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.