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Review: Richard Dawson, Norwich Arts Centre, powerful renditions of his distinctive and timeless works

PUBLISHED: 08:42 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 08:55 19 December 2017

Richard Dawson who performed at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Sally Pilkington

Richard Dawson who performed at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Sally Pilkington

Archant

The Newcastle singer-songwriter’s latest album, Peasant, is being named amongst the best albums of 2017 and this Norwich gig saw him hold the Norwich audience spellbound.

Richard Dawson who performed at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Kuba RyniewiczRichard Dawson who performed at Norwich Arts Centre. Photo: Kuba Ryniewicz

Folk singer Richard Dawson held the Norwich Arts Centre spellbound with powerful renditions of his distinctive and timeless works.

The venue was packed, a result of his latest record Peasant featuring prominently in many albums of the year lists. Its songs are steeped in the mud, blood and scars of medieval England while capturing the zeitgeist of a rapidly changing and uncertain modern word. It’s an intense, visceral work but nothing can prepare you for hearing him in the flesh.

Dawson is an unassuming figure when he shuffles on stage in glasses and cardigan giving a rambling intro, then he looks out to the crowd and launches into A Parent’s Address to his Firstborn Son on the Day of his Birth. It’s a hearty song delivered a cappella and sounds at least 500 years old. Every word echoes sharp and clear round the hall. His six-piece backing band add haunting accompaniment culminating in a wild chorus of wails.

There is rapturous applause and some frantic searching as audience members look to see where their jaws dropped.

Recently, Dawson has started vocal coaching which fortunately has done nothing to soften his voice’s rough edge. It has perhaps helped extend his range and given him the confidence to take his singing to new heights.

His voice alone is enough to win over the crowd but he proves to be an accomplished guitarist performing elaborate accompaniments to many of his songs. On new song, Soldier, he jumps between octaves high and low and his guitar playing alternates between lullaby melodies and the coarse, twanging sounds that characterised his early works.

He uses his fellow musicians and three backing vocalists sparingly but to good effect. Scientist is a highlight with mesmerising chanting, pounding drums and screeching violin.

Dawson performs with every fibre of his body and soul and still finds the energy to banter with the audience between songs including a shaggy dog story involving Black Sabbath and a hotel for hamsters.

The Vile Stuff provides an extended finale with traditional-style folk melodies and contemporary lyrics recounting various, often drink-related, misadventures. Furious energy builds, simmers, then boils over in an electrifying finish. There are calls for an encore but never did a set end more emphatically with this unique bard leading his players offstage having given their all.

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