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A Magazine for Sheffield

Richard Hawley In This City They Call You Love

Layered depth, potent melodies, atmospheric guitars and songwriting excellence – it's Hawley at his very best.


Released: 31 May 2024
In This City They Call You Love

Richard Hawley took time out last year to release a comprehensive compilation mirroring this magazine's title, Now Then. It's common knowledge that musicians sometimes play the 'greatest hits' card to draw a line in the sand before embarking with fresh impetus on the next stage of their career. Maybe that is or isn’t the case with Hawley, given his chameleon-like ability to switch musical genres to extraordinary effect.

Indeed, having achieved critical acclaim along with the award-winning cast of Chris Bush's iconic musical Standing At The Sky's Edge, a piece of work that couldn't be better suited to Hawley's music, you'd be forgiven for thinking his professional sensibilities would find themselves moving inexorably in that direction. But Hawley is of course very much his own man, and loath to become restricted artistically, as evidenced by his 6 Music disclosure about declining to tour a hugely successful one-off 2023 Manchester gig with John Grant performing songs by the late, great Patsy Cline.

Sheffield references are always prevalent in Hawley's work, especially in LP titles (Truelove's Gutter, Standing At The Sky's Edge) and ITCTCYL is no different, with the album cover (by Dean Chalkley) juxtaposing Hawley exiting the brutalist Hanover Way underpass with the soft, ethereal blue hue of the substation above.

240111 Richard Hawley S05 0387 v3 RGB med Credit Dean Chalkley

In This City They Call You Love is Hawley's ninth solo album.

Dean Chalkley.

So, to the music on this, LP number nine in the Hawley discography. Once more Sheffield's serenader has dipped into his bag of sonic and lyrical tricks to come up with twelve tracks that straddle the spectrum of mesmerising guitars with beautiful, heartfelt and sentimental slices of classic pop. Atmospheric opener ‘Two For His Heels’ describes a "deal gone wrong" against a backdrop of a Duane Eddy-inspired blues rumble. It's a song that invites you into a murky world that maybe you'd best keep away from – except the allure is too strong.

Hawley himself explained the song’s meaning to the Irish Examiner: "There’s a 100-plus-year-old social club next door and it’s basically just full of funny old blokes pissing and moaning. They play cribbage and say to each other, ‘One for the jacks and two for his heels.’ That to me just sounded like surrealist poetry. I took that as a starting point and imagined, almost like a fairy tale, a couple eloping from this horrible old drunk man.”

The opening guitars of ‘Have Love’ give more than a passing nod to Hawley's work with Longpigs, prefacing a reggae-beat shuffle with its Bob Marley-like lyrical sentiment "You've got to have love / If you want to get loved". It's a clever, light-touch track that segues seamlessly into ‘Prism in Jeans’, a song about not belonging and the need for new horizons, all wrapped up in a witch’s brew of bright acoustic guitar offset by the off-kilter lyric "She is the spectrum / She is the light / She is the shadow / The mysterious light."

One thread Hawley can't resist tugging at is a love or lovelorn song, and in ‘Heavy Rain’ a fireside hug of a tune and ‘I Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow’ with its country-esque bittersweet vibe, he's come up trumps yet again.

Album highlight is the sonic paean to Sheffield, ‘People’. As well as including the album title in the lyric, references to steel forges – no doubt inspired by his father's time as a steelworker – as well as the importance of the city’s rivers take centre stage. "Well I was born and raised by the river / Slowly it flows through the city of knives," sings Hawley, alongside name-checks aplenty: "Wybourn and Burngreave in the forging / From Loxley, Sheaf, Porter, Rivelin and Don." It's a song Johnny Cash would have given his eyeteeth for, as Hawley brilliantly combines the hard edge of industry with heartfelt family sentiment. The record’s title beautifully encapsulates that emotion.

There's a clever blending of 1950s-style rock’n’roll and twenty-first century crash chords in the mental health referencing ‘Deep Space’, with its lyrical intent borne proudly on Hawley's sleeve: "We're a strung-out wing / On a broken bird / We need space / Deep space." Oh, and a shout-out for the coruscating guitar coda that closes out proceedings – it's ace. ‘Deep Waters’, another ballad, revels in its strummed blues intro. I mentioned about this LP being a fresh start post-Now Then, so the lyric "It's time that I be all that I can be" seems to align itself with that subconscious sentiment – a statement of intent, maybe?

I doubt any review of Hawley’s work has failed to mention Roy Orbison, but the beguiling vocal timbre of “The Big O" is all too apparent, and delightfully so, on ‘I'll Never Get Over You’, whilst ‘Do I Really Need to Know?’ skirts the edges of Northern Soul – its light, upbeat lounge lizard vibe and liquid guitar can be filed in the “lovelorn” category. The retrospective and circumspect closer ‘Tis Night’ wraps the listener in a kind of musical cotton wool, whilst seemingly closing out this chapter of Hawley’s musical timeline, maybe evidenced in the line "Soon we'll be a lot older and wiser.”

"True love is the hardest of goals / True love is the harvest of gold" sings Hawley on ‘People’, and once more Sheffield's troubadour has hit the mother lode with a perfect collection of songs in this superb sonic paean to the steel city.

Richard Hawley at Don Valley Bowl

Richard Hawley headlines Rock N Roll Circus on 29 August at Don Valley Bowl.

The event features an accessible viewing platform at the main stage, with disabled toilets at the platform and throughout the festival site. You can find full accessibility information for Rock N Roll Circus on their website.

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