Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tom Robinson

5 August 2014

I'm a little too young to remember Tom Robinson's first 15 minutes of fame - in 1978 when the BBC banned his song 'Glad to be Gay' - and, although I do recall his second moment in the sun (the 1982 hit 'War Baby'), I didn't really discover Tom Robinson until much later. I think it was around 1994 when we went to see him performing at the South Holland Centre in Spalding. By then there was no Tom Robinson Band, just Tom himself handing out promotional postcards before the show, acting as the support group and providing his own backing vocals. But we were impressed - by his musicality, his storytelling, his songwriting and his political passion - and we joined his fan club (The Castaway Club) and saw him perform many times across the country over the next few years. In 1996 he was joined by the brilliant young guitarist Adam Philips (then a painfully shy twenty-something) and we saw them try out material for the 'Having it Both Ways' album. I think the last time we saw Tom Robinson live was at The Stables in Wavendon in about 2001, where he was supported by a young Mancunian singer/songwriter Lee Griffiths. Then Tom Robinson was recruited as a regular presenter on the new BBC digital radio station 6 Music and he decided to stop touring. So it was wonderful to have the chance to see him perform a rare one-off gig at the Jazz Cafe in Camden last Friday. After getting "the six songs of mine you've probably heard of" out of the way at the start (including songs he wrote with Peter Gabriel and the inevitable "medley of my greatest hit" - '2-4-6-8 Motorway') this was a performance that focussed on more obscure songs from his extensive back-catalogue requested by fans on his Facebook page. It felt great to step back in time, rediscovering what we had always liked about Tom and being reunited with some long-forgotten songs. We had been prepared for the fact that he would be looking older than we remembered him (which he was) but it was more of a shock recognising the older versions of Adam Philips and Lee Griffiths in his backing band. Tom Robinson has always generously supported emerging young artists - through his live concerts and latterly through his 6 Music show - and we enjoyed hearing the young support band, from Derry/Londonderry, 'Best Boy Grip' (in London to record a set for Tom's radio show). But this was a celebration of the career of Tom Robinson - a great performer and an intelligent and accomplished songwriter.

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