NEHH presents… Richard Dawson
No listener to Richard Dawson’s earlier music has ever discerned a lack of artistic ambition. Whether they got on at the last stop – the 4 track Tyneside-Trout-Mask-through a-Vic and Bob-filter of Nothing Important – or earlier in the journey, with The Glass Trunk’s visceral song cycle or The Magic Bridge’s sombre revels, devotees of his earlier recordings will be at once intrigued by and slightly fearful of the prospect of a record that could make those three landmark releases look like formative work.
Peasant is that album. From its first beguilingly muted fanfare to its spectacular climax exploring a Dark Ages masseuse’s dangerous fascination with a mysterious artefact called the Pin of Quib, it will grab newcomers to Dawson’s work by the scruff of the neck and refuse to let them go until they have signed a pledge of life-long allegiance.
Driven forward by exhilarating guitar flurries, Qawwali handclaps and bursts of choral ferocity, Peasant’s eleven tracks sustain a momentum worthy of the lyrics’ urgent subject matter. Dawson describes the themes of these songs as “Families struggling, families being broken up by circumstance, and – how do you keep it together? In the face of all of these horrors that life, or some system of life, is throwing at you?” The fact that these meticulously wrought narratives all unfold in the pre-mediaeval North Eastern kingdom of Bryneich – “any time from about 450AD to 780AD, after the withdrawal of the Roman Empire”- only makes their contemporary relevance more enduring and vital.
Dawson’s objective was to create “A panorama of a society which is at odds with itself and has great sickness in it, and perhaps doesn’t take responsibility – blame going in all the wrong directions”. But encountering Peasant’s captivating sequence of occupational archetypes (‘Herald’, ‘Ogre’, ‘Weaver’, Scientist’), listeners might find themselves wondering if these multitudes could somehow be contained with one person – surely we all have a ‘Shapeshifter’ and a ‘Prostitute’ within us?
Support comes from Afework Nigussie – a musician and singer from Gondar in northern Ethiopia. He has a background in Azmari, the music of the wandering minstrels. The Azmari are the voices of freedom of expression in Ethiopia, improvising constantly, commenting on politics, religion and everyday life. Their style is very specific, both provocative and humorous. Nigusse has also trained at the National Theatre in Addis Ababa and, more recently, collaborated with The Ex.