Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley


It’s only a short trip from from Sheffield to Manchester, but a gig anywhere here always feels like a home-from-home for Hawley. It was a quick return to the city for Hawley who played his “beloved Manchester” back in November.

It was a set that borrowed heavily from his last two albums, but there was room for much loved fan-favourites from his back catalogue for all to appreciate.

Support so far on the tour has come from Marry Waterson, from the Waterson-Knight-Carthy musical dynasty.

She was back in the north after a string of dates back down south with Hawley. Although she doesn’t hail from these parts the audience welcomed her as though she did.

David A Laycock, with whom she had recently released the album ‘Two Wolves’ and Andy Preston join her on stage. The entrancing ‘The Honey & the Seaweed’ is based on a lyric by her mother, Norma. Marry says that its a thrill seeing Richard Hawley each night especially when he plays ‘Hear of Oak’ written in tribute to her mother.

For the title track ‘Two Wolves’, Waterson encourages the audience to add backing howls for the chorus. The audience is more than willing to do so.

Waterson was an excellent opener and with a set that borrows heavily from her latest album. It is certainly something that I will be checking out on the evidence of tonight’s performance.

Hawley was resplendent as ever with his denim jacket, jeans, white shirt and slicked back hair, as he enters to the song ‘Guitar Man’. He starts as he means to go on with one the newer tunes from the excellent ‘Hollow Meadows’. ‘Which Way’ is the perfect warm up for the rest of the set. It’s a slow building tune to a killer chorus that Hawley seems to write with ease.

“Tonight Matthew, the streets are ours.” Is the first of many between song quips as he introduced ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’. He is clearly in good spirits despite suffering from a cold.

‘Open Up Your Door’ is just simply beautiful, with its wistful vocals. The John Barry-esque coda is simply sublime and adds something ethereal to the song. I was about to write down that it was a set highlight, but I had already done that twice so far tonight. It was best to leave a summation like that until the end.

“Now this is a depressing tune. If you want to talk through it that would be great”, Hawley announced before he launched into an impeccable version of ’Tuesday pm’. Plaintive, maybe, depressing it’s not. The vulnerable and stark arrangement is nothing short of magnificent live.

Some of the more expansive songs from ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ such as ‘Time Will Bring You Winter’ and ‘Down in the Woods’ are the perfect showcase for Hawley’s talents and the rest of the band. This is not done in a showy way, but the arrangements only serve to embellish the perfectly crafted songs.

Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley

It is clear that the audience are appreciating every moment of the night, though Hawley isn’t sure. “You’re very quiet,” he asks at one point. “Knackered” is the reply from the stalls. “I’m with you there mate,” is Hawley’s reply. Although he doesn’t look like he’s flagging that’s for sure. He need not have worried as I look around the audience, I can see everyone hanging off his every word and every chime of his guitar.

‘Don’t Stare at the Sun’ is another song that was much loved when it came out on record, but seeing it live gives it another dimension.

“Time for a bit of rock n’ roll.” Hawley announces as he straps on yet another guitar to play ‘There’s a Storm Comin’’, the disappointment of time running out for the set is made up by the closing number.

The bands remerge to ‘Coles Corner’ a beautiful song that would have had Frank Sinatra clamouring to cover if he was still walking amongst us. It’s beautiful and for a moment you are transported away. If you close your eyes it sounds like there’s a full orchestra accompanying Hawley. One of the joys of technology is that it can replicate such a sound live.

Hawley declares that ‘What Love Means’ is another depressing one. It was written about his daughter who has recently left home. A moment that brought tears to his eyes; with comic timing as impeccable as his guitar playing and singing, he revealed that those tears were of joy. He was only joking.

“I love Manchester, but we’re fucking off back to Sheffield.” He announces just before the last number. The groans at that announcement showed that audience didn’t want the night to finish.

“Thanks for making it special,” was Hawley’s last message from the stage before he launched into ‘The Ocean’. Most bands would kill for a song like this to close a set with. Hawley has many others that could easily be picked for that honour. Tonight it sounded sublime and despite feeling like you could hear more from Hawley, you also thought how could he follow that. In fact the whole night I found myself asking that question.

It would be too much to hope that he will be playing Manchester sometime soon, but the next time he is I hope to be there. Simply stunning from start to finish.