It’s a good job we don’t impose a word limit on our reviews or The Mystery Gets Your Number & The Poetry Makes The Call wouldn’t get a look-in. It’s one of two new albums by Robb Johnson & The Irregulars and is available only on vinyl. Initially it’s a bit rough and raucous with Robb channelling his inner punk – the eight tracks prominently feature Arvin Johnson’s drums and Robb’s chugging guitar with John Forester on bass and Fae Simon on vocals and percussion. It is also the starting point for Robb’s second album of the year.
The record crashes in with ‘Scream Till The Walls Fall Down’, Robb’s equivalent of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more”. A cathartic yell of protest to set the scene. The second track, ‘Danny Kustow’s Gibson’, is a tribute to Tom Robinson’s late guitarist and from the first notes of the record I’d thought I heard something of Robinson in the music. Danny’s guitar of choice was a Gibson Les Paul Standard Sunburst and according to Robb’s mythology it’s hanging on the wall of a pub in Walthamstow. It isn’t so don’t go looking but Robb tells me that he heard Danny playing a black Les Paul at the White Bear in Hounslow. It’s not there, either!
‘Lost In Space’ is about the ambitions of a young musician hoping to make it on-line and the machinations of the streaming business – then making the point that we’re all lost in cyberspace to a greater or lesser extent. What I’m writing now will only exist as pixels. With ‘One Day We Go To Wembley And We Win’ things quieten down a little. It’s sort of about football and I wonder if Robb had a premonition of the Lionesses’ triumph. But it’s really about some of the less savoury aspects of the game and the victory he’s hoping for is the victory over racism and intolerance – of course I could be wrong.
‘Yes Please Louise’ begins as a love song but develops into a philosophical treatise. With tongue firmly in cheek Robb sings, “autonomous clouds of elegant verse traverse blue infinity”. I know what he’s getting at. ‘Start Counting’, featuring Fae on lead vocal is a post-pandemic song (even though it isn’t over yet) and Robb simply points out that after all that nothing has really changed. ‘From Tolpuddle To Timbuktu’ is a return to the roots of punk (“a red guitar and three chords”) given a reggae beat with a simple message: “stay cool, keep left, shine bright” which just happens to be the title of the second album to emerge from these sessions. Finally, ‘Anytime’ sounds like it might be a love song but, as so often, there’s more to it than that and we see Robb once again wandering the night streets of London.
The Mystery Gets Your Number & The Poetry Makes The Call finally sees Robb and The Irregulars able to get back together and do what they do best. Be patient, now – I’ll get to Stay Cool, Keep Left, Shine Bright soon.
Artist’s website: https://www.robbjohnson.co.uk/
We could feature one of several dozen videos by Robb – not one of them from this album. So here is one that, somehow, we haven’t featured – ‘Tony Skinner’s Lad’: