JOHN FORRESTER – Restless (Irregular Records IRR109)

RestlessJohn Forrester is a singer, a songwriter, an ace double bass player and the sort of chap that everybody in the business knows. Restless is his fourth solo album but his first working with a producer, Roy Dodds. With a small group of supporting musicians, Dodds has constructed a rich, varied soundscape without rounding off the corners. John’s voice can be smooth and delicate but is more often big and forceful reflecting the back-story of tragedy that interrupted recording.

Restless talks not of happy wanderlust but of dissatisfaction with wherever one happens to be. You know what he means: there is always something better around the corner even if it’s the place you just left behind. It’s the inability to settle coupled with the inability to move for whatever reason. In ‘Butterfly Catcher’, John sings “Stare out a new window, try to wish myself there” followed by “When I try to leave you’re blocking the stairs” encapsulating the dichotomy that the record explores.

John opens with the wistful ‘Richmond Hill’, initially a cappella with Kath Williams cello and Saskia Tomkins’ violin joining in. It’s a lovely song, looking back with fondness and forward with hope. ‘New Season’ is lifted by Andy Webb’s slide guitar and John definitely wants to leave wherever he is but in ‘Somewhere I Can Be’ he doesn’t know where to go. Jenny Carr’s piano and George Whitfield’s accordion help to provide the drive under John’s urgent acoustic guitar.

Restless is an album full of exquisite pain. Only in ‘Escaping A Storm’ does the central character find the place where she wants to be. In some ways the narrative reminded me of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ but so much bleaker. I’m very much enjoying the record but, as anyone will tell you, I’m a miserable old sod.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.forrester.uk.com

‘Escaping A Storm’ – live session:

John Forrester announces new solo album

John Forrester

As the title suggests, Restless – the fourth studio album from English songwriter John Forrester – explores the transient underpinning of the lone musician: songs of travel, displacement, creativity and disappointment sit alongside those that explore the journey we all make through life.

While working on the album, a close family member’s terminal illness forced Forrester to pause mid-album and spend time back in his home town to care for his loved one.

“You make a life for yourself”, he reflects, “But then you’re pulled back to something in the past. Back in the town you grew up in. There’s definitely a comfort in familiarity but also a disconnect, as you’re now effectively just a visitor.”

These events seeped into Forrester’s writing.

“It certainly coloured the album. There are songs that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. The album changed shape.”

Previously recorded songs no longer seemed right and new work emerged as Forrester’s world changed irrevocably – and when recording resumed, a broader canvas was laid out upon which the new songs were afforded more room to breathe and be heard.

Working with a producer – Fairground Attraction’s Roy Dodds – for the first time, Forrester was encouraged to play less and not fill every pocket of the aural spectrum. The result is a cohesive yet adventurous album that, although reminiscent of Forrester’s earlier work, explores new ground both musically and lyrically.

From the a cappella opener ‘Richmond Hill’, where the singer earmarks a place of personal pilgrimage for future reflection, to ‘Somewhere I Can Be’, the lead-off single, a song for “all the bits of us that we leave behind”, the general mood of the LP captures the essence, drive and complexities of the restless soul.

‘Butterfly Catcher’ “was inspired by people that seek to take your time and energy when you don’t want to give it. It’s about boundaries and not giving too much of yourself away”, while ‘Restless Bones’ is an autobiographical look at the passing of time and friendships.

Restless is an album born of change – with two very different sides owing to its divided recording process. It’s also a record that relishes in a newfound sense of experimentation and collaboration, while staying true to its creator’s restless soul.

As a solo performer, Forrester has shared stages with the likes of Show Of Hands, Nick Harper and John Kirkpatrick. An accomplished electric and double-bass player, he has also served with Pressgang and, currently, Rastko, The Outcast Band and Robb Johnson.

“A distinctive and immediate sound, this is something special.” – R2 Magazine

Artist’s website: http://forrester.uk.com/

‘Somewhere I Can Be’:

RASTKO – Love, Hate And Twists Of Fate (Vacilando ’68)

RastkoThe mood in Medway was forlorn in 2013 when local favourites the Singing Loins disbanded. Other projects were pursued and yearnings sated but that nagging unfinished business feeling remained to the point that most of the Loins are now back together as Rastko with their first album, Love, Hate And Twists Of Fate.

