ROBB JOHNSON – Minimum Wages (Irregular Records IRR118V)

Minimum WagesRobb Johnson’s second album of the month is a more conventional set of guitar based songs with like-minded friends in attendance: Jenny Carr and John Forrester from The Irregulars plus Jude Abbott, Jason Pegg, Fae Simon and Boff Walley. Minimum Wages encompasses Robb’s regular concerns from his family to the state of the nation, all documented with his typical tenderness and humour.

The opening track, ‘Fiddler In The Rain’, was inspired by last year’s Tolpuddle Festival and briefly features Lorraine Tilbrook – pictured on the cover – leading a procession and a gorgeous brass solo from Jude. The rain provides a melancholy backdrop to the song. The gloves really come off with ‘Last Night Of The Proms’ which attacks just about everything that’s wrong with this country. Do I need to elaborate? No, I thought not. Rain features again in ‘Hartlepool ASDA, Saturday Morning’ which continues the attack but at the other end of the social scale. It may be hard on Hartlepool but it really does sound like the worst place on Earth to be.

‘Great Aunt Gladys’ would probably be the black sheep of any other family but I reckon some of her blood runs in Robb’s veins. Gladys was a Labour stalwart when it was probably a dangerous thing to do and continued to do so all her life. Charmingly, the song is decorated by the sound of birdsong echoing Gladys’ garden. ‘My Quiet Flame’ is the still point at the heart of the album, a love song in the midst of turmoil and ‘Sister Reynardine’ also begins with a scene of domestic tranquility late at night – then Robb greets a fox in his garden.

‘This Is Your History’ tells of the Battle of Orgreave and it struck me that far too many people have forgotten about it, although I must admit that I have been known to throw it in the face of a particularly gittish copper, along with Blair Peach and Ian Tomlinson. They are a shameful part of our history, too.

‘Minimum Wages’ is about his mother’s care worker who stayed with her, over her allotted fifteen minute visit, when she died. Robb is sympathetic to the people on the front-line but disparaging about the system. Finally, the album leaves us on an optimistic note with ‘My Very Best Of Friends’ enlivened by Jason Pegg’s accordion and the other guests providing a chorus, as they do at key points.

Minimum Wages is a very easy album to get into as Robb’s observations of the mundane lead to more serious considerations. It’s also got plenty to get angry about which is a picture of Robb himself – a mild-mannered bloke who vents his frustrations at the world through his songs.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Fiddler In The Rain’ – live at home: