We meet in a bustling cafe at Forge Dam in Fulwood, where the western suburbs of Sheffield give way to woods and rolling hills that are still white from a recent fall of snow. This is where Richard Hawley begins many of his regular walks with his dog, a mischievous collie called Fred which has tagged along today and keeps me busy throwing a slobbery stick while his owner poses for the Observer photographer in a nearby park.
"Fred should get a share of the royalties from the new album," quips Hawley, as the photo session ends and he sits on a bench, lighting the first of a succession of cigarettes. "I'm serious. Having a dog legitimises walking, doesn't it? And if it weren't for the walking, the songs wouldn't have come out the way they did. The album was more or less written on those walks. I'd come back with whole songs, melodies and all, on my mobile phone."
The album in question, Hawley's seventh solo outing, is called Standing at the Sky's Edge. It is, he says, "an angry record", and as such may surprise the loyal fanbase he has built steadily through his defiantly old-fashioned approach: the deep voice, the gorgeous melodies and the bittersweet songs, often accentuated with strings, that recall an older time when pop stars relied on both songwriters and arrangers to fashion their three-minute vignettes of love and loss. To be continued here.