Music

Richard Hawley: 'Thatcher's Britain was a time of fear. If you were northern, you were f**ked'

Richard Hawley told The Big Issue that having a ringside seat to fame as a session musician meant he could handle success when it came

Richard Hawley walking on the beach in his coat

Richard Hawley. Image: Chris Saunders

Richard Hawley has revealed how he suffered from crippling nerves well into his solo career – and that he never expected to be standing centre stage. But, as he marks 25 years as a solo artist with new career-spanning LP Now Then: The Very Best of Richard Hawley, the Sheffield singer-songwriter said words of wisdom from his grandad have stood him in good stead. 

“Every now and again you’ve got to look in the mirror and give yourself 10 out of 10. Because no other fucker will do it for you. That was something my grandad told me – Albert Edward Wright was his name,” Hawley said, in a new interview for The Big Issue’s Letter to My Younger Self feature.

“He was a fabulous man. He’d been a music hall performer in the 1930s as well as a steel worker. When I was a kid, he said, ‘Your mother tells me tha wants to be a musician. First thing I’m gonna tell thee is tha might fail.’

“At the time I thought, fucking cheers for that. But as I’ve got older I see the wisdom. One of my little mantras is bronze forever not gold for a week.”

Hawley has been a working musician since his schooldays. His solo success came after years as guitarist in 1990s indie band The Longpigs, an in-demand session player, and as part of Pulp’s live band.

His collaborators range from Robbie Williams to Arctic Monkeys, via Paul Weller and Self Esteem. Now, his songs have even been used as the basis for critically acclaimed, Olivier Award-winning musical, Standing at the Sky’s Edge.

“I had a ringside seat to fame when I was a session player. So when it was my turn, I hope I’m behaving in a decent way,” said Hawley.

“I’m glad it all happened for me much later. I wouldn’t have been able to deal with it. I’d have been dead. So 10 years being the session guy watching how to make records and learning my chops in pub bands was invaluable. I would have been very content with playing pubs and clubs my whole life.

“I was always happy stood at the back. If my Uncle Frank was late when I played with him, I’d start gigs on my own singing Chuck Berry or Gene Vincent songs and end up spewing in the bogs. Even when I went solo, it took a long time to get rid of crippling nerves.

“Around True Love’s Gutter [in 2009] I found the best way to beat them was laughing at the universe, teaching yourself not to care as much. Now I love interacting with an audience. If you spend long enough onstage you either become loose or get numb – and it’s not a good idea to become numb.”

Tonight The Streets Are Ours from Richard Hawley’s Mercury Prize-nominated LP Standing at the Sky’s Edge

In a wide-ranging interview, Hawley also talked about the teachers at his school in north Sheffield who supported his musical ambitions in surprising and inspiring way, and growing up during Margaret Thatcher’s time in office.

“It was a time of great fear. If you were a northern girl or boy, you were fucked. Especially if you were from Sheffield, where the hammer blow of Thatcher’s Tories fell the hardest,” he said.

“They smashed the unions. And my father, my uncles, all their families and friends were steel workers or miners. So it wasn’t a happy time. Sheffield was devastated by politics and the collapse of that era of industry. Horizons weren’t just lowered, they were destroyed.”

In the new interview, Hawley also described how music was the only career option he considered.

“Whatever my future path was going to be, I was definitely determined I wasn’t going to be working for the man,” he said. “And I was definitely determined that whatever my fate was, it was going to be intertwined with that six-stringed instrument called the guitar. Because that was my shovel. That was the way I was going to dig myself out of the shit.”

Hawley added that even though he has been obsessed with music his entire life, he could never have envisaged the career he has had. Releasing a Best Of album album was never on his radar.

“I didn’t want to do it – I had to be convinced. I surprised myself,” he said.

“It was Colin Elliot, my bass player and co-producer, and [long-time manager] Graham Wrench that initially put it all together on a CD or an mp3 or something. I made a few changes – is there room for this or that song? It took me ages to listen through it because I don’t like looking back.

“The past is not often a comfortable place, and the whole point is trying to make the future better. Either musical or in real life. But when I started listening to these songs, you know, some of these are not bad. And if I carry on for another few years, then hopefully they’ll have volume two.”

Now Then: The Very Best of Richard Hawley is out now. Standing At The Sky’s Edge is at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, Drury Lane from 8 February – 3 August 2024. Richard Hawley is on tour in 2024 – tickets here.

Read Richard Hawley’s full Letter to My Younger Self in The Big Issue, on sale until 13 November.

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today. Or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

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