It’s the green spaces of Sheffield that inspire Richard Hawley’s songs.
“I write songs in my head when I’m walking the dog,” he says. “I create a rhythm and my heart slows down considerably. In Sheffield we’re so lucky because we’re never far from somewhere beautiful, it’s not that far to walk to the Peak District.”
So it’s fitting that Hawley – critically-acclaimed artist and former Pulp guitarist – will be playing in one of Sheffield best-loved green spaces: Graves Park. The gig is part of the Under the Big Top Festival, which features the Levellers and 11-piece party band Bison.
“I did want to take the summer off but this gig is in between days out,” said Hawley. “
Hawley’s show follows his hugely successful album Standing at the Sky’s Edge, which was released last may. The album was a collection of heavier, psychedelic numbers with guitar work evocative of Jimi Hendrix’s ethereal numbers such as Third Stone from the Sun on Are You Experienced.
Hawley says: “There are no half measures with me on some albums, like Standing at the Sky’s Edge. I give myself 1,000,000 per cent to things and that can mean not sleeping and almost destroying my health but I love the fact I end up swimming in whatever it is I’m doing.”
The open-air gig also follows Hawley’s refusal to perform at Glastonbury Festival this year. Hawley argued that it had become ‘meaningless’ and that festival-goers “paid for the privilege to be trapped in a field and marketed to”.
There is, however, no risk of that at Graves Park.
“Graves Park is a green space surrounded by nature. When they asked me to perform it was a no-brainer, it will be ace to perform there.”
Demand to see Hawley live is high. Last year he sold out two nights at the City Hall and will be playing at the Georgian-built art gallery and home of the Royal Academy of the Arts, Somerset House.
“I like playing off-the wall places. I really liked playing the Devil’s Arse in Derbyshire.”
And like his long-established venues, Hawley’s guitar playing and songwriting have been developed over a long period of time.
“My first gig was at the Firth Park Hotel in 1979 and I was 12. My dad ran a little folk club there for unemployed steel workers and you’d get free Yorkshire pudding and gravy. My first gig was playing for Yorkshire pudding,” he laughs.
“I was obsessed with playing the guitar and we had a teacher called Mr Lockwood who would stay behind on Fridays while we played. It was all I was bothered about but you have to be obsessional like that for something to work.”
Hawley turned to music out of hardship. The economic doom that faced South Yorkshire in the late ’70s and ’80s presented limited job prospects.
“I stayed in at school until I was 17 doing a YoP scheme but that just seemed pointless.”
Having already started his musical apprenticeship with his father, Hawley turned his back on ‘proper’ jobs prospects and started his music career. It paid off. And things have progressed somewhat for Hawley since the days he played for Yorkshire puddings – he’s written songs for Lisa Marie Presley and Shirley Bassey and features on the new Manic Street Preachers’ album, Rewind the Film, on which Hawley sings and plays guitar on the title track.
But his philosophy is simple: stick to what you love. And this weekend, he’ll be doing just that – playing his music in one of Sheffield’s most beautiful parks.
Richard Hawley plays at the Under the Big Top Festival at Graves Park on Saturday.