Standing under the Big Top

Richard Hawley performing at Sheffield City Hall
Richard Hawley performing at Sheffield City Hall

Richard Hawley was asked to perform at Glastonbury this year but the Sheffield singer songwriter refused.

His reason: that he didn’t agree with people paying lots of money to be trapped in a field and marketed to.

But he is playing another, rather special open air gig this week - Under the Big Top at Graves Park.

The gig follows last year’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Hawley’s visceral, almost psychedelic album that wooed critics and fans alike.

“I did want to take the summer off but this gig is in between days out,” said Hawley. “There are no half measures with me on some albums, like Standing at the Sky’s Edge. I give myself one million to things and that can mean not sleeping and almost destroying my health but I love the fact I end up swimming in whatever it is I’m doing. I’m engaging in a project and it’s great.”

But while he throws himself into getting a record out, his inspiration comes to him rather leisurely.

“I write songs in my head when I’m walking the dog. I create a rhythm and my heart slows down considerably. In Sheffield we’re so lucky because we’re never far from somewhere beautiful, it’s not that far to walk to the Peak District.”

And it’s this reason why he’s looking forward to playing at Graves Park.

“Graves Park is a green space surrounded by nature. When they asked me to perform there it was a no-brainer, it will be ace to perform there.”

Demand to see Hawley live is high. Last year he sold out two nights at the City Hall and on Sunday will be playing at Somerset House, the neo-classical building off the Strand in London, once government offices which now hosts open-air concerts, films, and exhibitions, “I like playing off-the wall places. I really liked playing the Devil’s Arse in Derbyshire.”

And like those venues, Hawley’s guitar playing and songwriting have been developed over a long period of time.

“My first gig was at the Firth Park Hotel in 1979 and I was 12 years-old. My dad ran a little folk club there for unemployed steel workers and you’d get free Yorkshire pudding and gravy. My first gig was playing for Yorkshire pudding,” he laughs.

“I was obsessed with playing the guitar and we had a teacher called Mr Lockwood who would stay behind on Fridays while we played. It was all I was bothered about but you have to be obsessional like that for something to work.”

The economic climate of late Seventies, early Eighties in Sheffield pushed him to harness his talent even further.

“I stayed on at school until I was 17 doing a YoP scheme but that just seemed pointless.”

Having already started his musical apprenticeship with his father, Hawley turned his back on prescribed employment programmes and dedicated himself to music.

It paid off. And things have progressed somewhat for Hawley since the days he played for Yorkshire puddings - he’s written songs for Lisa Marie Presley and Shirley Bassey and features on the new Manic Street Preachers’ album, Rewind the Film, on which he sings and plays guitar on the title track.

But his philosophy is simple: stick to what you love.

“Compromise is a filthy word,” he says.

Richard Hawley plays at the Under the Big Top Festival at Graves Park on Saturday following The Levellers on Friday.