It's a sunny, crisp summer afternoon on the outskirts of Sheffield when Richard Hawley strolls into his local with his dog, Fred. He's currently on 'down time' after a year on the road of touring his most successful solo album to date, Standing At The Sky's Edge.
With his guitar turned up louder than ever, the LP is packed with fierce political rhetoric and romantic lovesongs to the people and landscape of his Yorkshire hometown - his 'muse' as he calls on it.
Pint in hand, the former Longpigs and Pulp guitarist is full of fire and high spirits. Ahead of his upcoming shows at Somerset House, Graves Park and Camp Bestival to wrap up his latest record, Gigwise sat down for a beer with Mr Hawley to discuss politics, Pulp, his addiction to painkillers, the Manic Street Preachers and why he won't play Glastonbury...
So, about this time last year you kicked off your Standing At The Sky's Edge tour with a broken leg and seemed off your head on pain killers.
Yeah. I had serious problems with pain killers. Nobody told me what they were. I was put on Tramadol, valium and all sorts.
That sounds amazing.
It was great, but coming off it wasn’t. I didn’t know what they were. It was synthetic heroin basically. Tramadol is synthetic opioids and I’ve had issues with those in the past. But what really annoyed me is that I’ve been clean for over 15 years, and involuntarily I ended up fucked up on those. At the beginning of the tour I broke my leg, and at the end of it I fucked my back up. They put me on pills for my leg and I ended up proper addicted to them, so my wife recognised that and I just stopped. But you’re not supposed to do that. It was like being thrown down a fucking lift shaft. It was horrible.
Do you remember much of it?
Yeah, it was a good laugh! That’s the thing about drugs – people do drugs because they’re fucking great, not because they’re shit. But there are things associated with them that you never hear. You never hear anyone say ‘ah you know our Darren has really come out of himself since he’s been on that heroin’. ‘Our Mandy, now that she’s drinking them 10 cans of Stella a day, she’s a right laugh to be with’.
But other than that, you scored a No.3 album and pulled of a sold-out tour. Would you say this has been your biggest year so far?
I’ve had a mad ride, you know what I mean? It began by me singing with Arctic Monkeys and ended by me singing with Manic Street Preachers. I’ve enjoyed it. The touring gets harder as you get older, and I think that’s because when you’re young your roots aren’t as strong. Now, leaving my family and leaving home is a lot harder.
How long have you been off the road for now then?
A couple of months.
What have you been doing with yourself?
Trying to get off Tramadol! And I have, and it feels great. It takes me a while to adjust. My wife says that all musicians suffer from it. What goes up must come down. She calls it ‘M.A.D.D – Male Attention Deficit Disease’. When you’ve been screamed and applauded at for two years running, then you come home and you’ve got a big basket of washing in your hand – it’s a big crash. That crash and burn is always tricky to deal with. It’s not just because of your ego, it’s a physical and mental thing. Racing car drivers, dancers and people who live quite high-energy lives are the same. When you get a rush of endorphins and adrenaline, that prods your body to release huge doses of serotonin and dopamine for a natural high. When that prod doesn’t happen, it takes your brain and your body a long time to learn to release those chemicals naturally.
Are you domesticating yourself again or gearing up to start over?
No, I’m not starting over for a while, man. You end up like a yo-yo emotionally and that’s not good for you. I want to see dust gather. A record player and a plant pot in the same place, day after day after day – that kind of thing. I don’t listen to music or read magazines or watch TV. Listen to music for me is a nightmare. I’ll put on a load of rockabilly stuff day in day out but I don’t want to be influenced. So the idea of being creative is to fill the void. It’s like a blank wall in a cave. They’d pick up some charcoal and learn to draw, but if there’s something there drawn already then you don’t need to. If you’re influenced by other things then it’s not internal.
So you’ve got no thoughts about the new album at the moment then?
No. It’ll come though. It’s never let me down yet – you just can’t overanalyse the creative fairy. Don’t try and fix the pixie. Never look her straight in the eye. I’m always thinking about it but I don’t over-analyse it and wait until I’ve got enough material together then look over everything as a holistic thing. I’ve written loads of stuff but it’s not fully-formed yet. It takes a while and I’m in no rush to get back on a tour bus.
Before the release of Standing At The Sky’s Edge, a lot was written about the amount of anger on the album. It seems that a lot of the themes on the record are more prevalent now than ever.
Yeah, it’s all come to pass. Not that I’m politically wise but you’d have to be blind and stupid to not see it coming. Look at all of that bullshit around Thatcher’s death. I had to get away. I went to Nothumberland because it really riled me so much. And people fall for it, they’re such mugs. It’s like when Diana died and Blair seized on it because elections were coming. This time Cameron seized on it but he didn’t see UKIP coming. UKIP’s thinking is seriously fucked up. Daily Mail readers are paranoid. I understand why people are angry – because thing have been ripped from under them. But they’re always aiming it at the least socially mobile. It’s the wrong end of the pyramid, man. It’s the people at the top with all of the money and all of the choices that you should be going for with your pitchforks and flaming torches.
