ROBB JOHNSON & THE IRREGULARS – Eurotopia (Irregular IRR113)

EurotopiaAs if to prove that not only does Robb Johnson have his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist but that he’s actually ahead of the beat, this album arrived just before the election. There is politics in Eurotopia but not in the way you might expect. This isn’t a rant, more a lament, a threnody for the loss of Europe. It includes some of Robb’s best and most complex songwriting; songs full of people, places and memories.

Robb has spent a good deal of time gigging around Europe and beyond and many of these songs are set in cities across the continent. I assumed that the opener, ‘The Carnival Song’, is about a visit to Jerusalem and then I came to the chorus: “Dir propeller, eller, eller/Gehen schneller, schneller, schneller”. It refers to a song called ‘Dreh den Propeller’ by a German singer called Buddy. It’s horribly catchy and I suspect that it’s something that Robb heard on his travels and found stuck in his mind. In a way it sets up the majority of the other songs which are set in different times and places and in his memory.

‘Charing Cross Station & Hungerford Bridge’ and ‘Coincidents On The Circle Line’ are obviously set in London and are inspired by chance observations and memories, the latter finds Robb musing about a vanished Afghan coat. Then we move on. ‘If The Night Runs Out Before The Money Runs Out’ takes us to Paris, ‘Tram Number 22’ finds us in Prague and ‘The Kreuzberg Sisters’ deposits us in Berlin. ‘My Last Night In Montmartre’ is obvious even to me.

Now it gets serious. Having lulled us with nostalgic tales of exotic places, Robb hits us first with ‘Stalingrad’ and then ‘Welcome To The Museum’ and now we see what he’s been leading up to. The romance of old Europe is ripped away and the ugly face of the modern world is revealed. ‘The Work Is Never Done’ returns to Paris and picks up the theme in the mundane activities of the day before the tourists arrive.

The Irregulars on Eurotopia are Jenny Carr on piano, John Forrester on double bass and Robb’s son Arvin on drums. Linz Maesterosa’s flute and reeds and Bethan Prosser’s violin help to provide the late-night, rainy atmosphere that colours many of the songs. There’s one more thing you need to know. This review is of the thirteen track full band CD but …there is also a nine track vinyl version with just Robb on acoustic guitar and Fae Simon on vocals. The two issues have only four tracks in common so you know what that means: yes, you need them both!

Dai Jeffries

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

We’re unable to source a video from Eurotopia yet but this is brand new – ‘More Than Enough’:

Video Wall 12

Welcome to our final Video Wall of the year which also affords us a peek into 2020. With that in mind we begin with SAM LEE and ‘The Garden Of England’ which is from his new album Old Wow, released next month.

Another track from an album on 2020’s releases schedules.  Here’s ‘Botany Bay’ by ANTOINE & OWENA from their album Something Out Of Nothing which is due for release in March.

We won’t apologise if you’ve seen this before because anything by BEANS ON TOAST is worth watching at least three times. This is ‘On And On’.

FERRIS & SYLVESTER wind up their year with a single, ‘I Dare You’. If you’re lucky enough to live in mainland Europe you can catch them on tour in the spring.

Toronto duo The Cassidys recently released their debut album, Tula. This is the second single to be taken from it, ‘Cannonball’.

JOE ASTLEY released this single a couple of weeks ago. It’s called ‘Revolution Postponed’ which is horribly true.

We’ve searched high and low for a video from ROBB JOHNSON‘s brilliant new album, Eurotopia, which we will be reviewing in the new year but he’s playing his cards close to his chest at the moment. In the meantime, here’s a song he’s recently uploaded, ‘The Playing Fields Of Eton’.

‘Could Have Been You’ is a single from the EP Hear My Voice by PIERS FACCINI.

Finally something for Christmas. ‘Cry Back Moon’ has just been released to subscribers only by TALITHA RISE so please don’t tell anyone that we’ve posted it or we’ll all be in terrible trouble.

