ROBB JOHNSON & THE IRREGULARS – Stay Cool, Keep Left, Shine Bright (Irregular Records IRR120)

Stay Cool, Keep Left, Shine BrightIn the beginning were The Irregulars’ first post-Covid sessions. From them emerged The Mystery Gets Your Number & The Poetry Makes The Call, the band’s vinyl only release of which I have already written, and now we have Stay Cool, Keep Left, Shine Bright an expanded version of the sessions with which it shares three songs. The Irregulars are the regular crew, Arvin Johnson, John Forrester, Fae Simon, Linze Maesterosa, Ali Gavan, Lorsey Tillbrook and Sian Allen. Tories should stop reading now although I doubt that any of them are here.

Robb does two things very well. Firstly he writes about people (including himself) giving importance to small stories and secondly he writes about the political landscape, sometimes slyly and subtlety and sometimes giving it both barrels. The opening track, ‘Win, Lose Or Draw’, is in the latter category. “You can naff back to Eton” should tell you all you need to know. Superficially it could be about the Tory leadership election but it covers wider issues, too. ‘From Tolpuddle To Timbuku’ is the first of the three shared tracks, decorated by a glorious trumpet break by Sian. Arvin and John provide a reggae beat and its lyric provides the album’s title – a tribute to everyone who learned three chords and went out to start a band.

Arvin and John kick off ‘Black & Black In The Union Jack’ with the reggae vibe again. It’s Robb’s view of what we used to call “race relations” (sorry if that’s not PC – I’m old but I mean well) and while it’s a jolly singalong number it has hidden depths. ‘One Day We Go Wembley’ is the second shared track and despite its title it isn’t only about football. ‘Fiddler In The Rain’ appeared on Robb’s acoustic album Minimum Wages as did the closing song, ‘My Very Best Of Friends’ – there’s no point writing a great song and not making the most of it. It’s one of his small stories about the Tolpuddle Festival and the need for an umbrella to keep the violin dry – a small story with a great deal to say. Lorsey Tillbrook was the fiddler in question.

‘Start Counting’ is the third of the shared tracks and features Fae on lead vocals as does ‘When I Look Up’, another song about Tolpuddle which Robb says took a long time to get “nearly right”. Don’t be surprised if it turns up on another record before too long. ‘The Summer Time Is Coming’ is one of Robb’s sly political songs and will be a live favourite if I’m any judge. That chorus demands that you sing along. “Be Reasonable – Do It My Way” is a favourite line of mine but Robb makes better use of it: “Be reasonable and demand the impossible now” – stuff like gardens, playgrounds, hospitals, reforestation, an end to nuclear weapons. Of course some of the later demands are likely to get us all arrested – stuff like justice – but that’s a risk we’ll have to take.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Robb Johnson album that I didn’t like but I’ve only managed to hear him live on a couple of occasions recently – funnily enough, he’s not in great demand around Guildford way. Stay Cool, Keep Left, Shine Bright is no exception. The Irregulars are on top form: I’ve mentioned the Johnson/Forrester rhythm machine and the trumpet, sax and violin of Sian, Linze and Lorsey do much more than decorate. Buy this album and demand that Robb and the band play your town soon – or better still, my town.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Be Reasonable’ – solo, live and acoustic:

Read Dai Jeffries’ review of  The Mystery Gets Your Number & The Poetry Makes The Call here.

Read Dai Jeffries’ review of Minimum Wages here.

Or don’t – he’ll never know.

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