Richard Hawley – review

Somerset House, London

"Welcome to Sheffield" reads the street-sign hung from an Edwardian gas lamp in the opulent Somerset House courtyard, but it should really have read, "Welcome to Sheffield Working Men's Club." Finally drawing the crowds he deserves after seven acclaimed solo albums and a lifetime of foiled award nods ("I've got as much chance winning as I have of seeing the Queen's tits," he said of his 2013 Brits nomination) has done nothing to stop Richard Hawley mimicking a hardened Yorkshire club turn. Crushing hecklers with brutal put-downs – "Those pills they give you in hospital are right savage, eh" – he spins yarns about flying kites on acid, calls George Osborne a wanker, and offers to buy us all a beer, then remembers the steep bar tariffs: "Can I have one pint of lager and five thousand straws?"

It's a grounding mechanism that stops Hawley's show becoming a complete Nashville prom-night fantasy. Placed midway between a 50-a-day Roy Orbison and the crime noir menace of Afghan Whigs, Hawley writes 50s-crooner torch songs with teeth. The dark psychedelics of his latest album, Standing at the Sky's Edge, have added meat and thunder to a canon of string-backed Americana; the narcotic murder balladry of its title track seeps sedition while Leave Your Body Behind You is a crime-scene squall that Raymond Chandler might have heard in his (big) sleep. If, as the cliche goes, shoegazing acts build cathedrals of sound, then Hawley builds grand, stately morgues.

Joined by one Johnny "B" Wood thunking a customized double bass, Hawley indulges in a regrettable mid-set rockabilly segment that smacks of the Butlins lindy-hop weekender. But otherwise he consistently skirts the sublime, whether in the oceanic washes of Open Up Your Door, Tonight the Streets Are Ours' breezy hula, or hallucinogenic kiting tune Don't Stare At The Sun. "Without you," Hawley says, "we couldn't buy any booze or cocaine." We wish he was here all week.

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Contributor

Mark Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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