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Rock’n’roll is very much a middle class thing now

May 7th, 2024

Richard Hawley has shared the video for his new single ‘Prism In Jeans’. See it first exclusively on NME below, along with our interview with the Sheffield legend discussing his new album, the state of the nation, and what’s next for his huge musical ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’.

Set for release on May 31, the former Longpigs and Pulp man turned solo star’s 10th album ‘‘In This City They Call You Love’ now comes previewed by ‘Prism In Jeans’. The video was filmed in Sheffield city centre in the shadow of the Moore Street Substation, which features on the sleeve of the album. The video features students from Sheffield’s Bailey-Cox Dance Academy, as Hawley plays a cameo of a workman who arrives to rest and watch the action unfold.

Sonically, it leans into the “far-off netherworld” of the pre-Beatles rock era of The Tornadoes’ ‘Telstar’ and The Shadows, while lyrically it’s another love story playing out on the streets of Sheffield. The album title was also inspired by his native city, and arrived long before the album was finished.

“I was reading the news, and my mum said something to me,” Hawley told NME. “She’s not alarmist and has lived through a lot – she’s 82 – but she said, ‘It almost feels as bad as it did during the Cuban missile crisis, we’re on the edge of the abyss’. Then just says, ‘Anyway, I see you later love’.

“Walking around the streets of Sheffield and visiting the pubs or the fruit and veg shop or an art gallery, the word ‘love’ punctuates every sentence. ‘That’ll be £4.20, love’. Bus drivers covered in tattoos saying it too. I’ve circumnavigated planet earth at least 30 times, and I’ve never had it anywhere else in the world where they call you love at the end of every sentence.”

He continued: “It’s not a sickly chocolate box, nicey-nicey kind of thing. Depending on the inflections of how it’s said, it can mean multiple things and be not so nice! It’s the fact that we use that word on a minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, day-to-day basis. I continue to find this city, this environment, and these people inspiring.

“I’m not embarrassed by it. This is the city I was born in and have lived in all my life. I’ve travelled the universe and I’m not a ‘little Englander’, but it’ll always inspire mean. It’s like layers of an onion. The more you peel off, the more you find.”

Check out the rest of our interview with Hawley below, as he tells us about moving into films and TV, why he dreams of outerspace, and the current country music in pop phenomenon.

NME: Hello Richard. The last time we spoke was ahead of the London premiere of your musical, Standing At The Sky’s Edge. Have you become a full-on theatre luvvie yet?

Hawyley: “No! I’m still a theatre virgin, but slightly soiled – that’s how I’d describe it. What a mad ride. We never thought those ideas would leave the inside of our heads, let alone get alone to a theatre in Sheffield – that would have been enough. Now to have got to where it is with shows every afternoon and evenings with matinees and everything is crackers.”

Is there still talk of turning it into a movie or a TV series?

“There’s loads of talk about a lot of things it could become; a TV series, a movie, going abroad with it. I’m kind of staying out until there’s something to really talk about. I’ll get excited when there’s something to get excited about. My granddad once told me, ‘Son, one day you’ll learn when enough is enough’. The run on the West End finishes in August, and if that’s it then that’s it.

“The thing that’s interesting about the new production is that you literally gasp when you walk in because of the size of it all. It’s fucking massive. You almost believe it is a block of flats because it’s so imposing. Then the story unfolds with all the music and stuff and it is quite overwhelming.”

Richard Hawley. CREDIT: Dean Chalkley

It must feel pretty profound, to see you songs and the social commentary of the play hitting hard with a whole new audience?

“I lived through the story – either through myself or close family relatives – so I’m always on the edge of tears or really angry about the whole thing. The bottom line is that it’s touched a nerve with people; and that’s a nerve that needed to be prodded for some time. Whether or not that makes a difference in the great scheme of things, I don’t know. I hope so.”

All your albums are shaped by Sheffield. Did putting the play together and the act of taking stock to put out last year’s ‘best of’ put you in a certain place to make this album?

“It probably did. I don’t really think about it. I never think about things of commerciality or them existing for a reason. There must have been something psychological about hitting a certain point and then moving on – and just not being afraid to do what you feel. The band I went for stuff that made us feel, and that was the most important thing.” 

It’s been five years since your last album ‘Further’. How’s life been and when did the album start to take shape? 

“Well, like all of us you can just wipe out two of those years, and this is definitely not a COVID record. I amassed so much stuff over that time, that the difficult part of it was just sifting through all the songs. There were like 86 finished songs with lyrics and everything. I didn’t know where the start. I was just stood on a beach looking trying to select a grain of sand. Shez [Sheridan, guitarist] was the one who picked this really random moment, which turned out to be ‘Tis Night’ as the last song so we worked backwards. 

“We did a lot of the songs in Disgraceland, my shed in the garden. I wanted there to be space in them and focussed on the voice and people singing together; somehow a sense of union. I guess that’s on a lot of our minds at the moment. If we stick together, we can effect change. I hope to to god that we do. I don’t know where we’ll be if we don’t.”

It looks like a landslide victory for Labour at the next General Election. Do you think that will bring about much meaningful change? 

“Oh it will lead to change, but whether or not that’s good change, we’ll see. I just hope they stick to the script. We’ve been here before. I remember the utter euphoria of when Tony Blair got it. It was an amazing moment that didn’t go so well. I don’t want to be negative because there are enough reasons to be so in this modern world. 

