Richard Dawson: 2020 review

Dawson adds pop-facing elements to folk on this brilliant album, full of stories of a benighted Britain

Next month, Ken Loach releases his new film, Sorry We Missed You, about a Newcastle father with a zero-hours delivery job that turns him into a kind of automaton. It has the ideal companion piece in Fulfilment Centre, a relentless song from Newcastle singer-songwriter Richard Dawson, told from the perspective of a – distinctly Amazonian – warehouse worker slogging themselves to death as they pick out dash-cams and shaving foam. In fact, each of the songs here are Palme d’Or-worthy Loachian masterpieces, full of quiet tenacity on an island slowly turning sour.

Richard Dawson: 2020 album art work
Richard Dawson: 2020 album art work. Photograph: Sally Pilkington

Playing almost every instrument, Dawson has scaled up from folk and blues to bigger, pop-facing arrangements with some of his heartiest tunes yet. And, occasionally modulating his voice like a bedtime storyteller to broaden the characterisation, he gives voice to a whole host of British characters. On Black Triangle, a man becomes a UFO enthusiast after seeing a silent shape in an Aldi car park, and, perhaps separately but perhaps not, his marriage breaks down. More infidelity is exposed by the titular icon of Heart Emoji. Two Halves is from the perspective of a young footballer disappointing his father with a badly defended corner. On Fresher’s Ball, a parent is bereft after dropping their daughter off at uni. Dawson expertly dramatises all these little trials: the excruciating loveliness of memory is rendered in warbling falsetto, the shouts of “man on!” in a sea-shanty melody.

On Fulfilment Centre and elsewhere, things get worse still. A civil servant is made hysterical by the cruelty of the austerity measures they are forced to carry out; a homeless person is savagely kicked in an alleyway. But as with Loach, the flashes of levity are enough to prick your eyes with tears: the unknown neighbours pitching in to save a flooded Humberside pub, or the person who, in the quite extraordinarily uplifting Jogging, finds solace in exercise as they fight anxiety. 2020 is a reminder of the need for basic decency in a country that is forgetting it, voiced by the most brilliant and humane songwriter working here today.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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