INTERVIEW: Richard Dawson | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Richard Dawson’s new album begins with a start, kicking into earshot with an incessant, alarm-like riff before dumping listeners abruptly into the morning routine of a disgruntled civil servant. “Open your eyes, time to wake up / Shit, shower, brush your teeth, drain your cup / Wolf down a bowl of Ready Brek / Fasten a tie around your neck / All over the city we arise, arise / For a job we despise, despise, DESPISE!

This of course, is merely the tip of an iceberg; the prelude to a day spent fielding grieving mothers and disability allowance cuts, all while enduring despised colleagues and pining for the comforts of crisps, Peroni and Call of Duty. Newcastle’s preeminent songwriting genius, though, is rarely one to wallow in pity. As such, after one belittling phone call too many our subject finally snaps, refusing their obligations in a blaze of cathartic triumphalism as the song steams towards a primal proto-metal climax.

Brought vividly to life through its narrator’s eye for the minutiae, it’s an account of slog and mutiny sure to strike a chord among many, and an ideal introduction to new album 2020, whose exquisitely observed tales are born from the drudgery of daily life. “Civil Servant was always meant to be the opener,” Richard reveals, as we delve into his writing process. “Although the record isn’t just based around one person, I wanted to introduce that character and throw you straight into their life. It seemed like an ideal way to introduce the album, and the routines and frustrations people encounter during everyday existence.”

It’s an LP rooted in a very different time and place to its predecessor, 2017’s vastly acclaimed Peasant – yet one needn’t scratch too far beneath its surface to uncover a multitude of disconcerting parallels. Whereas that record told of bedraggled warriors being forced into battle and seventh century prostitutes scratching out a living, 2020 treats us with accounts of joggers staving off anxiety and bar staff pulling watery pints of piss at faceless corporate venues. These contemporary trials might appear trivial by comparison, yet from beneath the monotony any tangible sense of progress can be difficult to gauge. Centuries upon centuries later, are we really any better off?

this album uses the present day as a thinly veiled metaphor for the dark ages!

“During the Peasant shows I always introduced the song Soldier by saying it was an extremely thinly veiled metaphor for Brexit and the present day,” Richard muses. “2020 kind of flips that on its head; this album uses the present day as a thinly veiled metaphor for the dark ages!”

One aspect 2020 does unquestionably share with its predecessors is a marked switch in sound. Entirely self-performed – save for a handful of additional flourishes on closer Dead Dog In An Alleyway – its 10 compositions dispense with Peasant’s dusty, age-worn acoustics in favour of a distinctly modernised approach, particularly in their subtle yet significant embrace of synths. This particular element may in part owe to time spent with Hen Ogledd, whose Mogic campaign intersected both the writing and recording of 2020 – though as Richard sees it, the true sources may have been altogether more orthodox: “I think you’re always influenced by the sounds going on around you,” he muses. “We’d already finished the Hen Ogledd album, so that probably will have had an effect, but I was also listening to a lot of artists like Kate Bush and Prince – stuff that’s probably very familiar to most people, but which I’d never really explored before – at least not properly.” Such pure pop reference points are by no means inconspicuous, accounting for many of his most direct melodies and memorable choruses to date. Nevertheless, the results remain quintessentially Richard Dawson, anchored by that jagged, uniquely expressive guitar and a voice whose boundaries (or lack thereof) majestically channel the human condition at its rawest extremes.

Given the astonishing intimacy, cold reality and knowing detail running through its every seam, it’ll perhaps surprise some that 2020 lends so scantily from personal experience: “I really admire people who do that kind of confessional songwriting well,” Richard says. “It’s a real art form, but writing from that perspective isn’t something I’ve ever done or been interested in.” Instead, this latest project represents yet another culmination of meticulous research, albeit with an adapted methodology from that which produced works such as Peasant and The Glass Trunk. “The level of research was overall pretty similar to the other albums,” he reveals. “There was a lot less archival work; instead I was using far more first-hand accounts, as well as social media and things like that. It was certainly a very different process for me, but one which I found no less rewarding.”

Amidst the unrelenting greyness, casual racism and routine heartbreak permeating 21st century life, 2020 does offer some light relief in the form of Two Halves, a glorious, chipper paean to the joys of junior football. “I suppose you could see it as a form of escapism, but that’s not why I wrote it,” Richard says. “I included Two Halves, and a few other songs referencing football, because my aim with this record was to reflect people’s lives, and football is a really important thing for so many people. I’m one of them – I love football and I love Newcastle United, and I wanted that to come across.”

It’s a sprightly, uplifting standout, and after the best part of an hour absorbing 2020, the need for such outlets feels more apparent than ever.

Richard Dawson releases 2020 on Friday 11th October via Weird World. Richard plays Sage Gateshead on Friday 13th December



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