instead, Open Up Your Door and Remorse Code (ten minutes long and not a moment wasted) held the audience captivated and a pin-drop encore rendition of For Your Lover Give Some Time earnt us congratulations on our good behaviour. It simply remained for the band to play us out with a magnificent, extended The Ocean, ending with a hail of feedback and heartfelt thanks from the wheelchair-bound Hawley. Expectations will be sky-high for his biggest tour to date in the autumn, but like his old touring pals Elbow and the Arctic Monkeys before him, this might just be his year.
Listen to Standing At The Sky’s Edge here