Richard Hawley – review

Forum, London

It's hard to be a guitar hero with a broken leg. Richard Hawley's broodingly heavy sixth album, Standing at the Sky's Edge, is a dramatic departure from his usual retro melancholy, and surely not a record he would have imagined having to perform in a wheelchair until a slippery marble staircase in Barcelona intervened. "I feel like Davros from Doctor Who," he says ruefully.

The painkillers limit his traditional between-song anecdotes, which have often been as entertaining as his music, though he is still a witty and self-deprecating host. Gesturing at the half-dozen trees that decorate the stage, he says: "It's like the back of B&Q, isn't it?" The foliage looks like an attempt by the Sheffield singer to stamp his identity on a less intimate venue (and noisier) than he's used to.

It's maddening to hear audience chatter in the back of the room almost drown out a song as exquisitely stealthy as Remorse Code, which highlights the rich charm of Hawley's croon: it has a well-worn, comforting quality, like pub upholstery. Conversely, the new album's most derivative song, Down in the Woods, sounds grippingly muscular, broken down midway through to a cosmic Bo Diddley beat and built back up into a wild roar. The two styles merge on Soldier On, which starts out hushed before exploding skywards with a jolt. Sometimes, it seems, howling guitars are the only way to ensure an audience's attention.

After a droll thank you on behalf of his band ("We're so grateful; without you guys, we couldn't buy booze and cocaine"), he offers a choice of two encores: one quiet, one loud. The crowd votes for the first, which Hawley calls "the shut-the-fuck-up option". And when he closes with The Ocean, an old song given a spectacular, soaring new arrangement, everyone does.


Dorian Lynskey

The GuardianTramp

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