The Triumph of Hope over Experience, Robb Johnson

Submitted by on 18 March, 2003 - 12:00

Anyone on the UK left who hasn't encountered Robb Johnson, at a benefit, singing on a demo, or otherwise providing a vocal harmony to the rythms of the class struggle, is clearly missing out - and even the Daily Telegraph thinks so. The bosses' rag recently called Johnson "one of Britain's most challenging songwriters", challenging in this case being a grudging recognition of the force and clarity of Robb's writing.

His songs have been recorded by the 'folk establishment', from Barb Jungr to Roy Bailey, yet Johnson himself remains strangely low-key and unknown outside a small, select, circle. Still teaching part-time (and primary education remains a source of inspiration, both the children and the bureaucratic dictats) Johnson seems determined to resist turning protest songs into a kind of alternative career.

The latest album, like his previous catalogue, is by no means a dreary manifesto - Johnson's full range of experience and interests are represented. Whether supporting lowly Brentford, translating French literature, or musing on the ups and downs of an offbeat musical profession, Johnson's view is original and rarely bitter or cynical.

But the politics is always there. He recently re-released a 'best of' compilation, naming it, somewhat ironically, "Margaret Thatcher - my part in her downfall", and the latest collection features a acidic
tribute to General Pinochet. But most of all, it's Johnson's hope and faith in workers and the 'little people' to transform society that makes his music indispensable.

Readers should also check out Robb's 'Stop the War' on the Robb Johnson website (, as well as 'Stand Clear' - a beautifully-judged essay on the everyday ebbs and flows of class struggle.

Score: 10/10
Reviewer: Nick

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