INTERVIEW: Richard Hawley
By Lee Fisher on September 24, 2012 in Music
You don’t so much interview Richard Hawley as wind him up and let him go. Charming, funny, whipsmart and swears like a trooper, it’s hard not to describe him in terms of all those things – icon, national treasure etc – that would REALLY piss him off.
We kicked off with a chat about his Mercury-nominated album Standing At The Sky’s Edge, and some of the odder reviews it had earned.
“Well they used the word psychedelic, which has such a wide meaning, Aldous Huxley and Albert Hoffman probably invented that idea of psychedelia, in a western way, but they wore 3 piece suits and rode bicycles. But every album gets reviews where some people get it very wrong. I mean, there are components of that, but it’s more influenced by the blues than any psychedelic whiffle.”
“The songs to me just warranted – and we were very disciplined about this as well – not having any orchestration or peripherals. There are a few extra instruments on there, but not very many, it was more like a peppering rather than being the whole core of the record. It was just time for me to play the guitar and restrict myself. Because I’d got to the point where I could do anything – disappear into the wilds of China and come back with some weird esoteric Tibetan record…
It just felt like it was time to bring it back down to basics, which is the thing I love the most, just the guitar, it just seems to be the perfect vehicle. It was recorded with just me and the guys in a room, playing together. It was very basic. Instead of doing what I could have done, fly to LA or all that bullshit, I just stuck – I didn’t twist. I kept it to Sheffield, kept it to my brothers and friends and fellow musicians.
I asked if the success of the last album bought him the leeway to do what he wanted, which was met with laughter. ”Do you think a 45 year old guy who’s been doing this for 30 years can be told what to do? I’d like to see the person who wanted to try. Hilarious. I mean, with Truelove’s Gutter, we were successful by some sort of weird stealth. After Lady’s Bridge, which was very front, square and centre pop (or as pop as I’m ever going to get), that record brought me into contact with a world I didn’t want to be in contact with, which was to be nominated for the BRITS and all that. If I was a ship, that was me heading towards dangerous rocks, that’s for sure.
Truelove’s Gutter was a record that I knew I had to make, for my own sanity. To make an album that was about songwriting, not just getting yourself on daytime fucking television. My goals are very different, I’m not interested in all that at all.”
“I don’t know what the hell they were but I was told to take a couple before I played and whatever other shit I was on, and red wine… Halfway through the gig it all went like Top of the Pops 1975. It was great.”
Just then, a strimmer becomes audible. “Ah, fuck, it’s always the way, man, you know, on a beautiful sunny day? There’s always some cunt who comes out with a strimmer. We’ve just had two months of the most intensely miserable weather that Britain has ever seen and all this motherfucker can think about is to get his fucking strimmer out.”
Conversation moved to Hawley’s serious leg injury (a disastrous combo of a marble staircase in Barcelona and some new leather soled shoes). “I broke me leg really badly. I can move about – as you can hear, I just moved from the front of the house to the back to get away from that fucking strimmer . I’m fairly mobile but I’ve hated it. Walking’s one of my great pleasures.
We played Latitude at the weekend and I was so out of it on the pills for me leg. It was a great gig, but it was a bit like doing gigs in the old days, only legal this time. I was off me fucking head on tramadol and all these other fucking red pills they gave me, I don’t know what the hell they were but I was told to take a couple before I played and whatever other shit I was on, and red wine… Halfway through the gig it all went like Top of the Pops 1975. It was great! “
I asked about the more pronounced social comment on the album, and his reaction to the current political situation. “I believe in Labour politics, from Keir Hardie onwards, and all the great men and women who formed what we would call socialist politics, but I don’t see many of them around really. You can’t put a Rizla paper between the lot of them frankly. Tthe only difference between them now is asking yourself which one is going to dismantle Britain slower? Labour will find it a bit more difficult to dismantle the NHS or what’s left of it, so let’s hope they get in. For that reason alone, and that’s how sad it’s got, you’re voted against these days, rather than for.
As well as releasing fantastic albums, Hawley is making a name for himself in other ways – folk collaborations, radio shows…
“I tend to dip my toes into a lot of things. Martin Simpson, the great folk guitarist, is my neighbour. We spend a of time out in the garden playing our guitars, usually when there’s not Mr Fucking Strimmer there. But it’s not a world I belong to, I belong to my own little world really. Like, the radio shows, a lot of those things just come up, some wag at the BBC obviously thinks “What would it be like to stick Hawley in that situation?” I really enjoyed doing the rockabilly stuff, they actually put it out on radio 2, which I was really surprised about. I was really sad with that whole scene with Mark Lamarr (the comedian turned Radio 2 DJ who felt forced to quit after frustration over his role in the BBC). He’s a pal of mine as well. He’s a really good guy and very knowledgeable about his subject, and very passionate about it. Again, that comes down to this whole thing about stripping back what we are.
The BBC is a publicly owned body, and it’s accountable to the public for the services that it provides. So I’ve always been very surprised – and I learned this, I guess, with Truelove’s Gutter, where I’d written songs that were unpalatable for the 3 minute slot that a song gets – I don’t understand why the BBC has to continually, at its top end I guess, compete with commercial radio. I don’t get that. You’ll always fail because commercial radio will provide that snappy, annoying twat at breakfast kind of show. They do that really well. And if they try to copy that, the BBC aren’t providing anything new for the public so they’re really falling into the jaws of that shark. And shows like Mark’s – and many others that have been cut – are just lost. so that’s why I was pleased to take up that mantle and why I was pleased that it was on a major station like Radio 2. I was shocked that they let me get away with it, because it was very amateur. I would never claim to be a professional disk jockey, I was merely an enthusiast. I’ve always viewed myself as a slightly Caractacus Potts kind of person. In the whole pantheon of rock and pop and whatever, if I was going to be anybody it would be him. A kindly father banging away in his shed… (pause).. Maybe I should rephrase that?”
You can’t let an interview with Richard Hawley pass without asking for hair tips…
“Mark Kermode did this thing on the Culture Show that was all about the perfect quiff according to Richard Hawley, it was very funny. He couldn’t get the grease out of his hair, and he could never get it totally flat at the sides. I said “You don’t want to bother with any of that special shampoo, all you need to do is put the shampoo on when your hair’s dry. Then wet it, it all comes out. And the bits at the side that always stick up? Use a bit of moisturiser, kid” I did the same with Alex from Arctic Monkeys, we were in Paris and he was doing his hair before we went on and he was like, “I can’t get them bits at the side to stick down” and I was like, “Hello – quiff helpline?”