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ROBB JOHNSON  - Ordinary Giants  

ROBB JOHNSON - Ordinary Giants  
Irregular Records IRR223 

This is an astonishing and staggering piece of work that must have taken months to achieve. Ordinary Giants chronicles the life and times of an ordinary or perhaps extraordinary London family, the Johnson’s, from 1918 until 2018. The release of the triple CD in November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the Armistice and the 70th birthday of the National Health Service. There are few memorable songs in the collection, but all are fit for purpose, in as much as the words do what they say on the tin; the aim of the work is to reflect each specific decade, from a political or personal family perspective, of the working man or woman. The tunes are frequently derivative, a pastiche and homage to popular music of a bygone era e.g. Here Comes Mr Gandhi reminded me of George Formby’s When I’m Cleaning Windows.

There are 35 contributing artists and several additional choirs. With such a large musical base, the range and scope of the work is vast. The array of styles is diverse throughout: a single voice, either sung or spoken, duos and choral numbers. The accompaniment is equally rich in variety: from simple guitar to a jazzy, palm orchestra style delivery. Whilst an extraordinary achievement, I felt I was listening to a ‘songs from the shows’ soundtrack (although in this case, apparently, there isn’t a script to go with it). Within the form of a modern political musical, much in the style of something Joan Littlewood and her Theatre Workshop might have produced, Ordinary Giants works very well indeed, but as a stand-alone musical offering, I am less convinced. Robb Johnson’s previous ‘song suite’, Gentle Men received widespread critical acclaim, so maybe I’m alone.

John Oke Bartlett

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This album was reviewed in Issue 128 of The Living Tradition magazine.