All image credit: Mark Allan/Barbican
Often lauded as the English Captain Beefheart, Richard Dawson’s music is both raw and experimental; however, while his performance this Sunday at the Barbican certainly had its moments of beauty, I found that his performance often fell flat. Performing as a live solo artist without a band or studio tricks to hide behind, Dawson’s guitar playing and vocals were put under a microscope. Dawson is well-known for playing a formerly broken and repaired guitar, which he says gives his instrument a unique sound; however, as an audience member, I found that I was hard pressed to ignore the extreme amount of fret buzz which plagued his set. Additionally, Dawson’s vocals frequently fell flat in pitch, with his interjections between songs proving a certain self-awareness of this. For example, before his sixth song in the set, “Joe The Quilt Maker,” Dawson invited the audience watching from home to make themselves tea instead of listening to his 12 minute a capella song about a quilt maker.
Despite all this, I also found myself falling for Richard Dawson and his music as the show progressed. While I often found his playing to be somewhat lacklustre, Dawson’s guitar did in fact sound uniquely beautiful through his Fender amps, giving them a nice buttery and smooth quality. This especially stood out on tracks like “We Picked Apples in a Graveyard Freshly Mowed,” “Two Halves,” and “Fresher’s Ball.” Additionally, Dawson’s lyricism is absolutely fantastic, and was more plainly put on display without a full band. As Dawson’s lyricism is acutely interested in capturing specific moments in time, his performance at the Barbican ostensibly allowed us to time travel with him, jumping seamlessly between both past and present with the coalescing of his discography. Thus, lyrics like, “I steep the wool in a cauldron/ Of pummelled gall-nuts afloat in urine/ Add river-water thrice-boiled with a bloodstone,” juxtaposed against lyrics like, “Shit, shower, brush your teeth, drain your cup/ Wolf down a bowl of Ready-Brek/ Fasten a tie around your neck.” This went hand-in-hand with Dawson’s self-aware, albeit quite deprecating, witty jokes, which he’d interject throughout the show. Giving advice to the audience, he at one point instructed us that “we should aim to have zero cool.”
Richard Dawson’s performance was part of a wider concert series that is taking place at The Barbican. Live from the Barbican continues until 13 December and is available for both live attendance and livestream. For the remaining concerts, please visit: https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2020/series/live-from-the-barbican
Edited by Emma Short, Music Editor