Treatise on blood ties

Richard Hawley has a penchant for naming his albums after places in his hometown of Sheffield.
Richard Hawley has a penchant for naming his albums after places in his hometown of Sheffield.PHOTO: PARLOPHONE

Home has been on my mind, not least because the General Election is just around the corner.

Listening to Richard Hawley is appropriate then - you see, the Englishman has a penchant for naming his albums after locales in his hometown of Sheffield.

The two-time Mercury Prize nominee has earned a reputation for being a musician's musician, with instant classic albums such as Late Night Final (2001), Coles Corner (2005) and Truelove Gutter (2009).

His eighth record, Hollow Meadows, is named after a rural area near the Yorkshire-Derbyshire border, which apparently, used to serve as a sanctuary for the disenfranchised, ranging from shell-shocked soldiers to mental patients.

Conceived mostly while he was bedridden - he broke a leg in a terrible fall and suffered a slipped disc in another incident - the album is his most unadorned yet.



    Richard Hawley/ Parlophone

    4/5 STARS

Calling it "an internal record", Hawley said in an interview that it is "about reconnecting with a part of yourself you'd forgotten about".

Roping in pals such as ex-Pulp bandmate Jarvis Cocker, Martin Simpson and Slow Club's Rebecca Taylor, it's a treatise on blood ties, fellowship and community.

An appreciation of simple things is rekindled in Welcome The Sun. Having been sedentary for months, he's resensitised to the surroundings and comes to terms with his own vulnerability.

A ringing synth-line hovers in the background and a drum pitter-patters softly, as he comes clean about how "tears in the shadows bring no relief".

No surprise he's re-examining his life's priorities.

On the opening track I Still Want You, which sways like an old-school waltz your parents would dance to, his baritone, now raspier and better for it, shadowed by emollient riffs, caresses the title as a refrain.

The song, however, takes on a more meaningful, even macabre, level when you realise that it alludes to a glass mausoleum erected by Sheffield eccentric Horatio Bright to house the dead bodies of his wife and son more than a century ago.

"If you stare through the glass from moment to moment/It's funny what you find," he sings, tipping a hat to a fellow Sheffielder's everlasting amour.

In Sometimes I Feel, he has penned a heartfelt ode to family and companionship: "Sometimes, if you want a clean shirt, you've got to wash it," he begins with a string of down-home axioms probably dished out by his wife.

"All these things I know to be true/each one brings me closer to you," he purrs, accompanied by soft strums, electric hums and the arpeggios of a harpsichord. You indulge that smidgen of schmaltz when a choir echoes his words at the end.

When accompanied by only a piano, he strikes one as a killer mix of Nick Cave and Johnny Cash. In the exquisite ballad Tuesday PM, he croaks in the lower register, "Girl, oh, you've been so cruel."

It's all stately sparseness till the lush baritone gives way to an unexpected falsetto, emphasising the last word in the line: "You can see me clearly."

It's this clarity of heart and mind that brings one home, safe in its luminescent glow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline 'Treatise on blood ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe