Photos by Amanda Farah
Brexit day must be a strange time to be touring abroad as a British musician. From most you’d expect a bit of sheepishness (even a Leaver would feel a bit out of place, surely) and despondency. But tonight Richard Dawson and support act Burd Ellen deliver a blinder that breaks through the shackles of the present.
It’s a sold-out night at Alice, with a good proportion showing up early for Burd Ellen, in no small part buoyed by their set at Fanø Free Folk Festival last summer. The Scottish goth folk duo expand on their traditional repertoire with samplers, fiddles and DIY (and very literal) sound-sculptures. Gail Brogan (also of Pefkin) adds the eery backdrop for vocalist Debbie Armour’s fantastic voice, nowhere more clear and wrenching than in their rendition “Sweet Lemany”.
Richard Dawson’s uniquely brutal fingerpicking guitar style and darkly funny lyrics have steadily gained him a substantial following since the release of his breakthrough album, Nothing Important. Since then the Newcastle-based folk singer has released a more acoustic-leaning concept album set in Northumberland after the retreat of the Roman Empire, as well as his latest record, 2020.
This is Dawson’s first concert in Denmark, so we can’t make any direct comparisons to his performances before he “went electric”, but the tracks from 2020 demonstrate a new rhythmic urgency. Accompanied by drums and bass, opener “Civil Servant” is a fuzzed-out song of complaint from the titular character, skipping work to avoid having to explain to “another poor soul/ why it is their Disability Living Allowance will be stopping shortly.”
Bleakness is everywhere in Dawson’s work, which means every little joke counts just that bit more. There is an audible chuckle at the mention of “the man in the vape shop” in “The Queen’s Head”, but the climactic moment comes with “Jogging”, starting with its Stooges-esque caveman stomp. This is Dawson at his emotionally complex core, a tale of someone suffering from anxiety who takes up jogging as a way to cope. The catharsis of the chorus matches musical euphoria with gnawing doubt: “I know I must be paranoid / but I feel the atmosphere / round here getting nastier.” The jogging might work, but that doesn’t stop the place from getting worse.
It’s a lyrical downer but physically exhilarating, and without doubt one of the best sets Alice has hosted in its two-year history. We’ll be needing a lot more Richard Dawson in the years to come.