Richard Hawley Delivers “Multicolored” Ode to Hometown of Sheffield on ‘In This City They Call You Love’

In Sheffield, England everyone calls you “Love.” These days, the simple adage from his hometown is something Richard Hawley still finds somewhat consoling. “I’ve circumnavigated planet earth at least 30 times, but I’ve never been to a place where people call you ‘Love,’” Hawley tells American Songwriter. “Even bus drivers covered in tattoos say ‘Thanks love. See you later, love.’ There’s something disarming about it, and comforting. The word itself, people use it on a minute-to-minute second-to-second, hour-to-hour basis in the city.”

The sentimentality of his hometown, the resilience of its people and their sense of humor, other idiosyncracies, and “love” led Hawley to his new album In This City They Call You Love. “The title of the album, it isn’t an opinion,” he says. “It’s a statement of fact. If you go into a store, or you got to get your car fixed, or you go into a pub, or you go in a restaurant—wherever—people will punctuate the end of their sentences with ‘Love’—‘Thanks, love,’ or, ‘That’ll be $6.20, love.’”

He adds, “When we read the news, it’s disheartening, to say the least—thoroughly depressing—and I kind of got a lot of strength from the very simple fact that people just call each other ‘Love’ in this part of the world, and nowhere else.”

Written during the pandemic, the problem Hawley faced with In This City They Call You Love is that he wrote “too many” songs, more than 80, for an album. “I write all the time,” shares Hawley. “It’s not like I write just for an album I write. I don’t necessarily call it a talent, it’s probably more a mental illness.”

After filtering down to 12 tracks, Hawley was left with another vignette into his life and Sheffield, a city referenced in all of his solo albums from Late Night Final in 2001, named after the call of the vendors selling the Sheffield Star evening newspaper on the streets through 2015 release Hollow Meadows, titled after a hamlet on the outskirts of the city.

“Two For His Heels,” a card-playing term used to describe the points scored for a dealer if the starter is a Jack, opens the album on a moodier, cinematic transcription of advice on living without fear—In this situation, everything is clear / The kink is in the good things / Live a good life without fear—a sentiment to be continued on “Have Love.”

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A follow-up to his 2023 compilation Very Best of… Now Then and his 2019 release Further—the first of his albums without reference to Sheffield—In This City They Call You Love was more liberating to record, pulled back from tightly-wound guitar solos, the simpler instrumentation, less over-production or premeditations opened space for the songs and vocals to breathe.

In This City They Call You Love documents the different complexions of Sheffield, including an ode to its industrial past. Well, I was born and raised by the river / Slowly it flows through this city of knivesFolks work so hard and they stay all their lives, Hawley sings through the candid ballad “People,” inspired by the men who came before him. “I was thinking about my father, my uncles, and my grandfather, who all worked with the steelworks,” he says. “That memory was evoked because, in this country, we’re going through that same s–t again that we went through with Margaret Thatcher during the steel strikes, and the miners’ strikes in the north of England. We were obliterated by her, all of our culture, all of our communities were just wiped out.”

He continues, “And I can see it happening again. I’m 57 years old, and I’ve lived long enough, where you see the loop coming round again, where all the greedy people gain power, and they just don’t think at all about the little people.”

The country-tipped “Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow” is a remnant of his working on music for Wes Anderson’s 2023 sci-fi comedy Asteroid City with former Pulp bandmate Jarvis Cocker. The Hawley-produced “Dear Alien (Who Art In Heaven),” co-written by Anderson and Cocker for the film, was also shortlisted for Best Original Song at the 2024 Academy Award.

“The songs on the record, they don’t fit, they sort of jar against each other, and that’s what attracts me to them,” says Hawley. “The whole process of songwriting is hitting the bullseye without aiming for it. That’s my mantra: if you try and write a song, you’re f–ked. It’s about not trying. When you try, the results are often pretty bad.”

A less restrained rocker “Deep Space” precedes the somber “Deep Waters,” and reveals two opposite ends of Hawley’s stories with other deep thoughts flickering through “I’ll Never Get Over You,” and mortality on “When the Lights Go Out”: When the lights go out / no one else can doubt / There you go from. The song was inspired by the late British author Quentin Crisp (1908-1999), and his saying: “No matter where you go, there you are.”

“I remember that line ‘No matter where you go, there you are,'” shares Hawley, who, as a teen, saw Crisp speak at a local theater in Sheffield, “and it stuck with me from being 16 to now.”

Hawley says he searched for a “sense of peace” while writing In This City They Call You Love. “I had come to a place where I felt okay,” he reveals. “I’m still an angry f–ker—that’ll never change. I’m a steel worker’s song from the north of England.”

There’s a calmness throughout the album, and a darkness, he says. “I didn’t want them to develop too far from what they already were,” says Hawley of the songs. The bones of each track were set in a makeshift studio cabin his wife built for him in their garden, which he calls Disgrace Land.

“It was like the old catching lightning thing, catching that wave, the feeling, and getting it down as quickly as possible,” he says. “It’s like we used to record in the past. You didn’t have time to f–k around.” He adds, “I know from experience that if you have too much time in a studio when you have too much time on your hands, you can lose the essence of something. You can jam out the real essence of a song. And I didn’t want to risk that because the basic ingredients of the songs were so raw.”

Nearly two decades since Hawley centered on his solo career, after playing in the Britpop band The Longpigs and a brief stint as Pulp’s guitarist from 1998 through 2001, his career has been outlined by collaborations with Lisa Marie Presley, Nancy Sinatra, Arctic Monkeys, Manic Street Preachers, Paul Weller, Elbow, and more, along with work in film and stage. In 2023, Hawley’s musical Standing At The Sky’s Edge, named after his 2012 album, and featuring 20 of his songs, won Best New Musical and Best Original Score at the 2023 Olivier Awards, along with the Made in Sheffield Mark, which recognizes artists and the arts produced in the city.

It all comes back to Sheffield. It’s where Hawley still calls home and a place he’s not likely to leave anytime soon, for “fear of everywhere else,” he jokes.

“I’m not a little Englander at all,” adds Hawley. “I’m a widely traveled man, but it’s the earth where I’m from. I’ve never had the urge to do the London thing, or New York, or anywhere else. I’ve visited those places hundreds of times, and I’m enriched by it, but I always kiss the soil when I return home.”

Photos: Richard Hawley, photographed in Sheffield, England by Dean Chalkley

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