Richard Hawley: In This City They Call You Love – Heartfelt, humane and extraordinarily rich

Hawley is making his music ever more niche, but to dismiss these songs on that basis would be a mistake

In This City They Call You Love
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Artist: Richard Hawley
Genre: Pop/Rock
Label: BMG

Inspired by the pop balladry of the 1950s and 1960s, Richard Hawley has long since given up hope of getting into the ring with contemporary pop royalty. He is a songwriter not necessarily out of time but most certainly out of favour in all but the most discerning households. With Teddy-boy tailoring and a Brylcream quiff to match – and with a Gretsch guitar rumbling and twanging away in the background – the Sheffield singer could pass for Billy Fury at the local Ritz or Elvis Presley cutting shapes at Sun Studios. Hawley’s familiarity with times past, however, aligns itself with his sense of nostalgia and his abiding love for his home city.

“Twelve hours a day by the furnace and forges … crawlin’ home in the cold of the mornin’” he sings on People, which extols the self-respect and conscientiousness of working-class communities. He brings things closer to home with Prism in Jeans (“she is the spectrum, she is the light, she is the shadow, the mysterious night”), a song so attentively styled on pre-Beatles pop that it could be put on the soundtrack to any of Cliff Richard’s early-1960s movies without anyone noticing the difference.

Of his 10 studio albums, eight have directly referenced Sheffield, either by title or theme. One could observe that, by releasing yet another album about his love of the city, Hawley is making his music ever more niche. But, to dismiss the highly stylised songs on that basis would be a mistake – within the parochial details lie universal themes and truths. Rather, pay heed to the likes of Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow, which raises a tumbler of whiskey to the entwined spirits of Patsy Cline and Hank Williams, or the cinematic, string-laden Heavy Rain, with a lyric that could crush you (“even at the ending of the world, you know I’m always thinking of you girl, in all this heavy rain”). In other words, it is business as usual for Richard Hawley: heartfelt, humane, meditative and extraordinarily rich in texture.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture