Live Review – Richard Dawson & Circle

Richard Dawson & Circle invite us into their dizzying botanical realm 4 stars.

Richard Dawson and Circle approach their instruments with limited glamour – the seven musicians are all dressed entirely in black as they enter the stage. They remain statuesquely still until the eventual beginnings of ‘Cooksonia’, written about the Australian palaeobotanist Isabel Cookson. The band eventually mobilise, entering a world of dizzying compositions within a land of whimsically and (mostly) true storytelling.

It’s a familiar world to followers of this project. In 2021, Richard Dawson, the Newcastle neo-folk musician, alongside Circle, the Finnish experimental rockers, joined forces in releasing their debut collaborative project Henki. The seven-track album features colourfully progressive instrumentation and ornate lyricism – stories revolve around themes of botany and mythology, all presented as if commonplace within the rock cannon.

Henki’s success has resulted in a run of live shows, seeing both parties take on new roles – Dawson now fronting the band in place of Circle’s regular vocalist Mika Rättö, who remains on keyboards. This leads to mixed results. When Dawson sings guitar not in hand, he appears somewhat lost without his instrument. Upon returning to being a frontman/guitarist, Dawson seems more comfortable and the thunderous ‘Methuselah’ grinds into a full throttle progressive rock attack. The band prowls the stage like caged animals and bassist Jussi Lehtisalo arches his back in a bout of musical ecstasy. 

‘Ivy’ is touchingly dedicated to Big Jeff, the Bristolian music hero sadly injured in a recent house fire. The performance sees the band deliver playful Hank Marvin-esque walks and dances while Dawson continues to reach impressively high falsetto notes throughout. ‘Terminal’ – originally a Circle song – is played entirely instrumentally in a somewhat symbolic gesture to imply Dawson’s initiation into Circle to be complete – an apt moment given the impressive ease of performance displayed by this still infant musical project.  

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