So are you just focusing on these few gigs this summer?
Yeah. I’ve been offered loads of festivals, but it’d just mean being on the road more. I slipped a disc in my back in Australia and had to do another two months touring, which was hell. A lot of artists are chasing it and craving it all the time and I’m old enough and wise enough to know when it’s time to stop. I could tour this album for another year because it’s been really successful, but I’m not ‘mad fer it’ any more.
So you weren’t even tempted by Glastonbury?
Nah. Good luck to everyone that does it, but I’ve done all that shit. I’d rather do these gigs at Graves Park and say something to the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire than do Glastonbury, which has become meaningless to me. I got offered a lot of money to play there and I turned it down because it doesn’t have any meaning. All of the political sides of it seem to have been whitewashed and airbrushed over. The Rolling Stones are playing and that just seems weird to me if you think about what it’s supposed to be and what it’s become. I played it with Duane Eddy and I didn’t want to turn down any chance of playing with Duane because he’s not over here that much and I don’t get that much time with him, so that was great. It’s not just Glastonbury, I don’t like the whole corporate festival thing. I’ve done V Festival with Pulp and as a solo artist and I hated every minute of it. It’s just nasty and not what I’m about – I want something a bit more free and organic. I want the audiences to feel included rather than trapped. They’ve paid for the privilege to be trapped in a field and marketed to. What the fuck is that all about? I won’t be there. I’ll probably be in a place I love. I love the British coast – it’s fucking awesome.
You’ve mentioned that you're also on the new Manic Street Preachers album. How did that come about?
James [Dean Bradfield] just rang me. I’ve never chased anything in my life, apart from the odd woman but I’ve done that politely and respectfully. It never works when I chase a woman. Long-term relationships are only ever when a girl comes to me.
So have you had any kind of relationship with the Manics for a while?
I’ve respected James for a long time. I love that they stand for something and that they’ve stood by it, unlike a lot of bands and politicians. These bands who go in on a mandate and get people to trust them and buy their records then go and make a funk record. It’s good to experiment but I just don’t want to let people down. I met James at that Shirley Bassey concert because we both wrote songs for her. I was sat at the side of the stage just watching her and completely in awe then James just came up and tapped me on the shoulder and we just sat together completely enthralled by Ms Bassey. We got chatting afterwards and it turns out that both of our fathers were first-wave teddy boy bikers. You don’t meet many other people like that. It was a shared experience we had of growing up with people who were fairly fucking wild. We got chatting, swapped phone numbers and text each other occasionally but he was off having a family and a break while I was away on the road then he just phoned me and said ‘we’ve written this song and all decided that you have to sing it or it won’t go on the album’. So I just said ‘I can’t let you down’, and it was a great honour. I drove down to Cardiff in a day and it’s a really beautiful song. I play a bit of Hawaiian guitar on it and it’s me and James doing a duet. He sings one part and I sing another. Nick wrote the words that I sing and James wrote his bit so it’s a very personal song and I was surprised that Nicky wanted me to sing it, but now that I’ve done it I can see why. It’s quite dramatic and acoustic.
That last Pulp gig at Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield seemed refreshingly nostalgia-free and just a celebration of Pulp.
I enjoyed that night, and I would not have done it if it felt like a nostalgia tip. To me, Pulp are still relevant. ‘Common People’ is more relevant now than it was then. That was the Britpop era when Blair was in power and everything was supposed to be fucking rosy and look where that got us. A megalomaniac nutter took us to war and that fucker gets to put his head on his pillow every night with a million deaths on his conscience. I don’t know how he sleeps. He should be tried in he Hague for war crimes and put behind bars. It’s offensive. You put your hand up to say ‘this isn’t right’ and it falls on deaf ears. That’s where Thatcher succeeded the most: in killing our sense of unity, not just unions but the fact that if we stick together then we can effect change. That sense of sticking together turned into UKIP and point the finger at the immigrant and the weakest in society, instead of being strong and brave and pointing it exactly where it should be which is at the fucking bankers and politicians. All that seems to have gone completely silent. We sold out for a satellite dish and a shell suit. If the band didn’t get together soon, it wouldn’t have been ‘Disco 2000’ but Grecian 2000. It wouldn’t have been a gold disc, it would been a slipped disc. I endorsed it 100% and encouraged them to get back together. Let’s not pretend, there was definitely a financial incentive to Pulp getting back together, but in their defence they got so massively ripped off when they were fully active that they achieved so much and ended up with virtually fuck all. I felt that there was some justice in it, especially because it felt so celebratory.
So now you’ve worked with Pulp, Manic Street Preachers, Duane Eddy, Shirley Bassey, Arctic Monkeys and Elbow – are there any other artists that you’d like to collaborate with?
Me and Paul Weller have been talking for ages about doing a song. That would be great. I love him as a man and an artist so that’s another thing in the pipeline I guess. I’m producing some stuff that will come to the surface in time. I’m not sat on my arse – I am working on things, like doing a bit of acting and some radio plays. There’s a lot in the pipeline.