SHEFFIELD star Richard Hawley has won hearts and critical acclaim both as a solo artist and in bands like Pulp and The Longpigs. Now, his seventh album Standing At The Sky’s Edge has shocked many as a fierce state-of-the-nation address. Andrew Trendell talks to Richard Hawley about the beauty of the North and ‘the myth of Broken Britain’…
“I’M HAVING a weird one,” says a cheerful but weary Richard Hawley. It’s the final day of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and he finds himself bed-bound and nursing an almighty pain.
“I went to see my mate who lives in Barcelona. We were all having a lovely meal and he’s got this marble staircase. I had these leather sole shoes on and slipped, totally sober – and then I broke my bloody leg. I’m currently lying in bed with a massive bloody pot on my leg.”
Undeterred, he continues: “I’m determined to do all of the gigs though – that’s for sure.”
So will the upcoming tour be a more intimate, sit-down type of affair?
“Well, I won’t be hanging off the ceiling,” laughs Hawley. “This is going to ruin all of the dance routines, you know what I mean?”
One imagines that he also hasn’t been dancing in the street to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee either? “I’m not really much of a Royalist,” he sighs. Then he perks up as he launches into a subject he’s quite passionate about – the state of the nation.
“It astounds me, really. I think that people always need to look for something positive and we do need to have some good news. I don’t think that the Royals have anything to do with the bad stuff that’s happening in the country – it’s the gangsters in Parliament that are doing that.”
Hawley is famed for being the epitome of ‘old school’ - not just in his 1950s Teddy Boy look and swooning nostalgic sound, but also for his work ethic, approach to song-writing and staunchly Northern attitude.
“I am an observer,” he says. “That’s what I do for a living, I observe humanity and I’ve seen that everything is shrinking. With that goes hope and the future, and that needs to change.”
But the modern age is a troubling time to bring about change, and Hawley finds himself irked by how ‘sedate’ people have become in the comforts of their commodities: “We sold all our ideals for a shell suit and a satellite dish, and we did that a long time ago. I don’t think that political resistance or that kind of consciousness is dead in Britain, but it is heavily sedated.”
So what’s the new opiate for the masses?
“Bad TV and cheap, nasty food,” answers Hawley. “You sit on your sofa and you don’t really think about anything.”
In reaction to this, Hawley took the time the time to absorb his surroundings, and spat back in disgust at what he saw as the land he loved being pillaged by a tyrannical ruling class. The result was his latest effort Standing At The Sky’s Edge. A departure from his previous romantic crooner sounds, it’s part dark and brooding tribute to the North, and part sharp impassioned political rhetoric.
“We talk about it being political but it’s with a small P,” admits Hawley. I’m a very political man in my own private way.
“There are things that kick-started the record that definitely had a political dimension - I was really angry.”
After ‘30 solid years on the road’, Hawley decided to take some time off after promoting True Love’s Gutter to ‘learn how to be a husband, a dad and a dog-owner without the three-ring circus of touring’. In the greenery of Sheffield’s rolling hills, Hawley found his muse.
“I walk for miles with my dog – that’s the thing that stops me from going mental,” he chuckles. “When the City Fathers and Mothers of Sheffield built this city, they were smart. They gave lots and lots of recreational space to the workers. Not just posh people, it was for everyone. It’s got 100 per cent green belt, which unfortunately the developers are hacking away at.
“The first piece of legislation that the idiots in the Coalition tried to do was sell off Britain. All of the woodland, the parks and the green spaces that our ancestors had fought tooth and nail for us to get access to – now these politicians were going to try and reverse British politics by 200 years. That made me insanely angry.
“I wrote the song Down In The Woods as a lovesong to these parts of the country, and against the fact that the government was trying to sell it on to their chinless developer mates.”
It would be an acute understatement to say that Hawley is not a fan of the current Coalition Government. He hails David Cameron as ‘seriously unfit to lead us’ and calls Broken Britain ‘a myth’.
“Thatcher was a ‘wannabe Toff’, these are the real deal,” he vents. “How can they possibly understand what it’s like to be a single mother from Rotherham trying to raise three kids on benefits? It’s beyond their understanding and they just can’t get it.
“I’m 45-years-old and I lived through Thatcherism. When I was 12-years-old I watched all of the men and women that I loved in my life, and I saw all of the hope drain out of their eyes. History is repeating itself and I think that time is going to be more savage to the kids this time.”
Another of Richard Hawley’s most vehement beliefs is that a greater onus needs to be put on nourishing the opportunities of the next generation.
“These people who claim to be ‘leading us’, but they are lowering our horizons and kettling us in so our options are so narrow. We all have to earn a living but cutting off your options to do that is really cruel and wrong.
“There are some brilliant kids out there. I go down to the Sheffield Wednesday ground and see all of the young’uns and hear the things that they say. We’ve got brilliant kids that are growing up and have no opportunities and I can feel my heart breaking.”
All of this fed into Standing At The Sky’s Edge. Not only is it his most politicised record to date, but it’s also his most guitar heavy – rendering it’s success among the over-polished cookie-cutter pop of the charts as much more of a subversive victory.
“I’ve always played guitar,” shrugs Hawley. “All I’ve done with this is turn it up. The album went into the charts and number three and I’m not usually bothered about that side of things, but in light of everything that was around it, it felt like a kind of rebellion. It was like ‘yes, we’ve got away with this and got in amongst all this shallow rubbish with no emotion to it at all’. It’s just stuff to clean windows to.”
Despite all of the doom and gloom that stalks the land, Hawley remains positive that good will out, for the good of the people.
“We need to give out good vibes instead of all this negative stuff,” he stressed. “I think we live in a beautiful country, so don’t sell everything that we’ve got left. Our countryside, the BBC, the NHS – all of these things were created by positive thinking. I just want to be what they say they are and that’s political leaders and not political bleeders. They’re bleeding us dry and I’m sick of seeing ordinary people being punished for the mistakes of politicians. You don’t see politicians’ wages coming down do you?”
To put it simply, Hawley adds: “I mean none of this in a hippie way because I hate hippies, but love and peace aren’t fashion items, they’re a state of mind.”
By Andrew Trendell
- Standing At The Sky’s Edge is out now
- Richard Hawley headlines No Direction Home Festival in Welbeck on Sunday 10th June. For info and tickets visit www.nodirectionhomefestival.com.
- He’s also be playing two homecoming shows at Sheffield City Hall on Sunday 23rd September and Tuesday 2nd October. For tickets call 0114 2 789789 or visit www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk.