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Richard Hawley and Guests at the Oxford New Theatre, 5 February - review


I have long been an admirer of Richard Hawley’s and am really pleased that he is finally receiving the recognition he deserves, having previously served on guitar duty with indie underachievers The Longpigs and the wonderful Pulp. His recent albums ‘Coles Corner’ and ‘Lady’s Bridge’ set the bar extremely high for the support act, who managed to pull off preceding such a talent with aplomb.

Support came in the form of Vincent Vincent and the Villains, who were great fun. A London-based four piece who sound like Franz Ferdinand doing the flamenco, they opened with a growler of a track called “Beast”, which was propelled by a heavy bass line and a thudding, insistent drum beat.

Singer Vincent Vincent was extremely charismatic and really won the crowd over, encouraging people to join in with the band for single “On My Own”, providing handclaps alongside drummer Alex Cox’s pulsing beats. This was the most well-known track amongst the audience and its ska-infused rockiness was well received.

New tracks including the next single “Pretty Girl” also met with a positive response and it’s easy to see why. The band are extremely professional, slick musicians who look and play the part. They engaged in lots of tongue-in-cheek rock posturing with their (very spangly) guitars and lead singer Vincent was dressed in what appeared to be a matador’s jacket. Their fifties rock-with-a-twist would be perfectly suited to a Tarentino score and certainly set the mood for Richard Hawley and his band’s cinematic sound. I look forward to hearing their debut album ‘Gospel Bombs’, set for release on 25 February, 2008.

Now for the star attraction … Hawley’s adoption by Radio 2 DJs, 2006 Mercury Prize nomination and 2008 Brit nomination have seen him embraced by a diverse audience stretching far beyond former indie kids like myself. The audience at the New Theatre in Oxford served to prove this, comprised of a huge cross section of people from teenagers all the way up to OAPs! Many a senior citizen seems to like Richard Hawley because he reminds them of Roy Orbison, and as Hawley strode on stage in an immaculately cut silver lounge suit and brylcreemed quiff, he typified a fifties music idol.

The faded opulence of the New Theatre was a fitting venue for his music, especially given that the audience was seated as in ‘the old days’ - I felt transported back in time to a world of stockings, skiffle and the birth of rock and roll. The spinning glitterball atop the stage reinforced this illusion, setting the scene for a memorable night.

Hawley’s lovelorn and wistful songs recall old time courtships backed by landscapes of sweeping strings and Shadows-style guitars. For the tour, the strings were replaced with keyboards and a laptop but there was no discernible difference between the sound on the albums and that generated by the keyboardist. The performance Hawley and his band gave was faultless: tight, assured and full of obvious love for their craft. Plus, the former string player in me always delights in seeing double basses used live: the rockabilly number “Serious” was darn good fun.

Richard Hawley’s seemingly effortless crooning is both seductive and tear-jerking, and he and his band were magnificent. They perfected a sound which matched that on the albums, but without seeming clinical or lacking in passion. The sparkling and hook-laden “Tonight The Streets are Ours” was the exception to this in that it actually seemed to transcend the quality of the original - no mean feat! Accompanied by piano and his band, Hawley gave a spirited performance of the track and never have the lyrics, which afford the working classes a grace and dignity the modern media would prefer them stripped of, resonated more.

He followed this up with a luscious and elegant rendition of “Lady’s Bridge”, which he cheekily informed the audience was “not a euphemism”. Whenever I hear this track I am never clear whether he is singing to a lover or his hometown of Sheffield (Lady’s Bridge is a bridge in Sheffield which separates the poorer areas from the rich), but I feel their conflation makes for a truly emotive song which appeals on both levels. These tracks were placed at the heart of the performance and were for me, the gig’s highlights, along with stunning, harmonica-accompanied covers of “Lonesome Town” and “Lonesome Tonight”. They elegantly evoked a real sense of longing and nostalgia.

Hawley’s timeless love songs and paeans to Sheffield give a grace and elegance to the loves of ordinary people and his performance was in keeping with this. His between-song patter fondly referred to his Nan (for whom “Lady Solitude” was written) and his ‘lass’, all with a down-to-earth and modest demeanor which was utterly charming and genuine. He displayed a great sense of humour and eagerness to engage with the crowd and was also extremely generous towards his band, with whom you can tell he has a great relationship. The rest of the audience obviously agreed with me as we all joined in vociferous demands for an encore. These were rewarded with ‘I told you I’d be back’, and a stonking finale which closed with the gorgeous “The Ocean”, which for one last time allowed us to witness that as well as being a lovely man and talented singer, Hawley is also a fine guitarist. The performance was mind-blowingly epic and is one I will never forget.

Richard Hawley is currently on tour -

February 2008 tour dates:

Wednesday 6th Southampton, Guildhall 02380 632 601
Friday 8th Manchester, Academy 0161 832 111
Saturday 9th Glasgow, ABC 08444 999 990
Monday 11th Leicester, De Montfort Hall 0116 233 3111
Tuesday 12th London, Astoria 0871 231 0821 / 020 7287 0932
Thursday 14th Galway, Roisin Dubh
Friday 15th Dublin, Vicar Street
Saturday 16th Belfast, Mandela Hall
Monday 18th York, Opera House 0870 606 3595
Tuesday 19th Buxton, Opera House 0845 127 2190
Saturday 23rd Festival para Gente Sentada, Cine-Teatro Antonio Lamoso, Santa Maria de Feira, Portugal
Sunday 24th Malaga, Teatro Cervantes


Richard Hawley on Myspace
Richard Hawley Official Website

By: Lindsey Davis

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