“It’s a weird thing, man. The one thing I will say about COVID and lockdown is that I naively thought that humanity was going to learn something about it. I genuinely believed that after such a cataclysmic and almost apocalyptic experience that we’d learn some shit at last – but it seems to be the opposite. Things have got much, much worse, the greedy have got greedier and the fuckwits have got more fuckwittier and the dumb have got dumber.”

Has anything got better?

“At least a large swathe of humanity learned about the power and beauty of music. It became as important as it’s been throughout this millennium as an accompaniment to our lives. I remember those first gigs after; I was like a sprinter in the starting blocks and could wait to get out and play. There was no fear. Playing again with the band was so euphoric. It felt almost like it did back when I was 16. There was a joy and innocence to it. All the bullshit was slipped away. I hope it stays like that, and we continue to feel the value of music.” 

There’s a real fear of the cost-of-existing crisis for many artists and grassroots venues, and a call for action for investment. What are your thoughts on that? 

“Rock’n’roll is very much a middle class thing now. It does piss me off. The danger facing small venues is a disaster waiting to happen because it just means that Tarquin & The Quentoids will be the next wave of rock’n’roll – not Dave, Linda and Barry. I’ve been in that position [of struggling to make ends meet]. I was in that position for 10 years from 16 to 26 and I don’t forget it.”

If you were coming up today, do you think you’d struggle?

“Definitely. It’s just not easy. Even moderate-sized venues like The Leadmill being threatened is scary.”

Would a younger Richard Hawley be any good at TikTok?

“Oh fucking hell. If somebody from the label says to me, ‘Is there any chance we can have a discussion about TikTok’? I don’t want or need to understand TikTok. It just seems to be something that’s a rabbit-hole and a very dark place. 

“I’ll tell you my observation as a non social media user: if social media was a physical place like Cleethorpes or St Ives or something, I can’t imagine people saying, ‘Come on kids, get in the car, we’re going to social media!’ If it was a physical place, it would be filled with nutters and nasty fuckers. Why would you choose to go to somewhere like that?”

There’s a song on the new album called ‘Deep Space’ that seems to deal with that feeling of ‘Let’s all get away from here’. 

“We’ve got a lot of social problems in our world. Yesterday, I went into town in Sheffield to do an interview. The amount of people that were out of their minds at 10am and just passed out at 10am was epidemic. These people out of their minds on spice or cheap booze or whatever, each of them will have a heartbreakingly sad story as well but they all get judged as one big homogenous lump, which is not helpful. 

“It often makes me think, do they know something we don’t? Are we the fuckwits for going along with this system that’s so grossly unfair and rewards failure and incompetence with knighthoods and bonuses while demonising entire generations? Then there are these people who can’t physically leave this earth so they choose to in a different way. It’s not a pleasant journey obviously, but the pain of living in this world is so unbearable that they have to get out of their fucking tree. I’m familiar with the dossier! It’s a quarter of a century since I’ve dabbled with anything off the street.”

Must be alright for the millionaires, eh?

“We don’t all have the financial means to even go to the edges of the earth like Elon Musk or Richard Branson with their ludicrous journeys. That’s the option for the super rich, but for the super-fucked it’s about getting out of your mind. It’s an aggressive song, but it’s thoughtful in talking about the difficult ways to find peace” 

It’s a song at the gnarlier side of the album, but it’s a record packed with love overall, right?

“A lot of the songs are about writing about pain and painful situations, but the actual playing of it wasn’t agonising. We’ve been together as a band for a quarter of a century. It’s not that’s ‘comfortable’ and that I don’t want to push my own envelope, because I’m trying. I’m not interested in willy-measuring or comparing my career to anyone else’s. I just want to exist in my own skin and bubble and do what I do. 

“I know we’re not the best band in the world, but we’re a good little band and that’s enough. We’re confident and assured without being arrogant. 

There are some shades of country music on the album, as there are in all your music. What do you think of the current spate of popstars like Beyoncé and Post Malone going country?

“You go back to Charley Pride – he was probably the most successful Black Country star of all time. He was brilliant. They have rap in Russia, China and Ireland. Is that wrong? Music crosses all these boundaries and I don’t believe in that level of purity at all. It’s bullshit and dangerous. Anyone has a right to sing any song they want. If it’s about how well they do it and it coming across with authenticity, then that’s a different matter. 

“I listen to Hank Williams and not Beyoncé, but I welcome it all. I think everyone should have a go at everything. Although I’m not going to have a go at hip-hop. That would be a really bad move!” 

Try anything but remember where you’ve come from? 

“Yes, any prejudices are just a suspicion of what you don’t understand. You’ve got to keep you’ve got to keep your antenna on and your eyes open and just keep learning shit. As George Clinton once said, ‘Free your mind and your ass will follow’. All those cliches are so true.

“I went to see Quentin Crisp do a talk at the Library Theatre called Some Straight Talking From A Bent Speaker, which is a brilliant title. There’s one line he said which has always stuck in my head for me as a big guide for life: ‘no matter where you go, there you are’.”

the official cover artwork for Richard Hawley's upcoming new album 'In This City They Call You Love'
Richard Hawley – ‘In This City They Call You Love’ cover artwork. CREDIT: Press

Richard Hawley releases ‘In This City They Call You Love’ on 31 May. Pre-order it here. He’ll then embark on a full UK and Ireland tour as well as headline Sheffield’s Rock’N’Roll Circus and appear at End Of The Road 2024. Visit here for tickets and more information.

This content was originally sourced and posted at NME »
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