No strings attached for an epic guitar celebration

Richard Hawley
Richard Hawley

FORGET the orchestration, the crooner-style vocals – Richard Hawley’s latest album blasts in with an epic sonic landscape, Eastern strings and psychedelic swirls. The critically-acclaimed songwriter may be known for his lush love songs but here Hawley’s romance is visceral, ballsy, but equally as amorous.

“The song is about being physically attracted to someone you truly love. People talk about that like it’s a cheesy thing, but I wanted to do justice to what it really feels like. I want to applaud when my wife walks in to a room.”

But it’s not just his wife Hawley pays homage to on the album. The entire album’s a celebration of his first love – the guitar. “I decided to dispense with orchestration and just not be tempted by that or distracted by any peripheral possibilities of where the song might go. I just stripped it down to the guitars: the guitar was my first love, it was my first musical instrument – it’s like another arm and it’s that simple.

“Truelove’s Gutter is immensely sedate, a lot of the guitars are immensely raucous and live, it was really exciting to play and to listen to – I can only presume that because people kept coming back and wanted to see how that worked.”

Psychedelic licks reign throughout the album, although Hawley shudders at the use of the term.

“I don’t know whether to give it a description like that – people use the word psychedelic and that kind of implies flares and flowers and to be honest I despise hippies.”

But if the literal Greek translation of psychedelic is ‘to make manifest’, then this album is unadulterated psychedelia. Yet, while She Brings the Sunlight is a manifestation of romantic love – both of the guitar and a lifelong partner – Standing at the Sky’s Edge is largely an exploration of struggle, social unrest and political ‘kettling’, as Hawley puts it.

Inspiration to write the album came when the Conservatives came to power, he explains.

“One of the first things the government wanted to do when they took over was sell the woodland off. I was so outraged and I discovered very quickly that I wasn’t the only one.”

Hawley sought refuge in Sheffield’s green spaces – Endcliffe Park, Whiteley Woods and Graves Park – while taking a break from 30 years of touring. But his hiatus from writing was broken when – ironically – the very place he sought solace was suddenly under threat.

“When you get a round of applause every night it is a fantastic thing but it does something really strange to your body and mind – come 9 o’clock I’ve got these invisible roller blades on with flames coming out of the back saying ‘right what time are we on?”

“I couldn’t handle it because it’s not just like three months – it’s 30 years and I didn’t want that to become another drug that I chase, where if I didn’t get a round of applause every night there’d be something wrong – I just wanted to be normal.

“I said to myself that I was going to spend two years away but events took over so that wasn’t possible.”

Hawley says: “When the Tory government came into power in I just saw our horizons being lowered all the time. It’s political kettling, I think. They are reducing options and if your options are reduced you don’t have any choices.”

The title track, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, uses history to mark Hawley’s disdain for the political and social direction of the country.

The characters in the song are, as Hawley explains, very real examples of politics gone wrong.

“Joseph, Mary and Jacob are not religious figures in any way, they are actually people I knew growing up throughout the Thatcher era as a kid.

“Joseph was an Ethiopian guy I knew who literally killed his wife and his family because they were so desperate; Mary was an Irish immigrant who couldn’t get any work or anything, so became a prostitute and Jacob was put in prison for stabbing someone.

“But it’s more a reference to where we are politically and socially – we are stood at the edge and we have to decide which side of the line we are on. The lines have been drawn, definitely. It’s a time-travelling song because I’m talking about what happened when I was a kid. And I see parallels today.”

Standing at the Sky’s Edge, like most Hawley albums, is named after a Sheffield location. “It’s a nod to the city for nourishing me and giving me inspiration and it’s a mark of respect, it’s Richard Hawley’s psychogeography of the city, if you like. I’ve got a long-term gain plan – I’m trying to boost tourist trade in Sheffield.”

Richard Hawley’s latest album, Standing at the Sky’s Edge, is out next week.