It all seems a bit of a long way away from when I first saw Richard, back in 2001 in Borders on Oxford Street. Me, Mrs Growl and about 10 other people saw him play songs from his debut self-titled mini-album which had just been released. Even back then it stood out from the rest of the musical pack. Britain had just begun to fall in love with spiky guitars courtesy of The Strokes et al, and Hawley’s music seemed so out of place, with its overt romanticism, and sound which was something like Lee Hazelwood and Roy Orbison crooning in Northern working mens’ clubs. It was like something from another era altogether. So much so, that despite critical acclaim, that album and its successors Late Night Final (2002) and Lowedges (2003) failed to sell very much, despite critical praise.
I remember a moment at the Summer Sundae festival back in 2003 on a rainy Sunday afternoon when Richard Hawley was playing the indoor De Montford Hall stage. A large crowd had come in during his set, but he was nonplussed. “I bet you’ve just come in here because it’s raining and you’re wondering ‘who the fuck is that guy on stage?’”. He was probably right as well. Even around the time when he was playing his newly-released Coles Corner at the Scala in September 2005, there was hardly a sell-out crowd. But two years on, after a highly successful 2006, he’s booked to play The Roundhouse in a couple of weeks, and no doubt that will sell out.
So what of Lady’s Bridge? In short it’s a brilliant album, way better than I expected. Maybe my expectations weren’t that high, especially as the former Pulp man had made it clear that he wasn’t trying to break new ground with his new record. Although Coles Corner got people buying Richard Hawley, it never really found a place into my heart like the previous albums did. I soon got tired of the title track, and Born Under a Bad Sign was simply a retread of the much superior Baby, You’re My Light. So I was expecting much of the same I guess.
But how much he’s upped his game! The first four tracks on Lady’s Bridge as good an intro to an album as any will be this year. You can tell he’s got a bigger budget this time – listen to these swelling strings for one. Look at the lavishly produced CD booklet with pictures from legendary British photographer Martin Parr for another. There’s a real emotional pull here, and songwriting which is as good as anything he’s done before. It just sounds bigger, more confident, and seems like the work of a man who’s totally happy and sure about what he’s doing. Sure, it has all the hallmarks of the ‘Hawley sound’, but it’s just been taken to the next level. There’s hardly a duff track. If this is him Hawley coasting, who knows how good it’s going to be when he pulls out the stops?
Instead of the usual two tracks from the album, I’m posting a couple of tracks from the aforementioned BBC 6Music session. Enjoy!
Buy Lady’s Bridge.