Talking Music: Tom Robinson Discusses 40 Years of TRB
“It’s a fairly life changing event when you have that break through record.,” Tom Robinson tells Andy Howells, “It takes you from nowhere to somewhere. Even if you only have 15 minutes of fame you never go quite back to the same place you were when it happened.”
The singer-songwriter is recalling the events of October 1977, when his debut single 2-4-6-8 Motorway stormed the UK charts and became one of the landmark punk era hits. He’ll be revisiting the track as well as his landmark song Glad to Be Gay and the album Power to The Darkness when he plays a special 40th anniversary concert at Cardiff Globe on October 10.
“That was a pivotal moment in my life. Punk happened, the TRB (Tom Robinson Band) was formed and that record emerged. I always give thanks for it but to find out that its 40 years ago, that is a bit mind blowing really.”
Born in Cambridge in 1950, Tom came to prominence in 1977 as a musician and LGBT activist with the TRB who were early supporters of Rock Against Racism and Amnesty International. Tom, who discovered he was gay at the age of 13 had struggled growing up in an era when homosexuality wasn’t as readily accepted and until 1967 still deemed illegal, however, the punk movement would change all that when his song Glad to Be Gay was released on an EP in 1978.
“I saw a Sex Pistols gig and thought well what have I got that can match Anarchy in the UK?” recalls Tom, “Nothing much but I can sing Glad to Be Gay which is a kind of jazzy cabaret singalong thing and it’s still in its way every bit incendiary, I’d been throwing it into the live set and people didn’t bottle us off the stage which was amazing and wonderful and we started doing it everywhere we went.”
Glad to Be Gay became equally as anthemic as Tom’s debut hit and more success followed with the release of TRB’s debut album Power in The Darkness which went gold in the UK and Japan.
Tom, however didn’t respond to well to the success “I’d had a disturbed and unhappy childhood and when I set out into the music industry to try and make a name for myself I was desperate to become famous. I thought winning the love of a crowd of people would validate me and make me alright but then that’s a very dangerous game to play. I had a second nervous breakdown at the age of 30 and spent ten years in psychotherapy and it totally saved me. People don’t talk about the fragility of mental health, there’s so little talked about it. There’s so much help available now from helplines, counselling and places you can go to, to take the pressure off, which we didn’t have back in the 60s, it’s important to get help because it’s there and I’m here to say it works.”
Tom, thankfully made a return to recording and in the 80s began broadcasting a variety of shows across the BBC Radio network. Today he is well known for giving new artists and bands exposure on his BBC introducing shows. Its success, he insists is down to the local radio presenters across the country including those here in Wales.
“I rely on people like Adam Walton and Bethan Elfyn to send me stuff,” says Tom, “I mean Wales punches far above its weight as far as population and the amount of great music that comes out of it. It’s great to be able to bring that stuff to a wider audience.”
Tom is pleased to be making his own mark on the land of song, as his Cardiff date will be the first headlining show since the 1990s.
“The idea of this tour is to give something to the people who remember the original TRB of 40 years ago,” he’s says, “the ones that say, “I wish I’d seen that band at its height from 78”
Although it’s been 4 decades since we first heard those initial hit singles Tom is glad to be revisiting them. He concludes “It feels just like coming home it’s great to reinhabit those songs, the only difficulty is I’m that much older. When your 67 rather than 27 its harder to play them at that tempo and to reach the high notes but I’m confident, I’m going to do it.”
- For ticket details visit globecardiffmusic.com