On the road to Sky’s Edge With Richard Hawley

Richard Hawley is one of the good guys. Not only a supremely talented musician, but he is the kind of artist you root for as much as you admire because it’s always exciting to see where his vision, his playing and his open-hearted approach to life take him. His solo albums are all beautiful, varied pieces, while his presence has enhanced records by the likes of Pulp, The Longpigs, The All Saints (as a session player) and even the late Lisa Marie Presley (as discussed below). The latest place Richard has arrived at is the National Theatre in London, where Chris Bush’s production inspired by his 2012 album Standing At The Sky’s Edge is opening, after playing in Hawley’s hometown of Sheffield in 2019. To mark his move into theatrical circles, I’ve dug out an interview we did just before Standing At The Sky’s Edge release as an album. Meeting on a very pleasant April afternoon in 2012 at his then record label’s offices off Kensington High Street, neither Richard nor would have guessed where Sky Edge would take him… or that we were only standing on a cliff edge when it came to the political upheaval we discussed. Enjoy (and if you want more Hawley, I’ve embedded at the bottom a lockdown interview we did about great record shops too)…

Photo by Chris Saunders/press

How the devil are you?

“I’m alright! I’m good, it’s a sunny day! Normally I do interviews in the boozer but I’m trying to kick – well not kick it, but I’m trying to lay off the ale! Interviewers want me to take them to Fagins in Sheffield but if I did that with everybody I’d have to go to fucking rehab!” [Full disclosure, Richard and I spent a very enjoyable day in that very pub several years later for a Q feature]

You’re looking a bit like the leader of the biker gang at the moment, what with the sharp leathers?

“The biker jacket, which was my dad’s, I normally wear onstage is being relined at the moment. It’s an old Lewis leather but the lining rotted away after basically being onstage for a thousand nights. I used to wear that all the time in Longpigs and Pulp.”

So as you’re back in leathers – albeit in a stand in – has there been a bit of change between records?

“Yeah, what I set out to do was go jib the whole orchestra thing, get rid of all that and make something as dynamic and dramatic with just two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards pretty much – there were a couple of synths for icing. To deliberately limit myself. Where I could hear a string line or glockenspiel or whatever it, I’d limit myself. It’s not like it’s not been done before once or twice [laughs] but for me, it was something that was unique and I felt I’d neglected the guitar for a long, long time as a lead instrument or something that I could use on its own without being backed up by a 38 piece orchestra to make a point.  It was good fun.”

And easier to tour too?


The government are kettling our future

Was there almost a set of rules for this album then?

“Definitely. I think there’s a cello on there that starts one song, and I did try it on other instruments first, but I couldn’t really hear it on anything else. Apart from that there isn’t anything else. But the scope you can do on guitar, sonically, is huge. You know I own quite a couple [laughs] I just wanted to get them out and dust them down. And there were other reasons as well. Tim my mate passing away was a catalyst. As a positive, if you can ever get one out of losing someone you love, it just made me think, I’m 45 years old, have you done everything you want to do? The answer was no. So it was now or never, that simple. Also, these songs seemed to be a bit more visceral and not as in need of layering up with multiple instruments. They needed to be more direct.”

Some of your more sedate listeners will be surprised what you’ve managed to get out of those guitars, as you say there’s some scope there…

“Thank you, man. The foot rarely strays towards the monitor [wedge speaker], I’m not doing that [adopts a cock rocking pose]! I supposed it’s one foot on the monitor and one in the grave!” [laughs].

There are some solos on there though which suggest you had a lot of fun recording this record though...

“It was a right laugh, yeah. Doing the guitar on She Brings The Sunlight, it just seemed obvious to me to do that. That was the other good thing, me and the lads were just sat playing live together and not in different booths. A lot of the last record was done like that, that track Morse Code was a ten-minute jam that I didn’t arrange it just ended up like that. There are guitar breaks on there, but they’re quite gentle and spacious. We were just playing it live with the guys sat around. Also, guitar is my first love… [pauses] I just wanted to have some fun!”

You’re known as being quite a versatile guitarist, there are the Pulp and Arctic Monkeys collaborations, your session work, but until now you haven’t really had a signature guitar solo, was there a sense you wanted to leave your fingerprints on this one?

“There was certain points on it where I had to keep my fingers straight and not bend notes, not do what was obvious. It was an interesting thing in how much restraint you can show because I could do all the [mimes shredder guitar fingerwork] if I wanted. I allowed that on one track, it’s a fairly epic solo. The rest is more experimental with sonic than finger pyrotechnics as such, because [whispers] that’s for the next album that! [laughs]”

Lyrically the album title conjures up a mood and an atmosphere… 

“The characters in Standing At The Sky’s Edge I knew them all personally over a period of my life. There’s a district in Sheffield called  Skye Edge so there’s the nod to Sheffield, thank you for nourishing me, which is genuinely meant. But it’s more a reference to… because of successive governments, particularly this lot mopping up what Thatcher started, what they’re putting in place – or is already in place – will reap such a fucking dark whirlwind. The way I see it, at the moment, we’re stood at the edge, politically and socially. Things are going really fucking Pete Tong, I think the riots are just the tip of the iceberg myself. Our sense union as a country – not just unions – our sense of union seems to be… you can feel people’s frustrations. I wrote that track Down In The Woods as a reaction to one of the first things that shower of shit we laughingly call a government tried to do. It’s so transparently Etonian and shallow.” 

