Gig review: Richard Hawley, Somerset House, London

4.00

 

Dressed in black and protected by fifties-style shades, Richard Hawley explains the inspiration behind 'Don't Stare At The Sun': the mundane act of taking his youngest son kite flying. “What made it interesting was I was off me head on fucking acid”.

Such is the continuing attraction of a Sheffield artist that has metamorphosed from sideman as reliable as his home city's steel, through bequiffed crooner to his current unexpected guise as psychedelic rocker, albeit with the earthy humour of a South Yorkshire working men's club. This latest career swerve, evinced on last year's Mercury short-listed album Standing At The Sky's Edge, is perfectly suited to a sunset outdoors show. Last month, while criticising Glasto for losing its political edge, the pre-Beatles inspired musician added he was looking forward to playing this Thameside palace for its historical value.

Somerset House repays the compliment with some glorious colours that match the parched heat in Hawley's more expansive material, having previously hymned windswept moors and drizzly streets. He adds a feral growl to his rich baritone on the opening title track to the current album to accompany the simmering guitars that hint at the anti-coalition anger behind some of its content. The expansive feel is reminiscent of latter-day Oasis, without their blank turgidity. Instead, Hawley brings his own sense of committed empathy.

Soon, though, he returns to the familiar croon that accompanies his timeless romances, 'Tonight The Streets Are Ours' among them, with the LSD-inspired number forming a bridge back to older songs. Hawley's guitar moves from dusty twang to delicate chimes and back to the Byrdsian jangle with terse solos that never lose their purpose, all the while backed by a sharp backing band led by the concise, supple patterns of drummer Dean Beresford.

This group are just as comfortable on the unadulterated rockabilly shuffle of 'Serious', complete with maracas and double bass, as on the soaring 'Open Up Your Door', one of the several tunes that build so smoothly the increase in intensity almost sneaks up on you. All that is missing from the crisp sound is some beef in the bottom end, especially during more spacious moments that remain compelling thanks to subtle details and an attentive audience unfazed by Hawley's lengthened pause before he ends the gorgeous 'Before'. Such extended, mutating numbers feel reminiscent of Echo And The Bunnymen at their most romantic, albeit grounded in old-fashioned craftsmanship.

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