Richard Hawley — a brief history
Richard was born on 17/1/1967 in Sheffield UK to Dave and Lyn Hawley. Dave had been a well known Sheffield musician in the 1960’s playing guitar for his own Dave Hawley Combo and The Black Cats, as well as numerous others. He would often put ‘pick up’ bands together for touring US musicians and would end up playing with the fearsome talents of people like Little Walter or John Lee Hooker. Lyn was also a singer on the club circuit with her sister Jean White. They sang (amongst others) Everly Brothers covers or rock n roll hits of the day. Meanwhile Richards uncle Frank White was carving out a name for himself locally as one of the best guitarists the city had seen, along with Dave. Frank is remembered for his twin necked guitar which he had long before Jimmy Page became synonymous with the instrument in Led Zeppelin.
It is inevitable then that Richard, son and nephew of phenomenal guitarists and singers and grandson of a music hall violinist and musical saw player would become a musician. After Richard’s father found him with his prized guitar that Richard had been warned away from at an early age, Richard was taught the instrument by his family and taught well enough to find himself on the road in Germany aged 14. He toured with Chuck Fowlers Band playing rock ‘n’ roll covers in-between strippers and exotic dancers strutting their stuff in the fading glamour of Hamburg’s nightlife at the beginning of the 1980’s. One taste of life on the road was enough to focus Richard on what he wanted to do. His love for rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly had been there since he was a boy and with the appearance of new bands like (particularly) The Stray Cats and The Meteors his enthusiasm grew more.
Meanwhile, Britain was becoming hooked on synthetic music; literally. Synthesizers were the new hip instruments and Sheffield became the country’s leading exponent in electronic music. Now they seem the norm but at the time Human League, ABC, Cabaret Voltaire all appeared revolutionary in a way that punk had done just a few years before. Every band in the city had a synth and a drum machine. Well, all but one; Treebound Story. Treebound Story began life at Firth Park School and consisted of 5 friends; Paul Infanti (vocal) Richard Hawley (Guitar/BV’s) Paul Currie (Bass),Rob Gregory (Drums) and Simon Beckett (percussion). Taking their influences from The Byrds, Flying Burrito’s, 13th Floor Elevators and Chocolate Watchband (to name a few) their music was fresh, melodic and guitar driven. It was focused on traditional song writing values and ignored the current fads; electronic, goth and house.
Odd then that Treebound Story became signed to FON records in Sheffield; owned by Industrial Funk outfit Chakk it seemed an unlikely label to release their first single. They went on to release one more single on FON before being picked up by Doncaster label Native Records. The band released one recognised classic ‘Swimming In The Heart Of Jane’ which was a John Peel favourite at least. But after years of staying together as a tight band of brothers the labels inability to release their recorded debut album became one let down too many and the band finally accepted their fate as they split in 1992 after a number of years being the hottest band in Sheffeld along with their notional rivals Pulp (the bands were never so much rivals as much as being both bands who everyone knew should succeed).
From the ashes of Treebound, The Lovebirds were born with a nucleus of Richard, Paul (Cuz) Rob and Simon. Additions were John Stuart (from aforementioned Chakk) and Dean Steel on Rhythm guitar. Despite an offer of an indie deal from Ultimate Records the band never released anything as a full commercial release but did do a 12” white label. Then Longpigs came knocking for Richard, whilst Robert was to go on and form the nucleus of Babybird.
Longpigs were a new breed of band in Sheffield. They were born out of some great musicians in bands who should have made it – the Happening Men, Treebound Story, Chakk were all the backbone of the Sheffield scene. Longpigs had learnt from this and were a leaner more hungry, focused and determined band. And they damn nearly made it big. They had a number of hit singles including ‘On and On’ ‘She Says’ and ‘Jesus Christ’ and two great albums deemed to be part of Britpop but endless touring in the States with U2, Radiohead, The Bunnymen and others burnt the band out. Finally their record label which was owned by U2 closed down the day the band appeared on Friday nights galvanising music TV show ‘TFI Friday’ with the zeitgeist host Chris Evans. After two albums, numerous singles and far too many tours the band imploded leaving Richard demoralised,demonic and demented! It seemed possible that the end of the road had been reached.
But true to Richards philosophy of’ ‘what comes around goes around’… he got a call from his old school friend Steve Mackay asking if he would be up for playing guitar with Pulp as the band had finally taken off in the supersonic fashion every Sheffield music obsessive knew would happen eventually. Richard had no hesitation in saying “get me on the bus’”. Three years or more of playing with Pulp followed with headlines at Glastonbury, Leeds/Reading and V festivals in the UK and their final studio album ‘We Love Life’ released in 2001. And once more, back to square one.
By this time, to many around Richard it seemed the inevitable would finally have to come. He had shown to many friends over the years that he was more than a gifted guitarist (and at times that seemed a ridiculous understatement). Many drunken nights in Richard’s company would end with him singing old Elvis songs or Hank Williams or John D Loudermilk or occasionally something quiet he had written himself. Songs about Pitsmoor; the area of Sheffield he had grown up in – “next to a butchers and the taxidermist and over the road from the cemetery” as he would often say.
Pitsmoor is a faded glory place. Its got a grimness to an outsider but if you know it and you look closely it has a history and a proud successful past in the steel industry; where Richards father had originally worked; at the rolling mills and furnaces once the signature of the lower Don Valley. There, in the cemetery there was a romance and pride which the modern world seemed to want to wipe off the planet. So when Richard came back to Sheffield after years of touring the world, the city he knew had been ravaged by the miners strike, the closure of the steel industry and inexplicable attempts at redevelopment which further alienated Sheffield people from Sheffield.
