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Hawley harks back home
7:00am Saturday 15th September 2012 in Music
Ahead of his UK tour, which begins on Wednesday, September 19, Richard Hawley talk to Andy Welch about the reinvention of his sound on recent album Standing At The Sky's Edge, the broken leg that nearly killed him and much more.
Whenever given the chance, Richard Hawley talks passionately about Sheffield.
He was born there in the suburb of Pitsmoor, and each of his seven studio albums are named after landmarks or fondly remembered places in the city.
It's no surprise that he wants it to be the location for today's interview, and has given directions to one of his favourite places in the now-well-to-do area of Fulwood, a mile or two from his house; down a country path, next to a waterfall and duck pond.
Dogs run around and children play on the swings. The sun's out, but it's cold.
Out of the haze, a Richard Hawley-shaped blur emerges. When he gets close enough to talk a hand flies out to shake.
"Eh up, kid. Fancy a brew?"
Hawley knows the cafe owner - Alan - well and is on first name terms with most of the dogs that circle him too.
"He's just like my Fred," he says, patting a sheepdog and referring to his own beloved hound.
"Nice round here, isn't it? My granddad brought me here when I was two, and I've been coming here ever since."
Forge Dam is indeed a beautiful spot, and it's where Hawley walks Fred almost every day. It's also been the scene of some of his best songwriting.
"I've written most of the last two albums while out with the dog," he says. "I rarely sit at a piano or guitar to start off a song these days, I just get ideas while I'm walking and hum then into my phone.
"If Fred could talk, I'm sure he'd ask for 50% royalties, but he gets a nice bone from the butcher every now and again so he's happy."
It's pleasing to meet Hawley on a day off and find he looks almost exactly the same as when he appears on stage. He might not be wearing one of his wide-lapelled zoot suits, but the quiff is there, along with thick black-rimmed glasses, making him resemble a cross between Elvis and Roy Orbison.
He's wearing a big black coat, dark jeans with Teddy boy turn-ups and shiny black brogues, recently re-soled after an unfortunate incident in Barcelona.
Hawley was in Spain playing a festival when he slipped on a step and broke his leg.
"I was stone cold sober," he says, "that's the most annoying thing about it, I can't even blame booze."
He's up and about again now but, during the summer, he performed all scheduled shows - including Suffolk's Latitude festival - in a wheelchair.
"I don't cancel shows, ever. I'd had this right ordeal in the hospital. The marrow was leaking into my bloodstream and poisoning me. A few more hours and I'd have died.
"Anyway, we were back at the hotel an hour or so before the show and I just said 'Let's do it', so we borrowed a wheelchair and went to play to 80,000 people. I was on so much pain relief, I don't remember a lot."
What he does remember from the eight weeks of not being able to walk is the fact he didn't write a single song.
"It's a long time for me to go without," he says. "All I did was watch The Blue Planet and England's Greatest Goals on DVD."
Needless to say, Hawley and his band are itching to get out on the road with new album Standing At The Sky's Edge.
As with Hawley's six previous albums - Richard Hawley, Late Night Final, Lowedges, Coles Corner, Lady's Bridge and Truelove's Gutter - its title is rooted in Sheffield history. Sky's Edge is an area of the city that has both beautiful views across the valley and crime rates as high as the tower blocks.
While much of his previous work had him at its centre, Standing At The Sky's Edge sees Hawley turn storyteller.
The title track pulls together three dark vignettes; Joseph, who kills his wife and children, young Mary, forced into theft and prostitution and finally jailed in Sky's Edge prison, and Jacob, who stabs somebody in a fight.
"They're all people I knew when I was growing up in Pitsmoor," says Hawley. "True stories, those.
"Thatcher took over when I was 12, and things started going very wrong in the community soon after. It's happening again now, which is why I wrote it.
"It's about what happens when you take the rug from under people, and when a government gets rid of social safety nets, you're left with problems."
Stylistically, the album is a leap in a new direction, and save for perhaps two songs, Seek It and Don't Stare At The Sun, largely ditches Hawley's characteristic lush, orchestrated sound for Indian-tinged psychedelia (She Brings The Sunlight), Stooges-esque garage rock (Down In The Woods) and swirling, guitar-heavy walls of sounds (Leave Your Body Behind You).
The latter sums up the album's contents best, and comes from Hawley's realisation, after the death of close friend Tim McCall, that we must do what we can with the time available to us, with lyrics including 'Kindness should be a way of life, not something you have to think about twice'.
Delivered in Hawley's honeyed croon, it makes for a positively life-affirming moment on a great album.
"I wanted to have a break from touring before we started this album," he says. "I wanted to spend some time being a husband and dad, and dog owner. Just stand still for a bit and be normal, you know?"
Explaining the change in artistic direction, he says he wanted to "widen the ground I stand on", hinting that he's already written most of what will become his eighth album.
"I'd hate to get bored. I'm a very restless person and I'd have to have a word with myself," he says.
"Another reason is I'm getting more confident, which is an odd thing for a 45-year-old man.
"I think it's because I'm older that I don't care about sales or anything. The main aim is to sell enough to be able to make another one.
"If you have your eye fixed on LA and swimming pools and Maseratis, you're doomed to fail," he concludes.
"At best, all I've ever hoped for is a Mini and a bird bath."
Extra time - Richard Hawley
:: Richard Willis Hawley was born on January 17, 1967, in Sheffield.
:: In the Nineties, Hawley was a member of Britpop band Longpigs. He later joined Pulp with his old friend Jarvis Cocker.
:: After Pulp disbanded in 2002, Hawley worked as a session musician and co-wrote Clean for Robbie Williams's debut Life Thru A Lens.
:: A huge Sheffield Wednesday fan, Hawley signed his publishing and recording contracts in the Kop-end goalmouth of Hillsborough, Wednesday's ground.
:: He's also worked on albums with Duane Eddy, Shirley Bassey and Lisa Marie Presley.