Soldier on – two words which would have been close to Richard Hawley’s mind as he walked out on stage at the Olympia tonight. Under the weather, Hawley followed opener -As The Dawn Breaks’ with an apology for any problems that may persist with his voice at this, his biggest ever-Irish show. The 42-year-old has been so ill, we’re told, that he even came within minutes of pulling the gig.
Were he not so honest, one might not have noticed that the Sheffield crooner wasn’t operating at 100 per cent. Warm and often hilarious in his foul-mouthed banter with the crowd, there’s little wrong with his voice when he lets fly on his classy collection of mid-tempo love songs. Sure, throughout the set, there are moments where his voice becomes nasal and flat, but for the most part there’s little to criticise Hawley on as far as his velvet-soft baritone is concerned.
It’s his set-list however, which may have left some disgruntled. Almost exclusively culled from his recent sixth album, True Love’s Gutter, there’s no room here for any of the -greatest hits’. So that’s no -Baby You’re My Light’, -Valentine’, -The Ocean’ or -Born Under A Bad Sign’. It’s disappointing, but such is Hawley’s great canon of work – and very fine recent material -that it’s one we can forgive.
Early on though, there’s very much an air of -getting through this’ apparent in workman like renditions of -Lady Solitude’ and -Hotel Room’ – understandable given the circumstances. At times too, Hawley’s superb – if stiff – backing band can seem too reverential to the material. While we get a sumptuous run-through of -For Your Lover, Give Some Time’ and a very apt airing of -Soldier On’, there’s a spark and thunder missing from this, a very polished performance. Given the all-seated environment it’s really only Hawley’s irreverent between song musings that puncture an air, which might describe as stuffy.
It’s when the tempo rises though, that Hawley and his band begin to flex their muscle and inject a more adventurous pace to proceedings. -Run For Me’ is a Hawley gem and one of his lesser-known tracks. Tonight, it threatens to take-off as its gorgeous melody swirls around the Olympia late on in the set. A rousing encore of -Coles Corner’ then set things up to end on a real high but Hawley seems to fluff the moment by calling time after this, a one-song encore. Ill health may be to blame but it leaves many, not only wanting more, but also perhaps feeling short-changed.
These are small qualms however when all is considered. A Richard Hawley gig is always something to savour. He may have become a changed performer as his popularity has risen – his rough edges having been smoothed over – but he nonetheless always delivers two consistents – a gorgeously textured vocal wrapped around some sumptuously crafted songs. Tonight is no different, and we look forward to his return in full health.