Richard Hawley Birmingham 22-09-12

Richard Hawley’s gig at the HMV Institute tonight was a resounding success and he seemed genuinely surprised by the packed-out audience’s rapturous response. He declared that Birmingham was his favourite audience on the tour so far and said he would consider buying a holiday home in the city. He did then have second thoughts about the holiday home. And, of course, his view on audiences may well change when he plays at his next, sold-out, gig tomorrow, in his home city of Sheffield.

Lisa Hannigan Birmingham 22-09-12

Opening act tonight is Irish singer songwriter Lisa Hannigan. She has two albums behind her, the latest being 2011’s ‘Passenger’, and she has been Mercury nominated. Her voice is soft and delicate, but she can also raise the decibels when needed. The arrangements, played with her two accompanists on acoustic instruments, are very subtle. They feature mandolin and ukulele, as well as guitar. Although Lisa features her own songs, the set finishes with a sensitive arrangement for the three voices of The Band’s ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’ (in memory of the Band’s singer and drummer, Levon Helm, who died recently).

Richard Hawley Birmingham 22-09-12

Richard Hawley is an unusual star in the music business. His songs are Sheffield-centric, rather like those of his former Pulp colleague Jarvis Cocker. He is not very ‘show-biz’ and, with his slightly geeky specs, he appears a pretty ordinary chap. On stage he looks like a bit of an old rocker with his greased-back hair and turned-up jeans. Indeed, he is a kind of Sheffield version of Roy Orbison. However, his ordinary appearance hides his great talents as a singer, song-writer and guitarist. On stage, what particularly comes over is his versatility and range of styles and his craftsmanship in delivering his songs – and also his amazing and varied-style guitar playing. Hawley is very well-respected in the music business and has worked with many other musicians over the years, including the Arctic Monkeys and All Saints.

Richard Hawley Birmingham 22-09-12

A lot of attention has also been paid to the set-up tonight. An army of trees in pots have been imported and line the back of the stage, which resembles a horticultural tent at a country show. And the light show is outstanding. Hawley’s set tonight comes from across a range of his styles and output, but mainly concentrates on his two most recent albums, ‘Trueloves Gutter’ and ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’.

Richard Hawley Birmingham 22-09-12

The gig opens with the rousing ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’, the title of track of the new album, a song dealing with some of the personal aspects of crime in his native Sheffield. The album veers into some heavy psychedelic territory and a highlight of the evening was the elongated ‘Down in the Woods’, which has a killer-riff and features some mind-bogglingly twisted psych-guitar playing. A far superior version to the more restrained rendition on the album.

However, the overall set is incredibly varied, ranging from touching quiet love songs to heavy rockers. We get a fair selection of his hits / singles, including ‘Tonight the Streets are Ours’, which he informs us appeared in a film (‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’). He tells us that it nearly didn’t appear in the film, as when the phone call came to request its use he was too drunk to respond. Hawley has a great rapport with the audience who, out of fear or respect, are even fairly silent through the quieter bits of his performance. He knows how to deal with the rowdy elements too. Half way through the show some members of the audience start a grunt-like chant. “Mensa seems to be having an early Christmas party” declares Hawley, to the amusement of the crowd. After that there is no more grunting or rowdiness.

Richard Hawley Birmingham 22-09-12

Finally it’s time to say goodnight and so Hawley finishes by introducing the band, including his Brummy drummer, Dean Beresford, who gets special applause. The customary encore follows, but, unusually for these days, the audience really stamp their feet and clap hard to get him back on the stage. Normally encores are provided with little audience effort.

Hawley’s local Sheffield references in his songs are great (particularly appreciated by me as a former resident of the Sheffield area) and on the way out I notice that the merchandise table includes bottles of Sheffield-produced Henderson’s Relish, specially emblazoned with an image of the man himself.

Set list: Standing at the Sky’s Edge; Don’t Stare at the Sun; Hotel Room; Tonight the Streets are Ours; Seek It; Soldier On; Leave Your Body Behind You; Before; Open Up Your Door; Remorse Code; Time Will Bring You Winter; Down in the Woods. Encore: Lady Solitude; The Ocean.

Photographs and review by John Bentley

Leave a Reply