As published in Loud & Quiet Magazine, Issue 151
A short, stocky figure with shoulder-length grey hair, a casual T-shirt and baggy jeans walks onto the Roundhouse stage. His manner is cheerful and modest, yet carries a depth that gives him the air that he has something valuable to share.
Despite his unassuming appearance, through humble humour, self-deprecation and contagious enthusiasm for his craft, Richard Dawson quickly manages to capture the hearts and minds of everyone in the audience. He opens the set with a twelve-minute telling of the unforgiving tale of the murder of Joe the Quilt-Maker (a well known fable in certain parts of Northumberland). The song is built from a timeless folk melody, of the kind one might expect to hear sung by a group of men in a country pub or sailors aboard a 15th-century ship. He tackles the song completely acapella – knees bent, eyes closed, right hand holding the microphone and left hand punching the air with the start of every line; he is hollering, his voice ringing loud among the circular room, his entire body involved in the act of singing. It is like watching a man in desperate prayer, yearning for mercy from an unforgiving deity.
As the set continues, he uses guitar and electronics to embellish his sonic world with shades of post-rock and folk-rock. The set becomes a celebration of juxtaposition, as lyrical themes oscillate between the delightful and the grotesque, the old and young, the mundane and the moving. Tales of ancient England melt into prosaic descriptions of modern Britain that every attendee here can relate to, with snapshots of five-a-side football, love heart emojis, Brexit, and fish and chips drawn into his songwriting.
There is almost an air of fear for him, as one might feel while watching a good friend expose his soul on stage. But somehow he manages to contain the audience, assuring us that he is in no denial as to his quirky nature, aware that his music is a “strong flavour”. And it’s true, it is. Its potency is almost unbearable at times. Yet watching a man in such a deep relationship with what he is hearing, as if in meditation, is an extraordinary and enticing experience, and it is difficult to draw oneself away.
There is no denying that Dawson is a master storyteller, with the ability to capture people in a hypnotic trance, suspended between worlds and ages. As a performer, composer and creator, Richard Dawson gives any audience to his music a lesson in the art of depth, honesty and humility. Lila Tristram