Music interview: Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley.
Richard Hawley.
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After 30 years helping to landscape Sheffield’s music scene Richard Hawley’s 7th studio album is his most commercial to date, achieving his highest chart position yet.

A musician whose career has always held high critical acclaim, he was instrumental in Britpop with the band Longpigs then went onto join Pulp for a short time.

Alongside his solo career he has a tapestry of session work including Elbow, All Saints, Hank Marvin and Arctic Monkeys.

For a man who is held in such high esteem by others and optimises rock star cool, when we speak to him he is faultlessly courteous and completely entrancing.

How was it performing at Latitude after breaking your leg?

There was a load of old mates around. It was lovely to see them but they were all quite shocked to see me with a pot on my leg and in a wheelchair. Guy Garvey (of Elbow) wheeled me on. He was dressed in one of these high visibility shirts – we looked like that couple off Little Britain.

I was just glad throughout the whole thing I didn’t cancel any gigs. I didn’t want to spoil it for everybody in the band and crew, but also the audience who have given their money, love and time to come and see us. A lot of people these days, they cry off a tour and end up in A&E because they have broken a nail, you know what I mean.

You said of your latest record that you deliberately limited yourself with regards to instrumentation. How did it change the way you wrote and arranged?

I still wrote the songs in my head, but then a lot of the songs were based from jam sessions. I would just play a song with the guys and we would come up with a bit that would work for certain sections.

It was definitely a hands on record, for the most of it you could see the whites of each other’s eyes in the room. It wasn’t like I would lay some guitar down then leave it for a month because ‘that’s the bit where we put the 90-piece orchestra’. It was just old fashioned really, but I really liked it.

A lot of it is recorded live, just us together in a room and I loved that – it was the way I used to make records a long, long time ago.

Are you at all involved in Pulp’s one-off reunion at Sheffield arena in December?

I don’t know yet, it’s been talked about but I might be in Australia in December or January. If I’m here I’m there, but it’s not certain yet in any way.

You have just produced Duane Eddy’s new album Road Trip, how has that turned out?

I love it. I think it’s a great record. I know he is happy with it.

He’s not recorded in a studio for 25 years before that. The previous record that he had done was with pop star fans of his like Paul McCartney and George Harrison and all that, it was awful. I’m being honest about it; it was a truly tragic record.

It’s one of those records that I was so glad to have made, to repay a massive debt that I owe Duane. We have become very good friends, I speak to him on the phone, as my wife reminds me when she shows me the phone bill.

He is a great artist and he is someone who I think has been criminally neglected and criminally ripped off by the music industry. It was good to pay respect, but not just do it out of that because it’s got some musical merit.

I think we have pushed things forward for him without introducing dance music or electronica. Its very much a representation of what he does as an artist but very slightly updated that’s all.

You are politically outspoken and a supporter of 38degrees.org, what does the site do?

That and AVAZZ.org. It’s very much for people who want to have a voice and who would literally like to sign petitions for things they want brought up in parliament. The interesting thing about it is if you get 100,000 signatures it forces parliament to debate the issue so it can’t just be a motion tabled by one MP, the whole of the house has to debate that issue, whether it be climate change, badger culling or the government trying to sell off woodland.

I personally think that a lot of the issues that they bring up are very important to hold on to what is Britain. It’s humanitarian, its issues about what it’s like to be a human being around the world. It’s a positive use of the internet to me instead of it being about popularity contests like Facebook, which personally I don’t have too much to do with as I find it too weird.

I think it’s a positive use of the internet where people who want to have a voice can. The thing that happened during the Thatcher years was that she demolished the concept of union – not just unions, but the concept that if we stick together we can effect change.

I think it’s an interesting time at the minute where the internet can be seen as such a negative thing but actually there are lots of things out there very positive. An international and national community that we can communicate just by signing that petition, just say I agree with that.

Do you think people are less politically aware than they have been in the past?

Yes, definitely. Like I said before our concept of union, not just unions like workers unions, I think a lot of people feel very alone. They feel that it’s pointless to bring up any concerns about an issue because they will just get ignored and the only time their opinion is asked is every time an election comes up and they are asked to put their X marks the spot. It’s because of the internet that that’s changed.

It’s no longer about left or right, it’s about right or wrong now to me. Whether it be about things I find abhorrent like whaling, they don’t have anything to do with my music as such, it’s just me as a human being, as a man. I feel it’s important to act.

I come from a culture that was smashed by Thatcher’s politics. My family were steelworkers and still all the female members of my family, young and old, are all nurses and they are going through all this hell now. It’s good that it’s not just them fighting alone to preserve the NHS, you’ve actually got the whole country. Whether you agree or not, if you don’t agree you just don’t sign. It’s that simple.

I think we have run into a lot of social problems as a result of people not being politically engaged with their own environment.

Environment is everything; it’s where you live and where you’re brought up. It informs everything that makes you a person and to try and improve that or make things better is the goal of humanity isn’t it?

There is so much hypocrisy now, real dirty hypocrisy. The whole bankers’ thing is really distressing. I find the fact that a kid who nicks a pair of trainers in a riot gets two years and bankers who quite clearly break all moral laws and actual laws of the land walk away scot free. That hypocrisy will come to bite us on the arse in the future.

These people who are in power now, they are very intelligent financial manoeuvres but they aren’t very good social engineers at all. The seeds that they are sowing, I think they are very dangerous ones. The flowers of evil will definitely bloom there.

I grew up on them council estates, I know what happens. Thank God for music because it kept me from robbing cars and doing things I shouldn’t be.

You have always had critical acclaim and respect through a long career; would you want to be a musician in the purely commercial scale, like those that have come through with the introduction of reality talent shows?

There are times when the exposure is right and there are times when it’s not necessary. The funny thing is I heard Elton John on the radio and I must be getting old as I agree with him.

He was asked a point blank question about what he thought about X Factor and he said it’s completely the wrong way to becoming successful. What you need to do is get in a van with your mates and travel up and down the motorway, that’s how to do it.

The thing is, you get the reward without any of the work, it doesn’t last because it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a castle made of sand. It’s quite an ugly thing to watch. It’s not the right way to achieve your goals, it’s the cheapest, but you’re not going to become the artist you’re meant to. It just doesn’t involve any of the components it takes to have a long artistic life. It’s the antithesis of it.

I feel sorry for the kids that win it, the ones that are lucky are the ones that don’t. Also to be quite frank, I find that whole point and laugh culture disgusting, it makes my skin crawl, I don’t like it at all.

* Sep 25, O2 Academy Leeds, 55 Cookridge Street, Leeds LS2 3AW, 7pm, £20. Tel: 0113 389 1555 www.02academyleeds.co.uk