Richard Dawson


Richard Dawson should really be a national treasure by now. The Newcastle born troubadour has released two of the best albums of the 2010s in 2017’s Peasant, a concept album set in medieval Northern England (stay with me here folks) that reflected our (then) current troubles (he introduces ‘Hob’ from the album tonight with a wry “this is about the NHS, or, you know, just about hobgoblins”), and then this year’s stupendous 2020. The album is a much more literal and direct commentary on the absolute fucking state of our country, each song a perfectly written short story that takes you on poignant journeys through our current woes, be that Brexit, the lack of proper flood defences, the brilliant rise of emoji as a new language, or the local Sunday league football match; it’s an extraordinary tapestry of our times, shot through with dark, wry humour and wit, it’ll surely end up on many a Best Of list next month.

Dawson is embarking on this tour to support 2020 with the bassist from fellow Geordie hard rockers Pigs X7 (I’m not writing that out), and a brand new drummer who, as Dawson tells us halfway through the gig has only played with them three times and “has been brilliant, so he’s set himself a very high bar to fall from” (Dawson is hilarious throughout, be it with tales of Seabrooks crisps, being unashamed to be an absolute nerd, or having to sidestep the mic and play a guitar solo whilst he burps because the “rock and roll camomile tea he’s drinking has given him ‘windy pops’”).

In the subtly grand modernist concert hall of the Royal Northern College of Music, the three of them set about constructing one of the most magical gigs I’ve been to this year. Opener ‘Civil Servant’, about various unhappy employees, a business park worker, a teacher, a disability allowance adjudicator, is a magnificent way to start proceedings. Its rollicking, almost metal riffs combining theatrically with Dawson’s falsetto, telling us the tale of an unhappy employee who doesn’t want to go “back to that seething vipers nest” and dreams of bashing in a colleague’s head with a sellotape dispenser; it’s final denouncement of ringing in sick to stay in bed and play Call of Duty turned into the more powerful statement of never going back to “this dirty work again” and the repeated refrain of “I refuse! Refuse! Refuse!” towering in its urgency and power.

The ultra-current ‘The Queens Head’ about a flood in the North is gloriously poignant, full of lovely detail like, “we park up at the derelict primary school, tie bags for life around our ankles and wade across the playing field” and this whole verse, telling us more about the state of our nation than any 2000 word newspaper article on the election:

‘There’s a crowd gathered ’round the fat-headed butcher
Who’s back on his soap box again
Bemoaning the lack of adequate flood defences
Somehow putting it down to
‘an insurge of benefit-scrounging immigrants’
While handing out packs of sausages, black puddings, ham and haggises
Avoiding making eye contact, we hurry past the baying throng’

What happens next is extraordinary even by the standards of this gig. Dawson puts his guitar down into his open case, which has been sitting open behind him like a busker’s plea for money (the busker aesthetic fits with Dawson’s general adorable unkemptness), and in telling us that this is a charade to give his hand a rest after playing so many bar chords dressed up as a special presentation, he sets about singing ‘The Almsgiver’ completely a capella at the front of the stage. It’s a song from a compilation of traditional English folk songs, except this isn’t one of those, it’s actually one he wrote in that style, and it’s utterly, heart-wrenchingly brilliant presented in this format, Dawson, singing with his eyes shut and his hand on his belly, reaching out to the balcony with the olden day tale.

We get a couple of choice cuts from Peasant including the aforementioned ‘Hob’, and an astonishing closing ‘Ogre’, which is extended out to atonal guitar musings as the whole thing seems close to collapsing in on itself, but which is, of course, intricately staged and immaculately ramshackle. We also get ‘Jogging’, the extraordinary single that introduced us to 2020, a song about struggling with anxiety and using running to help manage it, it’s faux metal riff introduced with a brief blast of Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’. It has one of my favourite lines from the whole album: “I know I must be paranoid/ this morning in memorial park/ I thought I hear a busker/ sneak an ugly word into Wonderwall as I went by”; I don’t know why, it just makes me beam with joy, and this rendition weirdly brought me close to tears, mainly happy tears, probably banked up from the last hour or so of grinning so hard. If you have never listened to Richard Dawson then I implore you to give 2020 a go and then delve deeper. He is an extraordinary person, and he and his exquisite songs deserve the widest audience possible. A special, special night. *all the heart eye emojis*

Richard Dawson: Official | Facebook | Twitter