Thank heavens they saw sense, this is a very good debut album. The band is led by Chris ‘Arfur’ Allen’s guitar and vocals and the multi instrumental and vocal talent of Rob Shepherd. Between them they deliver a set of songs with vocals and lyrics that span the spectrum of indignant anger to Beatlesque harmony across the album.

Song writing is shared between Allen and Shepherd, the original acoustic, folk, punk nucleus of what has become a highly accomplished four piece with another Loin John Forrester on bass and the well-travelled Steve Moore on drums and percussion.

‘Scars and Souvenirs‘, written by Allen, opens the album in a nicely commercial tone with some fine riffs countering some anger tinged lyrics bemoaning the passing of time. ‘Tiger’ written by Shepherd then follows and all sense of commerciality disappears with a dynamic song that seems to start half way through “And then the windows crashed…” being the opening line followed by a great chorus of startling simplicity.

Allen and Shepherd alternate their songs throughout the album sparring with each other, rising to greater heights and treating the listener to new gems at every turn whilst maintaining a beautifully balanced recording.

Some lovely contrasts; the bleak lyrics of ‘Don’t Be Going Gently’ are delivered with a light dusting of mandolin held together by Forrester’s bass whilst ‘The Road To Fort Luton’ has hints of Lennon/McCartney harmony that builds to a simple chorus message intertwined around a lovely bit of Shepherd accordion.

Coming together after a period of hiatus has re-energised the creative spirit in the Rastko troupe, long may they continue and I shall make it my quest to seek them out live.

Simon Goodale

Artists’ website: http://www.rastkomusic.com/about.html

‘Tiger’ – live session

Robb Johnson live at Lodsworth

Robb Johnson live
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

19th November 2016

The last time I heard Robb Johnson live was the London Gentle Men show, an acoustic, thoughtful story of the Great War and its consequences inspired by the experiences of his grandfathers. This was very different – Robb the rocker, the man who could front a Clash tribute band. The My Best Regards band are superb. There’s the mighty bass of John Forrester; Robb’s son Arvin who looks like an angel and drums like a demon and Jenny Carr on a slightly cheesy looking keyboard which, due to marvels of modern technology, produced some wonderful sounds including the electric organ that underpinned many of the songs. Then there’s Robb playing a vintage hollow-body Les Paul; what’s not to love?

I noticed very soon that Robb didn’t introduce a single song by name which means that I took some very bizarre notes although the songs from My Best Regards are still fresh in the mind. His introductions were sometimes a bit cryptic but the story behind ‘Better Than TV’ is almost better than the song. Afterwards, I blagged a set list but there doesn’t seem to be enough titles on it. Robb did remind me that they slipped in ‘We Hate The Tories’ in the middle: thanks Robb, I got that one.

They opened with a Johnson classic, ‘Night Café’ followed by ‘Here Goes Nothing’, the title track of last year’s album, ‘Bay Of Angels’ and ‘Carrying Your Smile’. The first track from the new album was ‘We All Got Wings’ followed by ‘Suzy’s Party’ (another off-the-wall intro) and ‘Dear Franz’.  Robb is very disparaging about the folk scene these days which is a shame because folk clubs were, and still would be, receptive to his songs (although ‘The Mystery Beat’ wouldn’t be welcome at Cecil Sharp House, so perhaps he has reasons for his negativity) so ‘Sidmouth Promenade’ is a bit of dig at the middle-classness of folkies. Shame: ‘Hollingdean Lullabye’ should be sung every day somewhere. Their final encore was ‘The Magic Tonight’ which was an excellent summary of their show.

