In the history of British popular music many Northern cities can claim to be the most important; whether that be from the Beatles and the Merseybeat of Liverpool or the ‘Madchester’ scene and Oasis led Britpop of fellow North West Manchester, the claims are vociferous and hard argued. However, can there be a city with a more varied and, indeed, important legacy than South Yorkshire’s steel city, Sheffield. From the soulful blues of Joe Cocker, through the electro-pop of The Human League and Heaven 17, the glam metal of Def Leppard, the bedsit angst of Pulp all the way up to the Arctic Monkey’s and their idiosyncratic take on clever guitar poprock, Sheffield has provided the world of music with some of it’s most engaging and brilliant performers.
One such performer, seemingly grown from the environment that he grew up in, is Richard Hawley. Hawley, who has released his seventh solo album, Further, is unashamedly from and obviously from Yorkshire yet also heavily influenced by music that he grew up with creating works that weld together the soul and blues of North American industrial cities whilst giving a voice to his quintessentially regional voice and experiences. A sound and theme that is given the full treatment in this delightful album.
The first thing that does strike you about this album is Hawley’s exemplary guitar playing. This is a player who has a style that is undeniably him. Like hearing Johnny Marr or David Gilmour, if you’d walked into a room as this album was put on without knowing whose it was the initial crashing chords of ‘Off My Mind’ just say Richard Hawley to you. And what guitar playing it is too; this album is chock full of Richard’s trademark skills with Chicago blues licks, rockabilly energies and melodic themes and flights all appearing throughout adding to what becomes a quite sensational flow of eleven magnificent songs.
Lyrically Hawley is an observer and a story teller, almost crooning his tales. Part Scott Walker, part Elvis Presley, but with his distinctive South Yorkshire burr adding a musicality to the tone that is beguiling, these songs are beautifully presented to the listener. Rewarding, evocative and genuine, Further is an album of some class; the production values are top notch as you’d expect from an artist who takes such obvious pride in what they put out.
Richard Hawley is one of those rare artists. One who can do it all brilliantly. Write, sing, play; there is not a single aspect of what Hawley does that lets this album down. Perfect guitar playing, a distinctive voice and a musicality that takes the listener further than just listening. Further is an experience and an education in how to create an album by an artist who has perfected his art. Just wonderfully sumptuous and gorgeous.