Born in Sheffield, Hawley grew up in a working-class area of the city with two sisters. He was born with a cleft palate, which required numerous operations. Both his parents were musicians, his father David a guitarist with a number of local bands, and his mother Lynne a singer. They divorced when he was 16 years old. He noted that "I always wrote songs since childhood" and realising that "you could actually make something up of your own was quite a big one then". He attended Hucklow Middle School together with future Pulp bassist Steve Mackey, and passed his O-levels. Hawley briefly worked at the local HMV.
While still at school, Hawley formed the Treebound Story and at the age of 19 recorded a Peel Session together with the band.
As a member of the Longpigs, Hawley released two albums, The Sun Is Often Out and Mobile Home. After the demise of the band, he joined Pulp as a touring guitarist while also working as a session musician. During his time with both bands he was able to "quietly hone" his songwriting skills, citing that "I was never really very good about bleating on about being a songwriter". Impressed by a home demo of his songs, both Cocker and Mackey urged Hawley to record the material. He used some left-over studio time to demo material and to experiment. Pointing out that "I just wanted to make something gentle for myself – I never expected it to be released". He recorded a song per day, recording most of the instruments himself "with a boom mike in the middle so I could walk between instruments – I mixed it in my head". His eponymous debut was a mini-album that featured seven songs and released in April 2001 through Setanta Records. It was supported by the single "Coming Home". While Hawley played "90% of the stuff" he was assisted by former Longpigs drummer Andy Cook and Colin Elliot, who became his long-term producer. He later commented that "I think with anybody's early stuff you can batter it and take things apart. [With] doing those early records I was trying to get back to a way of being creative with recording rather than taking this dogmatic approach to it". He admitted that he didn't get "it right every time but I got what I wanted to achieve. It was to try and find something in the song. And also, with those early records, there was no money". Clash Magazine described it as "a rather brief burst of seven mid-paced, ’50s-flecked moments of jangle. Listening back now, it’s easy to spot the early signs of the grandeur that was to come, especially on standout "Sunlight" amongst these tentative 22 and a half minutes". The cover of the album was shot in front of a bingo hall in Cleethorpes.
In 2001, Late Night Final, named after the cry of vendors selling the Sheffield Star evening newspaper on the streets of the city, was released to positive reviews from the press. Hawley later explained that prior to going into the sessions "all I'd got was the riff to "Baby, You're My Light" and that the majority of songs were written during the sessions. As an example he cited "The Nights Are Cold" that was done in one take after Cooke asked "look, we've got a gig tonight, are we doing this or what?". Clash magazine called it "a remarkably assured, often truly gorgeous, collection of warmly evocative lullabies" singling out the songs "Baby, You’re My Light" and "The Nights Are Cold" as "mesmerising". The album was produced by Alan Smythe.
Two years later Hawley released Lowedges, named after a suburb of the city. The NME called Lowedges the "first great album of 2003" and it topped an end-of-the-year poll held by Virgin Radio. Of the two albums he later stated that " as those three records progressed you can see the band thing taking over more and more. By the time you get to Lowedges there's less of me playing everything and there's more of the guys. I was determined for it to be very ragged-arsed and not to be really polished and produced".
After leaving Setanta Records in 2004, Hawley signed to Mute Records, a division of EMI. Legal wrangling delayed Coles Corner, Hawley's third album, until September 2005. Again, Hawley mined the theme of his home city, this time referencing the location where courting lovers meet. Coles Corner eventually gained a nomination for the Mercury Prize in 2006. Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, whose debut album won the prize, exclaimed "Someone call 999, Richard Hawley's been robbed!"
Hawley's 2007 album Lady's Bridge (again named with a Sheffield reference, after a bridge in the centre of the city) was released in the United Kingdom on 20 August 2007. He performed a 16-date tour during September 2007 to promote the album. Merchandising on the tour included T-shirts and posters, but also special edition bottles of Sheffield-made Henderson's Relish. The same year, Hawley's father died after a long illness. Setanta re-released his self-titled debut in 2007 extending it with five additional tracks. He later commented that the release "altered the flow, there's a track on it called 'Troublesome Waters' which is a cover of a Howard Seratt song and it's the only time me and my dad featured together on a published recording. He plays rhythm guitar".
On 14 January 2008, Hawley was nominated for his first solo Brit Award for Best British Male Performer. Hawley was a headlining act at the 2008 Festival Internacional de Benicàssim in Spain. Hawley produced, with Colin Elliot, and contributed two songs to the album Made in Sheffield, a compilation of songs by the Sheffield-based songwriters for Tony Christie.
Truelove's Gutter, Richard's fifth studio album, was released on Mute Records on 21 September 2009. The album won the Mojo record of the year.
His song "Don't Get Hung Up in Your Soul" was chosen as the Starbucks iTunes Pick of the Week for 17 November 2009. and "Open Up Your Door" featured as the soundtrack song to the Häagen-Dazs ice cream TV commercial in the UK.
Hawley's track "Tonight The Streets Are Ours" was chosen as the title track for the Oscar nominated 2010 Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop which premièred at the Sundance Film Festival on 24 January 2010.
"You And I" by Richard Hawley and The Death Ramps (aka Arctic Monkeys), was released as the B-side of the Arctic Monkeys' single "Black Treacle" on 23 January 2012.
