For more than 30 years, Richard Hawley been one of the most quietly, yet deeply admired musicians in Britain. Following his first band, the cult-ly appreciated Treeboundstory, he first attracted the wider public’s attention playing lead guitar in The Longpigs, before joining Pulp in the late 1990s. However it is his seven album solo albums – which have earned him two Mercury Prize nominations – that have really cemented the love affair. Sometimes political, often emotional, his empathic songwriting and virtuoso guitar playing have seen him drawn on humanity, hope, despair – and notably his hometown of Sheffield – to create an impressive yet touching body of work. This weekend, he plays two sold out Independent Venue Week acoustic shows (28 and 29 January – win tickets below) at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire, as part of Independent Venue Week. He spoke to Joe Zadeh about the gigs, a life music and more.
Hi Richard, how are you?
I’m good mate. Just got back from a dog walk so I’m happy.
How did you become involved with Independent Venue Week?
I’ve played so many of them, so when I was asked to do the Hebden Bridge gig [at the Trades Club] this year I said yes straight away. That’s where I started out, you see, the little tiny venues. I think they are massively important, for loads and loads of reasons. They are really good fun to play, for a start. I like the big concerts obviously, but I really like to small ones. The ones where they are intimate and you can see the whites of their eyes. One of the highlights of last year for me was that after all the massive concerts we’d played, I was offered to play an acoustic show. I was excited and terrified at the same time, because you’re just onstage alone with an acoustic guitar and that’s it. But I loved it so much and ended up asking if we could do more. It felt like taking it back to square one, where I started out.
What was or is your favourite independent venue?
I don’t think I have just one, there’s loads. I remember touring loads, playing what they used to call the toilet tour. The rough places. I loved Duchess of York in Leeds, which is gone now. I remember playing there when I was in The Longpigs – we were supporting Pulp, so that was 1993. That was the Lipgloss tour, before Pulp had broken into being a really huge band. My wife was pregnant and she was due to give birth any day, and we’d just started the tour. I had a pager in my back pocket, not a mobile. I remember halfway through the set, I got a pager message saying, “Come home now, the baby is coming.” I remember skidding off stage and pelting it back to Sheffield from Leeds. I managed to make it too… I was there for the birth of my daughter.
Are these venues still as important to you now as they were in the 90s?
Of course they are. A lot of those small venues, they are run by deeply passionate people. Places like The Adelphi Club in Hull. The only way you could run somewhere like that is if you were passionate about it. A lot of them have survived over the years by the skin of their teeth, and they are an important part of British culture. Without these venues, you have that awful gap; it’s like a cat leaping up a wall. We’ll just be left with X Factor-style stars: massively inexperienced artists that all of a sudden find themselves in front of 10,000 people. For their own mental wellbeing that is not a good idea.
What have you learned about Britain’s thirst for live music from your 35 years of touring?
A stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, and I think the passion for live music waxes and wanes, but there are little places in Sheffield that I love – there’s a place called The Greystones that is fantastic. It has a long and loyal live audience who go regularly. And with a lot of these venues, they tend to put really quality things on – not just shite. It still amazes me how much amazing music there is out there at a very grassroots level. You can pay a relatively small amount of money still, and see someone really fucking truly amazing.
Do you still go to many shows yourself?
The last great show I went to was my neighbour, Martin Simpson [laughs]. Honestly though, he’s a brilliant folk guitar player and a good friend. He played a Christmas show at The Greystones and that was amazing because he’s a virtuoso. World class!
Is this the same guy who played on your last album, Hollow Meadows?
Yeah, that’s him. I tend to go to that venue a lot because I like the place. It’s an easy venue to be in. Comfortable, the sound is good, and it’s local.
Across your career, you’ve made a vast amount of music. When you write these days, how do you tap into something that still excites you?
I don’t think about things too much, I just do it. I’ve always written songs, since I was eight or nine. I’ve always had ideas. You just keep going. I don’t really analyse things like that. That’s your job. The minute you start questioning things too much as a musician, you start disappearing up your own arse real quick. I enjoy the process of being a human being, but being a creative human being. It’s really simple. My advice to any musician is: don’t over-complicate things. Keep it simple and you will be okay. Do, and then analyse after. Or don’t even do that… Just do, and then keep doing.
What is your favourite place in the world that your music has taken you?
Well, that’s the thing… the world. You get to see a lot of it. There is no way I would have seen the things I’ve seen unless I learned to play guitar. It’s not me that took me around the world, it was the guitar. I am always eternally grateful for that, because I am from very humble beginnings. I was born in Pitsmoor in Sheffield, and there was no fucking choice back then. It was the guitar or nothing. And nothing didn’t quite appeal. So I stuck with the guitar.
Finally, what are you doing next?
Lots of things I couldn’t possibly tell you about. And I’m playing Hebden Bridge Trades Club on January 28th and 29th.
Photo: Gary Prior