'Nothing Important' is the new record from Newcastle's great warped folkie, Richard Dawson. You never know what you're going to get with this maverick -- huge, boisterous vocal chanting or ornate guitar compositions -- but this record sees him stretch out into the long-form, offering a rare few tracks that document vignettes about life in sixteen minute bursts. 'Nothing Important' includes a song about the first time Dawson got pissed. Wicked. It's kinda like the super avant-garde version of 'Benji'.
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Nothing Important is a collection of four tracks. Two sixteen-plus minute songs as centrepieces, with two instrumentals book-ending the set. As with his previous two records, the form of the album is greatly considered to give weight and dimension to the songs above their isolated merits.This formal segregation keeps the ear alert and listening clearly to each composition fully as each new track arrives. Here, with Nothing Important, the form celebrates the lengthy centre tracks. The outer pieces act as Prelude and Epilogue; introducing ideas and feelings relevant to the Universe about to be described, and then delivering us from that place with a final thought.
The album’s title track emerges from a singular harmonic; feedback gently expanding the tone until intervals seize upon shapes and nurture a new environment for themselves. Images of The Big Bang and the start of the Universe colour the mind. From this scope, the song lyrics transport the listener to the birth of a child at St. Mary’s Hospital, forty years ago. Our singer assumes the voice of the newborn and relays a collage of peculiar childhood moments. He uses physical description to recall events.This song uses the concept of time to expose views around what is considered important. Firstly, donating a comparatively large amount of time to express a song titled Nothing Important raises the suspicion that this title is ironic. Over that time, the dynamic, structural and stylistic variety of the sound consistently fights the idea in the mind of the listener that nothing important is happening, for in front of our ears the terrain is constantly challenging. The music spans the life of a person, beginning with their birth and ending with their death. By including little sound before and after these events, our songwriter weights their importance as all that is different from silence.
Though Dawson sings firmly, often in unison with melody lines from his guitar, an amount of his words get camouflaged in the sound. This is in part due to the superior volume of the guitar, the more resonant tone of the instrument over his voice, and a singing style which chooses to soften the diction of certain words for a more legato style.Where as a songwriter like Leonard Cohen mixes his voice clearly above the rest of the orchestration to direct the listener’s attention to the words first and foremost, to Dawson the overall effect is prime. The complimentary epic on this album,The Vile Stuff, is a mighty march through a restless dream from a hospital bed, the contents of which is ripe with calamity, mixing the believable with the symbolic. Dawson is fascinated by this situation, exploring it first on The Magic Bridge through his Grandad’s Deathbed Hallucinations. The track is introduced with a seductive swaying guitar riff. As listeners, we are gently rocked to sleep in the sweet major tonality. As the pattern disperses, there are hints of melodic augmentation, creating suspicion that all may not be what it seems, but as each repeating chord lingers longer… and longer… … and longer… … … If the previous track explored a relationship between chronology and life, then The Vile Stuff seems to focus on the forces that throw a life around. The listed experiences are framed within a dream our narrator is having following the consumption of a liquid. “I only drank a / Few little droplets / I only took a tiny draft of the vile stuff.” Such a small act triggered this world of experience and adventure. Drinking these droplets fuelled hallucinations of helicopters. Dawson sings this twisted melody at full force, even double-tracking his voice to make himself heard against the surrounding ocean of noise, as if he is attempting to be heard in an environment that stands tall around him. The instrumental support in this track allows Dawson to experiment with his guitar parts in a different way, ornamenting the central sounds with polyrhythms and splayed arpeggios. As the song proceeds, extra layers of guitars and percussion, tuned and otherwise, are added to the mix, steadily building the power of the sound, until the track finally rides out in a farmyard of noise, with saxophone improvisations and chanting, all competing within the drone. Finally, the second instrumental, Doubting Thomas, guides us to the end of the record. The slow-moving plagal chords heal feedback as it attempts to grow. The soft repeating progression allows the listener’s mind space and time to reflect on the considerable detail of the past forty minutes of music. With this album, Dawson has written a tapestry charting relationships with the everything, the nothing and places in-between. If you doubted the existence of these places before, it is likely that you will believe in them now.
When The Magic Bridge was released, I was too heartbroken by it to imagine how this unbelievable painter could improve on this masterpiece. I feel so lucky to have lived locally in Newcastle to witness his concerts around that albums release and in the years following, watching the complexion of his confidence get healthier and healthier. Dawson has said that there was a long period of time in his earlier years making music before a clearer instrument and compositional personality emerged. I recall when I went to buy a record from him after the first time I ever saw him play, and as he handed me Sings Songs & Plays Guitar, he used the interaction to manage my expectations for that recording whilst enthusing that his next shortly-to-be-available release was much better. His comment held no arrogance, it simply reflected the truth of his understanding for what had been happening with his composing, and that it would be the next album rather than the one I held in my hand that would show a light he had now found. I don’t know where and when he would pin-point this rose growing through the concrete, but for me, although Sings Songs & Plays Guitar shows wonderful roots, it is The Magic Bridge that breaks through and stands up tall to the sun; exquisitely designed and utterly vulnerable. I now know why he was excited for that release. It represented change and a brave step. With both The Glass Trunk and Nothing Important following as unique triumphs in this new garden he seems so at home playing in, each new offering makes us more thankful that he took that leap. Wherever his adventures take him next, I hope he is supported and cherished.
The North East's revered and unpredictable acoustic guitar-slinging troubadour Richard Dawson returns this week, now on Domino offshoot Weird World, with the four lengthy tracks of 'Nothing Important', a meandering document of his outlandish style, which veers from traditional folksy songwriting to elaborate passages of fingerpicked guitar which ranges from melodic Fahey-esque meditations to deft avant-garde oddness as he carves his topsy-turvy musical stories.
While there's no shortage of his skronky, droney weird side here, 'Nothing Important' is the most accessible of Dawson's releases since 2012's 'The Magic Bridge' - the title track is a raw, rough and ready and meandering number which has a delightful Robert Wyatt-esque passage of twisty prog-folk barely concealed beneath its hoarse and fragmented heart of deconstructed Beefheartian skronk. There's a bit in 'The Vile Stuff' where there's some kind of strange marching handclap rhythm and twangy Earth-esque guitars and chanty vocals that I'm particularly enjoying too.
It's very difficult music to write about because of the strange wandering song structures, which drift from movement to movement as if they're doing what they want and Dawson is just a conduit. As always with this man, it's awkward and compelling and intimate and confrontational and human stuff, occasionally witty and always engaging, full of twangy guitar wrangling and full-voiced storytelling.
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