Robb Johnson has worked as a classroom teacher by day and a songwriter by night since 1980. As a songwriter, he has received widespread critical acclaim: “one of this country’s most important songwriters (no argument!)” (fROOTS), “An English original”(the Guardian), “one of our best singer-songwriters ever” (Mike Harding), and his songs are covered by many singers. “Gentle Men”, Robb’s family history of World War One is a particular career highlight. In 2016, PM Press in the US released “A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands”, a 5 CD career-retrospective. In 2018 Robb released “Ordinary Giants”, a 3 CD song suite based on his father’s life and times – the 1930s, the fight against fascism, the creation of the post-war Welfare State and the reaction of Neo-liberalism.
As a teacher Robb received widespread critical acclaim from the children and parents he worked with. From 1992 he has happily worked as an Early Years teacher. “You’re funny” remains one of his highest accolades. Robb was politically active not only as a songwriter but as an NUT union member. Highlights include a 1987 visit to East Berlin and a 1989 visit to Nicaragua, to make contact with the school his union association had twinned with, and to join in the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Revolution. Robb has been a school union rep and a local union executive committee member. In 2014 he was part of a campaign to oppose the back-door privatisation of a local secondary school – this was one of the first campaigns that successfully opposed academisation. He gave up teaching in 2015 in order to spend more time on education. In 2017 he was local union President, and now works as a part time consultant for the equalities Charity Persona Doll Training.
As well as songs and albums, Robb has written songbooks, edited a book of stories “Journeys Down Denbigh Road” for use with young children in school assemblies, edited” A Navigator’s Tale”, a book collecting his father’s WW2 memoir and poetry, and contributed regularly to the music magazine RNR.
Robb was born in 1955, studied English Lit at Sussex University, trained as a teacher then did an MA in English Literature at Manchester University. Otherwise he spent the first 50 years of his life in West London, in Hounslow and Southall, before moving to Hove at the start of 2006. He still supports Brentford FC however. He has been married to Meeta for 27 years. They have 2 sons, Hari and Arvin, and a cat called Ginger.
A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands: The Damage to Date 1986-2013
Artist: Robb Johnson
Publisher: PM Press
Format: 5x Audio CD and book
CD length and Page count: 390 minutes and 64 pages
The life and times (so far!) of the UK’s greatest living songwriter are captured in a deluxe box set. 92 songs, on 5 CDs with a 64-page booklet. A career retrospective traversing the acoustic and the electric, the agit-folk and the chanson, the greatest hits and a welter of unreleased material.
“So—yeah, this collection does have quite a lot of politics and protest, lots of songs doing what folk song is supposed to do – provide an alternative ordinary person’s perspective to the dominant culture’s hegemonic discourse, its spin and propagandising on behalf of the interests of the ruling class. But there are also interpersonal songs about relationships, about being a son, being a lover, being a dad (think I may not have had room for the ones about being a Brentford supporter), above all about being a human … what you have here is part journal, part diary, part testament.”
“An English original.”
“One of Britain’s most challenging songwriters.”
“A creator of some of the most potent songs of the last decade.”
“Britain’s finest songwriter since Richard Thompson.”
“His songs are incisive and clever and witty and you can sing them on your way to work.”
—Boff Whalley, Chumbawamba
No Gods No Masters: Live in Concert
Artists: Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson
Publisher: PM Press
Format: 2 x DVDs (NTSC)
Size: 7.5 x 5.5
Length: 250 minutes
In this glorious 2 DVD set, Britain’s finest living songwriters are captured live (on tour in Berkeley, CA), presenting two nights of their original songs, words, and inimitable performance.
Turning Silence into Song (Disc One) showcases a pair of career-spanning “greatest hits,“ with a suitable sprinkling of new and previously unreleased material. All introduced and contextualized with a large helping of trademark wit and dry irony.
The Liberty Tree (Disc Two) tells the story of Tom Paine’s extraordinary life, interweaving Paine’s own words, from his letters and the pamphlets which made him one of the most influential and dangerous writers of his age, with extracts from newspaper reports, diaries, letters, and other documents of the times. The songs of Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson add another dimension to the story, reflecting Paine’s radical ideas and evaluating them in the context of the 21st century. This unique blend of words and music challenges received opinion in the same way Paine’s writings did.
Together, herein you’ll find over four hours of the finest contemporary songs, stories, humor, and observation from the greatest practitioners of the craft.
“. . . some of the most literate and well-made topical songs now being written“
—The New York Times [on Leon Rosselson]
“Britain’s finest songwriter since Richard Thompson.“
—Venue [on Robb Johnson]
“A highly subversive pairing of two of the left’s most eloquent songwriters.“
The Liberty Tree: A Celebration Of The Life and Writings Of Thomas Paine
Authors/Musicians: Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson
Published: May 2010
Format: Double Audio CD with Booklet
Size: 5 by 5
Page count: 16
Subjects: Music-Folk, History
"When the rich plunder the poor of his rights, it becomes an example to the poor to plunder the rich of his property.” --Thomas Paine
The Liberty Tree tells the story of Tom Paine's extraordinary life, interweaving Paine's own words, from his letters and the pamphlets which made him one of the most influential and dangerous writers of his age, with extracts from newspaper reports, diaries, letters and other documents of the times. The songs of Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson add another dimension to the story, reflecting Paine's radical ideas and evaluating them in the context of the 21st century. This unique blend of words and music challenges received opinion in the same way Paine's writings did.
