Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sheffield's finest

An interview with Richard Hawley

In the 80s and 90s Sheffield gained a reputation as the birthplace of some some truly amazing bands. The Human League, Def Leppard (ok, maybe NOT quite them), Cabaret Voltaire, ABC and Pulp were for a time able to give bigger and more celebrated cities a run for their money.

Today's torchbearer is by far my new favourite artist, Richard Hawley. He stands out from today's crop of bands. People have been talking about a renaissance of indie and guitar music but, since the Noughties, I've personally been left a bit cold. Except, that is, for Richard Hawley.

His records sleeves alone can tell a story like perhaps only The Smiths' could. And the music...well, that's another thing altogether. Sparse piano, shy, shimmering, beautiful guitars, stunning arrangements and a wink and a half of the atmosphere of 50s rockabilly. After attending his fantastic gig at Sala Apolo, Barcelona, I decided to ask him a few questions. He politely agreed and here's what he said.

- I'm one of those people who believe artwork and record sleeves can be as significant a factor in making you fall in love with a band. Your imagery seems really meaningful - which is fascinating. Not many current bands can boast the same. Have you always been into records layouts and sleeve designs?

I agree. I don't think it's quite as important as the music, as you can listen to music and fall in love with it without the artwork, but it helps define and artist/band and helps to separate them from the pack if they are brave enough. I have, since my earliest bands, been very much interested in the artwork to covers of singles and albums, as well as all the poster, etc. I like things to have continuity if and wherever possible. I have no formal training at all, but this isn’t important if you have a definite idea of how you want things to look. I have always liked a more journalistic approach to most of my sleeves. Almost like a snapshot rather than something posed, although the newer stuff was more thought out. In the past I would just choose a location I liked and then just fire away.

- Can you think of any sleeves that had a certain impact on you in the past?

I like sleeves from the 50's and 60's, no surprises there, I suppose. I also like a lot of graphic design of the early 20th century. I like hand set lettering and simple but effective design. No clutter, just to the point.

- Do you think the age of internet and downloading can put an end to all that? Records are quickly giving way to 'invisible' MP3 tracks?

Well, it's hard to say, isn't it? But I think it's odd that everyone assumes that the entire world is glued to the internet. They aren’t. At a time when record companies are panicking and using the internet more, which to me makes music more unreal and remote, I think it's MORE important than ever to be real and available as an artist. Especially live; that's the real test. A lot of stuff that's available won't translate to a live audience. I don’t think the internet will be the death of music or indeed record companies. It will be the death of the performer because it takes years to learn that craft.

- You once said your political views are "Jurassic Labour". What do you make of 10 years of Tony Blair? And can we expect any change at all now with Gordon Brown at the helm, or is it just unnecessary delusion?

My views are from the perspective of being a steel worker's son from a generation of men who were abandoned by ALL their leaders. I have never trusted politicians and trust them even less now. They only care about their own careers, they don’t give a shit about the consequences of their actions, no matter what they say. Blair and Brown are just another pair of lying monkeys on the vine.

- Do you ever look back and miss being "just" the member, however significant, of a band, instead of chief singer/songwriter/lyricist and the one carrying the torch?

All members of a band are important. I used to carry a lot in Pulp; I handled a lot of the dynamics, but it was all done quietly at the back, no problem to me. In my situation now I had to be the singer…although I did try and find someone to sing the songs but couldn’t…cos no-one else wanted to, or could actually sing them the way I heard them in my head. All ways of making music are valid and I have enjoyed all past and hopefully future ways I have and will play music. It's not an issue to me.

- The Barcelona gig. I heard a few guys shouting "Roy Orbison!" Flattered, or does it piss you off a bit?

They are at the wrong gig. I don’t really mind. It's better than them shouting "George Michael", innit?

- You're one of the few artists I can listen to without literally skipping a track. Each of your records is remarkably consistent from start to finish. The last two albums though are just in a league of their own. Which songs are you most proud of?

That’s very nice of you to say, so thanks. I don’t have favourites really… I like the ones I haven’t written yet.

- 'Tonight The Streets Are Ours'. There's a line in which you sing: "Those people they got nothing in their souls/ And they make our TVs blind us/ From our visions and our goals". Are you referring to, by any chance, the current state of UK telly, megasaturated, as it is with celebrity pap and' realities'? In any case, what's your take on them?

That’s exactly what I am referring to. It's so depressing! I have decided to just disengage with it all. I would rather read a book or go for a drive than even look at the TV when it's off. It's the lunatics' lantern, my friend…

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