In life there are two types of people, those who follow others blindly, and others who go their own way, and do their own thing. The same can also be said with the music industry. One of those people who fall into the latter category, is Richard Hawley, who this article is about. Throughout his career, he has been content to go his own way, and make his own style of music. Not for him trying to latch onto the coattails of the latest musical trend, no quite the opposite, he has concentrated on making good music, music that is appreciated and loved by his ever growing and loyal fan-base. One of the best albums that Richard Hawley has released is Cole’s Corner, an album I have always enjoyed since its release. Cole’s Corner was released in September 2005, and is an album I have returned to many times since then.

Richard Hawley was born in January 1967, in Sheffield, England. Ever since his schooldays, Richard Hawley has been interested and involvement with music. He formed his first band Treebound Story, whilst at school. When they broke up, Hawley was a member of Longpigs during the 1990s’. Longpigs were a band who were on the fringe of the so-called Britpop scene. They released a number of singles, with both On and On and She Said reaching number sixteen in the UK singles charts. Their debut album The Sun Is Often Out, released in 1996, was well received by critics on its release. It reached number twenty-six in the UK album charts. Its follow-up Mobile Home, released in 1999, would only reach number thirty-three in he UK album charts. Two things led to the group’s demise. Firstly Dee Boyle left the band, and then in 2000 their record label Mother Records collapsed. This led to the group splitting up.

After Longpigs split up Richard Hawley spent some time touring with Pulp. Hawley and Jarvis Cocker founder of Pulp were old friends, and knew each other from Sheffield. Touring with Pulp was merely a stepping stone to the next stage of his career. What would follow is the part of his career that he is best known for, his solo career.

It was purely by chance that Richard Hawley’s first album as a solo artist would be released. When Jarvis Cocker and Steve Mackey of Pulp heard a demo of Hawley’s music, they urged him to record the material and release it as an album. Hawley then headed to the recording studio, and he recorded his mini album Richard Hawley. It was released in April 2001.

The success of the mini album Richard Hawley, spurred him to return to the recording studio. Six months later, in October 2001, his first full length album Late Night Final on Setanta Records. Hawley was asked to explain the meaning of the title. He explained that late night final was what newspaper sellers shouted when selling the Sheffield Star in his home city. The album was well received by the music press. However, the album failed to sell as well as had been expected, given the encouraging reception by the music press.

Hawley did not release another album until Lowedges in February 2003. Again, Hawley decided to pay homage to his home city with the title of the album. When questioned about the album’s title, He explained that he had been on a bus in Sheffield and saw another bus with the strangely named Lowedges as its destination. Lowedges was seized upon by critics as a great album. The NME, never short of hyperbole, called it the “first great album of 2003.” This time, they were right. So good was the album, that some of the supposed great and good of music would rave about the album. This would include ahem, Coldplay. However, Radiohead and REM also rated the album highly.

2004 saw Hawley’s label Setanta collapse. This caused a delay in the release of his next album. Hawley had signed with Mute Records, part of EMI, but a bitter legal dispute saw the release of Cole’s Corner until Sptember 2005. Cole’s Corner saw Hawley namecheck Sheffield in the title. He explained that Cole’s Corner was where courting couples would arrange to meet. The album was critically acclaimed, and would be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2006. Unbelievably, Cole’s Corner was beaten to the prize by Arctic Monkeys. Even the Arctic Monkeys thought that Hawley should have won. This was the album that brought Richard Hawley to the attention of the wider music buying public. However, the album still only reached number thirty-seven in the UK album charts. Later in this article, I will tell you why Cole’s Corner is such a special album.

Nearly three years would pass until the release of Hawley’s next studio album. During that period an extended version of Hawley’s mini album Richard Hawley was released in May 2007. Lady’s Bridge was released in August 2007. As usual, Sheffield would be referenced in the album title. Lady’s Bridge, he explained was in the centre of Sheffield. The album was a huge success, reaching number six the UK album charts. This success saw Hawley nominated for his first solo Brit Award for Best British Male Performer. 

