Having returned for what is a thoroughly deserved encore, Richard Hawley notices that someone has just thrown a pair of pants onto the stage. He quickly points out that at his age, though, it is usually support tights or a surgical truss he finds tossed in his general direction. However, realising that he has “pulled” he promptly advises us that we “can all fuck off now.” This vignette tells you much about Richard Hawley. He is rather wonderfully down-to-earth, most self-deprecating and oozes bags of charm. He really is most difficult to dislike. And that is before we even begin to start talking about the shed loads of top songs that the Sheffield tunesmith has written; songs born of a solo career that now stretches back 15 years and which has already spawned seven full-length albums.
Richard Hawley is in York tonight as part of a short Acoustic Tour of northern England and Scotland. He is performing here as a duo with his great friend, guitarist and long-term musical collaborator Shez Sheridan. To catch Hawley in such an intimate location has ensured that this evening’s show – contrary to some earlier information it was never scheduled as a matinee performance – has long since been sold out.
The pair take to the Fibbers’ stage on the stroke of nine o’clock and then treat us to ten songs, each one a varying reflection by Hawley on life, love and loss. From Cole’s Corner, his third album and the record that brought him a Mercury Prize nomination in 2006 and into the wider public consciousness, we get ‘Just Like The Rain.’ Hawley wrote this song on his 16th birthday. Thinking back to that time, he says “I must have been fucking buzzing.” From the ensuing Lady’s Bridge album, Hawley plays the imperious ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’ – dedicating the song with barely concealed disgust to everyone who voted Brexit – following it with a beautiful reading of ‘The Sea Calls.’ Between both songs, he reminisces fondly about the first time he played the old Fibbers back in 1995 with his former band Longpigs, stressing in so doing the importance of the role of the independent venue in promoting and sustaining grassroots music in the local community.
Despite the fact that the entire show plays out in front of a huge projected backdrop advertising Hollow Meadow – Hawley’s seventh and most recent solo album, released almost exactly a year ago – the duo only perform three songs from that record. Yet it is the first of these, ‘Nothing Like A Friend’ – with a drum machine accompaniment taken from Shez’s mobile phone – that provides probably the most inspired and poignant moments of the entire evening. Here Hawley’s deep baritone contains an even greater vulnerable edge to the point that when the song concludes he seems genuinely moved by the crowd’s reception. With typical self-effacement, though, he just says “it’s only two old blokes and a drum machine.”
For the concluding ‘Long Time Down,’ Hawley welcomes to the stage the ace Mancunian harmonica player Clive Mellor and together the trio blast their way with a joyful determination through much of the darkness contained on the studio original. A single encore of ‘Heart of Oak’ – a heartfelt tribute to fellow Yorkshire musician Norma Waterson – is not nearly enough for the rapturous crowd but with a firm thumbs up and cheery wave Richard Hawley is gone. “Double great” are the man in the double-denim’s parting words. And having spent just over an hour in his exalted company we know exactly what he means.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
This review originally appeared on YorkMix