Richard Hawley is Sheffield’s biggest fan. Give him the chance and he’ll bite your hand off to explain why. Hayley Gallimore talks to him about the Steel City, his upcoming tour and golden girl Jessica Ennis.
“Sheffield is a great place to live, I love it. And I’m saying that based on having travelled widely for 30 years. It’s just an ace city - it really is,” says Richard Hawley, speaking to us from the comfort of his family home, in the calm before a 36 date autumn tour.
“I couldn’t ever bear to leave Sheffield and know I was never coming back. I could never go and live in France, or Bolivia or… Mars.”
And it’s perhaps just as well. Because Sheffield loves him right back.
It took just ten minutes for fans to snap up every ticket for the first of his upcoming City Hall gigs.
“It’s mad. I told my manager and my agent these gigs would be too big, I was never going to fill them,” he said.
“I said, look, I’ve been away for two years and people will have forgotten about me, maybe we should start small again and work our way up. But I was wrong and they were right.”
Sensational riffs, gorgeous lyrics and mind blowing melodies aside, it’s Hawley’s modesty and self-deprecation that have won the hearts of Sheffield folk.
And his humble beginnings shine through, even as he gears up for what could be the most bombastic concert of his career with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
“I’m playing at Magna Science Centre in Rotherham which is a very personal venue to me,” he said.
“My dad used to work there when it was a real steelworks, and my uncle did too. It was also the place where Pulp played their farewell concert – before they got back together again.”
“I know the place really well. My kids have got an annual pass and we go at least three times a year because it’s where Grandpops used to work and they get a sense of the history of the city. They love it.”
Hawley calls it ‘an honour’ to have been approached by Philharmonic conductor Joe Duddell to collaborate on the project, and says Magna was ‘at the top of his list’ of venues.
“Because it’s the Philharmonic I didn’t want the venue to have any sense of exclusivity. The grandeur needed to come from the music, and the venue to be at a base level where everyone can feel comfortable and welcome and it not be in some intimidating classical music venue.”
It was also important, Hawley says, for the concert to be free and accessible to everyone.
The audience will be chosen at random from people who have registered on the BBC Tickets website www.bbc.co.uk/tickets by Tuesday 28th August.
As for the set list and what the audience can expect from the Magna concert, Hawley is keeping uncharacteristically quiet.
“You’ll have to wait and see,” he teases. “I don’t want to spoil it.”
Despite his coyness, the show is certain to be an epic career-spanning spectacle, showcasing a decade of solo work.
From the mellow crooner-isms of 2001’s Late Night Final to the soaring majesty of Coles Corner and the psychedelic rock-fest that is the latest offering Standing at the Sky’s Edge.
“We had a rehearsal up at MediaCity in Salford where the Philharmonic is based and it was just unreal being in a room with 90 other musicians playing your songs,” Hawley laughs.
“They know my songs better than I do.”
“I’m really excited about this. It’s a one off thing that will never be repeated. And I like the fact it’s free. The only savage thing is that it’s a lottery to get a ticket – but I guess that’s fair.”
From Rotherham, the tour will take in everywhere from Lincoln to London and Birmingham to Barcelona.
But these dates will be different from those over the summer to promote the new album. For a start, Hawley will be standing on two feet.
In his own words, a ‘school boy error’ involving a pair of leather soled shoes and a slippery glass staircase in Barcelona led to a broken leg, a wheelchair, and being pushed on stage at a handful of shows by his 12-year-old son Danny.
“He’s a good lad. The leg is fine now. I’m walking on it and everything,” said Hawley.
“It was an unfortunate thing to happen two days into the summer tour. But those gigs went down really well.”
“The fear for me was the worry of how the new stuff would mix with the music I’ve already got. And it mixed fine. It really works well, everything together just flows.”
“It expands the dimension, so the big stuff is really big and the smaller, gentler stuff is smaller. It’s more dimensional, more interesting.”
Hawley’s shows attract a spectrum of people of all ages and all walks of life. And you get the feeling he’s proud of that far-reaching appeal.
“Some folks like to sit down at my gigs, and others want to stand up, so I choose venues carefully,” he said.
“Sometimes the wholly seated venues can feel a bit staid. But the Sheffield ones won’t be. I think if you nailed them all to the ceiling it would still be wild.”
Hawley muses over the time, not so long ago, when he would busk outside Sheffield’s Cole Brothers department store (now John Lewis), imagining what it would be like to play the City Hall.
“The history of that place and the artists that have played there from time immemorial to now is immense,” he gushes.
But how does a Sheffield lad stay grounded when he has become one of the city’s most famous faces? Easy, he reckons.
“People from Sheffield don’t like big-heads. People with big egos are not liked round here,” he said.
“Anyone who sets out to become famous often has a big ego to prop up. And that’s not me.”
“I come from an extremely humble background. My dad was a musician as well as a steel worker. I started out playing working men’s clubs with him and my uncle.”
“I never dreamed of a having a swimming pool in LA or a big posh car, it repulses me. But that’s not to say it’s not right for some people. It just doesn’t interest me.”
So, you probably won’t stumble across Richard Hawley in any celebrity hangouts. Try the park or the supermarket instead.
“I shy away more often than not. I live in a little bubble in Sheffield. I walk my dog, bring my kids up and write my songs, and that’s enough.”
“My granddad used to say ‘when is enough not enough?’ And this is enough for me.”
That is perhaps some advice Hawley would give to another of the Steel City’s rising stars, Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis.
“I haven’t met her yet but our whole family salutes her,” he said.
“We’ve just got back off holiday in Devon during the second week of the Olympics. And where we were staying there was no TV, no Internet and no mobile phone signal.”
“Our family and our mate’s family – all nine of us – were huddled round this tiny old transistor radio, tuned in for Jess’s last event.”
“It was like this little Sheffield enclave in Devon. We were so excited, and when she won it we were all jumping around screaming and going mental.”
“We had to peel the kids off the ceiling.”
By Hayley Gallimore
• Richard Hawley will play a special gig for BBC 6Music at Magna in Rotherham on 8th September. See www.bbc.co.uk/orchestras/events/1214
• He also comes to Sheffield City Hall on 23rd September, The Engine Shed in Lincoln on 30th September and a second date at Sheffield City Hall on 2nd October. For more dates and to book tickets see www.richardhawley.co.uk