Richard Hawley doesn’t lie idle. A tireless music lover with a collaborative mind-set, it seems a new project is never less than a few weeks away. Whether it’s touring in support of his seventh album, playing with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, or simply producing a rock n’ roll legend, Hawley knows how to keep busy. It’s no wonder then that picking up the call from State this morning, Richard admits to “spinning plates” in his attempts to balance it all.
Having first tasted success in the mid-90s with The Longpigs, Richard went on to play with fellow Sheffield britpoppers Pukp at the height of their success. After a few turns as a gun for hire (he wrote and played on songs for Robbie Williams and All Saints amongst others), Richard stepped out as a crooning frontman aged 34. Newly clean from drugs, he’s gone on to have a hugely successful career that’s taken in top 10 albums, critical acclaim and more than a few side projects.
Speaking ahead of his appearance at the Electric Picnic this Saturday, Richard talked best festival experiences (“headlining Glastonbury in ’98 with Pulp – it was like playing to the hoards of Rome”) before diverting to his mixed opinions on modern day music extravaganzas…
“I’m not a festival lover I must admit. I’ve got a love/hate relationship with them, mainly because I try to steer clear of the corporate ones wherever possible. The concept of ‘the festival’ to me, I guess being an older guy, I’ve witnessed them change so massively from being a place where there’s a mutual exchange of ideas and ideals where you can learn something. It seems a lot of them have changed into this situation where an audience pays to be captured in a field, marketed to and exploited.”
That’s a fair point, the V Festival springs to mind.
Not all of them are like that; I mean there’s a lot I still visit regularly, which still have some sense of ‘a reason to be’, y’know? Rather than let’s just get a load of people together, a few bands on, fiver a pint, tenner a burger. It’s sort of like being at a funfair a lot of the time. When the funfair visits town you think, ‘oh it’s great, all the bright lights and the noise’, but actually when you come out the other end you’re holding a two quid, made in Korea, two inch teddy bear and you’ve been fleeced for 40 quid! I’m a cynical old fucker, but I still hold out hopes for the idea of a festival where people get together and they experience things and encounter ideas that they might not normally encounter.
What are your memories of the Picnic?
Yeah we played it once before. I remember I’d been away on holiday in Corsica with my wife and kids and I flew in just to do that. The flight was late and it was literally *imitates sirens* we had a fire engine or something to get us there on time. I got on and flew by the seat of my pants through that gig. You can imagine, I hadn’t picked up a guitar in two weeks, but it was one of the best festivals I’ve ever done. I remember it was raining really, really, really heavily and just loads of people covered head to toe in mud.
Some of your music, it’s quite introspective, there’s a lot of hushed dynamics, you’re trying to draw people in – can that be difficult when you’re playing to floating voters at a festival?
Yeah, of course! The worst festival experience I had, was probably the first one I did solo. It was very early on in my solo career and at the point where it was delicate brush strokes on drums and softly strummed guitar – very calm, quiet music. As I walked on, Prodigy were on one stage and Iggy Pop was on the other (laughs) I just thought, ‘we’re fucked here’. I mean we did it and it went down really well with the audience but I think a younger artist might have gotten pissed off. I was able to see the funny side of it. I kept looking round to the band and laughing.
On that note, starting the solo career a little later in life, do you think it gave you a clearer idea of what you wanted to do and how you were going to do it?
The only difference is that if I’d have gone solo earlier and got the success I have now, I wouldn’t be stood here talking to you. I would definitely be dead, there’s no doubt about that.
Well the Britpop era, it’s well documented as a ‘heady time’. Playing with the Longpigs then, do you have any reverence for it? How do you feel about it all?
I don’t feel anything for it. I mean major drug use was from way back, living on a council estate. It wasn’t anything to do with ‘Britpop’; I arrived with that baggage already. I learned a lot during that period, mainly what not to do. The thing is, when you’re a substance user, which I was and I’ve been clean now for 13 years nearly…the interesting thing was that when I gave up drugs, I got people ringing me up whose relationship with me was about as deep as an After Eight mint and they wouldn’t even say ‘Hi Rich’, they’d say ‘Rich, where’s the drugs?’
It was funny when certain bands, well known people from that era were in Sheffield, they’d call me and we’d get together for whatever. And then when they’d call me saying ‘Rich, where’s the drugs?’ and I’d turn round and say ‘actually I’ve given up’, you just heard *imitates dead phone line*. It was very good for me (to give up drugs) because apart from staying alive, I also got rid of a load of wankers immediately.
You’re a man who is fond of collaboration, and I’m curious, when you’re in charge of production for a legend like Duane Eddy, what’s your approach?
That was a dream. He’s one of the finest musicians I’ve ever worked with, really just a seriously cool bloke. To be honest, he turned up and wanted to be one of the guys. There was no list before he arrived – ‘Duane wants it painted purple, Duane wants guava fruits’, he totally got how we do things, which is, there’s a chip shop down the road, there’s a kettle, some speakers and that’s it. No frills at all, it’s about the music and we’re there to work. There was none of that ‘legend shit’. We wrote together, played live together, ate and drank together. I spoke to him literally yesterday morning actually. We still keep in touch.
Any more plans to visit us on this side of the water?
Well I’ll be back in Ireland for a tour in December, but I’m also trying to plan something special for around Christmas time. I want to do a one off thing, we’re trying to arrange at the moment. It won’t be a regular venue, it might be a cave or something but we’ll see what happens.