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Richard Hawley: When they asked to use my songs in Ridley I told them to f*** off

Sheffield singer Richard Hawley on how actor Adrian Dunbar convinced him to allow his songs to feature in Ridley – and why the Sheffield Leadmill must be saved.

Richard Hawley. Image: Joby Sessions/Guitarist Magazine/Future via Getty Images

Richard Hawley’s songs bring real heart and wisdom to new ITV detective drama Ridley. The series stars Line of Duty favourite Adrian Dunbar as retired DI Alex Ridley, but the twist in this tale of a grieving, lonely former police officer who is enticed back to help his successor is that Ridley also co-owns a jazz club – where he occasionally gets on stage.

But Sheffield singer Hawley admits he took quite some persuading to let Adrian Dunbar sing his songs in the new series. In our interview, he also explains that, like Ridley, his heart also belongs to a local music venue… the under-threat Leadmill in Sheffield.

Did you take any persuading to let them use your songs in Ridley?

Yeah, I basically said fuck off at first. I’ve got quite a cinematic head, if you know what I mean? With my songs, I imagine little films in my head. So I’m not a stranger to concept of quite simple idea becoming quite effective when it’s visualised. But I thought this singing detective sounded a bit naff.

How did they change your mind?

A mutual friend of ours, Jonny Owen, got in touch. He’d used my music in Three Kings, which is a beautiful film. He rang me while I was walking the dog and I think I said no again. I’m always wary of people by-passing the manager – I’ve been in situations where that has not worked out well, but Jonny is a friend of the family so I said ok. Adrian called a couple of days later and described why he needed the songs. He said things about my music that I’d never really thought of before and it was quite profound. He said: ‘You deal with male grief. And you’re the only one who does’. That was mindblowing.

Did you meet up?

Adrian came up to Sheffield for the doc fest and we got mightily pissed. He’d been taken to a crappy wine bar. I’d rather eat my own excrement than go somewhere like that, so I said, I have to show you the proper pubs of Sheffield. I took him to Fagan’s and the Grapes, these pubs I’ve been drinking in for nearly 40 years. And he talked about the songs from such a unique perspective. He wasn’t swimming in the shallow end, you know?

You haven’t seen the show yet – but have you heard his version of Coles Corner, As The Dawn Breaks and Open Up The Door yet?

He sent them to me. And he was proper bricking it. It was quite funny. I’m experienced enough in film and TV to know sometimes they have to edit them, but he’s done a great job. I wrote these songs for entirely different reasons but you have to be brave and surrender what you do to someone else. It can be really enlightening.

Richard Hawley’s original version of Coles Corner

In the series, a music venue is a real lifeline for Adrian Dunbar’s character. You’re fighting to save the Leadmill at the moment, aren’t you?

I’ve been playing there since I was 15 or 16. Phil Mills, who owns the Leadmill, told me I was the musician who had played there the most by a considerable margin. Thinking about all the times I’ve been there and it’s mental. The breadth of things that I’ve done in that one place. Before we start talking about venues, we have to talk about music as a concept. It isn’t as vital as food and shelter and oxygen and water. But it is the only thing outside that list to me, and I think to a lot of people, that is vital. To hear a piece of beautiful music that moves you is such a vital part of the human experience. To hear it in a beautiful venue, a great place like the Leadmill, is just amazing.

I’ve been fortunate to have that experience as a punter and playing on stage. So to have these places stripped away from us because of the current situation with those bastards in power is maddening. Because they will be gone. History tells us that any government, no matter how bad, will fall eventually. Which gives me some hope.

What is the situation?

The nitty gritty of how the Leadmill is in this situation is morally repugnant to me. That somebody can buy the land underneath you, throw you out of the business you have built up for 40-plus years, and not only that, but actually thieve your business from you? That is wrong with a capital WRONG. If they get away with this, what is next? They are predatory.

And once it is gone, it is gone…

Watching beautiful things vanish under the merciless and heartless boot stamp of corporate bullshit is heartbreaking. Some things can’t be bought. That’s why I played the Leadmill with with a lot of amazing people who chose to come and share their love of it. Our Jarv, Jarvis Cocker, who needs no introduction, he came and we ripped it up, Rebecca Taylor [aka Self Esteem] is a phenomenal force, Pete [McKee] – we lived together for years, he painted while I wrote songs and Helen Sharman, who has actually been to space! And she is from fucking Grenoside.

So is there any hope of saving the Leadmill?

I’ve researched this and they have got away with it in other towns. But they don’t realise who they are dealing with. Sheffield is a different place. Everyone in this city knows that if this comes to pass, anybody who steps over the threshold is a collaborator. There is a thing in this city left which doesn’t exist in many places called a fucking moral compass. People won’t go. Because the Leadmill is beloved. It shaped so many of our lives. It’s not just somewhere to go and have a fucking beer and piss up a wall. It is way more than that. I don’t think I can be more impassioned if I tried.

Ridley airs on Sunday nights on ITV

Sign the petition to save the Leadmill here

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