The industrial town of Sheffield, England is known as the "City of Steel." But it's also produced some of England's top rock and pop bands -- everything from The Human League, to Def Leppard, to the Arctic Monkeys. Singer and guitarist Richard Hawley is Sheffield born and bred. And it shows in his music. The World's Clark Boyd has today's Global Hit.
Richard Hawley started playing guitar in Sheffield pubs when he was 14. He went on to lend his playing skills to Sheffield Brit-pop acts like The Longpigs and Pulp. But when Hawley launched his solo career in 2001, he tried something a bit different.
He stripped down the sound, and stepped up to the mic. That's "Baby, You're My Light," from Hawley's debut CD, Late Night Final.
The album title is a Sheffield reference. It's what the newspaper vendors shilling the late edition yelled out as the steel workers made their way home.
Hawley should know.
â€œI'm the son of a steel worker. And I grew up in a place called Pittsmoor...uh; the name kind of says it all really. and it was rough -- well, quite rough where I grew up. And it's kind of a post industrial ****hole...but it's my favorite post-industrial ****hole.â€
Hawley's love-hate relationship with Sheffield is evident on all four of his solo albums. His third, the critically acclaimed Coles Corner, came out in 2005. The title track references a corner in Sheffield where couples meet.
iTunes, for one, doesn't know what to make of Hawley. Two of his albums are listed as "alternative," one as "pop," and another as "rock." He also makes an appearance in the "Crooners" category.
And fans of Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash might detect something very American in Hawley's sound. That's because American-style music has been part of Hawley's life blood forever.
â€œMy grandfather was a music hall performer. And in fact, he used to do an act where he stood on his head, playing his violin behind his head -- and that pre-dated Hendrix by some years, you know?â€
Hawley' father -- the steelworker -- and his uncle were both guitar players in clubs around town. Hawley says they ended up playing with some of the best American bluesmen when they made tour stops in Sheffield.
â€œBecause of some bizarre musician's union's rules -- the artists that came over couldn't bring their bands unless they swapped with some English artists. So, you'd get chuck berry minus his band. and then my father or my uncle, depending on where the artist was playing, would get to back all these artists. My father played with John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim.â€
Hawley says that, growing up, his house was full of American blues, country, and rockabilly. He says his mother would sing Everly Brothers tunes while she ironed. It all comes through on Hawley's new album, Lady's Bridge. This track is called "Serious."
Hawley's album is, not surprisingly, full of Sheffield references. In fact, Hawley knows his city's history cold. One track commemorates the victims of the Great Sheffield Flood in 1864. And the title track, Lady's Bridge, takes its name from a real bridge built by a Norman prince in 1124.
â€œOriginally, it was kind of the gateway between the rich side and poor side of the city. You know if you were on one side of the bridge, you were under the safety of the castle and the prince there.â€
â€œIt's kind of metaphor, the way I use the bridge. I got lucky enough to be 40 this year. You know, it's basically crossing from one side to another. You know...one side of your life is over...and hopefully moving onto brighter things.â€
Richard Hawley's new album Lady's Bridge is released today in the United States. He's planning a North America tour for later this year.
For the World this is Clark Boyd.