Interview: Richard Hawley – Hollow Meadows
After a turbulent period that saw Richard Hawley questioning whether he’d play live again, one of the UK’s finest songwriters and owner of a guitar collection to make grown men weep with envy returns triumphant with new album Hollow Meadows…
Live photography: Eleanor Jane
Richard Hawley is in a good place again. “I’m in a world where I’m playing guitar with my mates and having the time of my life on tour,” he tells Guitar & Bass, safely ensconced in a Glasgow hotel room preparing for a sold-out show at the city’s Barrowlands venue and reflecting on a year in which he released his eighth album, the serene and reflective Hollow Meadows.
The path hasn’t always been so smooth in recent years for the confirmed Gretsch fanatic and owner of one of popular music’s most desirable vintage guitar collections. Such feelings of contentment and inner peace are a welcome tonic after a recent history that’s seen one of Sheffield’s most famous sons endure a leg break, fight off a subsequent addiction to the prescription drug Tramadol and then suffer a back injury that led doctors to advise Hawley he might never walk again.
The accident in 2013, in which he sustained a slipped disc, resulted in Hawley being forced to spend five months in bed, trapped in his own mind. It left the 48-year-old questioning his existence.
That feeling of uncertainty is documented on one of Hollow Meadows’ stand-out tracks. On the stirring Which Way, with its wailing Bigsby vibrato-lashed soloing, a vulnerable-sounding Hawley backed by gospel harmonies pleads for clarity as he considers his mortality: “Give me some directions please/solid ground is all I need/won’t you tell me, which way do I go?”
Salvation came, fittingly for a man inexorably linked to his home city, from the hands of the Sheffield Wednesday Football Club physio Paul Smith, and Hawley is grateful to be back in a position of contentment that he’d begun to doubt he’d ever find again.
“If I was writing the album this year, it would have been a better place, but when I was writing that album I didn’t know if I would walk again, and that was fucking terrifying – doing my back in, and they told me that I’d probably not walk again,” Hawley recalls in his treacly nicotine-coated tones.
“That was pretty scary, then laying on your back for five months… the thing that got me through in the end was Paul Smith, who told me ‘I am going to make you better’. Having that absolute rock-solid assurance that you don’t need surgery and you don’t need all this stuff they’re telling you that you need, that it’s going to be alright, was good.”
“I was in a position where I thought ‘I don’t know what the fuck is going to happen’. Like a lot of people, you get to a certain point in life where you think ‘Is this it? Is it over?’. Tonight, we’re playing at Glasgow Barrowlands, it’s sold out and it’s definitely not over. And I’m glad about that! [laughs]”
Hollow Meadows, released in September, found Hawley in contemplative, soulful mood – unsurprisingly given the period of enforced introspection that surrounded its conception. Its wistful ruminations on age, mortality and relationships stripped-back arrangements and gentle acoustic playing stand in contrast to the rich wall of sound and driven, bit-between-the-teeth approach that characterised 2012’s Standing At The Sky’s Edge. We ask if those two releases are direct embodiments of the phases of life in which they were written.”
“Every album is,” Hawley acknowledges. “It’s the different ages of man, I guess – or this particular man. I find it difficult to write songs in any other place than where I am mentally and in terms of life. I’m 48 years old, not 28 and I don’t want to pretend that I am. So I guess a lot of people might listen to it and not get it because they’re young. I’m not saying it’s specifically an album that was made for older people, but it’s definitely an album that’s made at this time of life.”