WELSH songwriter H Hawkline is probably best known as a key part of Aldous Harding and Cate Le Bon’s touring bands.
As a solo artist (real name Huw Evans), his idiosyncratic, tuneful and highly poetic songs have not achieved the same level of recognition. Until now perhaps. His sixth album, Milk For Flowers, is by far his most realised, coherent statement yet.
On his last long player, six years ago, he sang about “getting all his kicks from sympathy”, and with this album he delivers. Milk For Flowers is already being talked about as a contender for those end-of-year best of lists.
Hawkline and his beautiful band were playing the new record from end to end. While critics love albums about breakups and grief, what about concert audiences?
The crowd were already in good spirits thanks to the tuneful efforts of dynamic openers Captain Starlet, then the intermittently brilliant and sonically startling Dilettante. The latter set the bar high with some audacious art rock songs.
Playing as a trio rather than their normal four-piece, centre stage was Francesca Pidgeon, who, like Harkline, is best known for her part in another band, BC Camplight’s. Big Fish and Teeth marked them out as contenders in their own right.
Milk For Flowers may have been inspired by the loss of his mother, but Hawkline was good company and fully committed to putting his album across, showing none of his former detachment.
With a band, he was able to recreate the album (minus some pedal steel guitar and, oddly, one piano-based number). Give the album a few spins and its slow charms seem to multiply. It’s the sort of record that music lovers would have once pored over, trying to work out the lyrics – are the nuns picking noses, or is it roses? (From the title track, it’s the later).
The band were able to bring out these strengths straight from the off. Hawkline has long been the master of combining sad or unusual lyrics to upbeat arrangements, and Suppression Street or Plastic Man showed that side of him – both slinky and thought provoking.
So far, so good, but better was to come. The slower, more personal songs were perhaps the strongest. Sitting down, Hawkline showed his lyrical deftness and also the range of his voice, wrapping everything in those delicious Welsh vowels.
Empty Room has had the pundits swooning, and rightly so. It’s such a shame that George Jones or Gene Clark (who got a namecheck earlier in the set) are no longer with us to take this song to more ears, but this slow, stunning ballad of loss will have an afterlife. The crowd loved it.
Hawkline’s hourlong set was just right, not too short, and certainly not too long. Ending with three songs from 2017’s I Romanticize, Hawkline stepped from band leader to act out the front man. It also showed Hawkline’s tendency to run a good idea or melody into the ground.
Engineers was present and correct and Last Thing On My Mind was the ideal closer. “I’m loved,” he teased ,and so it would seem.
Review by Paul Rhodes