Coffee in hand, listening to the so-called greatest efforts of Richard Hawley so early in the morning is nothing shy of a treat. One of those moments where all the songs are familiar, and it all intertwines into this grand and wonderfully warm experience. Now Then compartmentalises a career lasting well longer than two decades. Hawley has more than a handful of tracks which could stake their claim as the best of the bunch, so often has he rattled out this hit or that classic. Later still are the inevitable omissions, though Now Then strikes a rare balance for compilation albums in that it features, truly, the very best of his work. What constitutes “best” is up to the man himself, though there are some tracks here which leave a few question marks lingering.
Not over the quality of the song, but over how it made its way onto the list. Compilations of great efforts usually leave their tracks to settle for a few years. Lobbing the likes of Midnight Train and My Little Treasures, given they released just four years prior, is a bold choice. Now Then seems keen to omit nothing though, a spectacle of twenty-three tracks which rightly begins with Open Up Your Door. In conversation with friends, attempting to poke holes in the tracklist, the inevitable moments of finding a spotty patch come, only to find the song is on there. Now Then is a bulletproof compilation. Newer tracks are selected to conduct the mood and some omissions are made for the sake of how the compilation flows.
Considering how other musicians display not the slightest bit of interest in the works of their past and putting it together, it is refreshing to see Hawley piece this one together. Tonight the Streets are Ours into Coles Corner follows the same live lineup, and those little moments for the mega fans will prove delightful. Not the Only Road, a retake on Lowedges’ track The Only Road is a neat inclusion, as is Kelham Island, an oft-forgotten single now reprinted in its rightful glory. Everything shifts well, and despite the relative lack of theme, the tracks are ordered in a way to keep musical pace. Diving from Heart of Oak into The Ocean works for consistency and contrast in equal measure. Each album is welcomed in, from the debut EP all the way through to the divisive Further.
Still, no Valentine? We can poke holes for as long as we want or accept the twenty-three gorgeous tracks fitted together so nicely. It feels comfortable to listen to Hawley at the best of times, but having the man curate this piece of Bob Dylan covers, Lowedges masterclasses and hit tracks from the gloriously littered winnings of a career gone right is a real treat. Taking a traipse through the backlog of Hawley records is always a treat, it is why they were hunted down in record stores, Setanta Books listings and gig attendances. Hopefully Now Then is the spark which lights the fuse of further interest, not just in how compilation efforts can be made but in reprinting those past efforts. There is still enough fuel in the tank for a second compilation, so long as Hawley starts striking out now. An essential collection for those who do not own all the records already, or do not want to splash out the £30 on a Peaky Blinders soundtrack for just one song.