Review: Guitarist Richard Hawley at Bristol’s Colston Hall
November 11, 2015
Richard Hawley stalks on to the Colston Hall stage to the strains of ‘Guitar Man’, as apt an epithet as you can imagine as he cycles through stunning guitar after stunning guitar, and opens up with ‘Which Way’ from his latest album Hollow Meadows. Hawley isn’t looking for directions tonight, however; it is the last show of the current tour and he is on a mission to have a good time.
His famously wry sense of humour is straight to the fore. Informing the Monday night Bristol crowd that they have a long way to go to beat his hometown of Sheffield, he launches into ‘Tonight the Streets are Ours’, and the fact that Banksy used this song to close his 2010 film Exit Through the Gift Shop was surely not lost on him.
From this moment on he has the crowd hanging on his every word. A running gag about Bristol being twinned with Vegas (“the only two places in the world you can buy sex with chips”), punctuates the performance, and any shouts from the audience are acknowledged and either made into jokes, or swiftly despatched.
This charm isn’t all show, however–few artists can get away with mixing old and new material with such seamless panache as when the country twangs of ‘Sometimes I Feel’ are followed by crowd-favourite ‘Open Up Your Door’. Likewise, we follow him as he clashes the despair-laden ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ against ‘I Still Want You’–a classic love song. The contradictions only go to showcase his talents as a songwriter–capable of fury and despair, tenderness and passion in equal measure.
Undeniably this is about a man at the top of his game, yet this is no grandstanding performance. The band (excellent throughout, and obviously enjoying every minute) are gathered surprisingly closely and talked about with obvious fondness and respect by their leader. Combined with lights and backdrop forward on the stage, the Colston Hall has an unusually intimate feel tonight.
This feeling is best summed up in the encore. Having made the crowd sing happy birthday to his daughter earlier in the set (at what point does this stop being embarrassing? Ten people in an office is bad enough, but 2000 of your old man’s fans? ‘Enough of this shit’, Hawley mutters straight after, seeming to realise), he returns to dedicate a beautifully tender rendition of ‘What Love Means’ to her. It is a pin-drop moment, and no one would have complained if he had stopped there.
But Hawley has one last contradiction for us. As the wall of guitars of ‘The Ocean’ wash over us and build to a stormy finale, it is clear that this Guitar Man has finally claimed Bristol for himself and the North.