Monday, October 29, 2007

Richard Hawley, Sala Apolo, Barcelona 27 Oct 2007

A Review

Life's bizarre circumstances: I never managed in England, and it's in Barcelona I get to catch a glimpse of my new musical hero.

The bar next door to Sala Apolo is packed with 30 or 40-somethings sipping the local equivalent of Carling (a lager that goes by the moniker of Estrella Damn) and sporting New Model Army t-shirts…

For a second I ponder at the unusual music taste combination…did they in any way find some sort of connection with Hawley's vintage brand of rock'n'roll…or is senility getting the better of me as I totally forgot NMA were to play the venue next door? I've dragged my girlfriend along tonight. She's no Hawley fan, but is willing to keep an open mind.

And so we head for the entrance. Difficult to judge from a 30-second experience but bouncers appear a touch friendlier than the power-crazed ex-convict-bunch back in the UK…no-one ever died from a smile and they seem to be aware of it.

We make for the upper level and Sala Apolo is, quite simply, beautiful. If expectations are anything to go by, the surreal setting heralds a great night: a cross between 'Cabaret' and vintage 50s dancehalls. In fact, the ballroom scene in 'The Shining' could have easily been filmed here.

It's a cosy, red-tinted little venue, donned in vintage lanterns and tasteful decor. Most strikingly, as we approach the stage, we find out there are no barriers. None. I can't help but think that if the guy standing next to me is going to be sick - not unlikely given the state of him- Richard Hawley's monitors will be in for early retirement.

Again, amazingly, capturing the best spot exactly right at the front is as easy as piss. Staggering pisshead on my left included, the audience are incredibly well behaved. Any gig I watched in England before, and I mean any, there was always a fucker or two completely off their head, spoiling it for everyone else. But thankfully not here, not tonight.

Javier MacKenzie, the one-man opening act, displays remarkable talent - though it's difficult not to think he could do with a band. Soon it's ten o'clock and Hawley-time.

Aside from his absolutely amazing, mesmerising voice, melodies and arrangements - as well as the compelling atmosphere his records evoke- what drew me to Richard Hawley in the first place was the obvious affability of the character.

As he walks on stage, Chelsea boots, jeans complete with turn-ups, white shirt and black blazer, it's quite obvious the word pomposity doesn’t fit into his dictionary. Before strumming a single note, he clocks the guy on my left (who's at pains to articulate a slurred "kr-ooh-nher!" at him) "You're pissed, aren't you mate? 'Ammered!" he smiles, "I'm going to get pissed myself after the gig".

Hawley's friendly banter with the crowd includes a Partridge-like moment when he asks for a ceiling fan to be turned off. He looks puzzled for a split-second and then proceeds to put it right "I don't mean these fans! I don’t wanna turn you off! I want to turn you on, you know!" he protests. Only to add, with a smile, "And oooh, by the way…I feel quite turned on tonight".

Later on, he'll introduce himself as "Maria, a crossdresser from Barcelona", and as I ask him if The Washington, a Sheffield pub owned by Pulp's Nick Banks, is still standing, he quips "It is still standing, but it's shite!"

When I decided to find out more about him I couldn’t believe he started his career in The Longpigs. Thankfully, his music is miles away from them. With a voice as magnetic as nothing else on earth, the guy was born to sing his own music. Morrissey tried to give voice to his rockabilly instincts and I'm still not entirely sure he managed to pull it off.

Hawley, instead, he's cracked it exactly right and he's turned me into a hardcore fan. Which I didn’t think would be possible past the age of 25. Music can convey the intensity of emotions like nothing else on earth but you won't know the full extent until you soak in, in silence, each one of Richard Hawley's records, Coles Corner and Lady's Bridge in particular. You'll almost feel reluctant to breathe in case you frighten the moment away.

Live, he's even more effective. He performs most of his new album Lady's Bridge with subtlety and style, striking that perfect balance that makes him sound epic without, in fact, being epic at all. I can't remember who said that it's not the notes that matter, it's the spaces in between and Hawley and his band are testament to that.

is the perfect opener, followed by a gentle rendition of Roll River Roll. It's quite obvious his voice is in fine form tonight and his band know exactly what they're doing. Just Like The Rain is followed by the fact-of-the-day that the video was filmed in the Spanish city of Almeria, and Tonight The Streets Are Ours is so heartfelt it's like an emotional air-raid condensed in a three-minute classic.

Coles Corner subtle-swelling chord progression captures the hall and I'm basically transfixed. Hawley introduces the graceful Lady's Bridge adding that "it's not a euphemism" while the wonderful Hotel Room is "a song about addiction", conjuring up a cinematic mood that would give David Lynch a run for his money. Darlin Wait For Me is "for our wives cos we're soppy old gits really" and what follows is one masterpiece after the other; the timeless Born Under A Bad Sign -my personal favourite - and the new single Serious.

Were it not for the British public being obsessed with trends and fickle notions of cool shoved down their throat, it would easily be a chart-topping contender. There's still time for the classic Something Is off his debut album: "I'm going away my sweetness, don’t you cry, cos tonight is the best time that we've had", he sings.

You know the old cliché that time flies when you truly enjoy something. Well, it's the encore already. The Barcelona crowd are clearly engrossed - can you blame them- and they're treated to the moody, almost spectral, Tonite and a lump-in-your-throat rendition of The Ocean, (initially spoilt by a pillock behind me laughing out loud until his own girlfriend had the sense to shush him).

"Gracias", Richard Hawley pronounces as he heads off. I look at my girlfriend and she proudly announces she's totally fallen for his music. And then it's time to go. Already.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Qué envidia! Yo me perdí el concierto... Glad to hear you had a ball though. If you're in town this wk-end gimme a ring, vale?
Alba X.