The Peasants’ Revolt began in May 1381, triggered by a recently imposed poll tax of 12-pence, levied against every adult, wealthy or poor. The revolt was not just about the ethical distribution of capital, however, these peasants had a raft of issues around social justice, inequality and civil liberty. Their demands focussed on employment rights, social mobility, and an end to the oppressive practice of serfdom. Inspired by the work of proto-human rights activist, John Ball (John McDonnell), the revolt was led by Wat Tyler (Jeremy Corbyn). On 13th June, the rebels reached the capital, and traversed London Bridge. Once in the city itself, they attacked civil targets, destroying legal records, opening prisons, sacking homes, and killing individuals they suspected were associated with the Royal Government.
The parallels between the Peasant’s Revolt and GE2017 are heavily pregnant with artistic licence: May humiliated in June, forced into an unethical pact with the DUP, described as an agreement of ‘confidence and supply’, possibly in breach of both the Good Friday Agreement and the British Constitution. Humbled and ridiculed on the shores of political wilderness, berated, even, by members of her own party, themselves no strangers to backstabbing or assassination, condemned to form the spineless backbone of future LSE theses on ‘how not to conduct an election campaign’. Throughout the process, the May backhand wobbled, as she performed U-bend-turn after U-bend-turn, stumbling effortlessly, tripping through the cornfields of her own mind, like the Black Knight in ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail': waffling, cowering, as the mighty Corbynator wielded Excalibur through her mandate, slashing her stealthy plans for the private sale of the NHS to ribbons: “It’s only a flesh wound!”
After a seven-week campaign that saw Labour produce a fit-for-purpose manifesto that set the hearts of neo-socialists alight, Jeremy Corbyn has become the most powerful political figure in the UK. On a night destined to go down in political history, or, at the very least, Owen Jones‘ special Guardian journalist’s notepad, the largest Labour swing since the Atlee administration of 1945 smashed neoliberalism in the face with a 3-wood of pubic contempt, simultaneously fucking the Blairite tendency in the arse with a rusty sand wedge. The youth of Britain stirred, doubtless mobilised by the shock of a relevant cover story in the NME, as hundreds of thousands of young people got off their lazy arses to kick the fuck out of pompous Tory politicians whose lazy stereotypes idly propped up the bars of gentleman’s establishments across the land. Old and young united in fear, motivated by survival principles usually associated with the kind of post-apocalyptic landscapes pre-election debating audiences were seemingly including in their policy demands.
As Corbyn filled public spaces with his adoring acolytes, fox hound Barry Gardiner ripped apart the paramilitary wing of the BBC press corps, tearing out the throats of Murdoch’s minions on a daily basis. Emily Thornberry captured hearts and minds with her meticulous accuracy and her unflappable delivery, the antithesis of the cliche-by-numbers stable strength of the May crash test dummy. Like a mannequin doused in grey paint, all the May could do was implore us to watch her dry. In car-crash media interface after car-crash media interface, she hurtled through windscreen after windscreen, in search of private health care initiative leverage mechanisms.
Meanwhile, bombs went off, atrocities were committed, the May refused to debate, and the BBC moved ever-further into an identity crisis that basically rendered it the Official Propaganda Department of the Conservative Party: for Lord Haw Haw, read Laura Kuentssberg. The May appeared in cowsheds, lay-bys, farmer’s markets, and well known dogging sites, but, as the cameras duly panned back, the big reveal was nothing more than a handful of specially bussed-in colluders, crisis actors on their day off, pimping for extra cash to cover dementia-related support for their elderly relatives. As the campaign trundled on, the elite’s desperation to smear the unimpeachable Corbyn forehand grew more desperate by the hour: Corbyn was in league with the IRA, Hamas, the PLO, he’d once gone on a picnic with Vladislav Surkov, during which he’d professed his love for the work of Yury Shevchuk. As all of this played out, the greatest trick Boris Johnson ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.
Day by day, poll by poll, the gap closed. The right wing media, unable to subvert reality any longer, screamed: “mind the gap!” Through a tear in the space-time-contiuum, relative truth began to seep into the consciousness of the masses, by cultural osmosis. Palpable hope filled the air like pollen, forced down by the proliferation of CO2 gasses emitted by Murdoch’s patented Anti-Corbyn spray canisters, issued to all News Corporation journalists. As Tory millions were pumped into their faltering campaign through an offshore pipe under the cover of darkness, Labour activists controlled social media platforms with brilliantly executed content, including a series of shorts by renowned director, Ken Loach. Tory ministers were leaving copies of their manifesto in whorehouses, expensive restaurants, massage parlours and airport departure lounges, in the vain hope that they could lose every last copy before voters worked out that they were emptier than George Osborne’s soul. The ever-growing list of celebrities endorsing the party of The Many dwarfed Jim Davidson and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who urged anyone who’d listen to consider the plight of The Few. Amber Rudd insisted there was no magic money tree, but there was, and it was taking on a decidedly tangoed hue (later found to be Dutch Elm Disease, or William Of Orange Disorder).
As June 8th eventually receded, a nation considered the least painful way to keep abreast of incoming results and unfolding events. The smart money settled on Chanel Four’s ‘Alternative Election Night’, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, the cunt’s cunt. Despite the obvious pain of having to stomach Ann Widdecombe, not even the irrepressible smugness of David Mitchell or the tedious gameshow hostery of Richard Osman could dampen emerging enthusiasm for the rapidly collating data. The exit polls had manifested earlier, smothered in the afterbirth of optimism, like a newly born lamb. Throughout the ensuing night, those who give two shits about anything else other than themselves lovingly licked clean every Labour hold/gain emitted from the womb of the ballot box.
Dawn eventually revealed a Parliament hung on Gallows Hill. The loser had won, and the winner had lost. Neoliberalism lay fatally wounded on the Rococo lawn of its Painswick mock-Tudor mansion house: “Come back, I’ll bite your bloody legs off”. The May refused to do the decent thing, and by 12.30pm on the 9th of June, she was on her knees, begging the Queen to let her form a government, with the aid of a Loyalist Paramilitary terrorist organisation, somehow intrinsically different to the terrorist organisations she had so recently condemned Corbyn for fraternising with.
Throughout the climax to the campaign, my soundtrack to this pantomime of performance has been the fifth-album-proper by post-everything Tyneside troubadour, Richard Dawson. ‘Peasant’ (Weird World), a record truly worthy of such narrative conceit, is a double concept album set in the dark ages (circa 450AD to 780AD) in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bryneich, which covered North-East England and South-East Scotland in the 6th and 7th centuries. Developing Dawson’s fascination with Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), ‘Peasant’ explores the asset-based functionality of community through the eyes of twelve of its members: ‘Herald’, ‘Ogre’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Weaver’, ‘Prostitute’, ‘Shapeshifter’, ‘Scientist’, ‘Hob’, ‘Beggar’, ‘No-one’ and ‘Masseuse’. Dawson himself describes ‘Peasant’ as “a panorama of a society which is at odds with itself and has great sickness in it, and perhaps doesn’t take responsibility – blame going in all the wrong directions”.
Dawson generally considers his art to be community music, and in essence the central theme of ‘Peasant’ challenges the process of divide and conquer that is at the heart of the neoliberal personalisation agenda. Dawson suggests that the all-encompassing darkness of the dark ages has much commonality with our own fractured society, circa now. At its most pessimistic, it ponders whether Britain always been broken, simultaneously promoting the healing properties of connectivity in a considerably more optimistic manner. Dawson considers it to be an album of hope, a record he wants to be absorbed by as many people as possible.
Musically, ‘Peasant’ evolves beyond the structural minimalism of ‘Magic Bridge’, ‘The Glass Trunk’ and ‘Nothing Important’, for his fullest sounding record yet. Resplendent with flowing melodies, quivering on the edge of Dawson’s trademark avant-skronk, the signature sound of the album is that of jug band, equally in thrall to The Incredible String Band, The Magic Band, The Fugs, Davey Graham, or, most pertinently, Comus‘ 1971 opus, ‘First Utterance’ (Dawn Records). Dawson is aided and abetted by the Davies family: siblings Rhodri (pedal harp, lever harp, gong ), Angharad (violin) and father, John (trumpet, flugelhorn, soprano, trombone). Dawson himself handles guitars, drums and electronics, and the ensemble is augmented by a chorus of Jake Billingsley, Nathalie Stern, Sally Pilkington, Nev Clay, Dawn Bothwell, Rachael Macarthur and Vic Eynon. Recorded and produced by Sam Grant at Blank Studio in Byker, the sonic depth and breadth of ‘Peasant’ is equal to that of the Tyne itself.
Beginning with appearances, the record’s sleeve is a departure from the largely black and white textures of Dawson’s previous three outings, more in keeping with that of the Weird World reissue of ‘The Glass Trunk’. The lurid red and yellow of the cover’s graphics, and the use, once again, of the photography of Ben Wayman, establish a visual lineage that feels as if it may progress further down the line with future releases. Pressed on vibrant yellow vinyl, the limited edition comes with a set of twelve postcards, and is signed by Dawson personally:
Having spent a week or so in the company of ‘Peasant’, I’m slowly beginning to get to grips with the sheer exuberance of its expansiveness. The first few listens were exhausting, such is the enormity of this record. Having grown used to the intimacy of Dawson’s work over the last few years, the grandiose arrangements and the fullness of sound take some digesting. It has been suggested in some quarters that ‘Peasant’ is not a record that grows on you, but that seems an utterly ridiculous claim, to these ears. Every time I’ve sat down with this album thus far, I’ve discovered something new lurking in the aural miasma.
