‘I’m a post-punk neo-rockabilly’

Richard Hawley. Photo: PA Photo/Steve Gullick
Richard Hawley. Photo: PA Photo/Steve Gullick

Richard Hawley has just come back from walking the dog.

Not that he wants to come across as a creature of habit, but he goes to the same place every day, Forge Dam in Sheffield’s Fulwood. There, the pair wander around, and Hawley stops off at the cafe for a coffee before heading home.

“When you have a dog, it’s simple - you walk it, or you wake up to a steaming pile of sh**. And I’m not fond of waking up to a steaming pile of sh**, metaphorically or otherwise,” he says, laughing his unmistakeable laugh.

For a man with a relatively deep, gruff speaking voice, who sings with a velvet-smooth baritone, when Hawley cracks up, as he frequently does, he does so with a high-pitched, infectious squeal.

This morning on his way down to Forge Dam, he saw a kingfisher and a heron by the river, and a rainbow.

All part of nature’s wonder, he says, and reasons he’s become completely enamoured with the sorts of mundane tasks he used to try to put off for another day.

“There’s a rhythm to all that,” he explains. “And I see the magic in it all. Plus it’s free - didn’t cost a thing to see that kingfisher. I used to moan about walking the dog, but not now, I love the simplicity of it.”

Sensing he’s gushed enough about the wonders of South Yorkshire’s wildlife, he counters by pointing out that he’s no hippie.

“Actually, I’m a post-punk neo-rockabilly, if you believe what some hack wrote about me in a review recently. I’ll take that. But what does it mean? It’s like being a postnatal milkman.”

After he’s walked his dog, Hawley, who turned 49 a few weeks ago, likes to sit in his favourite chair and play his guitar until his kids come home from school.

He doesn’t try to write songs, he stresses, explaining that he’s more likely to “hit the bullseye” when he’s not aiming for it.

“I’ve engineered a life where I do what I want, although there are certain parameters and rules, which is good for a healthy mind.”

There’ll be no rehearsing either, he admits, again with that infectious cackle. “We don’t like to be over-rehearsed. We might do an afternoon the day before we go.”

In truth, his band, largely the same for a long time, don’t need much practice, and in any case, it’s only a few months since Hawley last performed in the UK, even more recently around Europe.

“I had so much fun last time we played the UK, and well, the European tour was good, too, but it almost didn’t happen.”

He explains the run of shows on the continent began just a couple of days after the Paris shootings in November, with a date in Belgium, where there were “tanks on the streets” the day before the Paris gig.

“It was obviously heartbreaking, and even more so playing there. Before we went, I phoned all the lads in the band and on the crew and said, ‘Look, if you don’t fancy it, I understand, but I’m going’.

“I was determined to play those dates, even if it meant playing on my own, wearing swimming trunks and a banjo. Thankfully that horror didn’t come to pass and everybody, said yes. It’s like a family, and they all said they were coming.

“Under those circumstances, some of those audiences were so brave turning up. We were all there, gently, defiantly getting on with it. It was quite something.”

Longer tours, however, are out of the question these days. Hawley, as a former member of underrated Britpoppers The Longpigs and later Pulp, plus almost 15 years as a solo musician, has done his fair share of that, but it no longer fits into his carefully designed existence.

“And in any case, I miss the dog too much,” he says, not really joking. “I love my life and I’m very committed to it. I do love the shows, but there’s a healthy balance to be struck.”

He’ll turn 50 early next year, although he’s not putting anything in his diary to mark the occasion. He says it’ll be the same as every other birthday; a dog walk in the morning, a party in the pub, followed by a hangover and another dog walk.

“I’ve learned you can only plan for happy times, for the good things. Bad stuff will happen whether you like it or not. The same goes for making another record, I’m not planning it out too much, because once I do, this whole machine kicks into motion around me and I can’t help but feel like a cat having its fur rubbed the wrong way.

“I’ll always be a rebel, I’m from that generation, and I don’t want to get drawn into the cycle of making money and having a career,” he adds. “I became a musician to avoid having a career.”