From that background and the help of good friends and musicians Colin Elliot, Shez Sheridan, Andy Cook and Si Stafford Richard’s first self titled ‘mini’ album was born. Originally it was his opinion it would be released on the internet only but Keith Cullen who ran Setanta Records in London’s fashionable Camden Town showed complete belief in the record, making it a much talked about debut and ensuring the British press and radio took it seriously. Harking back to what seemed to be another time, it never became pastiche, simply timeless music; a blueprint which has tended to stick with Richard throughout his career.
Richard continued to balance his own career and releases with a fierce loyalty to Pulp’s last few tours and Jarvis’ venture into his own solo career. There were numerous side projects around this time in the early 2000’s; Relaxed Muscle being the oddest; a reaction to the lack of humour and fun in the stagnation after Britpop maybe? Whatever Relaxed Muscle was it certainly wasn’t what it claimed to be “the sound of Young Doncaster”. If it were to be taken seriously at all it might have been closer to The Residents than anything else. Meanwhile Richard toyed with slight electronic diversions with Teenage Werewolf – as he once dubbed it ‘Electrobilly’. One great single was half released and the rest was history.
In Richards increasingly main job; his solo career, he was forced to take up the mantle he had laid down and better the mini album. To manys suprise he did in the full album debut ‘Late Night Final’ which showed he had much wider skills than the emerging term ‘Americana’ would have pigeonholed him with. This album had soaring great pop songs (Baby Youre My Light, Something Is) and a dark melancholy underpinning which probably comes to fruition strongest in the albums ending ‘Long Black Train’ (which eventually ended up on the film ‘V For Vendetta’ to signify the train which was used to blow up the Houses Of Parliament in the film.
Lowedges (named after a region of Sheffield) continued many themes on the previous releases. It seemed a much brighter, lighter and airier record in places and possibly the bright sunlit, silhouetted cover signifies a more hopeful artist than Late Night Final projected. It has been commented on alot that Richard does make melancholic music but it has a sense of hope in it rather than it being negative. It is a positive thing though not necessarily always happy. This album did though mark an end to his relationship with Setanta Records and open the door for a new label; Mute. Mute had been seen very much as an electronic music pioneer – launching the careers of Depeche Mode, The Normal, Silicon Teens, Erasure, Yazoo, Goldfrapp etc. It was also the home for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and hidden away in the label were lovers of Lee Hazelwood, Jack Nitzsche, Hank Williams,Scott Walker et al as well as being lovers of modern ground breaking music. It was a label which took risks to lead not follow. It was the perfect home for Richard .
And so came Coles Corner, the album which pulled many of the previous themes together and made sense of them and what Richard was trying to achieve. Essentially a songwriter, a guitarist and now dubbed a crooner. The album became Mercury Music Award nominated – famously losing out to the Arctic Monkeys with Alex saying on his acceptance speech “call 999, Richard Hawleys just been robbed”. The great thing was though that Sheffield had won and Sheffield music scene was once more being reinvented.
Was it during his time Richard and Jarvis went to America to work on Nancy Sinatra’s album? And later when Richard co-wrote with Elbow? The list of collaborations of the years is well documented on the ‘collaborations’ section of this site. But it is important to note that Richard spends as much time on other people’s music as he does on his own. He is a musician first and foremost so collaborations are part of the every day. What makes the collaborations happen are wide and varied. In the past it would have been friendship, intrigue and loyalty, then sometimes it was as a guitar for hire when times were lean. But now its simply part of what makes Richard tick as a musician. If something takes his fancy he’ll do it, if it doesn’t he won’t no matter what.
Ladys Bridge was recorded in 2007 and in many ways was Richard’s most successful record to date. It charted at number 6 UK and was the most radio played of all his albums. The album launch took place in Hawley’s Tyres – a tyre fitting garage just around the corner from Ladys Bridge. In keeping with the occasional odd venues Richard had played in (the first album was launched with a free gig at Henderson’s Relish factory in Sheffield) Richard finished the Ladys Bridge campaign with a gig in a cave – the oddly titled ‘Devil’s Arse’ in Castleton, Derbyshire well into December ’08. The album is personified by the lush use of strings and its epic quality.
And so finally to Richard’s most recent album; Trueloves Gutter which was released 21st Sept and saw Richard still firmly entrenched in his home town muse but still not following the obvious paths. It has been well documented this record has 10 minute+ songs and that in a traditional sense it has no singles – though after being used on a TF advert, ‘Open Up Your Door’ was released. Singles will always have their place but they shouldn’t be the reason a writer sits and writes. Trueloves Gutter is a personal view of Richard and the world around him and the people. In Richard’s career (as he laughingly calls it…) it is the next chapter and something he has been hugely excited by. It has meant he has discovered new instruments; the mega bass waterphone, glass harmonica and cristal bachet and he has finally managed to get a musical saw on his own record – something his grandfather would probably approve of.
Richard’s best description of the music of his home town of Sheffield is probably the analogy he gives it with the ‘Little Mesters’ in the Steel industry. Little Mesters was the collective name given to individual crafts people who worked mainly alone and with great skill . They worked in tiny little rooms in the centre of the city and created things of great beauty, or things of great use. Each one was distinctively different and did very different jobs. But they all made strangely different things that could only be made in Sheffield.