Leo Robinson’s ‘The Temple’ has been garnering understandable comparisons to Richard Dawson. While Dawson is an almost unique presence in the music scene, there are elements to Robinson’s work that justify the link. They both take elements of folk music, especially the mythology, and turn it into a whole that merges the past with contemporary and futuristic visions.  While they both have appealingly wonky voices, Robinson’s is less ragged than Dawson’s and his work does not include any of the abrasive guitar work that peppered some of Dawson’s releases.

His debut album for PRAH Recordings, ‘The Temple’, sees the protagonist embark on an idiosyncratic version of a Jungian “Hero’s Journey”. The record commences with the thirty-one second title track, an all-too brief enchanting snatch of a lush string quartet. It is followed by the first single released from the album, ‘The Serpent’, which is one of Robinson’s most beguiling compositions with its mix of flute, cello, French horn and harpsichord, namechecking Jesus and the queen creating a feel of biblical reenactment in its tale of temptation.

‘The Pavement was written the day after the Arena bombing when Robinson was still a Manchester resident and found that his street had been blocked off for terrorism investigations. As he covers the remainder of a surreal day in which he has been “working like a pig… sweating like a dog”, his vocals go awry to a soundtrack of delicate picking and distressed violin.

‘The Wintering’ moves away from a contemporary setting with references to a black-eyed son, fetching wood and the knitting district where the battle was won while Robinson is accompanied by resonant strings, enticing flute and backing vocals. In contrast, ‘The Pink Light’ shifts the sound palette with the air of an avant-garde jazz combo, cello strings being plucked while the keys that wind down the track have a freak folk feel. To strummed guitar on ‘The Dunes’, Robinson bemoans that “the crowd kept on listening when I had no tales to tell” before female backing vocalists sing “I have no fish to sell” and a drone breaks in.

After the short instrumental, ‘The Distance’, which mixes mournful horn and cello with militaristic drums, ‘The Cormorant’ offers tales of cats swallowing moorhens and a ten-ton heron to intricate guitar work, gorgeous weaving strings and creaking floorboards. ‘The Temple II’ is especially atmospheric, starting with church bells before the Social Singing Choir add their wordless choral vocals, then fading out leaving the ominous chiming of bells and percussion.

The album concludes with by far its longest track at a shade under seven minutes, ‘The Spring’ which starts slowly with Robinson’s voice sounding especially wayward. Introducing a piano line and finger clicking as he sings the refrain “I’m just a bug in the sand, I’m just an arm and a leg” the song gains direction before fading into freeform jazz atmospherics. It does typify ‘The Temple’ in having moments of expansive wonder that make up for the occasional tracks that drift.

Leo Robinson: The Temple – Out 27th October 2023 (PRAH Recordings)

Robinson – The Serpent – YouTube

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.