MAN OF STEEL
Richard Hawley grew up in Sheffield and the city he still calls home has provided the inspiration for much of his music to date. However, having taken a break from recording, the singer songwriter tells beyond why he is keen to explore new horizons.
F or the best part of two decades, Richard Hawley had settled into a familiar, comfortable routine. The Sheffield singer/songwriter would go into the studio armed with dozens of potential songs and with a little help from a band of fellow musicians he has known for years they would be shaped into a dozen or so tracks and a new album would be released.
Following the publicity rounds, Hawley & Co would go out on tour and afterwards he would take a deep breath and get ready to do it all again. However, mindful perhaps of that old adage, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, when the curtain came down on the last gig of the Hollow Meadows tour in 2016, Hawley, who was about to turn 50, decided to shake things up a little.
“I hadn’t become jaded, but I was conscious that if I just kept on going that I might end up that way,” he says, two and a half years after pressing the pause button. “As a musician you get into a cycle of recording an album, touring and then going back into the studio. I became a musician to avoid getting a career and while I love it, there is a danger that you get yourself into a rut.”
At the same time Hawley, a founder member of the 90s indie group Longpigs and occasional Pulp guitarist, was looking to put his head above the parapet, he was approached by the actor and writer Tony Pitts. His screenplay Funny Cow, starring Maxine Peake as a female comedian on the northern working man’s club circuit, was about to start filming and the production team was looking for someone to do the soundtrack.
Hawley couldn’t think of a good reason to say no and with his own projects on hold, he kept on saying yes. Having hit it off with Funny Cow director Adrian Shergold, Hawley also wrote the music for his next film Denmark, due out next year, and was part of the creative team which reimagined his 2012 album Standing on Sky’s Edge as a musical.
Written by Chris Bush, the show told the story of three families living in Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill flats, which were hailed as a wonder of modern architecture when they were built in the 1960s but later became a byword for social deprivation. It was a huge word of mouth hit for Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre and for Hawley it was proof that good things come to those who try.
“I was completely naïve about writing for film and the stage. I went into both thinking, ‘I have no idea what I am doing, but let’s give it a go’. My approach might have been a bit unorthodox, but it was great to be doing something different, something I hadn’t tried before.”
While Hawley isn’t a man prone to self-help speak, when he was finally ready to record a new album he felt, he says, creatively refreshed. Further – the first of his solo albums not to have been named after a part of Sheffield – is the result of those endeavours.
“I felt like I was 18 again. As a musician I have never wanted to churn out albums just to keep me on the gravy train and having been away from the studio for a while I decided to restrict each song on the album to three minutes.
“Again it was my way of dipping my toe in some new water, plus the rest of the band loved it as it was much quicker to record than my normal approach.”
The only one which didn’t hit the three-minute mark was Time Is thanks to some virtuoso harmonica playing by Hawley’s old pal Clive Mellor. It now comes in at just over four minutes and he likes to describe it as the album’s prog track.
Hawley’s music has never been overtly political, but it does turn the spotlight on very human emotions. Further is no different, with songs pondering the difference between loneliness and solitude, another about the memories we treasure and a third inspired by the death of a close friend.
While the subject matter might occasionally be dark, Hawley always offers a sense of hope, a sense that most things are better after a couple of pints and a night out with mates.
“It’s easy to look at the world and see the shitty people, but I do think that ultimately we will be ok. There are so many parallels between today and when I was growing up in the 1980s. Back then if you were northern or lived somewhere in the UK which relied on industry, if your dad was a shipbuilder, a steelworker or a miner, you were f*****.
“Once again it feels like the drawbridge has been raised, the ladder has been pulled up and ordinary people are being ignored. However, I am an optimist, a glass half full man and I always think that ultimately people will be galvanised to make a difference and it will come good.”
As for Hawley, he’s gotten a taste for stepping off the recording and touring treadmill.
“Who knows, I might open a bicycle repair shop, Hawley’s Bikes and Tyres.”
In Hawley’s world, stranger things have happened.