Some artists bob around on the fringes of your radar for ages, and so it has been the case with Richard Haw­ley. Those love­ly bal­lads, the choco­latey voice, the Pulp con­nec­tion – yet he’s remained a bit niche some­how. But things have gath­ered apace, and Sep­tem­ber 8 this year saw the Radio BBC 6Music col­lab­o­ra­tion with the BBC Phil­har­mon­ic where the grandiose feel of the orches­tra, with those lush strings gave Haw­ley’s songs an extra inten­si­ty, and ele­vat­ed his voice to the point at which, well I felt almost tearful.

Tonight he’s at Brix­ton Acad­e­my. Haw­ley and his musi­cians slope on to a stage adorned with trees which alter­nate­ly glow and rus­tle mys­ti­cal­ly in the stage lights, fram­ing the band as if they’re per­form­ing in a wood­land copse at mid­night. It’s a suit­ably fit­ting back­drop for Haw­ley’s lat­est album Stand­ing at the Sky’s Edge, inspired by an area in Sheffield of that name, with panoram­ic views of the city.

Haw­ley opens with the title track, and we expe­ri­ence the full force of his new sound – the hard­er edged gui­tar-dri­ven feel, a caco­phany of feed­back. There’s a new edge to Haw­ley’s voice too as his usu­al croon gives way to a hint of some­thing dark­er – at times there’s a sen­sa­tion of men­ace. The sec­ond num­ber, the beau­ti­ful Don’t Stare at the Sun, is pre­ced­ed by an intro­duc­tion that involves a kite-fly­ing episode with his son. Then we’re back on for­mer famil­iar ter­ri­to­ry with a bal­lad, Here in my Arms.

Tonight The Streets are Ours gets a good recep­tion from the crowd. Haw­ley fol­lows this with Blind­ed by Love, the ‘new sin­gle’ which leads into com­men­tary about ‘bad’ mp3 down­loads ver­sus ‘good’ record buy­ing. Grumpy old man ter­ri­to­ry on the hori­zon? Per­haps, but Haw­ley is mas­sive­ly enter­tain­ing as a racon­teur, with his easy com­mand of the stage, his eff­ing and blind­ing, and scorn of much of mod­ern day rub­bish – Cameron and Clegg; audi­ence mem­bers who talk through gigs. I’m prob­a­bly nev­er going to find myself down the pub with him – more’s the pity – but if he ever decides to sit on a stage and just chat for a cou­ple of hours, I’ll be there.

Sol­dier On is greet­ed with a huge cheer by the audi­ence. Two of the new tracks fol­low: Leave Your Body Behind You, a swirling ston­er track to get lost in, and Before, which seems to have been slowed down to squeeze every ounce of emo­tion from it, and it gets the full force of Haw­ley’s pas­sion­ate delivery.

The crowd pleas­er Open Up your Door is fol­lowed by an extend­ed ver­sion of the dreamy, moody, sexy Down in the Woods com­plete with macabre nurs­ery rhyme sec­tion in the middle.

This was Richard Haw­ley’s final date of the tour and he seemed gen­uine­ly pleased with by his recep­tion, except for those talk­ers. By way of thanks, we were treat­ed to a 3‑song encore. He seemed blown away that he can fill such a large-capac­i­ty venue and, by way of cel­e­bra­tion, he tossed a bou­quet into the audi­ence, real­is­ing that, as he said, he’s no longer the brides­maid but the bride.

The venue I sat upstairs for this gig rather than stand down­stairs. The only prob­lem is the safe­ty bar, which means that, depend­ing on your height, you have to decide if to look over or under it to look at the stage. It’s annoy­ing but you even­tu­al­ly for­get about it.

Eat and drink The Duke of Edin­burgh just of Brix­ton High Street, is an ide­al place for a drink and meal pre-venue. It’s set a few min­utes’ walk from the high street, in a  res­i­den­tial street of Vic­to­ri­an ter­races. Once you’ve walk through the entrance room with snook­er table you find your­self in a large open space with long bar, plen­ty of sofas grouped round low tables and beau­ti­ful oak-pan­elled walls. The food menu offers around 12 choic­es of main cours­es (all priced at £9–11), and por­tions are sub­stan­tial. Try the Half Jerk Chick­en with rice, peas and coleslaw. It was notice­able that the major­i­ty of the clien­tele had come to eat, not just to drink. There’s also a pull-down screen for sports – Amer­i­can foot­ball was one while we were there but unob­tru­sive­ly. The gar­den out at the back is the biggest sur­prise of all, a huge space for a Lon­don pub, with plen­ty of tables.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *