Here’s some real Robb’n’Roll… from he who himself dubs it “postpunkrocksingersongwriter, with influences from & references to folk, blues, music hall”. The rousing litany of your “starter for ten” title number sure gets you in the mood, as good old Uncle Robb and his crack band of Irregulars (John Forrester, Linze Maesterosa, Roger Stevens and RJ’s 15-year-old son Arvin) storm in full-throttle on a chunky wall of sound.
But wait – they crank up the ante even louder and prouder on the seriously magnificent six-minute Autumn Song, this totally brill observation coming complete with a boxer of a chant refrain that hits you between the eyes even before the verse starts up; powerhouse delivery with thumping beat, lively leccie guitar solo, honky sax – yeah, this one’s got it all. Cascading nifty pub-piano arpeggios from Irregular Roger Stevens usher in North By Northeast, the ebb-and-flow of Robb’s lyric conjuring Tyneside’s “rivers of darkness and bridges of light” in glorious technicolor. An arguably more familiar side of Robb comes to the fore on Yellow House, a reflective retelling of Van Gogh’s biog, while The Rose And Crown constitutes another entry in Robb’s continuing series of affectionate slice-of-life observational vignettes replete with knowing local references (this one’s in deepest Walthamstow) – thank god for the beer and rock’n’roll! Big Man Waiting For His Train, a “tribute to a good friend gone” (this being Roy Chuter, poet/football activist/landlord), is a janglesome electric chanson featuring Attila The Stockbroker guesting on aromatic violin, and final track The Magic Tonight is a rolling, ostensibly convivial end-of-gig hug in praise of the people’s music and culture (for all that carries reservations, and a salutary warning, when it’s appropriated by the upper classes!). And there’s no way I’d finish this review without honourable mention of the seriously epic perspectives of Ghost Dance, a recent history of the working class inspired by Dave Douglass’s book of that name chronicling the 1984 miners’ strike, whose pub-piano-waltzing Gentle Men are swept away by the vicious, heartless tide of history and “progress” with its “crusts and crumbs and mumbo jumbo”.
This disc is stuffed with standout songs in standout performances – for Robb’s never sung better and his merry band are right there with him! The stunningly direct, positive live feel of the album commands maximum respect, not least for its driven, joyful spontaneity, and, when played at full volume especially, is fabulously resplendent in its punchy detail and all that glory. It really does sound that good!
Oh, and by the way, there’s another four tracks recorded at the same sessions; two available on the original Kickstarter disc and the other (cheerier) pair on a special Record Store Day 7” single. Details on Robb’s website www.robbjohnson.co.uk
Review by: David Kidman