No listener to Richard Dawson’s earlier music has ever discerned a lack of artistic ambition. Whether they got on at the last stop - the 4 track Tyneside-Trout-Mask-through a-Vic and Bob-filter of Nothing Important - or earlier in the journey, with The Glass Trunk’s visceral song cycle or The Magic Bridge’s sombre revels, devotees of his earlier recordings will be at once intrigued by and slightly fearful of the prospect of a record that could make those three landmark releases look like formative work.
Peasant is that album. From its first beguilingly muted fanfare to its spectacular climax exploring a Dark Ages masseuse’s dangerous fascination with a mysterious artefact called the Pin of Quib, it will grab newcomers to Dawson’s work by the scruff of the neck and refuse to let them go until they have signed a pledge of life-long allegiance.
Driven forward by exhilarating guitar flurries, Qawwali handclaps and bursts of choral ferocity, Peasant’s eleven tracks sustain a momentum worthy of the lyrics’ urgent subject matter. Dawson describes the themes of these songs as “Families struggling, families being broken up by circumstance, and - how do you keep it together? In the face of all of these horrors that life, or some system of life, is throwing at you?” The fact that these meticulously wrought narratives all unfold in the pre-mediaeval North Eastern kingdom of Bryneich - “any time from about 450AD to 780AD, after the withdrawal of the Roman Empire”- only makes their contemporary relevance more enduring and vital.