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Live Report: Richard Hawley – The Leadmill

#WeCantLoseLeadmill

The first of a four night residency in a bid to save The Leadmill, Richard Hawley’s homecoming gig brings nostalgia and rock and roll to the iconic music venue. Headlining The Leadmill for the first time since his Coles Corner tour stunned fans back in 2005, the opening night of his week-long run of gigs set the bar high.

The warm, summery evening was a fitting backdrop to head down to The Leadmill early, queuing by the famous building and being greeted by familiar faces. Filled with as much excitement as the staff, fans were handed a small booklet upon entry, featuring a trivia quiz full of Hawley-themed questions and a note which urged fans to sign the Leadmill petition if they hadn’t already. Under the threat of closure by the current landlord, Hawley, and his team outlined that the petition is to help suspend the “Section 25” law which allows landlords to effectively steal their tenants business, as is the case at hand. The front page of Hawley’s booklet states, “The leadmill is a Sheffield institution and for it to survive, it needs all our help.”

“This ain’t rock and roll, this is Grenoside,” Hawley remarked as he opened up with the electric glam rock track ‘Off My Mind.’  A thundering start followed by ‘Alone’, showcased the gleaming psych rock riffs of the singer’s last record, ‘Further’, released back in 2019. 

Early on into the set, Hawley made it clear that this was a night to celebrate and support the long legacy of the venue and all its glory. “We’re all here to make sure our love for this place is heard loud and clear,” as he rightly called out Sheffield City Council to intervene and support the cause. On that note, ‘Further’ started, with the singer dedicating the song to “anyone who’s ever been shitfaced in The Leadmill.” 

Hawley’s artistry is first-class, and fans were reminded once more of the stand-out projects in his career as he played ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’. Now also the title of his musical, the genius that is Richard Hawley, never fails to amaze. The urban ballad is a romantic venture into the rockabilly world, with his hallmark baritone voice at the core.

Hawley’s rich voice crooned once more on ‘Coles Corner’. The Leadmill transported back to 2005 with the heavenly sounds of strings, lushly orchestrated and full of sentimentality. ‘Open up Your Door’ had the same effect. Like a score from a Hollywood movie, this love song encourages its subject to journey into the vulnerable unknown. And hearing Hawley swoon “Love is so hard to find / And even harder to define” over a glittering backdrop was near enough perfect.

If the night couldn’t get any better, the first special guest of the week was introduced: A steelworker’s daughter, a legend from Rotherham, and now Mercury Prize-nominee Rebecca Taylor AKA the wonderful Self Esteem. With cheers, screams, and “up the owls” filling the room, Taylor walked onstage to a hometown crowd to sing the first cover of the night, the mesmerising Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’. Her stunning vocals and Hawley’s bluesy guitar solo shined on their cover of ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, becoming Sheffield’s very own Nancy and Lee for the night.

Ending on ‘Heart of Oak’ from ‘Hollow Meadows’, Hawley reminded us of the importance of the stage he was on. The song is a heartfelt tribute to all the people who’ve influenced the singer throughout his life. What song could be more fitting to play at The Leadmill? 

Having first played the venue in 1984 with his band Treebound Story, it’s thought Richard Hawley has performed at The Leadmill more times than any other musician. Offering fans an unforgettable night of music and laughter is what Hawley does best, and it’s what The Leadmill does best.

The Leadmill is an institution adored by musicians and gig-goers alike, long may it live.

Words and Photography: Sahar Ghadirian

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