Richard Hawley - Hollow Meadows

Sheffield has been producing fine musicians for years. The Human League, Pulp and The Arctic Monkeys have all been hugely successful in their respective eras, yet it is the understated Richard Hawley who has always managed to stand out. A son of Sheffield’s soul and the godfather to a new generation, Hawley was around during the Britpop days in the 90s and was even briefly Pulp’s touring guitarist at the end of the millennium. Nominated twice for a Mercury Prize, he has had some degree of critical recognition but has slipped under the radar of popular culture, and it is this sense of anonymity that informs his eighth album ‘Hollow Meadows’, a gentle yet enticing album many believe to be his finest work.

The album was conceived and mostly written while Hawley himself was at home, recuperating from a slipped disc. Physically unable to move, the album is introspective: it was written at a time when Hawley was forced to do some self-reflection due to his imprisonment at home. 'Welcome the Sun' is a song about a yearning desire to escape the shadowy confinement and face the light, with Hawley’s soul searching allowing us to see him as vulnerable and fragile. The opening of the album seems tentative, highlighted by the lyrics to 'I Still Want You': “Sorry I’ve been away so long, I needed just a little more time”. The fragility though soon disappears and the album grows into a work of art; a tale of love and longing that combines beautiful melodies and his deep, rich voice with Hawley’s straight talking manner as a lyricist - the honesty is refreshingly shocking.

Hawley has always channelled the image of the Elvis inspired Sheffield crooner, something that Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner seems to have also adopted. However, while Turner’s slick act fails to convey a vulnerability and fragility that was noticeable throughout Elvis’ career, Hawley clearly has much more in common with The King than just a quiff. The album cover of ‘Hollow Meadows’, a cracked picture of the man himself, illustrates this humility whilst the music itself channels classic songmanship and fireside melodies. It is an ode to Hawley’s roots while also questions the solidity of his future: ‘there’s a sea of longing in my heart, but I know I cannot ever sail it.’ A quintessentially Northern work of art with a rockabilly edge, it is undoubtedly an underrated and essential contribution to the canon of fantastic Northern music of the last 60 years - for more check out our intro to The Mouse Outfit or our tribute to the late, great Leonard Cohen.

Words by: Toby