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Between 1979 and 1983, Merseyside's Dean Johnson was a prolific figure in the cassette culture scene. He released over 30 albums and became a favourite of the tape-collectors’ fanzines.

A recent article in Record Collector looked back fondly on the ‘cassette pets’ era and featured Johnson in the Top 20 most sought-after tapes. It was a timely reminder for Dean, who still produces and distributes his music from home.

When the fad died out, he graduated to proper studio recordings, and later embraced the age of the compact disc. A further 16 albums followed, the pinnacle of which was ‘Loser Friendly’, a fortuitous pairing with erstwhile OMD drummer Mal Holmes.

As well as performing on the album Holmes issued it on his pioneering internet label Fin Music, on a minuscule budget. Loser Friendly garnered reams of positive reviews; most appreciated the defiantly lo-fi approach, where charm and spontaneity made up for a lack of production values.

If that epoch-defining album was delivered on a shoestring, then ‘Trailer Trax’ practically staggers barefoot. Like art imitating life, it finds the artist in seriously reduced circumstances, following an extreme bout of what Johnson refers to as ‘singer/songwriter syndrome’, and temporally indisposed from his domestic abode.

What Dean called home during this period, was a derelict caravan on the edge of a Shropshire canal. The enforced solitude and emotional upheaval inspired a slew of lovelorn meditations on his newly-acquired solitary existence.

Recorded on a hand-held Sony voice recorder in single takes, with ‘Degrees Of Happiness’ and ‘Back In The Day’, it surprisingly produced some of his most upbeat material for years, whilst ‘Swallows’ and ‘Complicated’ reflect on the fallout from the domestic drama. There is even a classic from the LA Troubadour Club school in Not The Ones’.

Now happily reinstated in the family dome, the album also reunites Dean with Mal Holmes, who undertook post-production duties. It’s released on his reactivated Fin Music label.

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So far during the commemorations of the Centenary of World War I, the arts and the media have rightfully looked back with a defined clarity as stark as the images of the Great War itself.  

Declared the war to end all wars, it instead spawned another. Reflecting on the price paid then and asked of by soldiers now, Dean Johnson's composition ‘The Last Soldier’ is a plea for peace, a hushed Utopian anthem as naive as it is sincere. 

It echoes the gentle homespun rhetoric of the 1960s peace movement (Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs etc.), and partly inspired by a poster popular at the time that exclaimed ‘What if they held a war and nobody came?’ it adorned many a smoke-filled university common room.  

The song’s lyrics depict soldiers laying down their arms and taking down their flags, not in surrender but in a victory of compassion over combat. The Last Soldier's lyrical stanza, “I was only dreaming, but I hope one day we'll see”, almost paraphrases Dean's fellow Merseyside hero in the “You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one”, of Lennon’s Imagine

In an attempt to achieve the most credible voice and tone for the song's recording, the session was captured ‘live’ in one single take on a restored ‘Make Your Own Record’ recording booth vending machine that had once been situated at Liverpool's Lime Street Station in the 1960s.  

Dean choose a nylon string guitar from the same era to accompany himself, whilst also utilising the strains of a vintage German Hohner harmonica, which was popular on both sides of the trenches in WW1 during rare moments of calm. 

Dean Johnson burst onto the folk scene in the late 1970s. Guitar legend Richard Thompson was an early champion of Dean's songwriting and performing skills. A popular opening act for the cream of the Folk circuit, including Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick and Gordon Giltrap, decades later Dean would become hard drinking genius John Martyn's support act on his final tours. When the new generation of folkies arrived, Kathryn Tickell and Seth Lakeman requested Dean's services to open their shows.  

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