Music interview: Richard Hawley on Hebden Bridge Trades Club

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Hebden Bridge is one of Yorkshire’s most-famous towns. With a thriving community of independent stores and a population of people who champion the arts, built around some of the UK’s most picturesque countryside, it has become a large tourist attraction for visitors with a wide range of interests.

In recent years, the town’s local music spot, The Trades Club, has transformed into of Britain’s coolest intimate venues, with performers such as Patti Smith and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore playing sold-out shows at the 200-capacity club. It has even been nominated for the NME’s Small Venue of the Year Award. Therefore, it was only fitting that one of Yorkshire’s foremost singer-songwriters was booked to play a sold-out two night residency to celebrate Independent Venue Week.

Richard Hawley, formerly of Longpigs and Pulp, has collaborated with the likes of Lisa Marie Presley and Arctic Monkeys, and has been nominated for both Brit and Mercury Prize awards.

A proud Yorkshireman, the majority of his albums have been named after landmarks from his native city of Sheffield, where he still resides today; his 2015 Top 10 album Hollow Meadows was no exception. Aside from his skill as a guitarist, Hawley is renowned for his down-to-earth attitude – both nights at the Trades saw him bring on his harmonica player, known simply as “Clive”, who Hawley met in a Manchester pub while on a publicity tour.

Standing in the drizzle outside the club, lighting up a cigarette before soundchecking, Hawley gave his own view on the importance of independent venues like the Trades: “The thing is, from my side of the fence as a musician, they’re really important because that’s where you learn to deal with an audience and play concerts. You just learn your craft. I think if they go, and there isn’t these little places, it’s like a cat leaping up a wall; going from standing in front of a mirror with your hairbrush in your bedroom to being on X-Factor, and I don’t think it’s good for a lot of younger people’s mental health. It’s too much too soon.

“They’re a lot of fun as well, that’s the thing about them. I like it because you can see the whites of people’s eyes. I deliberately did a tour last year, just playing small gigs to take it back down to the common denominator of where it was you started off. It’s important for me to never lose that rooting of what it’s all about.”

With the possible exception of his 2012 release, the Mercury-nominated Standing at the Sky’s Edge, the majority of Hawley’s back catalogue is rooted in chamber pop, with tender songs that reflect on love lost and found. The Trades provided a perfect setting for his intimate set. Both nights, the request for the audience not to film or talk during the performance was met with applause from the punters, and the full-to-capacity crowds stood entranced by Hawley’s mellow voice and lilting guitar playing.

Opening with two songs from his darkest album, 2009’s Truelove’s Gutter, these introspective and melancholy tracks set the tone for the evening ahead. Punctuated with between-song banter and jokes from Hawley, the Trades was treated to two transcendent evenings of cosy, reflective music which thrived within such a small space.

Junun at Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. Picture: Gary Brightbart

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