Monday, April 06, 2020

Broken Britain

(Below is a preview I wrote for Buzz for Richard Dawson's gig at the Bunkhouse in Swansea, originally scheduled to take place in exactly a month's time. The show may be off, but the piece serves just as well as a review/endorsement of the songsmith's latest album.)

2020 is, by any measure, a remarkable record - one on which Richard Dawson shoves a thermometer up the UK's arse and delivers a damning diagnosis. It's a country where flood defences are inadequate, the homeless are savagely assaulted and anti-immigrant vitriol is spouted on the streets, mental ill health is endemic and racist hate crimes go unpunished; where austerity policies have brought front-line civil servants to breaking point, haunted by the knowledge that they're routinely failing those they're supposed to help ('Civil Servant'); where the grindingly repetitive work and exploitative, target-driven, zero-hour-contract culture of late capitalism has homeward-bound wage slaves feeling "There's nothing left of me" ('Fulfilment Centre').

Other keenly observed dramatic vignettes find the eccentric Geordie storyteller addressing the personal rather than the political, to bleakly poignant effect: on 'Two Halves', a schoolboy footballer is distraught at having disappointed his dad; on 'Fresher's Ball', a father cries in the car after dropping his daughter off at university; 'Heart Emoji' is an Arab Strap-esque tale of infidelity exposed.

A musical avant gardist with a soft spot for a chorus, Dawson remains a man-of-the-people folk artist in the sense that his narratives champion the underdog, punching upwards, clinging tightly to the hope that (as 'Fulfilment Centre' has it) "There has to be more to life than killing yourself to survive".

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