“High concept” just about sums up Richard Dawson’s latest album Peasant; it’s a stone slab of an album, alive with the putrid stench of 6th century Bryneich, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom situated in modern day North England and Lowland Scotland (and Dawson’s home of Newcastle upon Tyne), “verging on a muddy crook of Coquet”. The intimate tales of weavers and prostitutes make for neat Brexit metaphor material, and Dawson claims as much at Platform tonight. But, in case we begin to take him too seriously, he also claims his next album will explore Brexit Britain as a metaphor for the mediaeval version.
What’s immediately striking about tonight’s performance is not just the smooth transition of Soldier and Beggar into Dawson’s power trio live set-up (though sometimes the transition is slightly too smooth: some of the grot has been wiped away; the bass drum is too reverb-y, too Def Leppard, where it usually sounds more like a cardboard box wrapped in a wet towel). I never expected Dawson, the man touted as this nation’s saving grace (after another recently kicked it), to be so funny. He trundles about the stage like a great child, into the vast, unused stage left. He tells us he’s damaged his ribcage while go-karting, so he has to be careful when he blows his nose. That doesn’t stop him from repeatedly and loudly doing so into the microphone, his voice husky with cold. He delivers god-awful jokes about Black Sabbath and hamsters (stifling his own laughter all the while). He sing-speaks a section of Cyndi Lauper’s I Drove All Night (“‘Woke you from your sleep to make love to you’ – that’s not on, is it?”). Glorious is the show that spends almost as much time on chat as it does on music.
Dawson is an ambitious songwriter, but his songs appear to occasionally – and surely deliberately – outrun him. His guitar virtuosity rings out with Derek Bailey high-end, slipping and sliding here and there, and although his unaccompanied vocal pieces – to be released soon as part of a film by Matt Stokes – soar, his gentle falsetto wavers by the time he plays Wooden Bag. But to nitpick would be stupid. Dawson could easily be picked up by a middle-class festival-attendee Dadrock crowd (and judging by the shuttle bus service arranged especially to take us to and from the venue, the Daddening may be upon us). But he’s just too effortlessly weird, too heavy metal- and punk-adjacent.
Dawson’s full transformation from entertainer-comedian to Holy Fool comes when he, mid-wig out, stumbles backwards over his amp during set closer Ogre’s spirited coda. Nevertheless, the bunged-up bard can’t but play harder than before. One hopes he’ll get an early night and a Horlicks, because he’s surely earned it.