2009 was a busy year for Hawley. January saw him release a live album, the strangely titled Live At the Devil’s Arse. The album received a mixed reception, but sated his fan’s appetites until the release of his next studio album. Truelove’s Gutter was released in September 2009, and was given a rapturous reception. So good was the album, that it won the Mojo Record of the Year. Strangely, Truelove’s Gutter  only reached number seventeen on the UK album charts.

When Hawley is not busy recording and touring, he is quite often to be found working with other musicians. Hawley has previously worked with Nancy Sinatra, Hank Marvin, Arctic Monkeys, Elbow and Lisa Marie Presley. He sometimes performs with The Feral Cats, this Hawley says, allows him to explore his interest in rockabilly music. 

Now that I have told you about Richard Hawley’s career, I will now tell you just what makes Cole’s Corner the special album it is. Cole’s Corner opens with the title track Cole’s Corner. It begins with lush strings, and has a very retro sound. When Hawley sings, he has almost, the voice of a crooner. He sings the song back beautifully, backed by a very traditional arrangement, one that is absolutely glorious. The song is about the adventure that is about to unfold in an evening out, mentioned is music, people, the city lights and the night that will eventually fall. Truly, this is a wonderful song, one that although it sounds from a different age, is one of the most beautiful, heartfelt songs you will ever have the privilege of hearing.

Just Like the Rain has a completely different sound, with a country feel to the track. The sound is much more subdued than on Cole’s Corner. Hawley’s vocal style changes, his voice is louder and stronger. In the song he is searching for someone, someone he has lost, someone he misses and can’t get out of his mind. It is a sad song, a tale of woe, where he trudges through the snow filled streets, exhausted and emotional. Just Like the Rain is a good song, albeit very different to other songs on the album.

Hotel Room has more in common with Cole’s Corner than Just Like the Rain. It is one of the most beautiful songs on the album. The sound and style owe much to the past, the arrangement takes you back to another time, a time when music was very different, a time when music sounded like this. On Hotel Room, Hawley returns to his crooner alter-ego. He does this so well. The song is arranged in such a way that it compliments his vocal perfectly. This is a love song, one with lovely lyrics, that Hawley sings so well.

The more you listen to Cole’s Corner the more you realize how ambitious and radical an album this is. This is demonstrated by the next track Darlin’ Wait For Me. It is a track that sounds as if it was recorded in another era, it is a song and sound that one would associate with either the 1950s’ or 1960s. Darlin’ Wait For Me is a tender love song, one that it is impossible not to like. Like the previous three songs, Hawley’s songwriting skill shine through. Hawley has taken quite a risk releasing such a retro-sounding collection of songs. Don’t get me wrong, I love this album, but Cole’s Corner was very different from other albums out at this time. 

On the next track The Ocean the quality increases. The Ocean is one of the album’s highlights. The track starts slowly, and quietly. Don’t let this full you though. It meanders along beautifully, all the while featuring Hawley’s trademark quality lyrics. This track allows Hawley to showcase his fantastic voice. His voice is strong and clear. He articulates the lyrics perfectly, bringing the song to life. Close your eyes, and you can imagine the scene that Hawley is singing about, that is how strong the narrative is. One of the highlights of the track is the guitar playing. Once the track builds, the electric guitar plays at the top of song. There are riffs galore, with Hawley showing his talents as a guitarist. This really completes the track, a track that is in my opinion, the highlight of the album.

Born Under A Bad Sign sees the quality remain of the highest standard. What also continues, is the lovely retro sound that Hawley has mastered, no, perfected. He returns to Hawley the crooner, a role he has now made his own. To complete the retro sound on this track, the guitar sound sounds as if it has been played on a vintage guitar, and has the feel and sound of a different era, one where crooners were King. The lyrics are shrouded in mystery and sadness. They seem to tell the story of someone who has had, to say the least, an eventful life, one spent in the pursuit of pleasure. Now there is nothing wrong with that. However, this seems to have caused a problem with their partner, who needs reassurance that he loves her, she wants the C word, commitment. This song is like so many of Richard Hawley’s songs, he can make everyday scenarios which, essentially, are tawdry and boring, seem interesting, almost like mini kitchen sink dramas. Like The Ocean, Born Under A Bad Sign is a superb song, one of Hawley’s finest.

