Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Thurs 3 Oct
A pissingly wet October night is as fine as setting as you’re likely to get for a night spent in the company of Richard Hawley’s particular brand of windswept romanticism. This writer caught only the last few minutes of support act Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (aka Sam Duckworth), who sounded impassioned and enthusiastic enough. It’s never easy being support with just an acoustic guitar for defence, but what little I caught engaged.
As for Hawley’s headline set, it oscillated between more rocking numbers to pep up the crowd and the dark, brooding crooning which he’s best at. Hawley is, at this point, one of the UK’s best and most consistently rewarding songwriters, drawing out the psychological map of his native Sheffield and the wider region for almost two decades now.
I’m not sure he’s found the most convincing way of expressing himself live over the years, especially given the intimacy of his music – how do you translate such closeness to the live world? His voice remains superb: warm, soft, and real, with remarkable restraint. But he’s not a hugely imposing stage presence – he doesn’t draw charisma inherently. During the rock‘n’roll numbers (openers Off My Mind and Alone) and the psych-out jams that finished the encore (Down In The Woods), there’s the sense of gears turning, motions gone through. He produces good banter with the crowds, but at times there’s a lack of exuberant spark.
Still, when he hits that poetic, rain-sodden streak he so brilliantly mines – the widescreen apocalypse of Standing At The Sky’s Edge, the wistful poetry of Coles Corner, the 3am nocturnalism of Don’t Stare At The Sun – there’s a wonderful intimacy to his voice, one that’s worth the price of entry alone. Ultimately, Hawley’s too good of a songwriter to let anything descend into sloppiness – even during the weaker sections of the set, you sense the work of a proper craftsman behind these songs, like a really good fucking piece of carpentry. Just as well he’s not touring in springtime.
words FEDOR TOT photos DALI POULSOM