Richard Hawley at the O2 Academy,
27/9/12 – A Review Newcastle
Hawley churns out his classic crooner ballads from his last four LPs interspersed with plenty of towering guitar moments.
The beautifully husky, Irish voice of Lisa Hannigan – formerly Damien Rice’s backing vocalist – provided a great to start the evening. For quite a minimal outfit that consisted solely of percussion, ukulele, guitar and vocals, the trio produced a sound, that at times, belied their numbers. The harmonies between Hannigan and her accompanying guitarist, whose voice in its own right was excellent, were wonderful and produced some touching moments. At other times, the effortless speed at which the ukulele strings were plucked were a joy to behold and this was most noticeable on their penultimate track, Knots. Theirs was a warm performance in which the players’ personalities were heaped generously on the audience who in turn received them very warmly.
As my fellow gig-goer for the evening mentioned to me as the venue started to fill up, a Hawley gig is definitely an occasion at which it is not considered poor form to be sporting a “proper” beard; upon the evidence of the light bouncing off bald patches and the ‘hi-vis’ reflective strips that line cagoule jackets, this assertion would appear to have been validated. Seemingly in recognition of his core audience demographic, Hawley chose to toast the crowd with a fine glass of claret and grumbled archaically about the decline of the 7” single and the rise of mp3 downloads which he described in his traditional
Sheffield twang as akin to “buying
a bucket of steam!” Give over and put yer slippers on, Richard.
Gig demographics aside for the moment, Hawley began with the title track from his most recent album, Standing at the Sky’s Edge before playing a selection from his last four albums. Hawley graced the stage with his mandatory humour and delivery of wicked sarcasm. The latter could be exemplified no better than when he barked: “you must be rich up here....because you can afford to talk through this concert,” when addressing the audience at the back of the venue - a strange mixture of awkward and hearty laughter spread around the venue. Other highlights included telling us how an episode of kite-flying with his son inspired him to write Don’t Stare at the Sun: pretty mundane, except that he was off his face on acid.
Midway through the set, the massive Leave Your Body Behind You had enough energy to get many a reserved head nod and possibly even a vigorous foot-tap (me included) going. This really was the highlight of the gig and reached a musical climax that I don’t think was ever exceeded after this point. The strong pulsing drums were mirrored by lead guitar at the start before Hawley, with his great technical proficiency, floated above all this as the song built and built. You could sense before it came: cutting loose into an enthralling extended guitar solo; Hawley was in his element.
In many ways, the highlights of the set were the tracks from Standing at the Sky’s Edge; an album where Hawley has veered away from the ballads that have perhaps exemplified his previous 3 albums (Truelove’s Gutter, Lady’s Bridge & Coles Corner) instead targeting atmosphere, reverb and of course, perhaps his greatest strength as a musician: his outstanding ability as a guitar player. There were moments in the long, protracted codas in which the sound reminded me of the Verve’s Catching the Butterfly and their A Northern Soul years in the mid-nineties – to me, no bad thing.
This is all well and good but I was still left at the end with a mild sense of dissatisfaction because, despite these punches of towering guitar brilliance, the set was padded with Hawley’s seemingly ubiquitous ballads. Disappointingly, from a personal perspective, the Coles Corner-esque crooning that won him so much critical acclaim simply failed to seduce me in a live setting. It all merged into one long and tedious waltz that dragged and never deviated from either 3/4 or 12/8; it was all rather predictable and washed over me. You could see even the lead guitarist getting a little bored in a particularly indulgent rendition of Remorse Code as the set was drawing to a close.
In all honesty, despite the good moments it was a just-above-average and overall quite dated performance; if the slow ballads do it for you then I could see people really enjoying the gig, and this was clearly the case for quite a number of people present.
3. Hotel Room
5. Seek It
6. Soldier On
10. Remorse Code
13. Lady Solitude
14. The Ocean