Homely feels pour right from Richard Hawley, adorned in a blue bomber jacket, playing alongside long-time collaborator Shez Sheridan in The Grapes, Sheffield. Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders dubbed the Pulp and Longpigs musician “Uncle Richard,” and following this intimate performance on Trippett Lane, it is clear to see why Hawley has this moniker. A gentle, warm voice guiding viewers and a lucky few in attendance through the two decades prior of a career littered with gem after gem. A delicate, laid-back setlist featuring all those hits is reminiscent of the post-Covid tour Sheridan and Hawley embarked on. Strip the songs back and let the lyrics flow. It works.
“This is all a bit weird, just enjoy it,” could be pinned to just about anything Hawley has done this year. From opening to Pulp to consolidating his instrumental gifts for Hollywood soundtracks, taking himself to The Grapes with his longstanding collaborator in tow is a tremendous gift for fans on the fence about purchasing the best-of compilation, Now Then. Opener Just Like the Rain sets the mood well enough. Charming bits and pieces from over the years stripped back to their acoustic essentials. It is here at The Grapes, where Arctic Monkeys played their first gig, Hawley administers a crucial part of his performing style. His tracks are developed exceptionally and fit the mood, electric or acoustic. Baby You’re My Light and Tonight the Streets Are Ours, firm stays in the discography, are a touch different and turned into tender ballads.
Ballads should be no surprise to those longstanding listeners, nor should the exceptional consistency Hawley has as a vocalist and performer. Now Then summarises this, The Grapes performance cements it. Asking for pints before opening The Sea Calls is, for many, a nice flicker of an artist as a person. It showcases how Hawley has managed to get to where he is in his career. Now Then is a culmination of smart writing, strong instrumentals and a genuine connection with not just the city of Sheffield but with his fans across the globe. He and Shez come close to blowing the roof off – their two acoustic guitars sound as fresh and inviting as the songs they bring back to life. Tributes to his father precede I’m On Nights, and there, listeners can find the true appeal of Hawley. His ability and desire to turn intimate details of his own life into those in which his listeners can see themselves.
Drapes from the 1980s, a jukebox and a little poster for an end-of-year dinner dance, all sits so nicely in the area Hawley occupies. Covering The Long Black Veil by Lefty Frizzell is an incredible moment. Like so many of Hawley’s covers, from this to Ballad of a Thin Man by Bob Dylan, Hawley has no trouble making a track his own. Hawley has been drinking in The Grapes for a long while, and dedicating For Your Lover Give Some Time to the landlord and the memories he made there is a fitting conclusion to whatever this is for Hawley. An era? A shift in tone? Neither seems likely and the legendary guitarist is not going anywhere, or at least we hope not.