Live Review: Richard Hawley at Bristol O2 Academy

Richard Hawley by Chris Saunders

Chris Saunders

The Sheffield cowboy rolls into town on the back of yet another accomplished album.

Released earlier this year, Further didn’t tread much new ground for Richard Hawley but nonetheless was another fine collection of songs that sat well alongside his older work, many of which are now being dusted down for this tour.

Before a note has been played tonight (October 2nd) Hawley asks the audience if they plan on being as good as the crowd in Dublin the night before. It’s the oldest trick in the book, but wryly asking when he has their maximum attention shows his experience. Needless to say, the crowd reply in the affirmative so he duly rips into the gonzo fried rock of Off My Mind.

Later on he further gets the crowd on side by recalling the story of why his daughter chose Bristol University: ‘You only have to pop to the shop and you’re wasted’. At another point he mentions his yearning for a Guinness and a member of the crowd obliges.

Not that he needs to get the crowd on side as his natural warmth and human touch goes beyond his troubadour tendencies and is the key characteristic of his music. The intimacy yet majesty of Coles Corner and the shuddering skiffle of I’m Looking For Someone To Find Me go straight for the heart, while the idealistic romanticism of the bone-rattling Where The Streets Are Ours continues to be universal.

But in line with Further, which is a more electric-guitar focused than many of his other albums, tonight is an exercise in timeless British rock music. He encourages a large but barely heard clap-along for the stomping Time Is, while Galley Girl is a rolling beast. Such is Hawley’s reputation as a romantic crooner that his expertise on the guitar is undervalued; every solo or lick is delivered by the man himself. Open Up Your Door is given a fuzzy solo and he fully kisses the sky for the mighty Heart Of Oak.

A few choice cuts from the epic Standing At The Sky’s Edge of 2012 sit well alongside the newer material; the gothic drama of the title-track fills the venue, and encore closer Down To The Woods is beastly in its ferociousness. There’s A Storm A-Comin is also refined from gentle rolling sojourn to seismic symphony.

Yet the reputation is also justified: his growling baritone suits the rockier numbers but also has an elegant beauty and fragility which fit the acoustic reliant numbers such as Emelina Away. Never less than compelling as a stage presence, Hawley is also deferential to his band. He gives his harmonica player free reign to go wild for Coles Corner, and what little Hawley doesn’t go on the electric is ably filled by his guitarists, while the drumming is water-tight and pitched perfectly for every song.

Watching professionals at work isn’t regarded as especially rock and roll, but consummate professionalism is no less of an impressive sight.

(Richard Bowes)

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