Richard Hawley Live review by Rob Johnson
There aren’t many artists that encapsulate a whole season. I can’t explain it, but Richard Hawley and his sweeping majestic music simply is winter time. It’s nursing a mulled wine stood outside at a freezing Christmas market. It’s snowball fights and a log burner in the pub. Put simply, Hawley’s music is the perfect soundtrack for a biting cold December night in South Yorkshire…
Hawley has already delivered a four-night residency at the Sheffield Leadmill in 2022, and this date is the second of another three-night residency. Sheffield’s most iconic venue, the Leadmill is currently under threat of closure and Hawley has worked as hard as anyone to draw attention to the plight of a venue that is the heart blood of the Sheffield music scene. Unsurprisingly, he is treated like an old friend when he takes to the stage accompanied by a full band here.
A burst of feedback announces Hawley’s arrival before the meaty riff of ‘Off My Mind’ immediately has the crowd bouncing. The Sheffield legend was born to play intimate venues such as this, and indeed he informs the crowd that Leadmill management has told him that he has now played the Leadmill more than any other artist. ‘Alone’ keeps things moving with Hawley’s inimitable northern drawl reverberating throughout the venue before the title track from his 2019 masterpiece Further closes out a trio of songs from that album and the first part of the set.
‘Standing At the Sky’s Edge’ atmospheric and chilling lyrics serve as a stark reminder of how good Hawley is as a songwriter. Decked out like the leader of the biker gang that you could still take home to meet your mother, Hawley leads his band through ‘Hotel Room’ and ‘Streets’ before a stunning rendition of ‘Cole’s Corner’ has Sheffield in raptures. It really is a beautiful song for a winter’s night and Hawley has an uncanny knack for making every song feel special, an event, a moment.
The hard riffage of ‘Galley Girl’ segues into a more contemplative ‘Don’t Stare At the Sun’, the latter song giving the audience the chance to share hugs and smiles. Heart-warming stuff. ‘Time Is’ follows with its triumphant reflection on life and the warning that ‘time is on your side right now, but time will change’ providing a timely nudge to live in the moment. ‘Open up Your Door’ has always been one of Hawley’s most memorable and beautiful tracks and it sounds suitably sublime here before the Britpop infused rocker ‘Is There a Pill?’ sees the band leave the stage to a volley of applause and a football style chant of ‘do do doo do – Richard Hawley’. Needless to say, the old sage nods his approval.
Of course, Sheffield’s favourite son returns to the stage for a run-through of ‘Storm’, before traditional set closer ‘Heart of Oak’ closes the evening out. In another world, the latter song would be a massive hit in the style of Elbow’s ‘One Day Like This’ but the Sheffield crowd would rather keep Richard Hawley as music’s best-kept secret, thank you very much. As Hawley and his guitarist trade solos and the band are introduced, there is a feeling of history being made at the Sheffield Leadmill. An incredible artist. An incredible venue. It’s a marriage made in heaven. Everyone in attendance is just lucky to have gone along for the ride.