Since Frank Sinatra is well-known for mistakenly introducing ”Something” as his favorite Lennon–McCartney composition during his live shows (it’s written by another Beatle, George Harrison), it is therefore only fair that I introduce ”Coles Corner” as my favorite Frank Sinatra tune. Indeed, there is such resemblance between Richard Hawley’s creamy vocal sound on this track and Sinatra’s famous baritone that if you close your eyes and let yourself forget which CD you have on, your mind will trick you into thinking you’re listening to Frank – well, at least half-the time. To be fair, nobody can really beat Frank Sinatra. However, Hawley certainly presents himself here as a viable contender. And that’s saying something about Richard Hawley’s abilities as a singer.
Even though this highly accomplished British musician wrote songs already in his childhood, it was during his time as Pulp’s touring guitarist around the turn of the millennium that Hawley finally managed to gather enough courage to do something with his continuously growing backlog of songs. For shy Hawley, presenting himself as a singer-songwriter wasn’t easy. Says Hawley in the Quietus interview from 2014:
I'm a guitar player. No, I'm a songwriter. No, I don't know which one I am. I guess I'm a jack-of-all-trades. I was never really very good about bleating on about being a songwriter. I just kept it quiet, I suppose, and the fact that I could sing as well.
Using leftover studio time, Hawley recorded a mini-album of seven songs, playing nearly all the instruments himself. Slightly unexpectedly, the London-based Setanta Records released the album in April 2001. And while not all reviews were positive, Hawley was well on his way. By 2005, when ”Coles Corner” came out (both the song and the album) Hawley had signed with an EMI subsidiary Mute Records.
The place Hawley is referencing to in the song, Coles Corner, is a location in his native Sheffield where courting lovers meet. This being the case, it’s slightly strange that ”Coles Corner” is about loneliness. In fact, it’s one of the best depictions of loneliness in a pop lyric that I have come across. And this is because Hawley’s lyrics here are very subtle. The phrase, “I am lonely” is absent – as are all the other usual clichés. Instead, what you have here is a beautiful description of a lonely man going on an imaginary date.
I'm going downtown where there's people
The loneliness hangs in the air
With no-one there real waiting for me
No smile, no flower nowhere
Hawley’s lyrics deal with what is uncomfortable for many to even think about: Some people are destined to be alone. It’s a heavy topic, but Hawley tackles it head on.
However, it is not just the lyrics and Hawley’s voice on this timeless track that deserve praise. The string arrangement of the song is gorgeous. In fact, it is so beautiful and brilliantly undominating that one would expect the song credits to say, “Produced by George Martin.” Listen to the laid back drums, the melodic bass line dancing beautifully in the mix (coming to the fore exactly at the right time) and the very sparse but extremely tasteful piano decorating the song with a few fills here and there. This is a rich, impressive soundscape, something you will not grow tired of very easily.
Speaking of loneliness, I remember visiting an old family friend a few years ago the day before Christmas. I took some presents over, along with some traditional Finnish Christmas pastries, and sat down for a while to talk to her. She had been widowed a decade before, so I thought she might appreciate some company. We had a wonderful chat that lasted close to two hours. Finally, I looked at my watch around seven o’clock and told her I had to leave to do some last minute Christmas shopping. As I was putting my shoes on, I noticed that she started setting the table for two. Thrilled that she was going to have company over the holidays, I asked her who was coming. The question stopped her in her tracks. “Oh no,” she said smilingly. “You know I set the table for two for so many years that every once in a while, especially when someone’s visiting, I forget for a split second that no one’s sitting down to have supper with me.” She laughed but I didn’t know what to say. Tears filled up my eyes as I walked to my car. Life can be a tough place sometimes.
For reference’s sake, here’s a link to Frank’s incredible “There Used To Be A Ballpark Right Here.” This is Sinatra in his late fifties but still at the top of his game.
You can learn more about Richard Hawley here:
About the curator - Tommi Tikka
Tom Tikka is a linguist, poet, professional songwriter, recording artist and a music aficionado. He started playing guitar when he was four and writing songs when he was six. Consequently, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing or writing. It's fair to say, music and lyrics are not just something he loves to engage himself in; to him, they are a way of life.