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Richard Hawley

Coles Corner
Yahoo Music (September 2005)

Imagine Britpop never happened. No Pulp, no Longpigs, no exuberant resurgence in literate guitar pop. Now imagine punk never happened. No aggression, no noise, no nihilistic reaction to the traditions forged in the 60s and 70s. Now imagine The Beatles never happened. No breezy pop harmonies, no iconic moptops, no birth of modern music. Still with us? Well done, you've survived a trip in the time machine that is Richard Hawley. All alight here please. Pick up your brollies and bowlers at the door.

So where the hell are we? Well, it's a sophisticated era, that's for sure. A time of values and respect, of suits and cocktails. The young legends of the day go by the name of Frank and Tony, cutglass crooners who know how to waltz through heartbreak, but there are new names on the scene too. This Elvis character seems to know a trick or two. That Buddy Holly has some rich upstart ideas. And the Orbison fella sure has one hell of a voice on him. Can't imagine there'll be many to hold a candle to him in, say, fifty years time.

Four albums since his stints with Pulp and the Longpigs, Sheffield-born Hawley still isn't showing any sign of rejoining the modern age. "Coles Corner", named after a legendary meeting place in his hometown, is a lush, gloriously anachronistic affair - not just a love letter to a happier, simpler time but a grand act of wish fulfilment. If you ever rue the fact that you live in such a knowing, clever-clever, fast forward world, then plug into Hawley and feel yourself drift off. It'll be the good-old-days of your dreams before you know it.

It's the voice that does it, of course. Lauded by no less a singer than Scott Walker, Hawley has a sumptuous, deep croon that demands a higher set of standards. The tasteful orchestration of the title track, for example, feels like a necessity rather than a luxury, a simple expression of How Things Should Be. The supremely Elvis-esque "Hotel Rooms", meanwhile, may concern a rented pitstop and a night of passion, but it never feels seedy - if anything Hawley gives the impression of being nothing but an utter gentleman, the latest in a long line of Radio Two heartthrobs you know you can trust.

The crux of it all is - crucially - a deeply unfashionable one. While most contemporary singers would rather burn their tie collection than admit to being something as vulgar as sentimental, Hawley embraces sentimentality like the naïve fool he clearly is. "The Ocean" drifts along with a wistful sigh. "Born Under A Bad Sign" is fashioned from the teardrops of Buddy Holly's "True Love Waits". "Darling Wait For Me" offers a Johnny Cash spiritual reset in domestic, suburban bliss. "Just Like The Rain" could be Willie Nelson jamming with Roddy Frame, loneliness given a self-sufficient, troubadour's swagger.

What year is it now? It hardly matters. As long as the romantically inclined want songs that let them wallow in heartbreak while feeling more pleasure than pain, then it's always going to be Richard Hawley's year. A quietly timeless triumph.


Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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