2019 was a landmark year for songwriter Richard Hawley. His ninth studio album, Further achieved his joint highest chart entry at number 3. He has also co created a musical based on a collection of his songs which recently won the UK Theatre Awards ‘Best Musical’ following a run at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre which was seen by over 26,000 people. Then, there’s also the small matter of the man celebrating his twentieth anniversary as a solo artist, something that he views with his customary sense of bluff realism.
“I suppose twenty years is quite a long time in this business, but, to be honest, even after all this time, I’m still a searcher. I’m still genuinely searching for things, in music and in life. I can’t tell you exactly what I’m looking for, or where I’m actually going but when I get there, I’ll probably send you a text,” he says, wryly.
In the two decades that have elapsed since Hawley jettisoned band life, first with The Longpigs and then as Pulp’s guitarist, the 52-year-old songwriter has forged one of the most singular and diverse careers in modern music.
As well as releasing a string of solo albums that have managed the rare feat of being both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, Hawley has worked with a host of impressive collaborators – such as Arctic Monkeys, Manic Street Preachers, Elbow, Texas and Paul Weller, alongside personal heroes that include U.S guitarist Duane Eddy (his 2011 album, Road Trip, was co-produced by Richard), Shirley Bassey (for whom he wrote the smouldering ballad, After The Rain, in 2009), Nancy Sinatra, Lisa Marie Presley and British folk royalty Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson (he was an integral part of 2013’s Bright Phoebus Revisited tour). There are also bona fide pop stars such as Robbie Williams, All Saints and Texas, all of whom Hawley has played with in differing capacities down the years. Also, his song Tonight The Streets Are Ours was featured in The Simpsons and Exit Through The Gift Shop: A Banksy Film.
While Hawley credits artists as diverse as Echo And The Bunnymen, The Stooges, David Bowie and The Jam as formative influences, he has also travelled back to the very roots of sound to create his own vision of what music should be.
Talk to him about his blues heroes, and he is likely to list Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup (“the master!”) and Freddie King as personal favourites. At heart, though, Hawley remains in love with rock’n’roll in its purest form and he sports the quiff to prove it. “People often ask me why I still have a quiff. I always tell them it’s because I still can,” he deadpans.
Cole’s Corner proved to be Hawley’s breakthrough album, earning him a nomination for the Mercury Music Prize. While elements of the media wasted words by fixating on Hawley’s so-called ‘retro’ tendencies, the album attracted an entirely new audience who clearly identified with the emotional pull of Hawley’s songwriting. The albums that have followed Cole’s Corner have seen Hawley continue to develop his craft at his own pace, maintaining a considered sense of momentum. 2009’s Truelove’s Gutter is possibly his most expansive record thus far, while 2012’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge secured him both his second Mercury Music Prize nomination and became his highest charting album to date, hitting Number 3 in the UK.
And so, four years after his last effort, the universally acclaimed Hollow Meadows, Hawley is back with Further – his first for BMG and an album whose very title suggests that he is intent on moving forwards without jettisoning his past.
“I really wanted to challenge myself to try to keep things relatively up-tempo and keep the songs to about three minutes long,” he says openly, “I was asking myself ‘Can you get your message across like a bullet? Can you still do that?’ It’s quite a tough question to ask.”
Further is the sound of a man who has very little left to prove but that still has something to say.