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Tesco or whatever because it is not what you were meant to put in there. That can be a kind of funny feeling because it is so unex- pected.” And through Dawson’s lens, items that I mistakenly refer to as lacklustre become extraordinary once you dare to look closer. “There are things that appear normal like a can of Castlemaine XXXX … these are incredible things when you get up close. I mean the font on the Castlemaine is beautiful. The scrumpling of the can, you know how flimsy they are. And that golden liquid. There is a lot going on there.”

Dawson’s recent album, Peasant, brings collaborator Rhodri Davies to the fore, along with Davies’ sister, violinist Angharad Davies, and his father John Davies on brass. The album is set in Bryneich, the Old Welsh name for “the region down from Edinburgh – on down through what’s now Northum- berland, to about County Durham, possibly North Yorkshire.”

It is a collection of eleven songs; stories from characters you could have met in the region in and around 500-700CE, after the Roman Empire had upped sticks. Eleven tracks with one-word titles – Ogre, Prosti- tute, Soldier, Weaver – portraying at first glimpse the stark and brutal lives of the characters in tow. But scratch deeper, or lis- ten again, and you hear between the ancient scenes of dastards, miscreants, and children for sale, the same sense of love, joy and fear that we sing about today. “I didn’t want it to be a gruesome album or a dark album,” Dawson explained. “People could have been comfy if they could have looked

after their family. They would be out in the country, they would be out in the good air, the land was beautiful, tight communities. So I wanted to go against that idea that it was all misery.”

he initial draw to start working on such a project was inspired by Dawson’s work with the band Hen Ogledd, which is the old Celtic name for the region of Northern England and southern Scot- tish Lowlands. “It’s a very interesting time and not so well documented,” Dawson explained. “[There are] big chunks really where there is very little information, and what information there is is from the point of view of monks generally, and the moneyed people. So there aren’t really many documents of how life really was there. It’s almost, not quite a blank can- vas, but just really a few daubs here and there. So from a writing point of view that was quite enticing.”

T Davies’ harp provides a drone effect on

the track Hob. It’s a stark tale about a cou- ple making a deal with a hob to cure their baby. “Take it off! Take it off! Take it off – the whooping cough/And we’d be your eternal debtors.” It works, the child flour- ishes. Only to have the deal completed by the hob years later when it arrives at their door. “It is time he kept your end of the bar- gain,” says the hob in the chilling last line of the song, as it waits for the child to be hand- ed over. “It’s just the idea that sometimes it’s the next generation who pay for the deci- sions of their forebears … this isn’t specifi-

cally about that song, [it’s] about us doing things that impact on the next generation.”

“I think that every generation worries about that. But it seems more prevalent cer- tainly in the last couple of years. I don’t want to be too didactic about anything, but certainly it’s impossible for those things not to be on your mind. You know, things around Brexit, and some of the kind of crazy, well to me, some kind of wild times we’re living in. And it’s very confusing, as propaganda techniques become very, very advanced, it’s kind of bewildering to try and sort it out and understand what’s happening.”

Peasant has received strong critical acclaim. “With every album there has, to a slightly bigger degree, been a bit more attention” Dawson explained. “So it has- n’t come totally out of the blue. It’s been fine. It’s been interesting to see, and it’s very helpful towards getting the music heard, but I don’t get too distracted by it either. I think about that David Lynch thing he likes to say. ‘Keep your eye on the doughnut – not the hole.’ So I recognise these things going on.”

Dawson is touring Ireland and the UK through to December. “I’m feeling alright about my music,” he told me. “I’m feeling excited about it.” In the New Year he will then be returning to the studio with Rhodri Davies, Dawn Bothwell and Sally Pilkington to work on a new Hen Ogledd record. “So I’m excited about that, and also thinking about ideas for the next song records, or whatever they might be.” F

Photo: Sally Pilkington

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