His sky's no limit


CD CHOICE: Richard Hawley/Standing at the Sky’s EdgeParlophone ****

The godlike genius of Richard Hawley has never been in doubt; over five singular albums, he has followed a road less travelled, crafting a vintage style of orchestral rock inspired by everyone from Scott Walker to Frank Ifield, and imbued with a resolutely northern aesthetic and a dash of smoky ballroom crooner. So fans of Sheffied’s best-loved working-class hero might be a little bemused by Hawley’s latest album, which sees him shedding the grey crombie and donning kaftan, beads and Jesus sandals.

Standing at the Sky’s Edge is a fevered psychedelic wig-out that showcases Hawley’s guitar- shredding skills, with tracks clocking in at five or six minutes, and guitar effects washing over Hawley’s dusty northern drawl.

“I wanted to get away from the orchestration of my previous records,” he says, “and make a live album with two guitars, bass, drums and rocket noises!”

A well-aged claret acting like a cheeky young chardonnay? This could go either Kula Shaker or Spiritualized. Luckily, it’s closer in spirit to the latter.

The album certainly takes off like a firecracker with the seven-and-a-half- minute She Brings the Sunlight, which opens with sitar sounds and builds up to a kind of How Soon Is Now for the now generation. The usually restrained arrangements have been abandoned in favour of wah-wah heavy guitar solos, but Hawley isn’t just tripping blindly through the past – he knows exactly where he’s going on this acid-tinged detour.

The title track is a dark, doomy fable peopled by biblical-sounding characters that pulls you quickly into its swirling vortex; think Ennio Morricone filtered through Nick Cave. Down in the Woods is an echo- drenched rush of sound effects. Just when you think it’s all gone a bit Ozric Tentacles, Hawley pulls back and delivers some plaintive, pointed vocal lines before letting it all run wild again.

The mood shifts for Seek It, a pastiche of pastoral whimsy in which Hawley pokes fun at hippy sentimentality: “I had a dream and you were in it/We got naked, can’t remember what happened next/It was weird.” Ignore the image of Hawley in the nip and you can see the black humour behind the flowers. Don’t Stare at the Sun also drips with atmosphere, gently shuffling memories of youthful innocence.

As with all Hawley’s albums, the title references a place in his native Sheffield, and the songs evoke life in a northern town as surely as The Beach Boys conjure up southern California. The Wood Collier’s Grave borrows Lennon’s hammer- on riff in Working Class Hero to tell a tale of a different life, and Leave Your Body Behind takes the chord progression from Summer in the City and sends it careering down the M6 motorway. Closing track Before makes for a very warm afterglow.

This album will confound many who thought they had Hawley pegged, but for those of us who always knew the scope of his talent, this is just the latest stage in his journey to becoming Sheffield’s greatest musical export.

Download tracks: Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Don’t Stare at the Sun, Leave Your Body Behind