Richard Dawson – Sunday 25th June – The Old Market

A pretty good move, putting on a decent show whilst the hordes are at Glastonbury, enjoying a rare rain-free affair. But they missed a cracker here, at a tiny fraction of the cost, and without the headache and heartache of having to de-camp, trudge miles to get to your vehicle, and file back to work the next day.

There, I feel better already! Anyhoo, Mr. Dawson would be a nice choice for the festival if only they would ask him, or he would accept. He has never played and that is odd. After all, he is leftfield and alternative. He is musical, and he is brave. He can really sing, and he is very funny. And he’s getting noticed for it, as a full-up TOM attests.

It wasn’t promising. First of all, his voice wasn’t quite firing properly, his falsetto had gone (he warned us beforehand), and his beloved Little Taylor acoustic got damaged beyond immediate repair, the day of the first gig of the tour. It’s a guitar that has been mongrelised over the years but it is his trusty tool, the only one he used on the recent album Peasant and the one he would expect to be using on tour. Luckily, he has one replacement, an electric. Although he constantly says he is not the master of molecules, he demonstrates that he is when it comes to the guitar, which is tuned and played somewhat radically (to the point where it almost sounds de-tuned, but on purpose, of course). He’s also a master singer, interspersing songs from his outstanding album Peasant with folksy a capellas including ‘A Parents Address To His Firstborn Son On The Day Of His Birth’, a track taken from his previous The Glass Trunk album, and featuring some members of the Sacred Heart Choir, who performed in support tonight. Plus, there was a rare outing for ‘The Honest Labourer’, a song performed in honour of Sussex’s first family of folk, The Copper Family.

Elsewhere, it was mostly tracks off Peasant, including ‘Soldier’, ‘Ogre’, ‘Weaver’, ‘Beggar’ and ‘Scientist’. Although much of his previous catalogue can be a difficult listen at times, Peasant contains some of his most accessible work to date, albeit still a little offbeat as he imagines life in the middle ages, whilst transposing that metaphorically speaking to the here and now. With a voice in the stortyteller vein.

This is the first time Dawson has ever toured with a band playing his songs. But, as a unit they sound like seasoned pros. Bass, violin (courtesy of Angharad Davies), drums (mostly played with percussion mallets) and plenty of backing vocals provide a rich, often raucous sound, that comes across as renaissance folk, with pleasantly jarring moments to keep you on your toes, whilst consistenty twisting his music into unexpected forms and arrangements. Although there are hints of atonal and avante garde Captain Beefheart and The Incredible String Band in his music, there is really nothing quite comparable in 2017, such is the inventive originality.
Jeff Hemmings