Richard Hawley’s Notes From Sheffield: The Hawaiian Guitar And Lap Steel

HawleylogoA deep-voiced, working-class songwriter with an affinity for ’50s-era crooners, American country music and grand orchestration, Richard Hawley has paid tribute to his hometown of Sheffield, England, through songwriting that serves as a sepia-toned photograph of timeless places and love-troubled lives. While it may seem as if nothing changes in Hawley’s stylishly retro work, sixth album Truelove’s Gutter (Mute) is a deceptively tranquil sea change of sonics—employing glass harmonica, waterphone and other ethereal sounds—and themes, with the album delving into lyrical topics of dashed hopes, drug addiction and, of course, love gone wrong. Befitting its title, Truelove’s Gutter finds Hawley trawling Sheffield’s shadows and back alleys on his most spacious, soul-baring album to date. Hawley is guest editing this week. Read our Q&A with him.

lap-steel-guitar_melob-Hawley: I used to do the shopping once every two weeks for an old man who lived opposite my uncle’s house. He was called Jack Wilcox. He was a sweet guy, very kind. After about a year, he said, “Your uncle tells me your into playing guitar.” I replied, “Yes.” He said, “Well, I have a few things you may be interested in.” He showed me his lap steel, an old Selmer from 1937, and an old Epiphone Zenith jazz guitar from ’38. It blew my mind. I was already listening to Santo & Johnny, Bob Wills, Speedy West, Lloyd Green and the slide guitar of Muddy Waters and Elmore James, but to find a guy who not only knew about this stuff but who actually had a lap steel at the end of my street was a bit of a head fuck. But it was serendipity. Or so I am told by bigger brains than mine. The sound of it, in the right hands, is the nearest thing to the sound of angels I think I am likely to hear. I still have the Selmer and used it on most of my records. I think of Jack often. He was good man. He played in long-forgotten dance bands in England in the ’40s and ’50s. His knowledge was vast, and he always wore it lightly and shared it freely.