English Folkie Richard Dawson's 'Republic of Geordieland' Features Some of His Best Songs


This Bandcamp-exclusive "dog's dinner" is better than Richard Dawson gives it credit for and features some of his best songs and guitar playing.

Republic of Geordieland
Richard Dawson


7 August 2020

Richard Dawson has a bit at his shows where he stomps his feet onstage and bellows into the mic at frighteningly close proximity to his audience, sans instrument, often singing about some unpleasant scene from British folklore like a horse being beaten to death. Usually, men who behave this way in bars and clubs get thrown out, but Dawson gets away with it for a few reasons. One is his physical presence: he's a large, hirsute man who makes the fact of his body known in both his full-throated singing and the way the sound of his fingers attacking his guitar's fretboard is often as important as what comes out of the amp. He barely needs an instrument to make his presence known. The other reason is that he's an unbelievable songwriter. Just absurdly talented. Rarely does he tell a story that's not fascinating. Like attentive children, we follow the twists and turns in his narratives until they end—sometimes unhappily, but not as often as we're used to in the pessimistic world of rock 'n' roll.

It makes sense, then, for his new Bandcamp exclusive Republic of Geordieland to split the singer-guitarist into two halves: singer and guitarist. Three of these songs are a capella, two of them continuing in the tradition of his astounding 2017 album Peasant in being named for their protagonists' professions. Most of the rest are solo guitar, accompanied on the 15-minute "The Minotaur of Cowhill" by the scratch of a drum machine. It's less lavish than Peasant or last year's 2020, but it stands among his early works like The Glass Trunk and Nothing Important. It's a sterling example of what may become one of the defining musical hallmarks of the COVID era: the Bandcamp Friday exclusive, the best way for artists to make money off of experimental japes since the retail mixtape.

"Felon" is the best song here. A boy is sent to prison for a paltry crime. His father hugs him before he's marched into a reeking dungeon filled with maggot-infested bodies. Here Dawson gets the chance to indulge the rich olfactory detail that characterizes much of his work. From no other songwriter, do we get such a sense of how the scenarios in their songs might smell, and his turns of phrase that surprise with each new word, like "my unofficial protector showed me the rudiments of gambling with pebbles". Because of the touching scene with the boy's father, we root for him to make it out alive. Lo and behold, he does. Nihilism is good and fine, but sometimes a happy ending can be just what we need, and Dawson loves his characters enough to show them mercy even in the brutal world he often describes.

"Almsgiver" is another family drama, in this case, the story of a son reduced to begging on the street and the father's desperate quest to find him. "Derwentwater Farewell" is a traditional song with rather less personality than the originals but plenty of the obtuse, medieval Englishness we expect from Dawson. The four guitar instrumentals are the most enjoyable things here, reminding us how essential a role Dawson's ragged yet reassuring guitar tone plays in defining his universe. Meanwhile, "A Very Fine Horse" is a funereal procession of keyboard loops reminiscent of early 2010s digital folk projects like Dirty Beaches and Daughn Gibson. And then there's "The Minotaur of Cowhill", which takes up a full third of the album. Dawson describes it as being like "a maze", and indeed it's more of an obstacle than an enjoyable listen, especially once we've figured out the pattern and realize once it's started that we're in for 15 more minutes of that.

Dawson describes Geordieland as a "dog's dinner", which is underselling it a little. "Felon" and "The Almsgiver" are on par with the writing on any of his records, the guitar music is consistently enjoyable, and the one thing keeping it from being a highlight of his discography is "The Minotaur of Cowhill". Upon seeing the title and track length, I anticipated something like the two 15-minute-plussers on his 2014 breakthrough Nothing Important, each of which told a little saga in miniature over ruthlessly attacked electric guitar. Had "The Minotaur of Cowhill" been the one track to unite Dawson's guitar and voice, the album would've been split into even thirds rather than jostling halves.






West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.


Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.


'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.