Just over a week ago now I was invited along to the spectacular surroundings of Somerset House to see Richard Hawley perform as part of the annual American Express Summer Series gigs.
Somerset House is a remarkable location at any time of day, but it really comes alive during the Summer Series when the quadrangle is lit in a shifting pattern of colours, and the sounds of the bands on stage bounce around the walls, putting the audience right in the middle of an enormous soundscape.
The gig last Sunday night started off with a few numbers from Tom Hickox, the singer songwriter whose major claim to fame is that renowned conductor Richard Hickox is his dad! His debut album, War, Peace & Diplomacy is due out later this year (the evening’s headliner Richard Hawley is one of the guest artists on the album). Hickox has a refreshing folky style that comes in the form of emotional swooping and soaring songs – he’s got a very deep voice for a lead too, and you don’t get many of those to the pound (in fact only Right Said Fred and Black spring readily to mind!). Here’s Angel Of The North (which despite the intimations of the title looks like it was filmed in Dungeness if you ask me…):
After a brief lull it was time for Richard Hawley. Founding member of Britpop band Longpigs and latterly a member of Pulp, much of the set focused on Standing At The Sky’s Edge, his seventh and latest solo album. It’s in my collection at home, and it’s probably fair to say that in the ’70s they would have called this a ‘concept album’ – songs that drift off into minutes of sweeping improvs and faint echoes of lyrics – very dreamy stuff, and entirely appropriate given the very unusual setting of Somerset House’s courtyard.
Surprisingly, amongst all this psychedelic shenanigans there’s also some rockabilly, which I’ve been a fan of for many, many years – Down In The Woods being a very fine example of the genre. Of course artists can never get away from the songs that made their names, so we also got to hear Tonight The Streets Are Ours, which got to number 40 in the charts back in 2007, and which is another favourite of mine, marked out by its joyous optimism. Hawley is also surprisingly good at bantering with the crowd, although I have to say that some audience members’ tongues must have been firmly in their cheeks when he was railing against the increasingly ‘corporate’ nature of the UK – pull the other one Richard, you’re a willing participant in a series of concerts sponsored by a major credit card company in the most salubrious outdoor venue in London!
The American Express Summer Series at Somerset House is now over for another year (and tickets sell out weeks in advance of the gigs, its that popular) but no doubt it will be back again this time next year – pop a note in your diary for next April so that you can secure a spot for one of these spectacular gigs.