Richard Hawley returns to his roots with ‘Sky’s Edge’

Richard Hawley - he owns 104 guitars! (271112JC4: Photo: Steve Gullick)
Richard Hawley - he owns 104 guitars! (271112JC4: Photo: Steve Gullick)

He has worked with the likes of Elbow, Hank Marvin, Nancy Sinatra, Robbie Williams, The Arctic Monkeys and, more recently, Lisa Marie Presley, but Sheffield’s finest export, Richard Hawley, only truly shines when left to his own devices.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of our time, Richard Hawley will grace the stage of Derry’s Nerve Centre next Saturday night, December 1, where no doubt a capacity crowd will hear material from his magnificent new album, ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’. This week, ‘Journal’ reporter JULIEANN CAMPBELL caught up with him to talk guitars, teenage kicks, and the possibility of a forthcoming gig in Derry’s Glassworks....

The new album is in the shops now. (271112JC3)

The new album is in the shops now. (271112JC3)

He has worked with the likes of Elbow, Hank Marvin, Nancy Sinatra, Robbie Williams, The Arctic Monkeys and, more recently, Lisa Marie Presley, but Sheffield’s finest export, Richard Hawley, only truly shines when left to his own devices.

Having previously played guitar for Brit-pop bands Pulp and The Longpigs, Hawley’s rise through the ranks has been meteoric.

This sixth studio album, his first for new label Parlophone, marks something of a departure for him. Renowned for creating his rich, full orchestral sound, Hawley has now abandoned the strings and returned to his first love of guitar for ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’.

“I wanted to get away from the orchestration of my previous records and make a live album with two guitars, bass, drums and rocket noises!” says Hawley.

“I’ve always been a guitarist first. I’ve been playing guitar since I was six years-old and it’s something that’s always been there. But for this album I felt I’d gone as far as I could go with all the orchestration and my passion for oddball instruments!

“So for this, it was stripped down, just me and the band in a room together, no peripheral additions. Us five sat together in a room, so close we could see the white of each other’s eyes. It made for a very immediate, direct approach and I do feel that I used all I’ve learned over the past 40 years as a guitar player.”

The critics love it. Music fans too, it seems. Hawley himself feels as comfortable with his string-box as he ever did and it shows.

“I’ve never lost the love for the guitar, it’s just something that’s always been there. I own 104 guitars! I keep them in a very large room,” he laughs.

“And that’s excluding all the various other instruments I pick up along the way - I’m a bit of a magpie!”

His early introduction to rock & roll has certainly paid dividends.

Compared to 2005’s Mercury-nominated Coles Corner - famously losing out to the Arctic Monkeys with Alex Turner declaring on his acceptance speech “call 999, Richard Hawleys just been robbed!”. Then its top ten successor Lady’s Bridge and 2009’s universally-acclaimed Truelove’s Gutter, the new album is a seismic shift from all that has gone before.

Reflecting on his inspiration behind the new album, the Sheffield-born musician explained: “I realised that I had been on the road for nearly 30 years and so I suppose I wanted to be particularly meticulous and do this album well. I’ve toured for such a long time, still I’d managed to keep a relationship for the past 23 years and have three kids. But I realised I needed to spend time with the family.”

Hawley took his time writing, enjoying the time with his family.

“It’s funny, with every song I worked on, I knew I was getting closer to touring, and so I’d pretend to the label that it was really difficult when it wasn’t!”

“So I guess taken as a whole, I was working on it for around 18 months but in terms of actual studio time, it was done in probably one month.”

The album’s opening track, She Brings The Sunlight, explodes with a sense of romance and melody. Hawley has written no shortage of love songs over the course of his life, but this is something different.

“The song is about being physically attracted to someone you truly love,” he explains. “People talk about that like it’s a cheesy thing, but I wanted to do justice to what it really feels like. I want to f***ing applaud when my wife walks into a room. It’s like a revelation.”

A revelation indeed. Fans of Hawley know only too well how deep love and romance infuses all he touches. His wife is one lucky lady.

In the tradition of Hawley’s previous albums, the title is inspired by an area of Sheffield, just as in records like Lowedges, Coles Corner and Lady’s Bridge. And although Sky’s Edge sounds particularly alluring, Hawley is quick to point out the reality of the situation.

“Sky’s Edge? Well - it’s not so lovely as it sounds!” he says. In fact, Standing At The Sky’s Edge derives its title from an area of Sheffield (Sky Edge) which achieved a degree of infamy as a result of the gang warfare which stemmed from illegal gambling rings there. The problem became so serious that the Flying Squad was formed in order to re-establish law and order there.

On the title track, Sheffield’s past acts as the backdrop to a dystopian present exacerbated by Governmental neglect. Hawley is fiercely protective of his own city and justifiably concerned for society in general.

“‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ is, in a way, a response to what our government’s been doing to the country. It’s saying that we’re standing on the edge and need to decide which side we are taking.

“Our green spaces are disappearing and the arrogance of the government trying to sell off the countryside is astounding. Times are tough.

“But civilisation by definition is that we care for the sick and the elderly and cherish and nurture our youth so they can live happy fruitful lives, and I don’t really see that happening anymore. It’s the opposite in fact,” he says. “I’ve got a whole other set of ethics. I’m no political orator, but I get a point across in the music by dealing with the more emotional side of things.”

“Sheffield is where my roots are, I’m a steel-worker’s son and a steel-worker’s grandson and it’s such a great place, full of history. I got a Collie and she’s fantastic - we go walking in the Peak District and all that.

“Sheffield is seen as such an industrial place but in reality all around there are just amazing green spaces and open countryside. I thought the album would be quite pastoral because of that.”

While the new album is clearly fuelled by a love for his hometown, the death of close friend and musician Tim McCall in 2010 also prompted 45 year-old Hawley to ponder the bigger picture.

“Losing one of my oldest friends had quite a profound effect on me, to be honest,” he admits with some sadness.

“Tim had replaced me in Jarvis Cocker’s band and he died at 37, leaving a beautiful baby girl behind. He was an amazing guitarist - one of the best.

“All my life, he was my guitar buddy and so that, as much as anything, inspired me to get back to the guitar too.”

“On a lighter note, I am really looking forward to playing in Derry!” Hawley adds, suddenly bouncing back from melancholy.

“One of the greatest bands ever live in Derry! I mean, I wasn’t a punk, but The Undertones were my first big passion, I loved them. Still do!”

The last time Hawley played the North West, at Earagail Arts Festival, he spoke to the ‘Journal’ about The Undertones at length and admitted he would love to meet them someday. Has he ever ran into them in the intervening years, I ask?

“No, I’ve not met them yet,” he says. “I once met their lead singer at Electric Picnic though, and he seemed like a good fella.”

Discussing Derry’s forthcoming year as City of Culture, Hawley reveals that he may just be back to Derry sooner than we think!

“The Culture year is very exciting for Derry, isn’t it? I’d love to be a part of it. I’ve actually been asked to play Other Voices when it comes to Derry next year. That would be amazing as I played the Dingle one before, it was fantastic.”

And with that juicy revelation, Sheffield’s best-loved troubadour is off - no doubt onto the next round of press interviews where, just like now, his good humour and genuine warmth will prevail throughout.

Richard Hawley plays Derry’s Nerve Centre next Saturday, December 1, and tickets are on sale now from wegottickets.com, ticketmaster.ie and the Nerve Centre Box Office on; 71. 260562.

www.richardhawley.co.uk