by Joseph Purcell
On 2017’s Peasant, Richard Dawson, the contemporary folk wizard led us through a journey of the medieval North Eastern Kingdom of Bryneich – showcasing his unique story telling ability of a distant past. On new album 2020, Dawson casts his eye to the not so distant future with a bleak study of the contemporary state of our nation – firmly focused on an island in the grips of chaos and on the precipice of disorder.
2020 is a fascinating expedition. Dawson’s playing of almost every sound heard underpins bitterly desperate tales – opening with the chopping rhythm of Civil Servant – ‘I’m coming into work today’, as he laments the austerity driven job the subject has to carry out. Queens Head, set in the financially barren towns of Northern England, conjures the backdrop of run-down flood defences against the inevitable tide of burst river banks, a landscape of barren markets and derelict schools, accompanied by the pitiful bitter figure blaming ‘benefit scrounging immigrants’ blinded by hate filled manipulation, unable to see the true villain of the establishment. On the most embellished and carefully pieced arrangement, Jogging superbly tackles the failing heath service and lack of support provided for the millions who are crippled by mental health issues.
Two Halves finds our narrator on a muddy football pitch with the touch line cries of ‘stop fannying around’ and ‘man on man on’ directed from the cries of a father, lamenting his son’s footballing ability. Dawson has somehow turned the guttural gasp of football side-lines into an ear worm of a chorus. Dawson’s gritty kitchen sink observations endear and connect in ways that most can’t. His songs based in the interactions and tales of humanity we can all identify with.
The centrepiece, and epitome of this, is his ten-minute contemporary Dickensian fable – Fulfilment Centre. Unfolding into a warehouse of doom, the protagonist, from whose perspective the tale is told, labours endlessly – conveying the anguish, hopelessness and desperation of zero hour contract Britain. ‘There’s more to life than killing yourself to survive,’ he cries – driven by targets, he’s not even given time for a toilet break.
At its conclusion, 2020 leaves a feeling of bleak realisation. Dawson, in more than a passing glance, is holding up a mirror to the realities of the past decade, and the future strife yet to come. He expertly reflects on the damage to towns, cities and worker’s rights, but it is in his human interactions that he truly excels. For he truly is one of this country’s finest social observers.
Secret Meeting score: 85