Richard Hawley @ Albert Hall, Manchester

‘You’re not as good as Leeds!’ Richard Hawley joked as he was given a rapturous reception by the audience at Manchester’s Albert Hall last night.

The former Methodist Chapel Hall proved to be the ideal venue for the veteran rocker to showcase his unique talents, being small and intimate enough to allow his rich baritone to reach every corner of the room.

Hawley’s oeuvre alternates between tender ballads and searing psychedelic rockers, and the set list gave equal weight to both, meaning the pace rarely slackened throughout the evening.

The night kicked off with the bluesy rock of Which Way, a song drawn from his latest album, Hollow Meadows, which was released in September to widespread critical acclaim.

Tonight the Streets Are Ours, from 2007’s Lady’s Bridge, continued the upbeat mood, before Hawley launched into a stunning, feedback-drenched rendition of Standing at the Sky’s Edge.

“To go down well in Manchester means the world to me – so let’s give it our best shot!” Hawley said, as Leave Your Body Behind You proved the 48-year-old could show musicians half his age how to rock.

Open Up Your Door, an unabashedly romantic number that builds to a soaring, heartfelt crescendo, was met with roars of approval from the crowd.

“Ok, you’re better than Leeds!” Hawley quipped.

In contrast to the earnest tone of many of his songs, Hawley’s on-stage persona is wry and deadpan, and he was on fine form last night, joking with the audience and finding time for the occasional anecdote.

At one point he relayed a joke he’d heard from a taxi driver while he’d been in town: “Manchester’s been twinned with Las Vegas – they’re the only two cities where you can pay for sex with chips.”

The main set’s penultimate number, Heart of Oak, a single from the new album, was vintage Hawley – a song that came straight from the heart and achieved an authenticity that is rarely matched by modern musicians.

The encore featured another new song, What Love Means, a heart-rending ballad about his daughter leaving home for university, which followed 2005’s classic, Coles Corner.

A grand finale ensued, as the audience was treated to a stirring performance of fan favourite The Ocean, another song that builds to an epic climax, with Hawley ending the night on a roof-raising electric guitar solo.

Although Hawley’s album titles are inspired by his native Sheffield, his songs have an emotional resonance that transcends time and place.

And they were particularly well received by last night’s audience, who stepped out into the cold November air knowing they had enjoyed a peerless night of soulful, northern rock and roll.

Image courtesy of Bryan Ledgard, with thanks.

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