REVIEW: Richard Hawley, The Sage Gateshead

Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.
Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.
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For the first few years of his career as a musician, Richard Hawley was guitarist with long-forgotten Treebound Story and then Britpop band Longpigs.

He spent those years watching, learning, and honing his skills as a songwriter, and, after a short spell as a touring musician with Pulp, became a solo artist in 2000.

Richard Hawley and his band performing at The Sage Gateshead.

Richard Hawley and his band performing at The Sage Gateshead.

It was the best decision he ever made, because after a couple of solo albums where he continued to learn his trade, he has developed into one of Britain's best, yet most under-rated songwriters.

An old-fashioned approach to songwriting underpins everything he does, from the quiff haircut and Buddy Holly glasses he wears to the vintage guitars he favours.

Everything about the man screams throwback - and I mean that in the nicest possible way - to the days when writing songs was a craft, which, like most skilled jobs, took time and patience to master.

Hawley made his commercial breakthrough with his third album, 2005's sublime Coles Corner - referencing, like every one of his solo works, something from his native Sheffield.

Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.

Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.

It speaks volumes for his output since that he can afford to play just two songs from that Mercury-nominated record live these days - the title track and the sprawling masterpiece The Ocean, both wheeled out as encores.

Two other wonderful, timeless albums, Lady's Bridge and Truelove's Gutter, were virtually ignored too, with just one song from each forming part of the night's proceedings.

The majority of the 70-minute main set came from his two most recent works, 2012's Standing At The Sky's Edge and this year's Hollow Meadows.

The former was a big departure for the 48-year-old, relinquishing his usual gentle instrumentation in favour of squalling, often psychedelic guitars, but now they've had a chance to settle into the set, the songs are as welcome as the more laidback offerings.

Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.

Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.

After opening with the strident Which Way from the new album, and followed with the nostalgic Tonight The Streets Are Ours, he wheeled out one of his big guns, the title track from the previous one.

...Sky's Edge was moody and magnificent, and you knew just three songs in that you were in for a special night, as Hawley and his four-piece band were on top form.

He's the first to acknowledge the contribution of his colleagues - "my name's on the ticket, but we're a band", and as a unit they are formidable.

Colin Elliott on bass, John Trier on keyboards and drummer Dean Beresford (who fought off shingles to play) are all accomplished musicians, and lay down the perfect backdrop for Hawley and sideman Shez Sheridan to show off their licks.

Richard Hawley's guitarist Shez Sheridan performing at The Sage Gateshead.

Richard Hawley's guitarist Shez Sheridan performing at The Sage Gateshead.

For as well as being a wonderful crooner, Hawley is an exceptional guitarist, and the Sky's Edge songs really give him the chance to cut loose.

Sheridan is just as proficient, as he demonstrated in main set closer Heart Of Oak, which vied with the achingly-beautiful Tuesday PM as song of the night, both sounding even better live than they do as Hollow Meadows' standout tracks.

It's the measure of a great gig when you only realise afterwards how many great songs an artist didn't play, yet their absence didn't mar your enjoyment of it one bit.

Tonight, the likes of Valentine, Soldier On and Lady Solitude were conspicuous by their absence, but the rest of the set was so good you didn't notice until long after the show was over.

If you get the chance to see Richard Hawley live, you really should take it, as craftsmen of his kind really don't come along that often.

I'll leave the final word to a friend, who, after seeing Richard Hawley here for the first time, was asked for his verdict.

Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.

Richard Hawley performing at The Sage Gateshead.

"Absolutely magnificent, glorious tune after glorious tune," was his verdict. And I won't disagree with that.