Clear as folk

New­cas­tle singer-song­writer Richard Daw­son tells Ian Maleney about his new al­bum, The Glass Trunk

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Richard Daw­son is an artist, singer and song­writer from New­cas­tle. His emo­tional blend of folk sto­ry­telling and im­pro­vised in­stru­men­tals are de­liv­ered in the un­mis­tak­able ac­cent of the post-in­dus­trial north. He re­leased his sec­ond al­bum, The Glass Trunk, last year.

You’re about to em­bark on your third tour in the space of a year this week. Be­fore that, you’d never toured at all. How have you been find­ing the sud­den switch to life on the road?

“Yeah, re­ally amaz­ing. I hadn’t left the coun­try since I was about 14 or 15 so I’ve never trav­elled abroad as an adult. Then, within the space of a week, I’d been to a few dif­fer­ent coun­tries. I was 32 then, or just be­fore 32. It was just re­ally ex­cit­ing. When the sec­ond tour came along, I al­ready felt a lit­tle bit calmer about it by then, a lit­tle bit less anx­ious about trav­el­ling and just re­ally, it was what I al­ways wanted to do so I needed to get out and share the mu­sic. To see a lit­tle bit of the world in the process was just re­ally ex­cit­ing.”

How do you think your mu­sic works away from home and in places where they don’t speak your lan­guage or get your sense of hu­mour?

“I think I was re­ally pleas­antly sur­prised by how open people were to it. I think I thought per­haps there was a dan­ger that it might be too New­cas­tle-cen­tric and that it might be closed off. That cer­tainly wasn’t the de­sign of it – I’d hoped it would reach be­yond that. I think as well that the New­cas­tle hu­mour can be a bit dif­fi­cult, some­times even if you’re from not so far away. It’s kind of like a bit of a pis­stake. It works well in Dublin be­cause ev­ery­one just takes the piss out of each other, it works well in Liver­pool and Scot­land, but cer­tain places it doesn’t trans­late so well. But it’s all fine. I’m learn­ing not to panic so much and not to let my ego get so of­fended.”

Your last al­bum, The Glass Trunk, be­gan to pick up lots of ad­mir­ers in the months af­ter its re­lease; it was a real slow burner. In some ways, the cul­mi­na­tion of that was be­ing picked for al­bum of the year by Ste­wart Lee in the Sun­day Times. Did that come as a sur­prise?

“It was a sur­prise. Rho­dri Davies, who plays on the al­bum, I knew he was go­ing put a copy in Ste­wart Lee’s hand and that Ste­wart Lee had an in­ter­est in im­prov. So I knew he was get­ting a copy but I never thought about it fur­ther than that. So when he praised it, that was very nice to hear be­cause he’s ob­vi­ously an amaz­ing writer and a good guy. Like I said be­fore, it’s a sur­prise when people come to the shows, it’s a sur­prise when any­body likes it. I re­ally be­lieve in the mu­sic, other­wise I wouldn’t put it out there, but it’s al­ways a sur­prise if any­body else en­joys it.”

The Glass Trunk had a bit of a story with it, with you dig­ging in the ar­chives and turn­ing these old sto­ries, for­got­ten but true, into songs. Do you think the al­bum’s back­story helped people get into it and maybe gave the al­bum a real sense of place?

“I think I un­der­es­ti­mated how ac­ces­si­ble a thing it was be­cause it had that back­story, and also be­cause it was quite a clearly laid-out thing and quite a strong flavour. It was quite ap­par­ent from the out­set whether some­one might en­joy it or not. I guess people like to see the cogs of the thing as well, how a thing is made – that’s all in­ter­est­ing stuff. Maybe with a lot of mu­sic, you just get to see the fin­ished prod­uct. I think the ma­chin­ery of this was quite ap­par­ent, but was a real part of it and re­ally tied into the sto­ries as well, the in­dus­trial side of things, how things are made. It’s all in there. I’m a pretty proud Ge­ordie and I love to hear the place in mu­sic as well. That’s what’s in­ter­ests us in mu­sic: iden­tity and dis­tinc­tive­ness. Whether it’s played well or crafted well or poorly, if it’s dis­tinc­tive, I think then it has strength, re­gard­less of the art form we’re talk­ing about. That ex­ists out­side of art too. Dis­tinc­tive­ness is a real at­trac­tive qual­ity to me.”

Richard Daw­son plays the Bello Bar in Dublin on May 9th.

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