[2015.12.31] Tom Hollingworth, for NE:MM Magazine.
“The most interesting part of the bowl is the empty part.” Recalling symbolism his good friend Ant Macari (who produced the artwork for The Magic Bridge record,) had directed him to, the Newcastle songwriter explained that he considers the void “important to contemplate.”
At the time that his most recent album Nothing Important was released, 2015 was an empty bowl of sorts, with time working the world towards it. The work and experiences Dawson eventually filled his year with is evidence of his enthusiastic spirit: a mind which does not fear the blank page, but finds it a “beautiful” possibility.
In the aftermath of 2013’s The Glass Trunk, Dawson’s music was given wider recognition thanks to light being shined on it from nationally respected figures and media, including, for example, Stewart Lee endorsing the aforementioned album as his left-field album of the year in the Sunday Times.
As a compliment to this, his relationship with a larger record label, Weird World, was consummated with an agreement that they would release his next record. They have then recently also re-issued his previous two albums. Dawson appreciates this progression is not a necessary result of his hard work and understands his fortuitousness. “I know I’ve worked hard, but so have tens of thousands of other musicians who don’t get that lucky thing. It’s pretty wild.”
Witnessing the intricacies of his writing, it is clear that this musician has travelled worlds in his heart and mind over many years, but up until recently, his footsteps have been trodden almost exclusively around the North-East of England. Travelling to a range of countries for tours in support of his album releases is a significant change in his performance pattern, and has made this last year a time in which audiences in Norway, Ireland, and Australia, to name a few, have been fortunate to experience his music live for the first time.
Having made the video for The Vile Stuff back in 2014, Leeds-based filmmaker Harry Wheeler teamed up with Dawson once more, to capture some passages from these tours. This film has just been released for viewing on the internet; a twelve minute companion of sorts, called The Smudging Ritual.
Speaking around his trip to Trondheim, and how it was strange to be so far from home to play a relatively small gig, Dawson noted “It was like a dream. I’ve had a few dream moments this year.”
These trips away have also brought him a clearer recognition of the weight he has accrued in his home town, and the release that travel can bring. Arriving back at Newcastle Airport from the the first couple of times touring abroad, “I’d get on the metro, and within a couple of stops, I’d be sobbing. On the third time, I realised that, oh god, this is just a reaction to being back. Everywhere here has got memories for me. Very few streets aren’t weighted and when you’re away, you don’t have that… you’re just free and light.”
Both home and away, Dawson has shared stages with wonderful and uniquely talented musicians. On one leg of his touring he accompanied Alasdair Roberts, a Scottish guitar-based singer-songwriter - on another programme alongside the electronic sounds of London’s Darkstar. Back at his local Cumberland Arms, he performed in support of Niger’s Mdou Moctar and their psychedelic grooves. As part of a mini-UK tour he teamed up with the remarkable Sas troubadour Asiq Nargile. He has also been part of Illuminations Festival at the grand St. John’s Church in Hackney, and also performed on the Wall-Garden Stage, in the valleys of the Brecon Beacons, at Wales’ Green Man Festival. With each further connection it seems he seeks to immerse himself into more colour and depth of experience.
Dawson looks carefully at societal interaction; from the detailed relationships charted in his songs, to the set-up of his live shows, which he has sometimes described as ‘communal ritualism.’ The mechanism of live interaction has been further clarified for him this year. “I used to say it in the past, but not really understand it - that everyone is part of it. You get this feeling on a deeper level that you’re just a small cog.”
It is because of this attitude that appreciation and celebration for his successes as an individual feed into a greater praise - one that goes back through him - to those people and events that have helped him develop and grow, one that is present - for the moments unfolding, and one that goes forward through him - to those who might, upon hearing his work, pick up their pen, and/or seek to express, look to connect. Dawson is humbled by the kind words of attendees coming up to him after his shows. “What an amazing thing… You get people who are confident who say ‘ah fucking great show an’ that’ but you also get people who are really fucking shy and struggle socially who come up and say hello - or who just come to the show and listen.”
Where there is a great danger in elevating people who believe themselves to be ‘self-made,’ and propagate this held belief, there is hope when someone, whose profile is raised, remains brave enough to keep considering the complexity of life and its interacting parts. In a modern society that so often sees celebrities given platforms to rally the former attitude, it means a great deal when someone in the latter category, like Dawson, is given the opportunity to connect with more people. 2015 has been a particularly amplified year for our songwriter. He has taken what talents and ideas he had before and spun the dials up assertively.
What might 2016 bring? “I think about contradiction more and more, it’s at the heart of everything.” This dynamic is what has made his work so interesting, with it given the most exercise on his last record - with the orchestration stretched to its limits, as well as the lyrical content. Like the beautiful cover art for Nothing Important riddles; there are seemingly vast universes in the dregs of beer. The large within the small, purity in the mess. Within Dawson there is now someone who travels his music to people far away, as well as someone who plays it at home. After the clock struck midnight, and 2016 was welcomed in, Dawson was draped in a Northumbrian Flag, spinning select favourites from behind turntables in The Old Police House in Gateshead. Wherever he is, most importantly, he’s giving us music.
Happy New Year, Richard! May you fill 2016 with the things that make you happy. History has proven that your pursuit in this direction reaps fruit for us all.