I just got back from a screening of The Hermit, the new 41 minute-long single by Richard Dawson ahead of its release later this week. Dawson worked with fimmaker James Hankins to create a short film for the song, and after we watched the piece – which was confusing and great like a breeze that sweeps through your head and makes you forget what you were doing a moment ago – there was a Q&A. I booked the tickets a few weeks ago and honestly had totally forgotten about the opportunity to ask Dawson some questions. Every answer felt like he was pulling us closer to the shore, talking pure realism about the production, costume decisions, and the awkwardness of being on camera (even though, as he recalls, he was once in Byker Grove).
I put my hand up first to ask a question and I wanted to share his paraphrased answer here (hmm, if only it had been recorded, but in a way I’m glad it wasn’t, and it was just for the ears of the sold out but still small audience at the Box screen in FACT, Liverpool on a wet November night). I asked him about the lyrics. What struck me as I listened and watched was the richness of the vocabulary. Words I didn’t understand, words that sounded so English. Archaic or natural; specialist terms. I asked if he just knew this stuff already or if he had done much research when he was putting the song together. I think I was relieved when he said his head is like a vase with holes at both ends; knowledge passes through it but doesn’t quite stay. He’d done the work, making lists of words, terms, and names he wanted to put in the piece. I liked this answer because my mental image of people writing songs is very LA influenced I think. Almost a boardroom sort of setting with badly dressed men thinking of things that rhyme and picking words based on trends. I prefer the world where Richard Dawson is wondering what the word is for the gap and the dip between two toes; ‘interstix’ is sung on one of the first lines of the song. Good. He went on to say that he actually got so carried away making his lists of special words that after writing the full album, he went back through it taking out lots of them because he thought he’d put too many in. I like this part of the answer because this is exactly what I’d do if I was a songwriter, lol. I just love a good word.
On lyric writing, he also reflected on the music he wrote in ‘2020’ (the album) and its distance from his current interstix-era of writing. He said that he was using a lot of plain speak in those songs – using words that he would say out loud to people – because anything else sounded like there was ego getting in the way, and that too-worked messaging was a problem (because of the 2020ness of the content). I both appreciate him stripping back his old lyricism and celebrate him being able to move back to more poetic, jigsawed wording. When I write reviews, because they’re always recorded for the podcast, I only write things I’d say to people; Dawson’s chat made me wonder what it would be like if I let go of that aim and wrote some unspeakable things. Anyway.
I was very glad I went along to listen and watch The Hermit before it’s out, and to get to ask this question and hear such a thoughtful response.
(p.s. he said that when he performed in The Kazimier in Liverpool, someone was talking in the audience. He’d been given advice about what to do in that situation so he knew how to handle it: he started singing quieter and quieter until the person’s voice was louder than his and they stopped. He went back to normal and the person started speaking again. When he went quieter, the audience realised what was happening, and the person who was being passively ridiculed got angry and stormed out, haha)