Gig Review: Richard Hawley at Portsmouth Guildhall

Gig Review: Richard Hawley at Portsmouth Guildhall

For much of tonight’s show at Portsmouth Guildhall, it’s almost as if we have entered a dream world. Firstly, there’s Richard Hawley’s look – part rocker, teddy boy, and pre-Beatles era crooner, with his brylcreemed quiff, rockabilly shirt, and sharp black boots it’s as if he has stepped onto the Guildhall stage from another realm. Secondly, there’s the music which he and his band produce, transporting the crowd to a timeless age fused with alternative music of the last 40 years that has shaped Hawley’s personal musical landscape.

The set opens with the slow burning ‘She Brings the Sunlight’ before we get a couple of tracks from his most recent album ‘In This City They Call You Love’. That record continues Hawley’s recent leanings into a a rock sound more akin to the other side of the pond and ‘Two For His Heels’ and ‘Prism in Jeans’ offer a nice little soundbite for what the LP offers – the former all thumping psychrock Americana, the latter like Roy Orbison writing for Johnny Cash.

For all the sparkle of the newer tunes, we are never too far away from one of those ballads which has been his staple over the last 8 records. ‘Open Up the Door,’ provides another of the night’s dreamlike moments. Hawley’s famous croon, seemingly aged like some kind of barreled elixir, resonates through the venue. Hawley has a timeless appeal, with his songwriting craft delivered in a bullish, assured fashion. Hawley talks about his gratitude for the career he’s had, the life he’s led, exclaiming the opportunities live music has brought. Introducing ‘I’m Coming Home,’ he quips, “I wrote this when I was 16, I was a miserable fucker even then,” displaying his characteristic self-deprecating humour and air for whimsical, melancholic nosalgia. ‘Heavy Rain’ is another Americana-tinged ballad, though far removed from kitsch pastiche. Tales of his past, the son of a factory worker from Sheffield, provide the beating heart that fills songs like this. The warmth spreads through the venue, his honey-like vocal carrying the slightest strain of age around its edges like a revered scar of battle.

Having spent some years in Sheffield, the beautiful melody of ‘Coles Corner’ brings back memories of cold Yorkshire winter evenings listening to records in my student digs. Another ethereal spectacle unfolds as the mirror ball reflects around the venue, making us forget the balmy June evening outside and step into a magical wintery world. Of course, with Hawley being a proud Steel City resident, a ‘Welcome to Sheffield’ sign remains at the back of the stage throughout, lifted aloft during a triumphant ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours.’ Hawley dedicates the song to potential new beginnings, reminding us to get out and vote when the time comes.

All dreams must come to an end though. Thankfully Hawley includes a couple of enchanting moments for us to cherish. ‘Heart of Oak’, which ends the regular set, is nothing short of spectacular. It’s at this point you really do appreciate the full band set up Hawley has bought tonight. creating a joyful wall of sound that envelopes the audience. The guitar feedback and driving rhythm highlighting the musicianship on show.
The show eventually concludes with ‘Ocean,’ it’s Bondian melodies providing the final otherworldly moment to tonight’s dreamlike performance.


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