Robb Johnson: The Politcally Inspired Singer Songwriter

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I first heard Robb Johnson after I went to Whitehawk’s draw with Boreham Wood in early March. We were driving around Dorking, in our Hawks scarves, and went atop to Leith Hill to reflect on the game and have a few beers. As we came back down, through the ancient forests which line it’s descent, Mick Foote – who was in control of the radio – put on Know Your Place by Robb Johnson. The topography, company and of course the song, finished off the perfect day.

Since that moment it was only right that we caught up with one of Britain’s most underrated singer-songwriters: Robb Johnson. He is known as a legend in the folk music scene and sings – in witty tales, and in an hilarious manner – songs about history, politics and of everyday happenings. In a world where bootless bores like Harry Styles and other melodramatic nutcases like Katy Perry can get worldwide stardom, Robb Johnson is a prime example of a singer-songwriter who makes you remember music can be real. Comical songs about how ‘yucky’ Michael Gove is and about how ridiculous Vinne Jones acting career is, shows another side to music we don’t often see: and one which is entirely charming and funny.

As well as being a musician, Robb is also massive fan of Championship high-flyers Brentford. He takes a trip down memory lane and tells us about why he started supporting the Bees: “I suppose it’s not just my mates but the Brentford crowd in general which was composed of people I felt a sense of West London community with”, he recounts. “There’s a pub on every corner, it’s right in the middle of Brentford, and it has added to my sentimental attachment to the club. If you are going to watch your side give away not one, but two goals after a first half one-nil lead. Then, thereafter, have two opposing players sent off, and spend the last twenty minutes doing the same feeble tactic that didn’t work the first ten times they tried scoring a goal with it – as happened last Saturday – you need at least to be enduring this is an environment that does its best to negate your suffering with nice pubs nearby.”

I agree with Robb, a decent pub is often paramount before and after the match. Down at Whitehawk we are lucky enough to have the fantastic Prince Albert to bemoan, celebrate and jabber about Jake Robinson in. Indeed, it is here where Robb Johnson is doing his album launch on 28th March. Reflecting on the album Johnson admits: “I have to say that although this album started off with a fairly negative frame of mind, we are all really chuffed to bits with the result. Unlike a lot of previous albums, I was quite rigorous in paring down the number of songs on the album too.”

On his new album Robb Johnson is again joined by his backing band The Irregulars, and on this album the musicians combine to create a much more loud sound than his previous  – stripped-down protest balladry album – ‘Us & Them’. “I think sometimes tracks get lost when you have an album with umpteen tracks on it” Johnson argues. “So I wanted something that would be a cohesive whole, where every track got heard and I wanted to release it primarily as if it was a vinyl album. So it’s got eight songs on it – but then so have ‘Born To Run’ & ‘White Light White Heat’.”

Robb’s music has often been labelled as ‘protest music’. Despite it being quite evident that Robb’s lyrics are political, journalists are often too quick to come to this conclusion. The label is often a result of ploddingly lazy music journalism as his music, of course, has so much more depth to it than just that.

Johnson does see the importance of the genre, however. “I always think that the reason the media now like to spend so much time telling us that ‘protest’ music and ‘political’ songs don’t exist anymore, is that they are actually quite powerful ways to transmit ideas, and alternative narratives, to the media’s mediation of events. It will be interesting to see what people make of my new album. It does have a song that is obviously an attempt to write a seven minute recent history of the working class.”  At a time when towns up and down the country are becoming more gentrified – a song like that could be telling.

His political commentary runs into his assessment on the modern game which – like so many of us – he feels slightly bewildered by. “In many respects football now seems to be not so much a cheery Saturday afternoon of 90 minutes, but an omnipresent and all pervasive highly commercialised substitute industrialised religion.  I do find it hard to believe the level of photoshoppery nonsense on Sky Sports. All this digital trafficking seems to want to pretend it’s ‘300’ in modern dress; and the pointless pontificating reminds me of those pointless pontifications the Church used to indulge in, over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. Total bollocks.”

There lies the greatness with Robb. His unashamed passion of pointing out the important controversies and circumstances, but doing it in a way that is always amusing and comical. We wish him the best of luck with his new album, and of course with the rest of his season with Brentford. You are welcome down the Hawks any time, mate.

Get this article in print at the end of this month in The Din Monthly.

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