Richard Dawson

Richard Dawson


In the belly of Salford tonight is one of the year’s most diverse, eclectic gig line-ups. First are Liverpool’s Ex-Easter Island Head, a trio of deviant experimenters who concoct swathes of ambient, shimmering textures and feedback primarily from four guitars laid flat atop two tables. Alongside a conventional drum-kit, they strike their guitar bodies with drumsticks, they use the same drumsticks as bows, they form vibrations by pounding the tables on which the guitars lie – they will do anything to draw music from these instruments, as long as you’re not used to seeing it. It may sound unbearable, but if you allow yourself to attune to its glacial pacing, the rewards are there. The setting of Ex-Easter Island Head’s music is inside its audience’s imagination – you see what you project onto it, and everybody will see something different. It is no surprise that the band are played on and off by the music of Brian Eno.

Next on the bill is Asiq Nargile, a bolt from the blue. Hailing from Tbilisi, Georgia, she is an inheritor of a cosmopolitan tradition in that part of the world of multilingual bards who would travel from town to city with news, song and political revolution. Armed with her saz (a sort of long-necked lute), she may not immediately seem to be an obvious complement to Richard Dawson, but after they met at TUSK Festival in Newcastle last year, they soon realised how much they have in common. The devotional, deeply felt expression in her searing vocals is matched only by her virtuosic dexterity on the saz, her fingers frequently a blur as they race up and down its neck. She may not sing in English, but her sincerity is enough, and Dawson no doubt saw in her the same primal human expression with which he has become identified. She is very warmly received by Islington Mill.

Richard Dawson arrives on stage seemingly accidentally. Having seen him at the Soup Kitchen earlier in the year, his down-to-earth, drily comic schtick is not surprising, but no less a joy. After mumbling something about not wanting to end our relationship already, he steps down off the stage and launches full throttle into an acapella version of 2013’s ‘Poor Old Horse’. It sets the tone: he has a microphone in hand, but not so close to his mouth as to have any point, and sure enough it’s not needed. The power of his voice, summoned from every deep part of his body, could knock you over. It’s easy to imagine a Victorian Richard Dawson bellowing out traditional verse and the news of the day in song to masses of people in industrial Newcastle. In 2015, his tradition is a considerably more niche endeavour, but the intensity remains.

Having walked on stage with a bag of apples, he tells of the advice that Asiq Nargile had given him to preserve his embattled throat. Two bites later, he’s unconvinced, and starts handing out apples to all and sundry. He spends up to five seconds tuning his guitar before storming through a string of songs from his albums ‘The Magic Bridge’ and ‘The Glass Trunk’, as well as some of his preferred North East traditional folk songs. He plays guitar like he invented it, with no regard for conventional rhythms or patterns. His style is a mess of blues and folk – if it’s reminiscent of anyone, it might be Captain Beefheart, with his formless, atonal stabbings. The instrumental ‘Judas Iscariot’ is particularly satisfying.

After a drunken heckler’s demand earlier in the set, Dawson delivers on his promise to end his set with the spectacular 16-minute centrepiece and title track of his most recent album, last year’s ‘Nothing Important’. A meandering tale of his childhood and struggles with self-esteem, it is a showcase for his direct, vivid and poetic storytelling technique, as well as his avant-garde guitar style. Upon its conclusion he couldn’t resist one more traditional acapella folk song, ‘The Yellow Handkerchief’ to send us on our way. His traditions may not be at the vanguard of popular entertainment anymore, but they are in safe hands.

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Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.