ROBB JOHNSON – Ordinary Giants (Irregular IRR223)

Ordinary GiantsAt first glance Ordinary Giants seems like a sequel to Robb Johnson’s wonderful Gentle Men but it isn’t. It’s more of a companion piece; there is no formal spoken narrative – Robb won’t spoon-feed us, although he helps us along here and there – and the album encompasses the last hundred years of British history interleaved with the story of his family and in particular his father, Ron Johnson. It’s rather like an audio advent calendar with each track displaying a snapshot of a moment in time. This is a triple-CD set with a book so it isn’t something you can rush through nor, I suspect, will anyone listen to it in a single sitting.

Although the songs are arranged with a light touch there is a big supporting cast; among them Roy Bailey, Matthew Crampton, Rory McLeod, Phil Odgers, Tom Robinson, Miranda Sykes as the main female voice, Boff Whalley, four community choirs, Frances O’Grady and Dennis Skinner. Robb wrote nearly all the songs – there’s a traditional tune, a couple of borrowed melodies and the assistance of Robinson on ‘Holding Hands With Hitler’. He succeeds in capturing the style of each period, particularly in the first part, covering the years 1918 to 1939 and puts the most appalling words in the mouth of Adam Clayson as the Mosley-supporting Major Utterswine. The problem is that the same words reappear in the third part covering the period from 1970 to the present day.

Inevitably, Ordinary Giants, is a very political record; you’d expect nothing less from Robb, but the politics are embedded in the words of ordinary people and often creep up on you when you’re not expecting them. The first ‘Lou’, one of Frances O’Grady’s three spoken word pieces is a perfect example, starting innocently enough but ending in verbal conflict. There are causes close the Robb’s heart such as ‘Craven Vale Hall’, dated 1958 and celebrating the building of the first post-war care homes.

The final tracks of the second disc and all of the third can be quite painful because Robb’s view is that things haven’t changed that much and it’s hard to argue with him. The songs are peppered with political slogans and he makes his points with humour and sharp insights in songs like ‘Goalkeepers’ and ‘Who Buggered Bognor?’ but beneath that is the realisation that we’re still fighting the same battles in whatever guises they appear.

Dai Jeffries

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

There are no videos from this album yet so we’ll have to make do with this:

The 2017 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2017 Folking Awards. Last year’s inaugural poll was such a success that we had to do it again. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with sweat, tears and not a little blood by the Folkmeister and the Editor.

There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have been featured in the pages of folking.com in 2016.

As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes. However, its not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.

Soloist Of The Year

Luke Jackson
Ralph McTell
Kelly Oliver
Steve Pledger
Alasdair Roberts


Best Duo

Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby
Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater
O’Hooley & Tidow
Ninebarrow
Show Of Hands


Best Band

Afro Celt Sound System
Fairport Convention
Harp And A Monkey
Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band
Merry Hell


Best Live Act

The James Brothers
Robb Johnson and the My Best Regards Band
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Mad Dog Mcrea
Megson


Best Album

Tall Tales & Rumours – Luke Jackson
Ballads Of The Broken Few – Seth Lakeman/Wildwood Kin
Preternatural – Moulettes
Somewhere Between – Steve Pledger
Dodgy Bastards – Steeleye Span


Best Musician

Ciaran Algar
Phil Beer
Rachel Newton
Gill Sandell
Kathryn Tickell


Rising Star Act

The Brewer’s Daughter
Hattie Briggs
Said The Maiden
Sunjay
Emily Mae Winters


Best International Act

Applewood Road
The Bills
David Francey
Michael McDermott
Eve Selis


Public Vote

The public vote closed Midday Saturday 22 April 2017 and the winners have now been announced HERE


If you would like to consider ordering a copy of an album for any of our award winners (in CD or Vinyl), download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected songs (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above.

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

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/

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

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

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