At last I got to see him! The aborted trip to the Symphony Hall in Birmingham last September had left me fairly frustrated so I jumped at the opportunity of a Hawley gig half hour away from my new abode. Life's bizarre circumstances: I never managed in England, and it's in Barcelona I get to catch a glimpse of my new musical hero. You wouldn't think it at first, but a TEFL career has its own perks. The bar next door to Sala Apolo is packed with 30 or 40-somethings sipping the local equivalent of Carling (a lager that goes by the moniker of Estrella Damn) and sporting New Model Army t-shirts…For a second I ponder at the unusual music taste combination…did they in any way find some sort of connection with Hawley's vintage brand of rock'n'roll…or is senility getting the better of me as I totally forgot NMA were to play the venue next door? I've dragged my girlfriend Emma along tonight. She's no Hawley fan, but is willing to keep an open mind.
And so we head for the entrance. Difficult to judge from a 30-second experience but bouncers appear a touch friendlier than the power-crazed ex-convict-bunch back in the UK…no-one ever died from a smile and they seem to be aware of it. We make for the upper level and Sala Apolo is, quite simply, beautiful. If expectations are anything to go by, the surreal setting heralds a great night: a cross between 'Cabaret' and vintage 50s dancehalls. In fact, the ballroom scene in 'The Shining' could have easily been filmed here. It's a cosy, red-tinted little venue, donned in vintage lanterns and tasteful decor. Most strikingly, as we approach the stage, we find out there are no barriers. None. I can't help but think that if the guy standing next to me is going to be sick - not unlikely given the state of him- Richard Hawley's monitors will be in for early retirement. Again, amazingly, capturing the best spot exactly right at the front is as easy as piss. The sorry pisshead staggering on my left included, the audience are incredibly well behaved. Any gig I watched in England before, and I mean any, there was always a fucker or two completely off their head, spoiling it for everyone else. But thankfully not here, not tonight. Javier MacKenzie, the one-man opening act, displays remarkable talent - though it's difficult not to think he could do with a band. Soon it's ten o'clock and Hawley-time.
Aside from his absolutely amazing, mesmerising voice, melodies and arrangements - as well as the compelling atmosphere his records evoke- what drew me to Richard Hawley in the first place was the obvious affability of the character. As he walks on stage, Chelsea boots, jeans complete with turn-ups, white shirt and black blazer, it's quite obvious the word pomposity doesn’t fit into his dictionary. Before strumming a single note, he clocks the guy on my left (who's at pains to articulate a slurred "kr-ooh-nher!" at him) "You're pissed, aren't you mate? 'Ammered!" he smiles, "I'm going to get pissed myself after the gig". Hawley's friendly banter with the crowd includes a Partridge-like moment when he asks for a ceiling fan to be turned off. He looks puzzled for a split-second and then proceeds to put it right "I don't mean these fans! I don’t wanna turn you off! I want to turn you on, you know!" he protests. Only to add, with a smile, "And oooh, by the way…I feel quite turned on tonight". Later on, he'll introduce himself as "Maria, a crossdresser from Barcelona", and as I ask him if The Washington, a Sheffield pub owned by Pulp's Nick Banks, is still standing, he quips "It is still standing, but it's shite!"
When I decided to find out more about him I couldn’t believe he started his career in The Longpigs. Thankfully, his music is miles away from them. With a voice as magnetic as nothing else
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