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Live / stage review

Richard Dawson and Tsarzi

The Geordie singer makes a triumphant return to live performance for Flying Donkey Events, with a set celebrating the struggle of working people.

24 September 2021 at
Whats App Image 2021 09 29 at 7 20 24 PM
Tom Collister.

Crookes Social Club, a former working men’s club, was the setting for the otherwise prolific performer Richard Dawson’s long-awaited return to Sheffield after the height of the pandemic.

Support act Tsarzi, stage name of solo performer Sarah Sharp, primarily played electric piano, but experimented briefly with guitar and loop-pedal a cappella. Far from the stereotype of a solitary singer-songwriter, her unpredictable, dynamic performance veered closer to the stage manner of Nina Simone, or Kate Bush at her most Brechtian. Her sad, strange and funny cabaret songs consider their subjects, the miserable archetypes of contemporary Little England, with both empathy and revulsion. This could be seen most profoundly in the selections from her upcoming stage show, Gone to the Dogs.

Dawson opened with ‘Joe The Quilt-Maker’, a murder ballad bellowed in confrontational a cappella, as though to stun and subdue the rowdy audience. The reward, raucous sing-along ‘Civil Servant’, was perfectly pitched to a crowd rocking more than a couple of IDLES t-shirts: “All over the city we arise, arise / For a job we despise, despise, despise!” The ex-working men’s club was an ideal setting for the music of Dawson, whose set, chosen exclusively from 2017 and 2019’s sister albums Peasant and 2020, concerned itself with the lives of working people through history.

Constituting a drummer and himself, Dawson’s band was much reduced from his recent touring line-ups, which have ranged from a full rock band to a lush folk orchestra. But this meant no less massive a sound, with Dawson’s guitar tuned to a cavernous open C. Unable to recreate the choral call-and-response crescendo of ‘Ogre’ with the reduced band, the climax of the song was recast onstage as an extended, ear-bruising tempest of cymbals and guitar distortion, the relentless howl recalling the infamous ‘holocaust’ section of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘You Made Me Realise’.

Dawson exited the stage without an encore, audience vanquished.

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