Richard Hawley | Sage Gateshead | Newcastle | 3 Nov 2015
Earlier this week Sage Gateshead welcomed Richard Hawley, one of the country's finest singer-songwriters, to their stage. The show had been sold out for some time but still a few optimistic souls could be seen hanging around the venue's lobby hoping for a late return or restricted view ticket to become available at the last minute. Sheffield born Hawley has been responsible for some fine albums in the last decade, their titles often referencing his home town, from 2005's Mercury Prize nominated "Coles Corner" to "Lady's Bridge", "Truelove's Gutter" and 2012's effervescent "Standing At The Sky's Edge" which saw a departure from the lush, orchestral sounds that were his trademark to distorted, set-the-amps-to-11 guitar rock.
This September’s "Hollow Meadows" album continues the Sheffield inspired title theme and sees something of a return to Hawley’s familiar sound, his rich, baritone croon delivering a new set of personal songs such as “What Love Means” and "I Still Want You". Intimate though many of the songs are, there are others which retain something of the steel of “Sky’s Edge” such as "Heart Of Oak".
The current tour is Hawley’s biggest to date - it includes a hometown arena show – and pleasingly the set delivered at the Sage was beautifully balanced. Opening with “Which Way” from the latest album and following up with the familiar refrain of “Tonight The Streets Are Ours” it was clear that Hawley’s lush voice was ideally suited to the superb acoustics of Hall One. Indeed, the sound mix, at least from my vantage point, was crystal clear and comfortably one of the best sounding shows I've heard in the hall. All credit to his talented band and sound engineer.
The whirling, almost psychedelic guitar playing of "Standing At The Sky's Edge" was the evening's first visit to the album of the same name, but happily, for those of a rocking persuasion it wasn't the last - "Leave Your Body Behind You" was played, and the three song run of "Time Will Bring You Winter", "Down In The Woods" and Don't Stare At The Sun" was a resplendent section of the set.
Hawley has something of a reputation for being taciturn and a man of few words on stage, "This is... another song" etc, but his dry humour crept out on several occasions: when responding to a call from an audience member in an impenetrable Geordie accent he politely enquired if anyone had a phrase book, and to much amusement, he shared his taxi driver's observation that the main similarity between Newcastle and Gateshead was that in both places you could trade chips for sex.
In his turned up jeans and denim jacket, Hawley may look like he's stepped straight out of a greasy caff or an oily garage, but this patina only thinly hides the inner romantic poet. Songs like the magnificent "Open Up Your Door" where his voice tonight sounded as creamy as the product it was famously used to sell, and newer material such as "What Loves Means", "I Still Want You" and "Tuesday pm" all performed during the evening, are clear evidence of this. In "Heart Of Oak", which is so immediate you know it like an old friend within the first few bars he even name checks Owen and Blake commenting how precious their poetry is to him.
The audience was one of real contrasts from youngsters looking like they were attending their first concert to silver-haired pensioners, from groups of girls having a night out to blokes at the merchandise stall placing their orders for souvenir bottles of Hawley's Henderson's Relish to be collected at the show's end. It was a magnificent performance and Hawley’s elevation to bigger halls seems to have been taken in his stride.
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