Now Then – The Very Best Of Richard Hawley | Album review (2024)

Richard Hawley: Now Then – The Very Best Of Richard HawleyNow Then – The Very Best Of Richard Hawley | Album review (1)

(BMG)

CD | LP | DL | Stream

Out 20th October 2023

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Richard Hawley finally gets his first ever career spanning collection of songs through Now Then – The Very Best Of Richard Hawley. And one listen to this extensive catalogue of songs is enough to confirm what a magnificent representation it is of Richard’s immense talents as one of the UK’s greatest songwriters and performers.

I have often dismissed Best Of albums over the years as they come and go, with reissues galore and additional new songs or reworked arrangements, all seemingly designed to plunder the depths of our wallets with little tangible value over and above what we already have. However, when it comes to an artist like Richard Hawley who has built up such a considerable body of work over the past 20 years or so as a solo artist, then it is most definitely time to stand up and take notice. And that is something you will certainly do when you listen to Now Then – The Very Best Of Richard Hawley.

I immediately cast my mind back to seeing Longpigs at Manchester University in September 1996. Fronted by the ever-flamboyant Crispin Hunt and promoting their debut album, the Sun Is Often Out, which remains one of my all-time favourite albums, how could we possibly have known what was to come from their clearly talented but relatively unassuming guitarist Richard Hawley. But as the sun finally set on Longpigs after the release of their second album and they went their separate ways in 2000, Richard was then a free agent.

Now Then – The Very Best Of Richard Hawley | Album review (2)

Richard’s first step was to join his long-term friend Jarvis co*cker in Pulp for a short time. I guess that was always meant to be given that he was at school with Pulp’s bassist Steve Mackey, recently very sadly departed from us. But I think Jarvis was a key figure in encouraging Richard to go solo which led onto Richard’s first self-titled album in 2001. And clearly from that point on, Richard has never looked back and indeed always prefers to talk about the here and now rather than going back to what has gone before.

It seems Richard was always destined for a musical career, having a father who was a respected musician in the Sheffield area, a mother who was a singer and an uncle in Frank White, another true Sheffield legend. Indeed, Richard attributes his rock’n’roll outsider look to his father who was a first-wave biker teddy boy, working in the steelworks but totally absorbed by all things rock’n’roll.

Richard was still at school when he formed his first band Treebound Story who recorded a John Peel session when Richard was still only 19 years old. One thing is for sure, Richard has never forgotten his working class background from his upbringing in Pitsmoor and the key values of being honest and true to yourself in life as well as respecting those around you. This is something than runs deep through his songwriting which plunders both the personal and the political in equal measures, alongside his fierce loyalty to his hometown of Sheffield, a City whose landmarks are name-checked throughout many of his songs and album titles as this compilation demonstrates.

The compilation brings together 32 songs from Richard’s 9 solo albums alongside tracks such as the gorgeously sublime Not The Only Road, which he recently re-recorded for The Full Monty TV series, and a strong and committed cover of Dylan’s Ballad Of A Thin Man. The collection displays the wide range of sounds and styles that Richard has adopted throughout his songwriting which pay their dues to his eclectic influences. But regardless of the narratives that run through each song, there is always an inherent romance in the sound due to the beautiful melodies, majestic orchestrations and his rich and deep baritone vocals which have always been one of his defining points.

All these qualities can be found immediately in the majestic opening song on the album, Open Up Your Door, which does indeed open up a treasure trove of musical riches. And Richard’s penchant for lush, mournful romanticism can be found sprinkled throughout in songs like Coles Corner, Baby You’re My Light, The Ocean, Remorse Code and Born Under A Bad Sign.

Tonight The Streets Are Ours is a gloriously sounding call to arms and we also get a number of stripped back ballads such as Long Black Train, I Still Want You and I’m On Nights. Richard’s sense of exquisite beauty is taken a stage even further through songs like My Little Treasures, For Your Lover Give Some Time, Precious Sight and Our Darkness. And then there is the surf guitar sounds imbued within Hotel Room and Richard’s rockabilly roots which shine brightly through Serious.

But then in complete contrast to these songs we also have the angrier and harder hitting sounds that came though more in his later albums from Standing At The Sky’s Edge through to his most recent albumFurther from 2019. From the slow building epic that is Don’t Stare At The Sun, through to the dense moody atmosphere of Standing At The Sky’s Edge replete with its psychedelic wall of sound, and also the storming rockers like She Brings The Sunlight, Which Way, Heart Of Oak, Off My Mind and Alone.

And then of course, no such compilation would be complete if it didn’t include, or indeed end with the brooding and ultimately barnstorming masterpiece that is There’s A Storm A’Comin’ which ends in a momentous and cacophonous wall of noise. This is a song which almost always forms part of Richard’s encores when performing live and always leaves your hairs standing firmly upright on the back of your neck.

Alongside his own songwriting, Richard has collaborated with a diverse set of luminaries within the music industry including the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Paul Weller, Manic Street Preachers, Elbow, Lisa Marie Presley, Nancy Sinatra, Robbie Williams and Shirley Bassey. He has also toured with the legendary Duane Eddy and performed shows withJohn Grant celebrating the music of Patsy Cline.

More recently Richard collaborated with director Robert Hastie and writer Chris Bushto venture unexpectedly into the world of musical theatre. The musical, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, was built around the story of Park Hill flats in Sheffield and uses both old and news songs by Richard. It’s a truly moving and inspiring creation which garnered huge praise from its initial sold out runs at the Sheffield Crucible and is now running in London having won the Best New Musical and Best Original Score awards at the 2023 Olivier Awards. You name it and Richard has been there and done it, and done it damn well!

Richard has also been a staunch supporter of independent music venues and I have been lucky to have witnessed some excellent acoustic sets atBury Met and numerous band performances at the iconic Sheffield Leadmill, a venue which contributed significantly to the musical education of myself and so many others from when it opened in 1980 but which still remains under threat of enforced closure with an active campaign still going strong to try and save this key element of Sheffield’s rich musical heritage. Over the years, Richard has performed at the Leadmill more than any other artist.

The songs throughout Now Then show just how much Richard is steeped in the heritage of the classic rock’n’roll music that has gone on to shape so many subsequent generations of musicians. If you have ever had the good fortune to attend one of his DJ sets that he does from time to time, or listened to the album, 28 Little Bangers From Richard Hawley’s Jukebox, which was released earlier in 2023, then it becomes patently obvious what influenced Richard’s own craft. But whilst it flows through so much of Richard’s own songwriting, the songs still nevertheless retain a totally unique and individual quality and a sound and identify which is distinctly his own.

The swell of pride for what this lad from Pitsmoor has achieved extends well beyond the boundaries of Sheffield and deep into continents across the world recognising his global appeal, and Now Then is a magnificent representation of his talents both in songwriting and performance. Richard Hawley’s music and positive mindset is always engaging and totally infectious and definitely what the world needs right now. Richard Hawley is a National Treasure even if the Nation doesn’t realise it yet. But remember, even in the face of adversity, always keep that blue flag flying high!

You can pre-order the album here.

You can find Richard Hawley on Facebook,Twitter andInstagram and his website.

~

All words by Ian Corbridge. You can find more of his writing at his author profile.

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Now Then – The Very Best Of Richard Hawley | Album review (2024)

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