Sep 28 2009 By Andy Welch
Sheffield's finest Richard Hawley releases his new album Truelove's Gutter today (Monday September 28). We talk to the man about the record, which he describes as his most experimental, his inspirations and the strange coincidences he stumbled upon while recording the album.
Too weak and we suspect the drinker might be lacking a bit of backbone. Too many sugars and there could be maturity issues.
When Richard Hawley saw Tony Christie making a brew last year, he says it was a clear sign that the Amarillo singer was a good sort.
"He's the only person apart from me and me Dad that uses two teabags in a cup. Tea should be so strong you should be able to stand up in it," Hawley enthuses.
They were at Yellow Arch Studios in Sheffield, where Hawley has made each of his six solo albums, as well as co-producing an album with Tony Christie, last year's themed cover album Made In Sheffield.
"It's the little things like that that move me, little serendipitous things that happen that let you know what you're doing is right," says Hawley. "You could say I'm a sentimental old git."
Actually, that's not quite what he said.
If using expletives was an event in the 2012 Olympics, the UK would have a gold in the bag, as Hawley's talent for using swearwords knows no bounds.
With a love of such fortuitous coincidences, it's no wonder the 42-year-old former Pulp guitarist was so happy during the recording of his latest album, the wonderful Truelove's Gutter. Like his previous three albums Lowedges, Coles Corner and Lady's Bridge - it took its name from a Sheffield location.
"There's the old saying, 'You go out looking for shoes but come back with a hat' and it was a bit like that," he begins. "Things just happened out of nowhere, but they just seemed to be right."
Unlike his other albums, which have largely featured the standard line-up of guitars, bass, drums and lush orchestral arrangements, Truelove's Gutter saw Hawley stepping away from the string section as his stock-in-trade accompaniment.
Instead, the album boasts an array of weird and wonderful ambient instruments.
"I wanted to use a musical saw, because my granddad used to play that," he says. "I really wanted to use it on Don't Get Hung Up In Your Soul. I found this guy called David Coulter who plays the saw, so I got in touch and he came up to Sheffield.
"Colin Elliot who co-produces all my stuff and plays bass, said he used to go to school with a guy called David Coulter, but didn't think it would be the same bloke; the David Coulter we had coming to play the saw had worked with Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull and all these amazing bands.
"Anyway, Colin went to meet him at the station and they recognised each other - it was the same guy he'd been to school with. They hadn't seen each other since they were 10."
The serendipity didn't stop there.
At that point, Hawley had been looking for a certain sound - but didn't know how to achieve it.
Having written As The Dawn Breaks - now the album's opening track - he wanted to create the sound of a dropping a microphone in a car engine might. At least, that was the only way he could describe it.
"First off, David got his saw out, and there were three words stamped on it. Made In Sheffield," he says. "I couldn't believe it, it was like this thing was coming home. Then afterwards, I explained this sound to him, the car engine thing. He went in his bag and pulled out a CD. It was him and [French classical musician] Thomas Bloch, playing an instrument called the Cristal Baschet. It was exactly the sound I'd been hearing. I could have kissed him."
Researching the weird and wonderful instrument, made up of 54 specially tuned glass rods, led Hawley on to other leftfield instruments such as the ondes Martenot, a very early electronic instrument, the glass harmonica, which sounds like rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a crystal glass, and Tibetan singing bowls.
The latter are finely tuned metal bowls, which give off a beautiful ambient him when struck with a stick or padded beater.
"The idea of the bowls came when I was in B&Q with my missus one day," he says. "We were in there looking for lightbulbs, and I accidentally kicked this big plant pot thing, and it just went 'zing'.
"She was trying to buy things, but I just spent the next half hour or so playing with this big pot."
For all his accolades - Hawley is something of a critics' favourite, was nominated for the 2006 Mercury Prize and Best Male Solo Artist at the 2008 Brits - his family are never far from his thoughts.
Many of his stories, and there are a lot, begin with a mention of them or his dear Dad, who sadly passed away while Hawley was recording Lady's Bridge in 2007.
"There's no way I could take myself too seriously with my family about," he says, laughing.
"I've just written a song for Shirley Bassey's new album, and when I told my wife she was going to record it, she said, 'That's brilliant Rich. It's chips for tea tonight'."
While his other albums have featured romantic tales of lovers meeting on Sheffield street corners, or wonderful images of long-vanished monuments, Truelove's Gutter explores an altogether darker area of the human condition.
Inspired by friends who've lost their way, either permanently or temporarily, songs such as Remorse Code see Hawley examining regret and lamenting how easy it is to fall off the rails.
"I'm not preying on these people, and I'm certainly not judging anyone. I'm writing about myself too, remember," he says, referring to his once colossal drug addiction.
"At the end of Remorse Code I sing, 'I was likewise', you know, I've been in those situations myself.
"I've not discovered any great wisdom, these are just observations about people, and the dangerous things we find alluring. It's more about us as a society than anything."
Another song on the album As The Dawn Breaks deals with the guilt Hawley felt moving house recently.
"We only went 100 yards up the hill," he says, "but this house was where my sons were born, and before me and my wife moved in we'd got nothing at all. I got too attached because we put a lot of love into that house. There were a lot of good, positive things that happened there, so it was difficult to let go. I eventually realised you take all the good things with you to the next place."
The album's penultimate track For Your Love Give Some Time is perhaps its most beautiful, and hears Hawley promising to "give up these cigarettes" while admitting a host of other minor flaws and annoyances.
"It's about being honest about how love changes. If you're going to commit to someone, you have to realise things change.
"As well as being aware of the reasons why you're attracted to that person in the first place you become, over time, aware of their weaknesses, but if you love someone you forgive them.
"A sense of humour is always a great thing for a relationship to last. If you can laugh at each other and at yourself, you've got a good chance of sticking it out."
Richard Hawley - Extra time
:: Hawley was formerly a member of Britpop band Longpigs. They signed to U2's Mother label in 1994 and released their debut album The Sun Is Often Out, which featured their big single She Said, two years later. They split in 1999.
:: During Longpigs' latter days, Hawley worked as a session musician for many artists. He played guitar on All Saints' 1998 cover of Red Hot Chili Peppers' Under The Bridge.
:: Hawley later joined Pulp to work with his long-time friend Jarvis Cocker.
:: Hawley's second album Late Night Final took its name from the cry of Sheffield Star street vendors. It's what they used to shout while selling the newspaper.
:: Hawley provided vocals for Arctic Monkeys' B-side Bad Woman, and also appeared on The Fix, a track on Elbow's Mercury Prize-winning album The Seldom Seen Kid.