Hard On the Heart But Still Telling It Like It Is
I can only apologise to everyone associated with this album, as I somehow managed to download it then upload it to my phone, then play it over and over again during some very acrimonious Pay Talks at my day job …. while somehow not adding it to the Reviews Spreadsheet!
Better late than ever.
Robb is an old-fashioned singer-songwriter with no real pretentions’ of headlining Glastonbury; being more or less happy to ply his trade in Folk Clubs, Union Halls and the more intimate Festivals on the circuit; and the world is certainly the better for having him and his observations in it.
The opening track Fiddler In The Rain is deceptively lovely; starting as it does with:
“Look there’s a child who holds a rainbow
Who walks at her mother’s side.”
The story unravels quite literally and it’s somehow darkly beautiful as Robb describes the of a Comrade’s funeral cortege led by said Fiddler in the Rain ….. which eventually leads to a recording of Lorraine Tillbrook leading a parade of 6 key workers at that years Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival while the crowds clap.
This is followed by Last Night of The Proms; which should make everyone who actually hears it blood angry.
Being a songwriter of some repute Johnson manages to shoehorn in some very relevant topics post-Brexit into a story revolving around the most British of institutions; The Last Night of the Proms in a way I never thought possible; and the chorus (if you can call it that) should certainly make you ‘think.’
“The Tories outlawed Robin Hood
and cut down 100 Acre Wood
then closed down British Industry
so let’s all blame some refugees.”
It would be nice to think Ed Sheeran or Adele might cover this at some time.
The cool thing about Johnson’s songs are that there’s often a delightful shaft of light somewhere to counteract the darkness of his Political rants (no matter how deserved); which is where My Quiet Flame and My Very Best of Friends come into the equation; and of course the entirely fabulous Great Aunt Gladys, which begins with the twittering of some birds before Robb tells this wonderful woman’s story; starting at the end of WWI and ending many years later after a lifetime fighting for not just her own rights; but the rights of people who didn’t even know they had rights.
When I write my reviews I genuinely wonder if anyone ever actually buys the CD because of my prose; and here I presume Robb’s fans will buy this anyway regardless of a review on t’internet; but I really, really hope at least one person goes crazy and parts with £10 because then they will get to hear the likes of the tragically beautiful Sister Reynardine and the prescient and heartbreaking Hartlepool Asda, Saturday Morning.
Then there’s two other songs that not just made my blood boil; but made me proud that there’s still someone out there carrying on Woody Guthrie’s tradition …… first there’s the powerful ode to the Battle of Orgreave during the minor English Civil War, which was the Miners’ strike in 1984 ….. This Is Your History; but the history that is taught at the tea table across the North; but not in their schools.
This is followed by the contemporary Minimum Wages; which was a song that helped me get through those angry weeks of the pay negotiations; which we won but it was a hollow victory, as the pay rise only gives many of us coppers over said Minimum Wages ….. and Robb Johnson manages to cut through the fog we are all smothered in with his razor sharp observations.
While primarily a solo artist; Robb is joined her by a variety of musician friends who add their talents on Flugelhorn, Fiddle, Accordion, piano and of course an assortment of wonderful harmonies too.
OK these songs are as generally as hard on the heart as they are on the ear; but howway man; 2021 hasn’t been a barrel of laughs; has it?
Somebody had to tell it like it is ….. and with Billy Bragg no longer being that man/person ; we must now look to Robb Johnson.
Released October 2021
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