‘Peasant’ opens with the brief instrumental, ‘Herald’, a fanfare for the uncommon man, that quickly dissolves into a series of parps, vaguely reminiscent of Stewart Lee farting the ‘National Anthem’ during his ‘My Cat Jeremy Corbyn’ routine. ‘Ogre’ follows, the first song to be issued to Dawson’s impatient fanbase (Dawson had been working on what would become ‘Peasant’ when I last spoke to him at Supersonic Festival, in June of 2015!), back in April, announcing the timbre of what was to be expected in June. The song itself is as big and as ugly as its title suggests, stretching Dawson’s vocal dexterity from warm whisper to soaring falsetto, shimmering with Davies’ harps, hurtling towards a closing stanza that sets the choral tone for much of what will follow in its wake.
The second taster, ‘Soldier’, is up next, and on election day, and long into that historic night, I clung to the relevance of its lyrical theme: “I am tired, I am afraid, my heart is full of dread”. Post-middle eight, and post-exit poll, the mood changes: “My heart is full of hope”. ‘Weaver’ enters discordantly, then somehow manages to outdo its predecessors in its inherent magnitude, before rising to a choral denouement that invokes some hitherto unrecorded Ben Wheatley soundtrack. The video that accompanies the song portrays Dawson dancing around a walking cane, uncannily resembling a younger John Lydon, whilst lyrically the song contemplates the nature of gossip, spreading its own strangely prescient rumours, again hugely relevant on election night: “precipitating the early onset of Labour”.
‘Prostitute’ examines the oldest profession with tender refrain, flecked with psychedelic guitar lines and plinking, plucking nylon. ‘Shapeshifter’ struts along at a relative pace, as Dawson peaks and flows through the parameters of his range with untold glee. The most upbeat song on the record, Dawson has a long association with shamanic tendencies, and the subject of shapeshifting retains relevance to many prominent figures in our contemporary world. Nothing is what it seems, everything hidden within plain sight, that is the slight of hand of capitalist surrealism. ‘Scientist’ continues the forward motion, but at a slightly lower tempo. Make no mistake, these two songs are key to the continuity of ‘Peasant’. The song ends with Dawson’s take on the big rock ‘final bonk’, but on nylon guitar, instead of a Gibson fed through a wall of Marshalls.
‘Hob’ is another election night favourite, nestling delicately at the outward bound section of the record. The song tumbles down the stairs of inflection with a gentle shove from one of Dawson’s sweetest melodies, as old as time, as fresh as a the spirit of victory in the air. As the slowly stacking numbers pointed more assuredly to a hung Parliament on the morning of June 9th, the line “at the murmur of dawn there’s a knock at the door” assumed an ever-ominous portent for the May. The peel-of-bells riff of ‘Beggar’ is a campanologist’s delight, punctuated by stomping percussion that jumps out of the mix like a jack in the box. Angharad Davies’ violin shines with radiant beauty here. The penultimate ‘No-one’ is the record’s second brief instrumental interlude, bubbling with electronic interfaces, like a burst of static interference from a radio station of the future beaming its dissonance backwards into history.
‘Peasant’ closes with ‘Masseuse’, Dawson’s single most ambitious statement to date. The song recounts the tale of the quest for ownership of the enigmatic ‘pin of quib’. Riding a bastardised 80s hair metal riff interspersed with breakdowns that equal the darkness of ‘The Vile Stuff’ in texture and tone. For 10:49, every trick explored in the previous 50-minutes is tweaked to perfection for a stunning climax, basically a mini-opera in itself. The silence that follows only emphasises the brilliance of what just taken place. Every time I listen to ‘Peasant’, I find myself having to draw breath and reflect on the utter magnificence of what has just occurred.
That same silence on Sunday June 11th resonates like a bell from the ghost of the May. Again, I find myself reflecting on the magnificence of what has just occurred. The peasants have revolted, and a new radical politics has emerged from the confines of neoliberalism to promise the formation of a transformative Labour government that will echo the convictions of its 1945 precedent, in both ambition and integrity. More people have joined the Labour Party in the last 48-hours than populate the entire Conservative Party. Our membership is currently 800,000, and rising. Corbyn is a hair’s breadth away from the keys to 10, Downing Street, and all over the land, young people are singing his name as they pour out of the nightclubs of our towns, our cities, our hearts. I have waited all my life for a moment such as this. Avante, comrades, the battle has been won, the war in earnest begins here.