Ed Goodale
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Support for the evening was Ed Goodale, a fine young singer-songwriter from Sussex, aided by his brother Ollie on cajon. I was immediately taken with his songs, which is unusual because I normally have to take my time getting into a new writer. The cajon is a bit limiting over a long set, although Ollie is a very fine player and they need to expand the percussion vocabulary. I haven’t heard Ed with his full band yet so that’s next on the list.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/ / http://edgoodale.com/

JOHN FORRESTER – The Former Me (IRR103)

The Former MeJohn Forrester is a man with a plan and The Former Me represents a stepping stone, the bridge between the excellent 2014 album Outsider and a body of new work due for release in 2017. Despite a long song writing career, this is the first album Forrester has recorded completely solo and you sense something cathartic happening during the process. This album is kept simple; no backing vocals, bass or other instruments just the songs in their raw state reflecting a solo performance.

The Former Me is a re-recording of songs previously released by Forrester updated to the style in which he now presents them live. At one stage during this retrospective period he took himself off to Cornwall and evidently found himself as the inspiration of such a location shines through.

The album opens with the heartfelt ‘Dive In’ followed by the slight chords of ‘Pure’ a contrast that amply illustrates the breadth of song writing flair and sets the tone of the album. Forrester’s songs have a strong sense of location & motion reflected in a mood of resolution and regret, touched with the odd spot of poison & wonder; the result is a bare album enabling appreciation of lyrics and song structure together with his distinctive guitar style.

The earnest delivery of tracks such as ‘Number Twenty Six’ and ‘Don’t Sleep Easy’ illustrate a man closing a chapter on his musical journey and the inclusion of a couple of carefully chosen expertly delivered covers, ‘Stop Talking’ originally written by Mark Burgess of the Chameleons and ‘Allelujah’ by Mark Nevin is another step passed you feel.

The album concludes with the excellent ‘Say Goodbye’; thankfully it is more au revoir as we await the opening of the next John Forrester chapter that is currently being recorded and is due for release next year.

Simon Goodale

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: http://forrester.uk.com/

‘Into Another Life’ – live in February 2016:

ROBB JOHNSON – My Best Regards (Irregular Records IRR100)

my best regardsRobb Johnson, dubbed “the last of the genuinely political songwriters”, has released more albums than probably even he can count. By my reckoning My Best Regards is his thirty-third, not counting re-recordings and compilations and the thing is, the quality never falls. Even Bob Dylan had his off days.

The opening track is ‘September 1939’ and I thought how clever that is: taking the period of the phoney war, as it was known, and pointing out that on both sides nothing had really changed. Ah, but then Robb moves the story to the present day and we see what he’s really driving at. With ‘A Hollingdean Lullabye’ goes straight for the jugular as a response to the fuss made over the Cambridge’s children. Hollingdean is a children’s centre where Robb once worked, one that is still open, and he points out that although babies born there don’t have it so good there are many off in worse circumstances.

Robb’s finger is always on the political pulse and the subjects of ‘When The Tide Comes In’ and ‘The Future Starts Here’ are obvious but some songs have to picked at until they unravel. ‘Dear Franz’ links Kafka and the Prague Spring but brings Tesco into the argument and ‘A Whole Lot Less’ is ostensibly a song of lost love but there’s a lot more to it – “Second class and second best” is a recurring line. This is one of the album’s rockers with Jenny Carr’s keyboards, John Forrester’s bass and Robb’s son Arvin on drums. If you hear Robb in folk club you might forget that he can rock like a good ‘un. The upbeat mood continues with ‘Better Than TV’ – I’m still trying to figure that one out – and the even heavier ‘That Mystery Beat’ which sound like something by Rush except for Robb’s vocals.

Three songs are repeated in different versions. ‘When The Tide Comes In’ has an additional Arabic vocal courtesy of  Reem Kelani and ‘The Sidmouth Promenade’ and ‘The Future Starts Here’, featuring Brighton’s Hullabaloo Quire, both stick it to the right-wing in no uncertain terms. There isn’t a bad song and I haven’t mentioned ‘Babbacombe At The Closing Of The Day’, a delightfully cynical song that’s typical of Robb’s style, or the Cohenesque ‘A Room In The House Of Love’. If you have read this far, you’ll probably want to buy this album and I urge you to buy another from Robb’s back catalogue as well. It’s what I do.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website:  http://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/

A live set by Robb from 2011 (parental guidance required):