Tom Robinson Interview

Racism, homophobia and intolerance: Key topics that blighted 1970s Britain, topics that were brought to the forefront of the national psyche by powerful punk catalysts that fed on a rising tidal wave of teenage angst and want of change.

Part of that movement were the Tom Robinson Band, named after their lead singer they were propped firmly alongside the likes of The Clash and Buzzcocks after their song 2468 Motorway reached number one in 1977.
The band played Glasgow’s King Tuts on October 29th, in their penultimate gig in the 2468 Motorway 40th anniversary tour that has seen Robinson and his new band play the iconic Power in the Darkness album in its entirety. Robinson spoke of his feeling for the tour so far:    

“I don’t think as a band we ever played the Power in the Darkness album all the way through so it’s been quite interesting going back and re-inhabiting those songs from 40 years ago and just feel the intensity of that. I’ve tried to stay clear of the whole nostalgia thing for the last 40 years and it’s only really after releasing an album of my own in 2015, that did really well, that I’ve felt kind of empowered to go back and do the nostalgia thing without feeling compromised.”

Robinson’s 2015 album, Only The Now, expanded on his political nuance and featured like-minded activists including Billy Bragg and actor Ian McKellen.

What scares Robinson is the familiarity of the situation that faces us in 2017, his writing has not changed much and he believes that is a reflection of where the world is:  

“To be honest I’ve been writing about exactly the same bloody thing, that’s what terrifying, going back to it is. How far the pendulum has gone back a swing in that intervening time, in the 90s we rather thought that the world was actually gradually getting better. Then we have seen this slide from the beginning of the noughties politically speaking and then the reversal in the last two or three years have been chilling. The same issues of tolerance, democracy, fairness, racism and homophobia are still alive.”

Glasgow itself is a city that has always prided itself on LGBT rights as well as being anti-racism; Nelson Mandela Place is a testament to that. Robinson is looking forward to playing at King Tut’s:

“From the first moment I set foot on that 15ft stage at the Glasgow Apollo, a terrifying stage and terrifying audience, as the support act for Barkley James Harvest in 1975, the audience looked at us for two minutes and said yeah they’re all right, ever since then I’ve had this wonderful relationship with the audience.”

Alongside his own musical endeavours, Robinson has been a broadcaster for many years. He is best known for presenting the Radio 6 introducing show, a role that gives him access to a plethora of new music. In a year that has been particularly bad for bands, leaving a generation wishing they had been born in a different decade, he believes that charts have always brought out the mundane:

“You know what, I don’t think there ever was, people of any age bang on about the golden age of music and it all depends on how old they are and how selective their memory is. If you go back and look at what the charts were like there was a load of terrible old shite in there. There really was, every generation has had its awful pop music with the good bits mixed in, there was some terrible old shit in the 60s.”

With technology constantly advancing, it has made accessing music easier than ever, Robinson’s job is to sort the wheat from the chaff:

“Man it’s just hard because the sheer quantity of music being made is just enormous, the means of production have been democratised which is great, and people who want to do something creative can do it.  I get at least 200 tracks a week, you don’t want landfill indie or some bog-standard piano botherer warbling on about man’s inhumanity to man, you want someone that can really push the envelope.”

As more people produce and music progresses it naturally makes it harder to find something that takes an instrument or genre to another level, but there is no shortage according to Robinson:

“There’s a guy this week that I’m playing this coming Monday called Solitaire, terrible pun, but you think you’ve heard everything that one man and a guitar can do, from your Jake Bugg’s to your Ed Sheerans, singer songwriter acoustic guitar oh my god. Then along comes this person that blows your mind, with the depth, range and richness of what he does and sheer instrumental virtuosity combined with sonic innovation. With a great quality of songwriting mixed in, as soon as it came on the speaker I was like whoa this is what you live for. Those moments when someone is doing something fresh, new, uniquely their own. Thank god we get enough of them and that’s who we try and support.”

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