“A composer with the ability to transcend several musical genres and yet stay firmly focused within his own perceived sound. The word 'genius' I have always reserved for the greats like Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Richard Thompson and Louie Armstrong, but given the diversity, variation, number of musical genres, and the prolific number of high quality, original compositions of all styles of music Pete has put out. and continues to produce every year, not to mention a back catalogue of finely crafted original songs (that always have something unique to say about the human condition), it's hard not to use the word for him here as well. If he is not a genius then he is certainly one of Australia's most creative and interesting composers for acoustic music to emerge in the last decade”
Tony Bates ..Musicologist/Reviewer' Station Librarian /Presenter 3WBC 94.1FM, BOX
Pete Hawkes is one of the most important figures in contemporary roots music due to his melding of different styles, his capacity to write anything from delta blues to stunningly complex orchestral music and due to his radically different conceptual approach to recording. Now considered by many of his contempories as one of the great composers of his time, not only due to his capacity to write evocative and stunningly beautiful emotional music, but more so due to his unusual ability, unlike most writers, to write innovative, often ground breaking music in all musical genres, Hawkes still remains an unknown quantity to many. Never really lusting for fame and fortune and remaining a composer rather than entertainer, Hawkes actively sought to negate the opportunities for stardom when they came, preferring to play small clubs and venues and spend his time writing his often complex and ‘bitterly beautiful’ compositions as Jeb Tyler describes them.
After his debut album, the critically acclaimed folk blues album Secrets Vows and Lies released on Festival Records in 1996, with and England’s notorious fiddler Dave Swarbrick guesting on a few tracks, Hawkes relocated to London, the album had sold poorly in Australia and Hawkes was despondent following a relatively unsuccessful tour. In London he briefly reconnected again with Swarbrick and friends in Coventry, and on the odd occasion supported Swarbrick and Carthy and other notable acts in northern England. Hawkes then started playing in small clubs and hotels throughout Europe, moving deeper and deeper into far Europe and finally into Russia. Making St Petersburg his home, he lived there for several months, playing Jazz with local musicians and gypsies.
On his return to Australia the following year, Hawkes released a number of remarkable musical works including Unspoken Riddles, the Russian flavoured Melancholy Cello and the brilliant Double Diversity, considered now a landmark album of its time. In 2002 Hawkes was awarded ABC songwriter of the year from his hometown Newcastle, in honour and respect of his musical endeavours.
In many ways Hawkes, was akin to Davey Graham, to whom he credits his initial inspiration of guitar (both Graham and Robert Johnson were his initial influences) in his constant travelling to foreign countries and his lack of interest in the music business per see. Like Davey also, he was ahead of his time, due to the fact that Hawkes produced albums from a composer’s point of view, not as a touring vehicle for sales. Whereas most musicians make albums usually of a specific genre designed ‘go on the road with’ a Hawkes album (such as Unspoken Riddles, Double Diversity) would often reflect songs spanning radically different genres, contain different styles, involve unusual arrangements and involve a plethora of musical ideas all in the one disk. This new conceptual approach to making albums made it difficult for the music industry of its day to pigeon hole Pete into a specific category for commercial business and my have contributed to his anonymity but his albums themselves remain brilliant musical statements.
As one reviewer writes
“On a Pete Hawkes album you will find airs, reels and Celtic influenced pieces; Delta Blues and a cleverly written neo classical piece that just oozes Russia. It also includes some very finely arranged and well-executed jazz. If that doesn't take your fancy then you can always listen to Pete's beautiful arrangements of some great classical guitar standards or alternatively relax with the innovative Cello compositions. Dig ragtime? then you have it. In fact there is so much here, in this record you need to listen to it a few times to digest all the ideas and nuances on the disk”
Hawkes relocated to Melbourne in 2003 and released a variety of radically different recording projects including The DADGAD Files, original tunes in the DADGAD tuning as a tribute to Davey Graham. In 2006 he released Witchcraft a stunning evocative suite of beautiful orchestral music and then a jazz album, Colors, (which includes one of the great, if not very different versions of summertime you will ever hear) and then in contrast to all these in 2007 he released an amazing extended gothic rock adventure, The Lost Souls Entwined with world renown electric guitar virtuoso Phil Emmanuel.
With a back catalogue spanning blues, jazz, rock, classical, folk and everything in between Hawkes is one of the most interesting musical gems that has been, for far too long, hidden away.
A composer’s composer and a musician’s musician