Pack a stage full of legends and people will file in whatever the weather. Richard Hawley, the Sheffield-based master and underappreciated guitar God took to the mighty Utilita Arena stage to deliver an opening act performance worthy of a headliner spot. Just desserts for the man who has stormed cathedrals, fire stations and under-pressure venues over the last year, and shows no sign of stopping. He is only just warming up, and taking the time to tour Further, an album released four years ago but unable to be showcased properly because of global repercussions, gives Hawley a greatest-hits and sprinkling of new tracks style. It works suitably well for this opening forty-five.
Nine tracks is all it takes for those somewhat unsure of Hawley to be won over. He and the band, which of course features the great harmonica player Clive Mellor, is in as fine a form as it gets. Forget the cathedral appearances and the brass band accompaniments, the encores at Leadmill, Hawley and company have not sounded this good in years. He can save the deep cuts for those trips back to Matlock and beyond. For Hawley and his opening spot at the arena, a chance to play to the Sheffield faithful and those playing far and wide, is the chance to hear his best songs boom. Opening with Tonight the Streets Are Ours is a terrific mood setter which swings through in all the hungry power he and the band display.
As far as opening acts go, Hawley is the perfect choice not just for Pulp and his connection to them, playing away in the post-Russell Senior era, but for how his music reflects the mood and bolsters a crowd. Digging deep into a heartfelt and rewarding performance of Coles Corner and oozing all the usual charm of his intimate sets elsewhere, Hawley shows he and his band are capable of storming through the biggest stages of all. Intimate number Open Up Your Door, one of the finest tracks any former crooner-like ballad man could hope for, dominates the arena and cuts through the chatter. Few in the crowd are nattering on when Hawley takes guitar solo-led pieces like Standing at the Sky’s Edge and set closer Is There a Pill? for a spin. Interactivity is key, and for those who feel like “being a knob,” they can dance along to I’m Looking for Someone to Find Me.
Ultimately it is hard not to dance along to Hawley. After four experiences of the craft live and in the flesh, it is still difficult to sing along. So easily taken we can be by the sound of great music that it feels like interrupting or joining ruins the moment of sheer intensity and perfection Hawley finds. Some may find his repetition of tracks over the last few years of touring a tad depthless, but it only adds to where Hawley is comfortable and testing out his sounds. Heavier on the guitar, bolder in the sound and flowing with a tone which benefits audience and artist alike. It would be rude and silly to ask for anything more from the troubadour-turned-cheeky rocker.