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

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Image by Amelia Read

As John Edgar was writing the tracks for his latest EP, Pursed Modern, he knew something was terribly wrong with his health. John, aka The Dawdler, had been struggling for several years but things seemed to be deteriorating faster. “I knew shit was hitting the fan and that the wheels were falling off in my health department, but I didn’t understand why,” muses John with the same sense of dark humour that’s peppered throughout his creative output.

After years of misdiagnosis and his body in steady decline, John was finally diagnosed with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis towards the end of 2021. In retrospect, things began to make sense.

Over the years, what I’ve wanted to do stylistically has changed, which of course is normal: tastes and influences change. But it got me thinking about my musical journey and how it’s odd that my physical limitations and how they’ve developed have been in line with the style, or perhaps more the mood, of the music I’ve been writing. Towards the end of Okay Champ [one of John’s previous, heavier projects along with Eat Fast and Nately’s Whore’s Kid Sister] I remember playing gigs where I could barely stand up. I’d play hunched over, more or less standing on one leg, as my right leg was so weak.

It’s only in retrospect that I can identify a parallel between what was happening to me physically and mentally and my musical output. The music that I was listening to was probably influenced by how I was feeling; I went from listening to a lot of energetic, dark, moody stuff before now arriving at where I generally listen to very ambient, neo-classical lo-fi stuff. You probably could draw a parallel between that and my physical condition.”

While The Dawdler’s sound sits at the gentler end of the spectrum, it still contains much of the darkness found in John’s previous work. Pursed Modern is a much deeper and dramatic release than 2020’s Sign Of Growth EP. Though musically the soaring cinematic opener Josephine hints at hope and light, we’re swept back into melancholia with the quiet sense of dread of Skipping Down The Road – Ceitidh Mac’s spine-tingling backing vocals only adding to the sense of unease.

When I was writing Skipping Down The Road I’d just read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, both of which contain air raids, and the track explores the moments before a city is destroyed by bombs. I was absolutely floored by The Book Thief, I don’t think I’ve ever properly sobbed when reading a book, but I really did during one part of The Book Thief!”

It’s only in retrospect that I can identify a parallel between what was happening to me physically and mentally and my musical output

With all the tracks on Pursed Modern written before his diagnosis, John is now able to look back and make more sense of his lyrical content, much like the parallels between his musical style and physical health. “Lyrically, Skipping Down The Road explores themes of things falling apart and disintegrating and now I can see that it echoes everything that was happening to me, with me losing my ability to walk properly and being in so much pain all the time.

These tunes were written well before I had my diagnosis, but it was when things were really starting to go downhill. It’s interesting that being where I am now and knowing exactly what’s going on, I can see that the songs on this EP have themes which are clearly massively influenced by what was happening to me. I can look back at my creative output over previous years and pick out specific things and think ‘Oh, I was talking about that and I didn’t fucking know!’”

Of all the tracks on Pursed Modern, Get Zen is perhaps the most on the nose when it comes to meaning. “Everyone thinks they have a solution and honestly I do totally appreciate people trying to help, but it’s frustrating when everyone thinks they’re an expert. I’d limp into the corner shop and the guy would tell me I needed to wear a weightlifter’s belt or stop smoking. People say you need to do yoga, take turmeric tablets, this and that. Sometimes all you want is just for someone to say ‘I’m really sorry’ and sympathise, give you a hug or have a drink with you…Then the second verse of that song is about drinking all my problems away,” John chuckles.

It’s these flashes of wry, very British humour that make The Dawdler such a charming prospect. While the beautiful ambience has universal appeal, translating into thousands upon thousands of streams and places on Spotify playlists, John never fails to add a touch of idiosyncrasy to the proceedings. “Certainly now I always try to insert a bit of a sense of humour or a little nod to something funny. ‘Pursed Modern’ itself is a little nod to the Pitmatic Northumbrian lilt – the label have absolutely no idea that it’s a subtle celebration of the Ashington accent!”

John reflects on everything that has led up to the release of his latest EP. “I feel like I’ve had a really lucky life. No really terrible shit has ever happened to me and I can’t really say that I’m a particularly dark, troubled person. Sure, with the Nately’s stuff I was struggling a lot with mental health problems, so I guess that was dark. Maybe I’m just more chilled out now, more accepting of my lot.

Over the past few years I’ve definitely softened up to things which would make me cringe years ago. You know, I watch Strictly Come Dancing now! If you’d told me that ten years ago I probably would have spat in your face. But here I am, excited about who will be on Strictly this year, so something has definitely happened!”

The Dawdler releases Pursed Modern on 26th August.


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