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14 January 2024

Richard Hawley Q&A: “It’s sickening what this government gets away with”

The songwriter and musician on Gretsch guitars, the benefits of failure, and hailing from a long line of NHS nurses.

By New Statesman

Richard Hawley was born in Sheffield in 1967. In the 1990s he was the guitarist in the Britpop band Longpigs, and for a short time he played in Pulp. He now records as a solo artist.

What’s your earliest memory?

Going to a Sheffield Wednesday match with my grandad and my dad, holding their hands. They’d finish off in the steelworks on match day – they’d have been working all through the night. Mum would drop me off and we’d walk to the match.

Who are your heroes?

My family members. I was really lucky because I was brought up by very strong people. Most of the women in my family were nurses, going back to the beginning of the NHS. My grandmother was the first ever paid staff nurse in Sheffield. Mum was a nurse, my auntie was a nurse. My daughter’s a nurse, and I married a nurse. The men were musicians and steel-workers, mostly, or they worked in the pits.

What book last changed your thinking?

Tombland by CJ Sansom, which is all about Kett’s Rebellion in Norfolk. It’s fiction but it got me thinking about what was basically the first attempt by lots of rich people to enclose land.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Tony Benn. He was learned, erudite, witty, funny. I just wish there were more like him.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Guitars. I’m obsessed, it’s been a lifelong thing. I’d probably talk about Gretsch guitars: they’re the things I love the most.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I’d like to see the great library in Constantinople before it was burnt down.

Who would paint your portrait?

Someone who’s desperate. Or Leonardo da Vinci.

What’s your theme tune?

The theme to the old Seventies TV show Tales of the Unexpected. We often walk on stage to it. It’s a waltz, for a start, something you don’t often hear. A waltz immediately makes your brain gravitate to something romantic.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I was very lucky that I knew what I wanted to do from a young age. Even if I was playing pubs, working men’s clubs and weddings, I just wanted to be a musician, and I would still be happy with that.

When I was about ten, my grandfather said: “Your dad says you want to be a musician. Well, first thing you’ve got to know, son, is you might fail.” And I thought, “Well that’s f***ing great!” But he was right. It didn’t make me give up; it made me more resolved.

What’s currently bugging you?

This incredibly incompetent government. It’s sickening to see what they get away with. They need to be removed.

What single thing would make your life better?

I could refer to the removal of the current administration! Whether that’d improve things or not, I don’t know, because that’s going to take so long. But I do think the removal of these people would end a decade-plus of wholly negative politics.

When were you happiest?

About ten seconds before the Tories got in.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A luthier – someone who builds instruments, specifically guitars.

Are we all doomed?

Ultimately, yes. The problem is we don’t think we’re insignificant enough.

The musical “Standing at the Sky’s Edge”, with songs by Richard Hawley, opens at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, London WC2B, on 8 February

[See also: Caroline Campbell Q&A: “I’d love to be able to teleport safely”]

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This article appears in the 17 Jan 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Trump’s Revenge