The next track, I Sleep Alone sees a total change of sound and style. Although it isn’t quite a country style song, it certainly has it roots in Americana. When you first hear the song, it takes a while to grow on you. However, once you spend some time listening to it, you begin to realize that it is a good track. It is just very different from what has gone before. There is a darkness to the lyrics, it is about being alone, and loneliness. Songs like this show Hawley’s versatility as a lyricist and singer.

Tonight sees Richard Hawley return to his by now familiar role as crooner. I Sleep Alone and Just Like the Rain are like musical intermissions, just breaking up the flow of the album. I much prefer when Hawley sings this style of music. His voice is well suited, and his band are able to recreate the sound really well. This track, Tonight, is relationship song, and describes how it feels when a relationship breaks. The song tells of missing the person so badly, wanting to phone them, but trying not to. They can’t settle, and end up driving or walking around, anything to take their mind of the loss they have suffered. Hawley articulates perfectly, the way many people will have felt, when a relationship breaks up. To be able to do this so well, all in the space of four and a half minutes is quite a feat. 

There is a real change of style on the next track. I thought that I had better warn you. Don’t worry though, it is still a great track. (Wading Through) the Waters of Time is a  real slice of country music. That might worry some people, as they will picture men in cowboy hats singing about their horse, but no don’t worry, this is a good track. It is a sad song, and benefits from a simple arrangement, just Hawley on guitar and vocal, accompanied later in the track by a steel guitar. The song is a about death, and although quite sombre subject for a song, Hawley’s lyrics are beautiful. They don’t make you sad, instead they make you think of death in a different way. Although quite different from much of this album, this is a beautiful song, one that Hawley sings and plays so well.

Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Feet is the penultimate song on the album. It is an acoustic song, and has a very traditional sound and arrangement. The lyrics are not unlike a children’s nursery rhyme, and show a very different side of Richard Hawley. When he sings this song, he does so with a tenderness, highlighting the lyrics’ beauty. This is another track where he demonstrates his versatility as a singer and songwriter.

Cole’s Corner closes with Hawley’s version of a traditional song Last Orders. The song features Hawley’s arrangement of the song. It is played on the piano, and has a very minimalist feel and sound to it. Apart from the piano, the only other thing you hear are ghostly swathes of an echoey sound. This builds during the last minute or so of the song. It is not an unpleasant sound, and really is quite enjoyable. This is quite an interesting, almost intriguing way to end the album. Some people may question the wisdom of ending the album with Last Orders, but it is quite an effective way to end the album. 

Richard Hawley has long been one of music’s mavericks. He is very much is own man, and won’t be dictated to. Not for Hawley meekly following the latest musical trend or fad. No, he concentrates solely on producing great music, music he believes in. It doesn’t matter whether his music is sounds as fit it belongs in a different era, that is irrelevant. That is because great music is timeless. In ten or twenty years, will still sound great, and will still possess that timeless quality. Richard Hawley is one of music’s most underrated artists. His music deserves a wider audience, deserves more people to appreciate his talents as a singer and songwriter. 

If you are one of the people who still has not heard his music, Cole’s Corner is a good introduction to Richard Hawley’s music. It is a beautiful album, one full of great songs, all of which feature some wonderful lyrics. Hawley’s voice brings back memories of some wonderful singers, crooners I will call them. He has been compared to some of the great singers of the past. These comparisons are well deserved, because Richard Hawley possesses a wonderful voice, one that I urge you to experience. Should you buy this album, I am sure that you will then enjoy it, so much so, that you will find yourself buying his other albums, and quickly become a fan of this wonderful singer and songwriter. Standout Tracks: Cole’s Corner, The Ocean, Born Under A Bad Sign and Tonight.


1 Comment

  1. Mrs J Pennington

    Pure genius. A beautiful haunting voice.

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