Which was?

“The first thing they wanted to do was sell off all the woodland to all their private businessmen, chinless wonder mates. In one fell swoop they tried to reverse 100 years of history and I got so angry about it. That was another reason to turn it up. I’m not forgetting the song and I’m not getting on my political soapbox but they are the things that motivated those tracks.”

Do you feel it’s a return to a potentially more Thatcherite way of treating society?

“She was a shopkeeper’s daughter with ideas ‘above her status’, she wanted to be Lady Thatcher and she got it in the end. Whereas the current lot are a little bit, [larky posh voice] ‘Oh fucking hell Tarquin!’ You know what I mean?  It is the chinless landowning idiots who are in power, at last they got what they wanted and they’re finishing the asset stripping job she started and I think as a result of that – I’m a father of three kids, there’s fuck all out there for them! It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a degree in astrophysics, you can still be flipping burgers at the end of that. That’s what’s really distressing that all kids’ efforts just seem to be so worthless at the end, and that’s so sad. And let’s face it, before you even flip ye burger you’re 50 grand, or whatever it is, in debt. Who the fuck wants to go to university to be that much in debt? What it’s about is deliberately hemming us in. I see it as political kettling.  They’re kettling our future. Even in later life, if you want to self-educate yourself you can’t go to the library. If you’re poor you can’t even borrow a book. I see it as systematic, call me paranoid but I don’t think I’m wrong. I’ve seen it before and this time it’s more skilled in a way. There was resistance then, you had a sense of union and that doesn’t exist any more. A lot of it’s online, like 38 Degrees, which I’m proud to put my name to that, and it forces them to debate that, but it’s a worry and I do feel angry about it. They frighten me these people, it’s not that they don’t care. They don’t know how to. They’re stupid, they don’t realise what will happen. It will erupt. It already has once and I think what’s coming will be far worse.”  

And there are some softer moments on this record too?

[laughs] “Of course, of course, the soft underbelly! I’ve never been afraid to show. I didn’t want to put the pedal to the metal all the way through, it would be boring that, and you could possibly be guilty of secretly wanting to be a 40 year old guy in spandex. There’s nothing worse. As always to me, melody has to be king, for it to warrant it being a long track, or whatever, it has to be melodic. The song is always the most important thing. Yes, there are some guitar solos but there were actually always guitar solos on my stuff they just weren’t quite this loud!”

The people in charge don’t realise what will happen. It will erupt. It already has once and I think what’s coming will be far worse

Aloee Blacc told us the other day, that he didn’t feel people write love songs any more. As a practitioner of the ballad, do you feel increasingly isolate? You’re probably the only person who use “darling” on a record these days without sounding silly…

“I consciously wanted to get darling and baby back from the cheese bin and that was right from word go. I think it’s being totally and utterly, rib cage-open honest. I’m not hearing too much of that in the mainstream. There are a lot of things out there that are very articulate. It’s interesting now you can say the dumbest words for a songwriter and actually write something that’s got some meaning to someone. That was an interesting thing to try to do, it could have completely blown up in my face but you’ve got to mean everything you do sincerely and really genuinely mean it for it to work. I’m happy I did that. I’m not afraid of showing emotion.”

Are you looking forward to playing these new songs from the album live?

“Just to see the reaction, to see if it works. I’m glad that it exists because I didn’t want to make a fucking record that was treading water. It would be easy to do that and sell blah, blah, blah copies. I think it’s important for me, for myself, to be brave and not hop on the spot. To keep pushing yourself. It would be quite easy for me to Truelove’s Gutter Part 10. I might revisit that world again one day but I think enough of those record exists and there are a lot of artists, who I love, who serially make the same record. It ends up cheapening the ones before which were really great. And just to save off the Alzheimer’s I’m still trying to stretch myself.”

I consciously wanted to get darling back from the cheese bin

And will the live versions abide by the same rules as the album had?

“I’ll still play some of the older stuff, but it will be interesting. Apart from some one-off gigs with other people, I’ve not played live in a while. I’ve toured so much, 30 plus years of it, which I’ve loved but at the end of the Truelove’s Gutter period I said, I need to stop touring. You’ve got to find out who you are and do I still know all those people in that house that I live in? So it’s quite strange coming back, this is my first day back.”

Did you enjoy playing live as part of Pulp in the interim?

“Playing with the lads and the lass is always a great honour. Our recent show at the Albert Hall was one of the best we’ve ever done, I think.”

Along with your record you’ve worked with Lisa Marie Presley on her album, looking forward to that coming out?

“I am. We wrote nine songs together, I don’t know what’s she’s chosen. Before I met her, for obvious reasons, I was shitting myself but it just became really apparent straight away to me she was looking for her own voice. To help her do that and be part of that was exciting. It was physical things, like she couldn’t sing high notes but she’s got a really lovely texture to her voice. I really enjoyed listening to the end product and it was a really enriching experience working with her.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s