Zachary Cole Smith has overcome a multitude of problems to make this intensely powerful album
City Hall, Sheffield, Wednesday, September 12
It’s a rubble to ritz story up there with the best of them: time was when Richard Hawley was just another journeyman – an ageing, unsung Sheffield musician with stints in Pulp and The Longpigs behind him; the sort of bloke who props up the bar at pubs across the north regaling punters with tales of near stardom. A Mercury nomination for 2005’s ‘Cole’s Corner’ and the resultant patronage of the Monkeys later however, and the be-quiffed grump finds himself with a Top 10 album – the masterful ‘Lady’s Bridge’ – and, tonight, playing a triumphant homecoming in the only venue grand enough to do his amazing cinematic pop justice. “Can’t be bad, can it?” he grins as he strolls on, the sense of occasion tangible in his voice. “I used to busk around here years ago. People used to throw peanuts at me…”.
The only thing launched in his direction tonight, by contrast, is total adulation, as Sheffield welcomes him back with the sort of fervour reserved for returning war heroes. The dodgy northern stand-up aside (the pick being a quip about the Sheffield floods, and “finally finding a use for all those speedboats won on Bullseye”) it’s utterly spellbinding stuff – a nostalgic tour of the surrounding area seen through the eyes of a grumbling, fumbling romantic. ‘The Ocean’ swoops and soars, its synth strings building to a fabulous climax, while the glitz-pop of ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ and ‘Valentine’ sparkle like drops of dew in the moonlight.
‘Cole’s Corner’’s stunning title track, meanwhile, sounds like a great lost Rat Pack tune. Make no mistake, this self-proclaimed “speccy twat”’s voice really is that great, that timeless. Frankly, Hawley could be covering Milburn B-sides and they’d still sound utterly amazing, such is the power and emotion of his rich, world-weary, velveteen croon. “I love you Sheffield,”
he croaks after bringing the house down with a thunderous encore of ‘Tonight The Streets Are Ours’. After all the years of toil, it’s a sentiment that’s finally being reciprocated.
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