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Richard Hawley is back: “I’ve still got a fucking pulse and I’ve got no intention to stop it.”

I’ve still got a fucking pulse and I’ve got no intention to stop it.

Sheffield’s favourite rock ‘n’ roll troubadour speaks to Sam Ward about the need for positivity, ramping up the pace on his new album and why home will always be where the heart is.

I wanted to talk a bit about the album. It’s not named after something explicitly Sheffield, which has bucked a bit of a trend for you. Where did the name Further come from?
I guess it doesn’t really mean anything. It was a weird one, really, because I had loads of different titles that were Sheffield-based and it didn’t feel right for some reason. I’ve been a solo artist for twenty years which is kind of a rabbit in the headlights moment, really. The longest commitment I had made to anything else was seven or eight years at the most. It doesn’t feel like twenty years, it’s gently drifted by and quite a lot has gone off.

I suppose with Further you’re implying there’s a lot more to go off?
Yeah. I often, when I reply to messages from people, I put the ‘xx’, because I’m a soft c*nt… I would probably put that to the taxman! And then I’ll put ‘onwards’ or ‘further’. It’s just a daft thing. I wanted to be really positive with the record in general because there’s so much fucking evil shit going on out there and I know that it must get to anyone who is a vaguely sensitive or sentient being on this earth. It didn’t feel appropriate to name it after something to do with Sheffield. When you break away from something that makes you so utterly predictable, it tends to be the talking point! That’s quite funny – one word and, “Oh, why haven’t you done it like that?” I’m still here, I’m still positive; I’m fifty-two years old. I’ve still got a fucking pulse and I’ve got no intention to stop it. I might revisit the whole Sheffield thing. There just seemed to be a full circle with the last record, the whole Hollow Meadows thing: I discovered it was the seat of the Hawley name and all that. On this record there were strict things I wanted to do – real, definite boundaries. I wanted things to be really short.

You can hear that it’s an up-tempo, optimistic record…
I wouldn’t say optimistic because I’m never known for that. Do you know what the difference between a pessimist and an optimist is? They’re both the same, but one of them is slightly more aware of the facts. I wouldn’t say my songs are particularly happy. All people that live on this earth, you have a lot of bad shit that happens around you. I wanted it to be an up-tempo, positive album. It is 32 minutes, if that. That’s another thing. As a gentleman of a certain age it’s so easy by this point to be in a studio with Steve Reich and loads of jazz musicians disappearing firmly up your own arse. But I’m an indie kid at heart, and that’s a big part of my background and origins, back to when I started off with Treebound Story and the school band. I’ve not lost that energy for things. Also, the kind of skill of compressing a lot of information into a very short space of time, it’s very easy to lose that. I guess I wanted to see if I could still do it. I hope I’ve got my GCSE there! I said to Col [Colin Elliot, producer] that we should do an album where we actually deliver what people think I’m about…which is quite funny.

“I don’t go to popstar parties and all that, it’s not my bag. I just live a pretty simple life and write songs.”

So Further is what you think people see you as?
Partly, but it’s more about the orchestration. I think about seventy/eighty percent of the album has got strings and orchestration on it. I know folks think of me as: “Richard Hawley, the string-laden, orchestral la-de-fucking-da ballad crooner”. If you listen to my entire back-catalogue – which, if you’ve got a spare year you can do – including B-sides, there are only eight tracks that have got a violin in and five/six key songs over a twenty year period that has had an orchestra on. I thought [on Further] let’s try it and make it grand sounding.

It doesn’t have to be hours long to have an orchestra, though?
No! It’s really self-indulgent. The tempo aspect was important. There are two ballads on it, there is one track that strays into four minutes long and we call that the prog track. Our friend, Clive Mellor, who is a virtuoso harmonica player, turned up when we were doing that track. and his playing was so good I just let it blow. That felt right to let it stretch the self-indulgent four-minute mark. I guess the end product was something that felt almost like where I started off but you’ve got all the years of experience in-between.

A couple of the tracks were in the recent Sheffield Theatres production, Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Which came first, the album or the soundtrack?
They were just hovering around. At any given time I’ll probably have maybe forty songs on the go, and that shrinks or expands depending on how sober I am. I just write songs, that’s what I do with my life. I don’t go to popstar parties and all that, it’s not my bag. I just live a pretty simple life and write songs.

Is there anywhere in particular in Sheffield that gives you inspiration?
Anywhere green. Although, actually, anywhere. The thing is about writing and creativity, it’s all to do with your state of mind. I’ll get my best ideas often when I’m not thinking of anything, almost in a state of not being anywhere. That might sound a bit vague. A lot of folks might see a vague life as being a bit of a downer but for me I’ve always used my limitations as assets, you see. I drift off in my mind: I’m very bad at concentrating on things. I was not a very good school pupil and I couldn’t pass a driving test. The thought of me behind a fucking wheel! Planet Earth is a far safer place with me not behind the wheel. I wander about, usually with the dogs, and just drift off in my mind. That’s an asset, you know.

“The thing is about writing and creativity, it’s all to do with your state of mind. I’ll get my best ideas often when I’m not thinking of anything, almost in a state of not being anywhere.”

You still live in Sheffield. What keeps bringing you back?
Sheffield. What more do you need?! You could sit and explain that forever but if you don’t know then you don’t know. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve circumnavigated the globe many, many times but I’m always happy when I get back here. It’s not that anywhere else is bad. It’s just, I’ve never found ‘it’ anywhere else. I’m not much of a tourist. I’m not someone that enjoys tourist ‘things’. I heard a radio programme about Venice – somewhere I’ve never been – and basically tourism has killed it because nobody that was born there lives there, there’s like 10% of the population of Venice. I’m just plucking that out of the air! It’s not anything particular. But 10% of that city is actually people that live there. The rest is people that bought places to visit like second homes. 16.4 million visit every year… there’s a million shops that sell plastic gondolas. That’s just an example. I’m a terrible tourist. I believe in what I heard when I saw Quentin Crisp, the magnificent orator. I was lucky enough to see him do a talk at the Library Theatre when I was sixteen and he walked on stage and said: “Now you’re gonna hear some straight talking from a bent speaker;” and he said brilliant things such as “when you travel, no matter where you go, there you are. You take all your shit with you”. I know where the wardrobe is, and the carpet, that metaphor, and the sky, when I’m in Sheffield. I’m not a ‘Little Englander’. I’m not somebody that doesn’t want to travel out of a bubble. But I’ve been a tourist. I personally see it as something that can be damaging.

Do you still like touring, then?
I like playing live… I like being with the band and the road crew because I am quite a family-orientated person, even in my friendships. I keep people very close and I’m close to people, and it’s mutual. Travelling, it’s usually similar people. I love playing live. But sat in a freezing bus in a car park in Runcorn! I defy anyone to tell me that’s exciting. ‘Cos it fucking ain’t.

I went to see John Cooper Clarke in the Octagon and you got a shout out. He even compared you to Elvis, I believe. Is that a fair comparison?
Oh, I don’t know about that. I’ve managed to outlive him by ten years so there I must be winning. Clarkey is a good pal. When he said that I was at the bar with Adrian Flanagan from The Moonlandingz! We were just getting drinks. Not avoiding the gig, because I love Johnny.

You got your own applause and it wasn’t your gig!

[Laughs] That’s typical Clarkey! He’s a very sweet man.


Further is released on 31 May. 




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