LIVE REVIEW: Richard Dawson, St Gabriel’s Church, Heaton, Newcastle

Richard Dawson
Richard Dawson

When you’ve ascended to the status of local hero, the challenge is no longer to attract an audience, but rather to keep it with the promise of fresh experiences.

This, you suspect, was the thinking which brought Richard Dawson’s latest Newcastle show to one of the city’s most magnificent churches, on a bill also featuring a pair of typically exotic opening acts.

St Gabriel’s in Heaton certainly isn’t the first place you’d think of staging a gig, yet tonight its handsome setting provided a picturesque platform for a diverse and truly distinguished set of performances.

The first of these came from Chicago-based duo Kathleen Baird and Taralie Peterson, who together make up experimental outfit Spires That In The Sunset Rise.

An eclectic delight, the pair’s marriage of traditional folk and electronic instrumentation yielded a range of stirring textures, incorporating everything from hypnotic loops and gripping ambience to discordant jazz and operatic vocals.

Asiq Nargile, who followed, was even better.

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia - a city once renowned as a meeting place for multilingual bards - her penchant for traditional Azerbaijani storytelling and mastery of the saz (a type of long-necked lute) had listeners spellbound in an instant, with impressed murmurings echoing through the hall at each and every song break.

Transcending any language barrier, her evocative gifts were even extended to a superlative instrumental piece; a display of poise and remarkable musicianship which was a genuine privilege to witness.

Dawson, of course, required no introduction to 99 per cent of tonight’s audience, many of whom will have been bowled over on numerous occasions through the commitment and sheer physicality of his performances.

This enthusiasm has, in the past year or so, spread further afield, with festival fields and national press increasingly wowed by his leftfield, fiercely individualistic genius.

Tonight, though, the only person he had to prove a point to was himself, especially as this was only the second show he’s ever played without the aid of alcohol.

A stunning opening of The Magic Bridge clearly wasn’t enough to convince (“it’s like the new manager effect,” he mused, “or that time Gabriel Obertan had a good game!”), though in practice it ushered in a performance which even by his standards was quite extraordinary.

Indeed, for all the ramshackle distortion placed on his guitar and booming cries reverberating from his mic, the chief effect of this unfamiliar setting was to magnify the warmth and often fragile beauty housed within his extensive catalogue.

Highlights, as ever, were abundant, from the formidable a-capella stomp of The Ghost Of The Tree to ever-popular I Am A Brisk Lad, but the undoubted centrepiece came in the form of Nothing Important, a multi-sectioned masterpiece taken from last year’s album of the same name.

Tender, humorous and exerting, its full 16-minute outing pushed Dawson to his limits, exhibiting in the starkest terms why he’s an artist of whom our region should be proud.