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Live / stage review

A new magic: Richard Hawley at Leadmill

River Hawley brings his flow to a much-loved Sheffield stage.

9 August 2022 at
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Rob Barker.

From godfathering monkeys and playing in pretty much every one of your favourite bands and pubs in Sheffield, to his insidious naming of albums after city locales (which means I can’t drive to St. James Retail Park without a pavlovian whistle of ‘The Only Road’), Richard Hawley runs through the city like a sixth river.

It’d be weird if he wasn’t doing a residency at The Leadmill, basically. But that doesn’t take away from the sense of occasion on this, the second evening of his four-night run at the beloved venue in response to The Leadmill’s eviction notice. The audience is all polished shoes and leopard print dresses – more Last Night of the Proms than Late Night Final. When Richard’s bewilderment at Orgreave’s sons and daughters voting Tory is met with a less than resounding boo, the building seems to sigh.

The Leadmill bends the night to its will. I love ‘Open Up Your Door’ as much as the next romantic, but its insistent chant has a new magic when it’s sung on this stage and in this context.

But while it’s a thrill to hear a song as intimate as this in a 900 capacity club rather than an arena (handled by Hawley and his band with the care of men carrying a grecian urn), it’s the brakes-don’t-work collisions and smashes – the messy Velvet Underground cover with special guest Jarvis Cocker, the biblical Sturm und Drang of an apocalyptic ‘Standing on the Sky’s Edge’ – that take your breath away.

Which makes sense. The Leadmill is a spell born of protest, agitation and bloody mindedness. Hearing Hawley and his band kick their way through ‘Down in the Woods’, they seem to be conjuring the magic that Cocker describes as the club’s power.

That meandering introduction leads to a perfectly pitched new song co-written by Hawley and Cocker. ‘A Sunset’ seems to simultaneously celebrate and lovingly take the piss out of a venue that’s adroitly moved between jazz sundays, jumble sales and most of the greatest music of the last 40 years. It’s a moment when anything seems possible.

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