on 18 November 2013
My Gran had three young Uncles; Harry, Wilf and Arthur. They were all killed in the trenches within twelve months, in the last year of the First War. Gran's older sister, Alice kept their photographs in an old shoe box, young smiling men in uniform. Now and again when I was growing, she brought the photos out to show me and she cried, "The poor lads" she'd say. Auntie Alice died when she was 95 in 2010. Just before that she showed me the photos for one last time and she was still weeping about "them poor lads." Auntie Alice never married, once when I asked her why, she told me that "there were no nice men left after the war." I mention this story because this incredibly poignant suite of music has set me off thinking about the photos, the dates and the names all over again. The songs on these cd's have made me ponder on what is all about. It's about society, community, about family and friends. Everyone of us has a Wilf, a Harry, a Arthur or in the case of Robb Johnson's family a "Ern" and a Henry. We all have an Alice who mourned them or an Elsie who waited for them to come home. These beautifully sung compositions are original, yet familiar, like the hymns we all mumbled at school or the music hall songs that we heared our grandparents sing as they pegged out washing or made their way home from working mens clubs. There are songs here about the tots of rum that made you brave, countrymen caring for their horses and the sweetness of woodbines. There are tunes about the bloody sergeant major, the mud , the dugouts, the futility, the s*** and the slaughter. We meet sweethearts who have waved goodbye at the station and see the bloody medals they give you for surviving. My favourite songs today are "Noni and his golden serenaders" about finding solace in the music of the dance band and "Silence of the Salient" where Harry and Ern meet at a family wedding long after the war and talk after every one has gone about absent friends, it's a song that will make you cry, yet it will do you good to listen to it. I knew an old man called "Fatty" Millard, a veteran of Gallipoli, he used to walk on two sticks to visit his daughter on the coal board estate round the corner from where I grew up. "Fatty" wrote a poem after he came home about what he saw, he had it printed on a card and sold these cards for a shilling apiece in the clubs and pubs round our way, even as late as the 1960's. He wanted people to remember their own history. I guess that Robb Johnson is doing the same thing with this brilliant piece of work.
on 22 April 2006
These are loving intimate portraits of two men caught up in World War 1 and how it influenced the rest of their lives. These were the issues that many, like my grandfather, never really talked especially, as in the words of Ian Campbell's 'The Old Man's Tale', they effectively lived lives that were 'one long bloody war'; given the mass unemployment of the Depression and WW2, amongst other things, which they endured.
Just like many today these were ordinary men whose ability/freedom to live an ordinary life was lost due to local, national and world politics.
This is intimate and moving music. There are no highlights to be pointed out because I think it has to be experienced as a whole - like life. This is a strongly personal tribute but it stands out and should be better known because this is, and I can't avoid a cliche here, real music about real folk. In effect what music is, and always has been about, within the tradition. In that respect this is also music which probably relates to any century and any country.
on 18 January 2015
The reviewer who said "Be patient and listen carefully" got it spot on.
I am a new Robb Johnson fan, and I've been amazed how he has passed beneath my personal music radar all this time. I've been busy catching up with his albums and the large body of stuff on YouTube. Of course, I had to add this album to the collection, but on first listening (despite also being a Roy Bailey fan) I wondered what I'd bought. It was only second time around, a few days later, and then from every listen since, that this piece of work has really grabbed me.
Do buy it!
on 12 December 2013
Robb Johnson's updated version of the family history chronicling his two grandfather's involvement in the first world war and it's aftermath is at times touching, angry and occasionally funny. Roy Bailey reprises his part as Harry and Ernie from the earlier and long deleted version and his older voice really highlights the suffering that men at the front line had to endure. Barb Jungr's wonderfully expressive singing also adds an extra dimension to the women's voices. The accompanying music is at times jaunty but somehow totally appropriate. There are stand out songs (Dead Man's Pennies and The Silence of the Salient for example) but it as a whole that the experience really hangs together.
The book that accompanies is printed on high quality paper and crammed with photos and memories. All in all an excellent production.
Buy this but even better get out to see a live performance if you can. Is it better than the original? Impossible to say but it is different and with the centenary of the outbreak of the great war almost upon us totally relevant