DOG walking was never in the rock ‘n’ roll ‘handbook’, it has to be said.
Yet it did wonders for Richard Hawley’s stroll towards making more music, a perhaps fitting basis for an artist who in some senses has rambled – albeit rather successfully – through a life of music-making.
“I found him in a barn in the Lake District,” he says of the collie with whom he’s been exploring Ecclesall Woods. “I had time which I’d never had. I’ve been on tour for 30 years – and I became a musician to not have a career.
“It wasn’t part of my life plan. I never had a life plan. I’ve always stuck to the remit Lewis Carroll said: ‘If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there’.
And it’s a weird place I find myself in, not Fagans, but...”
Indeed, we are in Hawley’s favourite pub, and our man is in philosophical mood. It seems he has done much thinking, reading and star gazing since breaking his own musical mould with Truelove’s Gutter. New album Standing At the Sky’s Edge captures some of the above, although another more tragic inspiration was the death of Tim McCall, a lifelong pal and one of Sheffield’s finest guitarists.
It is clearly still raw with Hawley. “It’s one of the biggest influences. It was the catalyst really. I miss him. I really do, but this album isn’t all about Tim. It’s about looking at yourself and how you project. I want to be kind, I don’t want to be unkind.
“Standing At The Sky’s Edge is a metaphor. It’s not judgment about the people who live there or anyone in Sheffield. I always like to tip my hat and honour the city that nourishes me. It’s that simple, always has been. The more I look away, the less I find. The more I look at what’s around me it becomes deeper. The older I get I realise the things I overheard, snatched conversations with older people, the importance of it.
“If you’ve got roots that go as deep as mine...the older I get it means more. Like Hendos, ink in water, we’ll spread Sheffield everywhere and the good vibes we’ve got here. I’ve got the benefit of perspective. I’m not trying to sell the city or myself to anybody. Instead of us trying to be like anywhere else let’s be like ourselves.”
Preceded by the swirling guitars of lead single Leave Your Body Behind You, Standing arguably bears out that policy. While the voice is clearly the husband and father-of-three from High Storrs, the music is more like what we might have expected when he first went solo, having been guitarist for Longpigs and Pulp.
“Exactly. The point of going solo for me wasn’t because I could – there had to be a reason. Underneath that bushel I’d hidden a little light where I’d sort of got an OK voice and I could write good songs. I knew that had never been explored, just sitting there writing tunes.
“But the guitar had to be suppressed because guitarists in bands who go solo invariably make really terrible records. The song must always remain king.
“On the new record all I’ve done is replace the drama or dynamics that I used to use peripheral instruments or an orchestra for with hands round a guitar.
“It’s no longer ‘indie kid trying to prove himself’, I’m beyond all that. Also I don’t want to be the ego mass in the centre of the stage.
“I’m just conveying thoughts from heart and brain. That’s all it is. I’d never done that before, just stood still, sung and played guitar.
“As time went on live it got more raucous anyway and because I’m working with such great musicians, when the madness takes me I’ll just rip into it and they go with me. I’m not even the best guitar player in our band, Shez Sheridan is.
“I wanted to capture that. I see it all spinning out from them in a beautiful way and it’s a good clash when we’re together – the new record was just us playing together.”
The album is also Hawley’s first for Parlophone, Mute having been swallowed by EMI, but he’s again found people on the same wavelength at a label once home to the Beatles, among others.
“I’m too old now to be told what to do. I managed to escape having a boss who pokes me in the back.
“Armed with a six string instrument I will make it or go pear-shaped. The concept of the individual is dead in this country or it is under heavy sedation. I’ve managed to escape that – like Logan’s Run and we’re still above ground, kid.”
And that attitude has brought both freedom, security and collaborations with a range of people from Lisa Marie Presley and Nancy Sinatra to Duane Eddy.
“I’ve never chased anything, apart from a lock-in,” quips Hawley, whose mortgage repayments won’t have been harmed by Renault and Häagen-Dazs using his music in their ads.
“I go back to what my grandad said: ‘When all the bullets are raging around you stand still’. Eventually it comes round.
“But you’re also presented with a position. I could quite easily make these string-drenched records forever and sit coining it in, getting production offers from here and there. But I am from Sheffield and I’m cynical. Often I’m not very kind to myself and there’s a little voice in my head going ‘That’s easy...’
“The last record was the biggest risk that I took in a lot of ways. After Lady’s Bridge it could have gone... but the song Tonight The Streets Are Ours ended up on the Banksy film (Exit Through The Gift Shop) and The Simpsons who were doing a pastiche of the Banksy thing.
“One of the songs was meant to be in the last Harry Potter film. I told the kids but it ended up on the cutting room floor. They were really upset so I said nothing about the Simpsons until I showed it them.
“I didn’t predict that – it’s just a song about reacting to ASBOs.
“But you have to make records from where you are there and then. It’s instinct. I find myself in this position now, but I’ll probably find myself at the other end of the arc of the rainbow, busking outside Cole Brothers again. And that’ll probably be all right.”