Gig review: Richard Dawson at The Crescent, York

In early 2020, Richard Dawson released a state-of-the-nation album called 2020 – whereupon the state of the nation changed entirely thanks to Covid-19 - postponing this York show for the best part of 18 months. It’s the kind of grim irony you’d almost expect to happen to a character in a Richard Dawson song.

Richard Dawson

Of course, none of this has stopped the prolific Newcastle bard constantly making music in various guises – his band Hen Ogledd, lockdown improvisations as Bulbils – and an upcoming collaboration with Finnish metal band Circle.

Tonight, the mood is set by a storm of demonic John Fahey-esque fingerpicking from Welsh solo guitarist Gwenifer Raymond, before Dawson takes the stage and amiably informs the crowd that he’s going to “separate the wheat from the chaff” with a 12-minute unaccompanied folk song about a 17th century quilt maker. He’s not joking. But somehow Dawson takes the sold-out crowd with him, to enter his unique sonic world where stories and sounds ancient and modern collide, where ogres roam among Amazon warehouses and where the eve-of-battle dread of a Dark Ages soldier sits alongside the self-loathing of a wage slave steeling himself for a day of slashing people’s disability benefits.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

You might describe Dawson as a “folk singer” – but one who unleashes a Chaucerian guff in the face of convention and instead embraces chaos and dissonance. Wielding a cranked-up electric guitar and accompanied by a drummer, tonight he transforms both the medieval folk of Peasant and the more conventional rock of 2020 into something that often comes closer to post-rock or prog-metal, but is entirely of his own invention, voice leaping between ragged bellow and falsetto. The likes of Soldier, Jogging and Ogre show both the strength of his songwriting and how his music takes on spontaneous life in front of a crowd.

A lot’s happened since 2020. For anyone who’s really missed the vitality and unpredictability of live music, a Richard Dawson gig is a great way to rediscover it.