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Latitude Preview: Richard Hawley

The inimitable sheffield crooner talks to Dazed about drinking with Shirley Bassey and time-travelling to a whale-free future

Richard Hawley is the son of a well known Sheffield musician from the 1960s who gave the world The Dave Hawley Combo And The Black Cats, as well as numerous other bands. Hawley Senior would often put ‘pick up’ bands together for touring US musicians, and would end up playing with the fearsome talents of people like Little Walter and John Lee Hooker. Today, his son's style is obviously influenced by the music around him while he was growing up, and it is a really unique mix: he writes beautiful heartfelt songs with the raw feel of rock'n'roll and rockabilly, blended with his steel worker Sheffield roots. On the eve of his performance at Latitude this weekend, he talks about about drinking with Shirley Bassey, wanting to fly and why no one has a perfect life.

Dazed Digital: Who's the most inspiring musician you have worked with?
Richard Hawley:
There are loads, and they’ve all been inspiring in their own ways. The thing that I suppose set the initial spark was my dad. I’m always grateful for that. He was a steel worker but he spent whatever little time he had with me. Young kids can be a pain in the arse sometimes, but he was always really patient and that was really important. Jarvis was always a big inspiration to me, and working with Lisa Marie Presley was great. She was amazing but, y'know, I remember what originally got me into it all, and why that spark is still there all these years later: that was down to me dad. 

DD: Who would you like to work with in the future?
Richard Hawley:
I was thinking about this the other day, oh it’s gone from my mind, um... I’d like to play guitar for Stevie Wonder I reckon, but he’s probably a better guitar player than me!

DD: If you had a time machine, where would you go?
Richard Hawley:
I’m reading this book at the moment called Leviathan, its all about man's relationship with the whale and how much we use it. I mean, the Hubble Telescope is actually fuelled by whale oil because it doesn’t freeze in space. I would like to go into the future to see if there are any fucking whales left, and just to see if we haven’t fucked everything up. I’m gonna go on a whale watch later this year, and if we’ve managed to pull them from the brink of death in the future... well, that would be quite beautiful. I’m not a hippie and all, but I’m intrigued to come in close contact with such amazing creatures. 

DD: What made you go solo?
Richard Hawley:
(Laughs) It was the last option... No, I got to a point in my life just before me dad passed away and he said to me, “Son don’t wait until your 60 and look back and regret it.” Those words – because he was so ill – were really powerful, and it was something that had been on my mind for a long time. I mean, I was 14 when I did my first tour around strip clubs and all that (me mum thought we were playing in nice theatres). I did my first Peel Session when I was 16, and it was always something that was there, it always ran parallel with what I was doing. But I was always happy just learning and playing, slotting in at the back. It never really seemed to be that important, but I did always sing and write songs. I think if I’d of done it when I was younger there would have been a big danger that I would of disappeared up my own arse. I think later that I was probably, dare I say, a mature enough person to handle what may or may not have happened. I didn’t even remotely expect the success that my songs had at all. I mean it says 'Richard Hawley' over the door, but all those guys I work with in the band help me so much with what I do. To put it bluntly the loaf was cooked and it was time to take it out of the oven.

DD: If you could be an animal, which one would you be?
Richard Hawley:
Certainly not a fuckin' whale! Well, I was talking to me missus about foxes last night, and about how they are supposedly becoming a nuisance and all that, but then again being one of them might not be so good 'cos they’re getting shot. I think some kind of bird? Either a bird or some sort of fish, because they’re different to being a human. Maybe a bird... I mean, flying must be pretty good, although if you’re a bird you don’t think that. Yeah, some kind of bird I think, perhaps an eagle: something that can fly.

DD: You recently wrote a song for Shirley Bassey. How do you go about writing material for other people?
Richard Hawley:
I don’t really write songs like conventional writers. I used to, but not any more. They tend to just fester in me head for a quite a long time. At any given point, I’ll always have ten or so ideas going around in my head. But when it’s for another person, I generally try to get something out of them that they’ve never done before. For example, when I wrote for  Shirley Bassey, I wanted to write a sort of soft song that would compel her not to shout her head off.  I talked to her and we got drunk together, and it was a riot man, it was like going to the bingo with me Aunty Jean! I just tend to kind of look for something in them that they didn’t know they had a talent for. No matter what sort of music a person does, within them there’ll be another voice to discover.

DD: What scares you?
Richard Hawley:
Not a lot, although I think if I was being totally honest, poverty. I was brought up very poor, and I think that scares me more than anything. I think not being able to make choices about what you do with your life. That is a tragic depravation that no one should have to go through. I don’t mean that you have to be loaded, but to just have a little bit of money so you can make choices. I don’t spoil me kids at all, they have to earn what they get. Death is another thing, but like me grandad used to say, 'It’s not death that scares me, it’s not living.'

DD: Do you enjoy festivals?
Richard Hawley:
I’m very conscious of the use of festivals to market things to people and I just think that that’s not right. These kids have paid all this money to be trapped in a field to be marketed to and be sold a burger for a bloody fiver and pint for like, eight quid! There’s just something inherently un-festival-like about that. I’m really looking forward to playing at Latitude though, I’ve heard nothing but good words about it. All my mates who are plumbers or musicians, or anything, have all said they enjoyed it. I’ve also heard that they paint the sheep different colours – its gotta be worth going just for that. 

DD: Do you think you have to be troubled to be a songwriter?
Richard Hawley:
Well, it certainly helped me (laughs)! I think you have to be lucid; you have to be able to see things clearly. It helps you be effective. I think if you are not troubled and you try and make yourself so, it will be quite obvious that you’re a bullshitter. So you just have to be what you are. Life is full of ups and downs, and I don’t think anybody gets a free ride – lots of people try, but nobody's life is perfect. 

DD: Did you like being a teenager?
Richard Hawley:
I think I was lucky because I got into music. It focused my mind a lot. And where I was from, a lot of kids that I grew up with were nicking cars or like, sniffing glue. Out of my peers, there was a few I got on with but they were either in my band or had a band themselves. I tended to stay away from all the balloon-heads who were nicking cars and showing off. I was no angel that’s for sure, but I tried to stick to my music. 

DD: What's your top five films?
Richard Hawley:
I gave up doing lists a long time ago, they’re a very male thing. Uuummm… To be honest, I cant be fucked, sorry.

Latitude is on from 15 July to 18 July at Henham Park, Southwold, Sunrise Coast, Suffolk