Richard Hawley opened up to his audience on his return to the Northwest last night.
Before playing the bittersweet What Love Means, he explained how he wrote the tune when his eldest daughter left home to go to university.
“I cried,” he said earnestly. Women in the audience were putty in his hands.
Then the riposte.
“With laughter,” he added, with a hearty smokers cackle.
Now he had the blokes too.
Of course he was joking. The song is a tender lament to a fathers’ love and fears that he’s done enough to set up his young love for life in the big, bad world. In it he asks: “Did we pass the test? / We’re left the love we’re left / Heart of mine made less / I never forget the day you left.”
It was a beautiful moment in a near two hour set at Manchester’s O2 Apollo that perfectly sums up the Sheffield crooner, whose lush arrangements and velvety baritone belie hidden treasures of contradictions, wit and emotional vulnerability.
The singer-songwriter was on our side of the Pennines promoting his ‘Hollow Meadows’ album, which was released last year. Surprisingly it was his first headlining show at the Apollo - a venue he said he has driven past millions of times but never believed he’d earned the right to headline.
He needn’t fear. The Gretsch-wielding rocker, his slicked back quiff and sepia-tinged sound is perfectly suited to the faded opulence of the Art Deco space.
A majority of the songs came from his magnificent seventh album, including the rocky opener Which Way, which gave the former session guitarist and Longpigs axeman a chance to show off his six-string credentials.
The beautiful, shimmering pop celebration ‘Tonight the Streets Are Ours’ followed and then the night’s standout, a raw and angry rendition of Standing At Sky’s Edge, from his much-heralded psychedelic opus of the same name.
“Mary was a troubled girl, she stole to eat / She had to sell her body to put shoes on her feet,” he raged. “Stole a car and tried to get away / Now all she hears is the rain on the roof / At sky’s edge jail.”
It’s a rare moment of overtly social commentary that hits you right between the eyes.
In all he romped through 12 songs before coming back on for a three song encore concluding with a hair-raising rendition of The Ocean full off swirling guitars and extended solos.
Hawley moves from rockabilly to psychedelia, pop to rock, all out noise to quiet vulnerability with so much easy and authenticity, it is staggering.
And there isn’t a shred of cliché in it. He doesn’t wear a quiff because he’s a hipster, or turn up his jeans because it is retro.
It is him and we’re lucky to have him. Come back soon, you’re one Yorkshireman who is welcome on this side of the divide anytime.