"A highly subversive pairing of two of the left's most eloquent songwriters."
--The Daily Telegraph
"Rosselson's songs are teeming with colorful characters, wonderfully descriptive passages and witty observations."
“Robb Johnson is Britain’s finest songwriter since Richard Thompson”
1. The Morning Star of the Revolution
2. The Roots of the Liberty Tree
3. The Idle Talker & Driniker at the White Hart Social Club, Lewes
4. The Editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine
5. Rosa's Lovely Daughters
6. Reflections on Unhappy Marriages
7. Don't Get Married Girls
9. Common Sense
10. The Wall That Stands Between
11. The Times That Try Men’s Souls
12. 3 Minute's Silence
13. The Right of Man Part I
14. Remembrance Day
15. The Old Construction
16. We All Said Stop the War
1. The Rights of Man Part 2
3. On Her Silver Jubilee
4. ‘Riots & Tumults’
5. Picking Up the Pieces
6. Wages & Rights
7. Oliver Twist
8. Countries That are Called Civilised
9. Palaces of Gold
10. High Treason
11. The Defect Lies in the System
12. Changing the Guard
13. Execution & War
14. The Terror
15. Citizen Pain
16. The Age of Reason
17. Stand Up For Judas
18. Applause & Abuse
19. The Life of a Libeller
20. Red & Green / The World Turned Upside Down
For a calendar of speaking events, please click here
- Philosophy Football reviews A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands
- FATEA reviews A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands
- No Depression Reviews The Liberty Tree
- The Liberty Tree on Against the Grain
- FAME Reviews The Liberty Tree
A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands: Reviewed
By Mark Perryman
April 8th, 2016
Robb Johnson comes from a slightly later era to Leon, though his beautifully packaged 5-CD box set A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands still manages to account for almost three decades of protest singing, 1986-2013. This is the era of Thatcher, the miners, Hillsborough, Stop the War and a whole lot more, the news via song and guitar. Yes it sounds old-fashioned but as a means to provide a collective response to all that is thrown our way, a sense of identity and belonging, and knowledge too Robb and Leon’s trade in verse and tunes has few rivals. Joe Solo is one of many now adding something new to this tradition. A musician-activist Joe’s new CD Never Be Defeated is what might once have been called by other artists a ‘concept album’. The difference lies in the kind of concepts Joe is interested in. Solidarity, community and resistance in the coalfields of South Yorkshire ’84-85.
A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands: Reviewed
By Adam Sheets
December 19, 2010
It's just half a dozen years since Uncle Robb celebrated his standing as one of the UK's leading writers of protest song with a copious four-disc box-set Margaret Thatcher - My Part In Her Downfall, which provided nothing less than a whistle-stop (or should I say whistle-blower's) tour through two decades of saying Stop The War - and so much more. It exhumed a generous assortment of obscure, limited-edition and/or wilfully unavailable releases, and enshrined them for posterity on CD format. But the "Thatch" set was but the tip of the iceberg of Robb's œuvre, not least in its concentration on just that one strand of his creativity. Now, as if to redress the balance and show that he's capable of writing so much more than a decent protest-song (or fifty!), Robb's lit the torch under the iceberg and put together this massive, magnificent five-disc "retrospective", after hearing which nobody with an ounce of sanity or right-thinking moral fibre can refuse to acknowledge the breadth of - and high degree of literacy in - his songwriting - not just in the realm of outright protest (while still recognising the place that agit-prop commands at the hard core of his output). It's become all too easy to forget just how many great (yes, I mean that!) songs Robb's written - and even this exhaustive new retrospective can barely scratch the surface of the work of this enviably prolific songwriter; but it's a salutary reminder for sure.
The Liberty Tree : Reviewed
By Adam Sheets
December 19, 2010
Thankfully Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson, two folk singers from Paine's home country of Great Britain are here to set the record straight with The Liberty Tree, an affecting mixture of music and the spoken word spread out over two discs, that serves as both a history lesson on Paine's life and work and a biting commentary on our present shortcomings. Much of the album consists of readings from Paine's best works tied together with a brisk repeated melody detailing his life from England to America to France where he took part in the French Revolution and, finally, back to America. In addition there are also 13 songs, adorned simply with acoustic guitars, dealing with our modern society. Whether these are supposed to be seen as the 21st century voice of Thomas Paine or simply a contrast to Paine's ideals is never clear, but, regardless, these are some of the best topical songs I've heard in years.
The Liberty Tree on Against the Grain
Against the Grain
October 19, 2010
Historian Alan Taylor talks about Paine's life, his political convictions, and Common Sense, which Taylor calls the most powerful and pivotal pamphlet in US history. Also, Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson have created an audio celebration of Paine's life and words.
FAME Reviews The Liberty Tree: A Celebration of the Life & Writings of Thomas Paine
by Mark S. Tucker
written for Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
The bourgeois/royalist slant in the read sentiments regarding Paine are amusing as hell, perfectly reflecting the standard outraged indignation of the Right wing that occurs whenever place and privilege are questioned, regardless of age and epoch. Our two agitators deliver short speeches and song in grassroots style while mocking by inflection and praising through admiration. I guarantee you'll hear historic materials you've never run across otherwise unless you're an academic, and you'll also receive an authentic period flavor in all the bardic sonorities. Leon Rosselson has been lauded by the N.Y. Times for his literate topicality and Robb Johnson has been called one for the finest songwriters since Richard Thompson. This is not light praise.