Richard Hawley, Scala, London

Scala, London

There is something rather disconcerting about encountering Richard Hawley live. Over the past few years, he has released three albums. Each has been packed with epic, sweeping songs, touched with the influence of late-1960s Elvis, Roy Orbison and Scott Walker, in which lovers run from each other and ruefully note that you don't miss your water 'til your river runs dry. It is music with a large heart and a vulnerable soul, perfect for the audience assembled here: bookish thirtysomething males and cuddling couples.

However, Hawley himself turns out to be more robust than the fragile soul his music suggests. Most sensitive singer-songwriters give off a crumpled aura, as if they have never quite recovered from always being picked last for school sports teams. Hawley is more like a jovial fixture from your local.

Between songs, he keeps up a cheerfully foul-mouthed monologue, delivered in dour Yorkshire tones. He berates an audience member for using a mobile phone, demands another give him a drag off his cigarette and reflects with spluttering disbelief on the current activities of Lou Reed:"Ave you seen t'cover of that kung-fu magazine, wi' 'im fookin' waving a sword?" With that, he launches into Baby, You're My Light, a grown-up love song of delicate beauty, featuring a lambent melody and a sonorous, deep vocal. The audience stop chuckling and begin gently swaying along, eyes closed.

In fact, the gap between Hawley's stage persona and the sensitivity of his songs makes sense. He has resisted the temptation to rock out, go techno or experiment with world music, sticking with the ballads, honing them until they sparkle. With the best will in the world, there is not a lot of dynamic variety in his music.

That would be a problem live, were it not for his between-song patter, which offers all the shifts in mood you need. He seems touched by the audience's warm response. "All you people turning up, it really means something, it makes me feel less alone," he says softly. "Honestly," he adds, "I'm not taking the piss."

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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