Standing at the Sky's Edge, the sixth solo album, was released in the UK on 7 May 2012 through Parlophone. It was supported by the release of four singles, "Leave Your Body Behind You", "Down In The Woods", "Seek It" and "Don't Stare At The Sun". The four singles were collected on vinyl for the Singles Club boxset. During the European tour in support of the album, Hawley broke his leg and had to perform in a wheelchair. In September 2012, Standing at the Sky's Edge was nominated for the 2012 Mercury Awards. Hawley also featured in a BBC6 Music live broadcast with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, which took place at the Magna Science Park, Rotherham. In October 2013 he joined Cocker and Kami Thompson on the Bright Phoebus Revisited UK Tour. Hawley also provided vocals for the title track of Manic Street Preachers album, Rewind The Film, released in September 2013.
In October 2014, his previous record company Setanta, re-released the first three albums both on vinyl and CD. He also contributed a number of songs to the soundtrack of the documentary film Love Is All in 2014. In September 2015, Hawley released his seventh album Hollow Meadows.
Hawley has also worked with several musicians, including Hank Marvin, A Girl Called Eddy, and Jarvis Cocker (and his Relaxed Muscle project). He played the guitar solo on All Saints' cover version of "Under the Bridge". On working with others, Hawley noted that he has always been asked to and he likes "working with other people because you can get too absorbed in your own little bubble".
In 2002, Hawley produced the debut single "So Young" by Sheffield band Hoggboy, co-produced the band's two albums Or 8? and Seven Miles Of Love, co-wrote second album track "Hello", and also played on a cover version of Little Walter's "Come Back Baby", which was released as a B-side to the single "Believe". Hawley also produced material by lead singer Tom Hogg's next band The Hosts.
Praise from R.E.M.'s Mike Mills led to him being approached to support the group on several concert dates in 2005. After contributing to Nancy Sinatra's 2004 self-titled album, Hawley supported her on a European tour in 2005 and duetted with her on several of the tours concerts.
Hawley provided vocals for "Bad Woman", a B-side to Arctic Monkeys' single "Teddy Picker", released on 3 December 2007. He also co-wrote and provided vocals and guitar to the song "The Fix" on Elbow's Mercury Prize-winning 2008 album The Seldom Seen Kid. Hawley also performed the song with the band at the Glastonbury Festival in June 2008, on The Culture Show in June 2008, at Elbow's homecoming gigs in Manchester in 2008, Wembley Arena in March 2009, Blackpool's Empress Ballroom in March 2009 and at the MEN Arena in September 2009. He reprised his collaboration with Elbow on 17 January 2009 for a special recording of The Seldom Seen Kid with the BBC Concert Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, which was subsequently released as a special edition CD and DVD set titled The Seldom Seen Kid Live at Abbey Road in March 2009. He appeared with Elbow on 19 March 2011 while the band were in Sheffield to perform "The Fix" during their UK tour.
Hawley's song "Baby, You're My Light" was included on the CD soundtrack for the 2008 film Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Hawley himself made an appearance in the 2007 film Flick.
In October 2009, Hawley was joined on stage by Lisa Marie Presley in London for an encore, she sang vocals on a song the pair have been working on called "Weary". The two embarked on a song writing partnership in which Presley wrote the lyrics and Hawley the music. Her album, Storm & Grace, was released in 2012 and included the track "Weary" featuring Hawley.
Hawley worked again with Arctic Monkeys in January 2012, providing vocals for the "Black Treacle"'s B-side, "You And I", which was released on 23 January that year.
Hawley's inspiration has largely been found in his local Sheffield and 1960s rockabilly, but also stating that "I've only ever wanted to make music that's soulful, that has some depth and heart in it." From early on in his career he was "really obsessed with things like Chess Records, Sun Records, the Bihari brothers and those records of that time were all done in the blink of an eye and it was about capturing a moment, and there was a degree of musical alchemy in all that." Clash magazine noted the "Orbison and Walker comparisons" attributed to Hawley's early work. He described himself as "a jack of all trades" when commenting on his career as both a (session) musician and a songwriter, describing them as "running parallel". The covers and names of his albums often reference his home-town: "I know what it's like to live here in Sheffield and therefore it seems perfectly logical to write about it."Late Night Final (Setanta SET88) (15 October 2001)
Lowedges (Setanta SET110) (10 February 2003) (UK #169)
Coles Corner (Mute STUMM251) (5 September 2005) (UK #37)
Lady's Bridge (Mute STUMM278) (20 August 2007) (UK #6)
Truelove's Gutter (Mute STUMM312) (21 September 2009) (UK #17)
Standing at the Sky's Edge (7 May 2012) (UK #3)
Hollow Meadows (Parlophone) (11 September 2015) (UK #9)
Richard Hawley (Setanta SET153) (23 April 2001); (extended edition released 21 May 2007)
Live at the Devil's Arse (Mute) (26 January 2009)
"Coming Home" (16 July 2001)
"Baby, You're My Light" (4 February 2002) (UK #81)
"Run for Me" (12 May 2003) (UK #186)
"The Ocean" (22 August 2005) (UK #102)
"Coles Corner" (31 October 2005) (UK #146)
"Just Like the Rain" (23 January 2006) (UK #94)
"Born Under a Bad Sign" (20 March 2006) (UK #81)
"Coles Corner" (re-issue) (12 June 2006) (UK #136)
"Hotel Room" (4 September 2006) (UK #64)
"Tonight the Streets Are Ours" (6 August 2007) (UK #40)
"Serious" (15 October 2007) (UK #83)
"Valentine" (28 January 2008) (UK #134)
Lady's Bridge EP (26 May 2008)
"For Your Lover, Give Some Time" (10 August 2009)
"Open Up Your Door" (30 November 2009)
False Lights from the Land EP featuring Smoke Fairies (7 June 2010)
"Leave Your Body Behind You" (2 April 2012)
"My Life's Example" (1988) (Fon Records)
"Swimming in the Heart of Jane" (1989) (Native Records 12NTV 40)
"Take It" (1989) (Native Records 12NTV 43)