Brighton Dome 19 September 2012
By Rosy Matheson
Welcome to an evening of guitar porn. You’d expect a musician to take his instrument seriously but Richard Hawley’s clearly obsessed with guitars. I’ve never seen so many guitar changes at a gig before. He was the envy of every guitar lover at the Dome that night. He produced a string of beauties – a Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, a brace of Rickenbackers and host of Gibsons. Finally he introduced us to his dad’s Gretsch Countryman which he described as his “baby.” With every guitar change, came the chance to banter with the crowd.
He explained how nervous he gets before going on stage but said that when he actually got up in front of an audience he realised there was no need to be scared as the people who came to his gigs were always his “friends.”
And in truth there was an air of bonhomie in the crowd which had every reason to be happy, as Sheffield-born Hawley served up exactly what they wanted. He performed a mixture of songs from the Current Album, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, and old favourites like Open up your Door.
The staging was operatic. Band members looked like they were in an enchanted forest as real trees had been placed strategically on the stage and lit dramatically. Dappled lighting gave an appearance of wind rustling through the trees.
The lighting worked particularly well for the song Don’t Stare at the Sun where powerful spotlights mimicked the affect of sun beams and in Down in the Woods where moody effects made the atmosphere sinister. Hawley’s mildly threatening repetition of the line from the Teddy Bear’s Picnic, “If you go down to the woods today,” added to this otherworldly feel. The audience were clearly entranced.
It all came together because Hawley’s such a fantastic musician with a powerful voice which is both soothing and strong: Johnny Cash meets Edwyn Collins. The music’s retro and modern at the same time. In person, Hawley seems charming, sincere, humorous and self deprecating in leather jacket, jeans and slicked back hair.
Oddly, though Richard Hawley attracts a devoted audience and has released six solo albums and played in successful bands like Pulp and the Longpigs, mainstream success still eludes him.
Ever the crowd-pleaser, Hawley ended the set with one his classics Ocean, in a nod to the gig’s location barely 500 yards from the pier. Looking round at the audience as the house lights came on, my guess was that at least half of them would go home and get out their battered old guitars.