Richard Hawley @ Albert Hall
Of course it’s not THE Albert Hall or Bolton’s Albert Halls (with the ‘s’ scrubbed out famously by Peter Kay), but a venue which is becoming quite a pull on the tour circuit and something of a little gem for Manchester folk. The converted chapel up the stairs above what used to be Brannigans and the site of an infamous episode of ‘Most Haunted’ which had Derek Acorah experiencing some seriously bad vibes is now much more at home in its guise as a mid sized distinctive music venue.
Atmospheric and shabby chic; from stone stairways, tiled walls, peeling paint to the wooden benches cum pews around the horseshow balcony. It’s high stage is great for viewing from the floor but a bit of a challenge to photographers creeping round the feet of the bands trying not to catch the dreaded up the nose, or even worse, up the skirt shot by accident but an opportunity to admire at close hand the intricate carvings on the wooden platform. If it were a football stadium, the amount of wood in the structure might have seen it condemned years ago, but as a music venue it’s close to perfect. Perfect in fact for an artist like Richard Hawley. The Bridgewater might be too grand and conventional for him whereas the Academy (played on his 2012 tour) is more a talker’s paradise - something which irritates him spectacularly. No – it was bob on and a rapid sell out guaranteed the fact that next year and striking while the iron’s hot, immediately booking in at the much bigger capacity of the Apollo for a swift Manc return.
Support was from Meilyr Jones – a Welshman (surprise surprise) and former frontman of Race Horses, now going it solo. He certainly has a bit of Manc about him. The sort of decent support act that Hawley seems to pull into the spotlight with him. Close your eyes and he could at moments even have sounded akin to a young Moz – that kind of Manchester rather than the swaggering indie tribes. Some have marked him as the face/sound of 2016. Watch this space, you never know and all the Hawley fans can say they were there.
The ovation and thumbs up in return from the man dressed in casual but classic denim as he strolled onstage was the sign of a mutual respect, love even, between Richard Hawley and Manchester. The bluff and blunt exterior and a couple of jibes and digs (“Leeds were better” - he’s a Yorkshireman after all) were archetypal Hawley – self depreciating and cutting yet genuinely warm and appreciative. He also took time to acknowledge his band who not only back him perfectly in a musical sense but also form part of the Sheffield family along with merch man Palf, who contribute to the tour programme and make this more than an act which is the big name and his sidesmen.
The Las Vegas/sex for chips joke – seemingly the ‘tour joke’ (apparently you simply substitute the town name each night on the tour) is still one which tickles but the sell out venue hadn’t come for the banter as engaging as it may be. There was plenty of the new Hollow Meadows getting an airing with the more experimental slant of the material Standing At The Sky’s Edge record also acknowledged. The last album’s Leave Your Body Behind You and Time Will Bring You Winter offered up something more atmospheric and dense while the newer material veers more towards his classic songwriting oeuvre. Heart Of Oak – the tribute to folk legend Norma Waterson fair thundered along while Sometimes I Feel and Tuesday pm could easily slot into the more romantic, some might say love song, pigeon hole. It might not have kicked ass or have had people dancing in the aisles but was music which was literally made for closing the eyes and drifting into a dream.
A couple of back catalogue choice cuts – Open Up Your Door, The Ocean and the fairground ride carousel twirl of Tonight the Streets Are Ours acknowledge what’s become a catalogue in which there’s barely a duff song, never mind album. There was also a return for the gorgeous Coles Corner in the encore set which seems to be reappearing in the set at choice gigs, but in the main it was lush and evocative and music with genuine mass appeal without selling his soul. You get the feeling he’d go down well with the X Factor – in a complimentary sort of way – whilst having enough about him to remain wilfully (and fiercely) independent enough to be his own man.
And a fabulous gig too for those who enjoy the thrill of a classic guitar or two - gear geeks – which Hawley and Shez Shridan have in plenty. Their guitar tech must hold an envied position in handling and taking care of some of those Gibson and Gretch beauties while at the same time holding one heck of a responsibility.
From the elder generation who are seduced by his rich serenading to the younger romantics who appreciate the value of soft music and candlelight seduction Richard Hawley has an unusually wide demographic and appeal. An appeal which seems to be slowly picking passengers on the Hawley charabanc out of Sheffield.
Images & words: Mike Ainscoe
Catch Richard Hawley again at the Apollo 24th February 2016