Frenzied foot-tapping forty-somethings

first_imgIt was never going to be an easy night for Richard Hawley. As ushers sell ice cream to the overwhelmingly middle-age, middle-class audience pre-show, you get the feeling that the atmosphere might be flat. And it is. Even Hawley acknowledges that the seated audience seem muted: ‘Are you enjoying it? It’s just a bit quiet, that’s all’, he tentatively ventures mid-set.Hawley doesn’t help himself, as he looks reluctant to front the band and command the stage – perhaps a hangover from his days in the background as a guitarist for Longpigs and Pulp. He does try to rouse the audience, but his attempts at a northern stand-up routine are received like a sexist joke at a W.I. meeting – a meeting that you suspect a good proportion of the crowd would feel more comfortable at. Try as he might, Hawley just isn’t a compelling front man and the audience is giving him nothing.Maybe, then, it’s a good thing that Hawley doesn’t indulge in the histrionics familiar to indie bands, relying instead on his music alone to run the show. This is, after all, what he does best, and musically the performance is faultless. Individually the band is clearly talented: Hawley’s supporting musicians contribute with shimmering palm steel guitar, double bass, and the jazz piano on ‘Roll River Roll’. There’s even a cameo from a man Hawley ‘met in a pub in Manchester’, who he heralds as ‘the best harmonica player in England’ – and he isn’t far wrong. The strength of Hawley’s music, though, is not based on individuals, but on the creation of the whole. The layered melodies swoosh and resonate through the auditorium, while Hawley’s velvet crooning sounds somehow more vital and visceral live, particularly on ‘Lady Solitude’ and ‘Our Darkness’.The lush, laid back nature of much of Hawley’s newer material means it’s often easy to let the music wash over you – not always a great thing. After several slow numbers the set risks falling into a lull, but fortunately it is always revived just in time by his more arresting songs, such as the older guitar-driven ‘Something Is’ and the rockabilly ‘Serious’, which nearly brings down the balcony under the frenzied foot-tapping of the forty-somethings upstairs.The encore proves the true highlight of the gig, as Hawley performs a soulful version of Ricky Nelson’s ‘Lonesome Town’, accompanied by harmonica, before finishing with ‘The Ocean’. This, his most skilfully and beautifully crafted song to date, is the inevitable final song: it simply wouldn’t belong anywhere else. The band bring it to its soaring crescendo and after completing his vocals, Hawley improvises a guitar solo. For the first time this evening he looks like a rock and roll hero. Guitar held up, leaning back, he lets himself go. Whilst the gig lacks moments like this, you feel that with a different crowd this may have moved towards something a bit more special: Hawley himself is James Rogerslast_img

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