Richard Hawley – Now Then: Album Review

Reasons to get excited – The Very Best of Richard Hawley – obscenely good.

Release Date: 20th October 2023

Label: BMG

Format: digital / 2CD / 2LP vinyl

Seems a contradiction in terms here. ‘The Very Best Of…’, is probably a better title than a simple ‘The Best Of…’ – yet Sir Richard is the proud possessor of a catalogue in which frankly, there’s barely a duff note. The epitome of an embarrassment of riches. It makes selecting a showcase that draws from eight albums worth of work an unenviable task.

Thankfully the responsibility if handed to the man himself. Curated by Hawley and long-term collaborator Colin Elliot rather than some record company Johnnies, Now Then covers over twenty years of a solo career as a master songwriter. It combines his most cinematic moments with his most tender and his most revered work and a host of hidden gems from his early work. It’s the perfect gateway for his newest admirers. 

Thirty-two tracks adorn the CD version – the bonus of buying CD because you were late for the bus and missed the blue, black and white (Wednesday team colours natch) coloured 2LP version. Like Jimmy Page creating the sequence for the Led Zeppelin box set, the joy comes in the unexpected. From the familiarity of the original album sequences, we’re presented with what Jimmy would call a different picture in the same frame.

Ok, so many of us love Richard for the waves of sheer romanticism that seem at odds with his often forthright Yorkshireman views and occasional profanity. Coles Corner, I Still Want You, Baby You’re My Light and For Your Lover Give Some Time are made for wooing, but come punctuated with stabs of darkness – Standing At The Sky’s Edge with it’s spiky, psychy guitar break and Dylan’s Ballad Of A Thin Man in case you didn’t stick it to the conclusion of Peaky Blinders.

The expected slabs of Rock and Roll and Rockabilly come with Serious, Heart Of Oak and Off My Mind – the latter another example of how he’s more than capable of holding his own in the pantheon of guitar greats, wringing the neck for what its worth.

Those who might find fault with nothing ‘new’ there’s the, well not quite new, but the refreshed – Not The Only Road (aka The Only Road from Lowedges). All lush strings and a slightly more leisurely pace and the heart-melting / heartbreaking “please, keep me in your heart” line is to die for. Twenty years on from the original, the arrangement and the vocal is beautifully enriched by a few fags and the odd pint of Guinness.

CD buyers get more with deeper cuts – Naked In Pitsmoor, Don’t Miss Your Water, Long Black Train and Precious Sight from the early albums, Remorse Code (thankfully!) and the sprawling She Brings The Sunlight from his denser work on the Standing At The Sky’s Edge record. Maybe save those for when your loved one has been seduced by the romantic side, having given way to what our friend Chris Fox (aka Bleek Noir) calls “the sound of falling in love.”

Word is that HRH has a bunch of new songs written. Perhaps fired by collating his own jukebox of bangers. The four-year cycle is upon us. Sir Richard, we await your next coming.

Here’s Not The Only Road:

Richard Hawley online: Official Website / Facebook /X – formelyTwitter / Instagram

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