Meltdown: Richard Hawley at the Royal Festival Hall
Richard Hawley is unwavering in his style: frozen in time, unaltered by artistic movements. In which case the formal atmosphere of the Royal Festival Hall is a perfect venue for showcasing his songbook, as part of Guy Garvey’s Meltdown. The music, however, doesn’t encourage a sea of furrowed brows and chin-scratching contemplation, Hawley will hit you with a wall of sound at his own discretion, breaking the stereotype of him being merely a pre-rock style crooner.
He orchestrates light and dark like a seasoned storyteller, coalescing caramel sweetness into unhinged guitar freak outs. The show sees Hawley interlocking songs from last year’s tender Hollow Meadows with those from 2012’s much louder Standing at the Sky’s Edge. The title track of the latter provides the first example of the tension and relief dynamic which pervades the show. Its explosive climax is followed up with the fragile I Still Want You, with battle scars-dripping vocals.
The setlist is crafted with a hammer and fine chisel, though he could have thrown his discography Jackson Pollock-style at a sheet of paper and it would come out as naturalistic as anything he’d painstakingly devise himself. Sticking very much to his most recent albums, he marries the lyrically beautiful Tuesday PM into the wistful Time Will Bring You Winter, before launching into the amped-up rockabilly of Down in the Woods – like Elvis crashing a Johnnie Ray gig.
The only flashes of earlier material are saved for the encore, with 2005’s Coles Corner represented in the form of crowd-favourite The Ocean and the album’s title track. They further display Hawley’s poise and greatness, but the fact that the lion’s share of the setlist is constructed from his two most recent records makes a much stronger case for this. This is not just a quest for relevance and artistic integrity, the new songs have imposed their stranglehold on the set through their quality. In fact, it is not The Ocean that provides the climax, but the pulsating Heart of Oak from Hollow Meadow that steals the show. The frenzied tremolo guitar outro threatens to take off as the last chin in the house has long ceased to be scratched. The pondering is shelved for another occasion, a Richard Hawley gig is a simple appreciation of a man quite clearly still at the top of his game.
Photos: Vic Frankowski
Guy Garvey’s Meltdown is at Soutbank Centre from 10th until 19th June 2016, for further information visit here.
Watch the video for Heart of Oak here: