It's a delcate balancing act - rooting your music in the personal experience of a city you grew up in whilst managing to sound universal rather than provincial, but Richard Hawley pulls it off better than anyone I can think of. Having lived in Sheffield myself I am very much drawn to his songs that reference the local places that mean something to him. When he talks between songs he is the quintessential Sheffielder - down to earth, witty and devoid of any of the pretensions that are seen as the preserve of those folk down the M1. But when he sings he possesses a voice that completely belies the look of a man you might find having a brew in the local cafe; it is a voice that transports you through the history of popular music yet remains resolutely in the here and now and resonates with all the emotions that classic popular music is supposed to. Though not averse to rocking out and adding a dash of psychedelia, Hawley works best when he turns to themes of the heart. His lyrics and the music conjured up by his band is unashamedly romantic, and if there is often a touch of melancholy and often a feeling of wistfulness then this is just the workings of an adult songwriter who isn't scared to write about adult themes, such as the emotions stirred when one of your children leaves home.
When I was living in Sheffield in the mid to late eighties Jarvis Cocker was still on the eternal cusp of making it with Pulp and Hawley was playing with Treebound Story, a band you suspected at the time were not going to break on through. They might have had to wait a long time, but I guess sometimes nice guys do actually win. Sheffield of the eighties was full of people who had music running through their veins, a generation who had grown up with the magical sound coming from 7 inch vinyl singles and the analog warmth of cassettes full of John Peel sessions. It takes skill to incorporate all your influences into your own music and still sound fresh, but mostly it requires genuine musical quality. That the city had plenty of talent in the post-punk era was obvious but as the dust has well and truly settled some thirty or so years later, perhaps Richard Hawley has emerged as the cream of the crop.
He played a great set at the Royal Festival Hall the other night, culled from a number of his albums with the emphasis, unsurprisingly being on Hollow Meadows and Standing at the Sky's Edge. The band were excellent - tight as the proverbial nut, and Hawley seemed to be enjoying himself, relaxed and chatty between numbers. The sound was clear as a bell, as the video of Open Up Your Door above reveals. Forgive the wobbly camera work and enjoy the sound of a performer at the peak of his powers.