Thursday, May 22nd, 2008
Photo by Frank Yang
Since February – Valentine’s Day, fittingly – I’ve had the 20th of May circled on my calendar. Not just because it would be the day that I finally, after 33 years, made it to London, but because I would kick off my visit in potentially the best possible way – seeing Richard Hawley at the legendary Royal Albert Hall. A quintessentially English artist at the ultimate English venue. What could be better? Maybe the fact that the venue was just a leisurely 20-minute walk across Hyde Park from my hotel? That I’d gotten photo accreditation for the show just before I left for Europe? Sure.
Fittingly, the RAH is a really majestic venue. Visually stunning both outside and in, and it sounds even better. I arrived a little after openers Kitty Daisy & Lewis had taken the stage and the band’s flawless recreation of sounds from the first half of the 20th century came across stunningly loud and clear. The trio of siblings, augmented by a guitarist and bassist, did an amazing job at every style they tackled, from jazz to R&B to country to blues to early rock’n'roll, trading instruments, taking turns singing and harmonizing, it was like a USO troupe had stepped out of a time machine to entertain us.
And as such they were a fitting support act for Richard Hawley, who also unabashedly draws inspiration from the past in channeling the likes of Roy Orbison and Elvis Presley through his deep, rich baritone and magnificent guitar playing into his love(lorn) letters to his hometown of Sheffield. With the same band that accompanied him to the much-smaller Horseshoe in Toronto last December, Hawley strode onto the stage and welcomed all, fr one night only, to the “Royal Albert Hawley”. And starting with “Hotel Room” from Coles Corner, Hawley and band kicked off a magnificent two-hour plus set spanning his discography. I had initially hoped, obviously a bit unreasonably, that they’d play with an orchestra or at least a string section to fill in the sweeping arrangements of songs like “Coles Corner”, but the five of them needed no help in filling the Hall with a huge sound, particularly on the swelling grandeur of “Valentine”, from last year’s
As befit as befit an occasion such as this, the show was also full of surprises, both planned and not. The unexpected consisted mainly of some technical difficulties with his guitar rig that necessitated a short, mid-set intermission to get sorted out though when it was, Hawley wryly noted that they did it on purpose so that they get the applause of walking onstage twice. As for the planned, Hawley chose to share the special night with some friends and family. On the friends side, there was ’70s British singer Tony Christie, whose next album Hawley is producing and who delivered a rather dynamite, Bond theme-esque number from said record and also a not-unexpected but still thrilling appearance from Jarvis Cocker. He sang a number he’d done the lyrics for in the earliest days of Hawley’s solo career that had never been recorded but from the sound of it, really should have been. It was only one song and definitely Hawley’s night, but I can’t say that Cocker’s appearance didn’t make me extra giddy.
And the encore was very much a family affair. First, after noting that his grandfather had sung in a choir over eighty years ago in this very venue, he invited his mother out to sing with him on an old folk song she’d taught him to sing as a child. He then let his uncle Frank White lead a blues jam before stepping back up for Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and closing with a searing reading of “The Ocean”. Before leaving to a standing ovation, Hawley declared this night to be “the best evening of my life” and for many it seemed, and me for certain, we could agree.
Photos: Richard Hawley, Kitty Daisy & Lewis @ The Royal Albert Hall – May 20, 2008
MP3: Richard Hawley – “The Nights Are Cold” (acoustic)
MP3: Richard Hawley – “I’m On Nights” (acoustic)
MP3: Richard Hawley – “It’s Over Love” (acoustic)
MP3: Richard Hawley – “Precious Sight” (acoustic)
Video: Richard Hawley – “Tonight The Streets Are Ours”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Serious”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Valentine”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Coles Corner”
Video: Richard Hawley – “The Ocean”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Just Like The Rain”
Video: Richard Hawley – “Born Under A Bad Sign”
MySpace: Richard Hawley
And get this – while there was no place else I’d rather have been last night, it did pain me a bit to find that Elbow were doing an in-store at the Apple Store in Oxford Circus at the exact same time that Hawley was playing. Hawley, if you didn’t know, duets with Guy Garvey on their new record The Seldom Seen Kid. LAist has got an interview with Garvey.
A few new album streams to note – Spinner has The Ting Tings’ We Started Nothing, which is out June 3 in advance of their Mod Club show June 16, and The Wedding Present’s El Rey, which is out now, while MySpace is streaming Spiritualized’s Songs In A & E. That’s out next week and they play day one of V Fest on September 6.