Richard Hawley, Dome, Brighton
The Cult/The Mission, Hammersmith Apollo, London
While Richard Hawley's old-fashioned melodies tug at the heart strings, goth refugees bring back the spirit – if not the hair – of the Eighties
Sunday 23 September 2012
In the winter of 2009, as my father lay critically ill in hospital, I bought him his first MP3 player. I loaded it up with a selection of the tunes I knew he loved and new stuff I suspected he might, and left it with the nurses to play on "random".
I couldn't wait for the tracheotomy tube to come out, and for my dad to come home and ask me who the Orbison-sounding crooner with the haunting "Open Up Your Door" song was. I couldn't wait to reply that it was Richard Hawley, the Dapper Dan-quiffed, hare-lipped hero, former member of The Longpigs, sometime Pulp guitarist, serial collaborator with American rock'*'roll legends (Duane Eddy), and all-round Sheffield-forged songwriting genius whose staggering Truelove's Gutter was my album of the year. But it wasn't to be. My dad never did come home.
It was only later I discovered that Hawley knew exactly how that felt. His previous album, Lady's Bridge, had been recorded while his own father lay dying, and that this was a cause of the sombre mood of Truelove's Gutter. But even without such associations, Richard Hawley's music carries a phenomenal emotional power. There can't be many inside the Dome tonight who, when they hear "Open Up Your Door", or "Hotel Room", or any one of his echo-laden, pedal steel-drenched, 1950s-flavoured beauties, aren't reminded of some specific personal heartbreak or love affair, and feel mist in their eyes.
Hawley's latest album, Standing at the Sky's Edge, ventures into psychedelic rock with panache, but it's the Truelove's Gutter material that turns us to jelly. Most overwhelming is "Soldier On", which takes the old quiet-loud-quiet dynamic to a new extreme. Midway through, it erupts into a cataclysmic cacophony as Hawley, the tongue-tied would-be suitor imagining himself as heroic lover, sings: "As the stars they slowly die/Thunder cracks across the sky/These are words I want to say/'Be with me, my love, always'/But no, our moonlit silhouettes they part and fade..."
He's aware of the need for a little light relief. The Yorkshireman recalls the time he drunkenly received a phone call requesting permission for the life-affirmingly romantic "Tonight the Streets Are Ours" to be used in an art film called Exit Through the Gift Shop. Not having heard of the artist, he assumed he was being pranked by the other Banksy: Nick Banks, drummer with Pulp. "So I told him to fuck off."
"Fuck Sunday," says The Cult's Ian Astbury. "We're pagans here anyway. We don't celebrate Sunday." A theatre full of recovering goths, happy to swill snakebite and black on the Lord's day, aren't going to argue. It's the final date of what's effectively a Monsters of Gothic Rock Tour which hasn't been plain sailing. First the venues had to be downgraded; then opening act Killing Joke dropped out after singer Jaz Coleman went Awol.
At least we still have The Mission. I was never a huge fan of theirs, figureheads of the lumpen late Eighties subgenre "goff", but respect is due to their personnel, two of whom were refugees from the classic line-up of The Sisters of Mercy. If I had issues with The Mission, it was down to the often clichéd lyrics. Debut single "Serpent's Kiss" set the tone, with its nudge-nudge innuendos about groupie sex and drugs.
But there's never been any argument that they deliver a good rock'n'roll show. The grey-cropped Hussey still delivers a rousing rock-hero vocal. Adams delivers a thumping alt-rock bassline, and Simon Hinkler delivers the sort of spindly guitar figures were made for sitting on your boyfriend's shoulders and twirling your wrists to the heavens in mystical supplication. In short, they give us deliverance.
Ian Astbury was the first person I ever saw having sex. But that wasn't the moment The Cult changed my life. That came a few months later, during the Radio 1 chart rundown, when the intro to "She Sells Sanctuary" turned me in the direction of eyeliner and hairspray for good.
That song, he tells us in a bizarre rant, represents an era when radio stations had courage, and weren't controlled by "cocaine blow-jobs from queer midgets from the record company in New York".
Tonight, he has the contemptuous arrogance you want from a charismatic frontman, stalking the stage with a confrontational pub-fight strut, singing songs that are mostly about wolves and fire.
And Billy Duffy is an underrated guitar hero. The first 60 seconds of "Fire Woman" are still up there with the most exciting moments in rock.
It's so great, in fact, that we'll even listen patiently when The Cult play their latest single. It's called "The Wolf". Of course it is.
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