Rising up from the bed of the River Tyne, a voice that crumbles and soars, that is steeped in age-old balladry and finely-chiselled observations of the mundane, Richard Dawson is a skewed troubadour at once charming and abrasive. His shambolically virtuosic guitar playing stumbles from music-hall tune-smithery to spidery swatches of noise-colour, swathed in amp static and teetering on the edge of feedback. His songs are both chucklesome and tragic, rooted in a febrile imagination that references worlds held dear and worlds unknown.
Both live and on record Dawson is a barrage of musical expression and personality. A shambling exterior, amidst tales of pineapples and underpants, ghosts of family members and cats, his stage presence is at once inviting and awe-inspiring. The visceral power of his voice against the lurching modality of his guitar lines conjure false memories of Tim Buckley and Richard Youngs duetting with Sir Richard Bishop and Zoot Horn Rollo. There is a rawness to the music that embodies timeworn singing traditions - the fire and pestilence gait of the Sacred Harp singings, the fractured call and response of the Gaelic Psalms, the unbridled power of Mongolian throat singers - its power tempered by intimacy, flecked with human emotion anchored by a sense of place.
“I have come to think of it as ritual community music. Perhaps you could call that folk music, but it is certainly not in the folk tradition. I hope it belongs to part of a wider tradition of north east artists, people like Jospeh Crawhall, Jack Common, Basil Bunting, John Martin and Peter Beardsley.” - Richard Dawson
In 2013 Dawson was invited to delve deep into the vaults of the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, from the bowels of which he extracted tales of fatherly joy, but also the trials of young men killing a horse. These nuggets of the past were local, rooted in the land and lore of his home, and the subsequent 2013 album The Glass Trunk was a powerful re-evocation of a North East identity. Here the solo voice was adjacent to a new figuration, alongside noise harpist Rhodri Davies he forged flagellating washes of sound, a musical counterpoint to the unsullied balladry.
"This remarkable album packs all these emotions and more into its 19 highly idiosyncratic and imaginative pieces…it's mingling of the incidental with the testimonial hopes and anxieties of all-but-forgotten people is profoundly affecting." - Alex Neilson, The Wire.
The Magic Bridge marked a significant leap in Dawson’s development as a musician, a moment when he seemed to find his own voice, both vocally and through his guitar playing. He’d already been performing and recording around Newcastle for several years at this stage, but The Magic Bridge suggested Dawson had experienced some major personal epiphany that had brought a unique fire to his music.
Originally released in 2011, most of the tracks on the album still make frequent appearances in Dawson’s reputedly firebrand live sets and little wonder why – it’s the sound of what was a developing Richard Dawson bursting gloriously out of his chrysalis, those first dazzling glimmers of beguilingly Beefheartian folk picking and a voice with a profound range, emotionally, musically and in terms of the peerless lyrical journeys he’s been taking us on ever since.