Illustration: Mook Loxley / @mookloxley

Richard Dawson

Ceremony & Mellowtone @ Studio2 23/11/19

At this time we are all very aware of the dark arts at play. The shadowy institutions gauging what we like and influencing what we consume. Output is controlled by them; algorithms to keep our patterns of behaviour in a predictable loop, messages we can easily get on board with, that will ‘cut through’. However, the music industry doesn’t always have to be such a depressing place.

While cookie cutter pop stars have been thrown up the pop charts for generations and the internet has made the industry of manufacturing sounds and acts which answer to demand even more ruthlessly efficient, there will always be figures with singular visions who produce music which is wholly unexpected. RICHARD DAWSON, for example.

Tonight a diminutive Geordie whose sound blends medieval folk, traditional balladeering with heavy metal and jazzy finger picking has sold out Parr Street Studio2. Backed by a three-piece band and performing a set taking largely from his highly regarded album of this year 2020, it’s a triumphant and magnetic Saturday night performance.

As Dawson regales us of civil servants who can’t stand to tell another customer their Disability Allowance is to be stopped, a homeless person sleeping outside Nando’s and a town falling victim to climate emergency flooding, the impending election obviously looms large. Someone, presumably ironically, at this gig shouts ‘vote Tory’. People laugh uneasily, our host genially advises “do what you want to do … but don’t”.

Richard Dawson Image 2

While they are adorned with incredible musicianship and Dawson is a funny, charismatic presence, it’s the urgency of the very human stories at the heart of 2020 that ‘cut through’ tonight. And it is in fact maybe predictable that these folk tales for troubled times have found such a large audience. But the path of travel is far from direct and that is what is interesting.

On an evening where there are all sorts of live music propositions on offer in Liverpool, not to mention novelty bingo and TV sitcom theme pubs, a musician whose last two albums have delivered a medieval metaphor for modern times and a modern times metaphor for medieval times fronting a sold out gig feels triumphant and is a source of hope.

Tonight’s centre piece is Dawson’s biggest hit to date, Jogging. A sprawling juggernaut which explores the futility of self care in an increasingly uncaring society. Musically it’s perhaps his most straight forward but it changes the energy in the room tonight. Like the songs protagonist who looks to escape his anxiety, perhaps the people in this room want to free themselves of the ugly politics which at this time it is difficult to extricate from. This music offers a true alternative. Conscious, organic, and life-affirming. Vote Dawson for real change.

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