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Right. Where to start? The first interview in a Sheffield magazine. Who do we get? We get Richard Hawley - the man is as Sheffield as Henderson’s Relish.

Pinning him down for an interview is a bugger. Not because he’s a prima donna, as far as we can tell, but because he is busy, busy, busy. Recording his new album down at Shalesmoor’s YellowArch studios has been interrupted by festival dates in Reading, Leeds and Budapest with Pulp and on the morning of the day sandman catches up with him he’s played guitar on a couple of Finlay Quaye’s new tracks. His fingerprints are also apparent on the new Baxter Dury and Hoggboy albums and the next week he’ll start producing ‘A Girl Called Eddy’, Setanta’s new signing.

The album’s almost - almost, done and Hawley (nobody seems to refer to him as Richard) is looking a bit battered. He’s been rendered unwell by a bout of bronchitis caught off Pulp although it doesn’t stop him spannering his way through the tabs.

He’s got a thick, deep Pittsmoor accent and he’s well worth chatting to, not so much for the light sprinkling of anecdotes which pepper his conversation, but for his keen sense of the city that bred him and which in, odd, oblique ways, informs his beautifully lush music. It’s a music which ignores the tide of popular culture in favour of the classic, the timeless. “I just write songs about the cheerful things, specifically love and death. It’s romantic music,” he says.

It was probably inevitable that Hawley would become a musician. Read Martin Lilleker and John Firminger’s excellent, ‘Not Like A Proper Job’ - a history of Sheffield bands during the 60s - and that’s his mum, a singer, on the cover. Inside you’ll see his Dad, a guitarist, and Frank White, his uncle, was last seen playing at The Boardwalk’s anniversary gigs a few weeks ago. The only ‘proper’ job he has had was “9 weeks at HMV over Christmas 1986. I had to listen to so much shit I didn’t look at or play any of my instruments during that time.”

By the time the Longpigs went ballistic in the mid-90s Hawley had already been playing for years up and down Sheffield’s ‘golden mile’, the now distinctly debased West Street. He’s watched the city changing over the years and worries that in an effort to modernise the planners have been guilty of throwing out the good with the bad.

“They forget about the colloquiality of a place should reflect the taste and culture of the people who live in it. I’ve travelled all over the country and you see it everywhere. This homogeneity, streets full of shitty bars, I can’t understand how people can accept so little. Look at Popstars, essentially it’s - ‘look, we’ll wipe our arses on a CD and you lot can rush out and buy it.’” Simon Cowell, he says, unequivocally ‘is a c*nt’. And he means it.

This desire to acknowledge the past, perhaps because it is disappearing, is apparent in his music and conversation. Both nod to things he patently admires, the scale of Scott Walker the production of Spector, and he enthuses about the classic Nuggets and Pebbles compilations with a hearty sincerity which, being a Sheffielder, never tips over into mawkishness. (He reckons Sheffield artists share a sense of being ‘slightly disgruntled’. “Look at Pulp. They’re very glamorous but at the same time they’re a bunch of grumpy old farts.”)

The art work on his previous albums, last year’s mini-album and ‘Late Night Final’ reflect his attachment to his own history. “I used to go on holiday, on my own to give my parents a break, to my Gran’s in Cleethorpes. Once a week she’d go along to the bingo with her little bottle of Gordon’s Gin and I’d sit outside on the mechanical rides. And the cafe on ‘Late Night Final’ is in Castlemarket. I’d go shopping with my Mum and spend my 70p on a single at Bradley’s and afterwards, if I was good, she’d treat me to a milkshake.”

If any of this gives the impression that Hawley is a small town groaner it’s worth remembering he has travelled the world like it was a city centre bus route and as a musician spends most of his life gigging when he is not in the studio.

In conversation a local DJ mentioned Hawley and his vast collection of astonishingly brutal 60s R’n’B and Garage 45s. The Dj asked where he got hold of them. Hawley told him. “Mexico.”

Having tasted it in large measure he can tell you that ‘being a popstar is ridiculous, absolute bollocks. It’s like the free toys you get at MacDonalds. When you’re a kid you really want it but when you get it you realise it’s just shitty plastic and you’re cobbing it away over your shoulder.”

“The first track on my mini-album was called ‘Coming Home’ and it’s about that, the relief of coming home. We fell apart in the Longpigs, we forgot about being musicians.”

He’s lucky in some ways. While Jonathan Ross was shouting his praise on Radio 2 recently he’s unlikely to be mobbed in the street yet he can play all the great festivals and his albums sell respectably. In Paris he can fill 5,000 seater venues and get his face on the front cover of national publications. It’s a position he’s earnt rather than been given and he’s respected for it.

Of the current crop of local groups he mentions Fat Truckers and I-Monster as ones to watch and the fact that “kids are great for optimism.”

He doesn’t get out and about in Sheffield as much as he would like - a combination of work commitment and the fact that people might be intimidated to ask him to events because of his high profile. “I’m not scary,” he argues “or only when I’ve had ten pints of beer and I’m spewing on you.”

Hawley’s shared the odd beer with the likes of The Strokes, the Stripes and the god-like Charles from the Pixies but he lives in Sheffield, his third child is on the way, and has never had any intention of leaving. He‘ll describe himself a ‘speccy, nobhead from Pittsmoor’ but as sandman is leaving, a friend of his pops in to hear a few tracks and leaks a few tears. Testament to the emotional resonance in his music.

In the best way possible Hawley knows his place.



Richard Hawley
Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley

words: Jack Tractor

pic: Steve Taylor

October 2002


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