Saturday 19 March 2011
Dylan Jones: 'Richard Hawley has a deep baritone voice so rich it sounds almost ironic'
Richard Hawley is the Roy Orbison of the Tens. With his dour demeanour, large-frame spectacles, Bill Haley-standard quiff (grease, I think, not gel) and his velvet-collared jacket, Hawley is a real oddity, an entertainer who has made it his business to walk the walk of the singular and the aloof. He is anachronistic to a T.
He is genuinely gifted, though. Hawley, born in Sheffield in 1967, bumped around the fringes of Britpop during the 1990s as a member of both the Longpigs and Pulp, and a confidante of Jarvis Cocker. But it is as a crooner that he has achieved notoriety.
A late developer? Well, perhaps, but it's almost as though it were a business plan. Hawley has a deep baritone, a voice so rich it sounds almost ironic (did someone in the cheap seats mention Jim Reeves?). He isn't averse to using sweeping strings or old-fashioned showbiz arrangements, and you could be forgiven for thinking – on initial hearing – that Hawley is rather orthodox.
However, if you squint with your ears, then all becomes clear. He wants to be epic, but on his terms. Just listen to the echo, the vibrato, the longueurs, the wistful nature of the chord changes. Scott Walker, one of pop's most extreme examples of the tortured crooner, says that Hawley is right up there with the best. Which we have to assume is a compliment. "All I set out to do was make the music that I wanted to hear," he has said, "Music that was gentle without being pedestrian. This job is pretty selfish in that respect."
His classic song remains "Open Up Your Door" (a ballad that reeks of melancholia, and which was used in a TV advertisement for ice cream), while his quasi-Springsteen tune "Tonight the Streets Are Ours" (which featured in the Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop) sounds as though it ought to have been covered by U2 or Green Day. Maybe it eventually will be.
Hawley likes to say he was born opposite a graveyard, and next to a butcher and a taxidermist – a more than perfect metaphor for his creative microclimate. Gruff, rough round the edges, and terse when it suits him, he has made the noir lullaby something of a speciality.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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