- 22 Apr 01
After more than 20 albums TOM ROBINSON is still campaigning, but, as he tells PATRICK BRENNAN he is more likely to be on the web than a demonstration.
"At the moment I tend to sit in front of a computer screen a lot and observe wave forms that represent the backing track to a new song." Things have changed quite a bit since Tom Robinson emerged onto the music scene in 1978 with guitars blazing and the seminal Power In The Darkness album under his militant left-wing arm. Robinson, though, has never been one to fear change.
One of the most surprising things about the man's last studio album, Having It Both Ways, was the return of the polemic of his “new wave for people who don't like new wave” era.
Way back when, Robinson's first two long playing records were unashamedly political, stamped largely with a capital ‘S’ for Socialism. A lot of isms have died a death since then. Nevertheless, issues of equality and justice are still basic to Tom's world view.
“When you look back it's not so much the rightness or justice of what you did, but rather how effective it was. I was very proud of my involvement in the Rock Against Racism movement. At its best it drove a simple message into the heart of the problem in Britain.
“At its worst, however, it became a little like an elitist club for musically cool social workers,” elaborates Tom. “If you live by a fad then you die by the fad. The mistake was human rights questions were turned into a fashion.”
Almost 20 albums since those adrenaline-fuelled, idealistic days, Robinson has last none of his passion for politics, especially those of the sexual and personal variety. He currently campaigns actively to raise awareness about bisexuality.
“I got fed up of 10 years of explaining how a gay man could fall in love with a woman,” says the father of two kids, a boy and a girl. “At one point the idea of bisexuality seemed to almost threaten homosexuality as much as heterosexuality.
“The word ‘gay’ was always meant to embody that whole spectrum of activity that wasn't heterosexual,” explains Tom. “It was everything from vanilla to transexuality to S & M.” Robinson realised that he couldn't spend the rest of his life doing re-writes of his classic liberation anthem ‘Glad To Be Gay’, deciding it was more radical to write with greater subtlety about the world from a gay man's point of view.
“When I was young and listening to music love songs were always about ‘somefuckerelse’,” he suggests. “Then I heard tunes like David Bowie's ‘Bewley Brothers’ and ‘Lady Stardust’ and at last I found something that spoke intimately to my own experience. I hope that's what I'm doing now.”
Robinson admits that he's a slow song writer. When he's on the road he doesn't compose at all. He gigs a lot to “keep the wolf at the door,” as he says himself. “At 10 in the morning I'm already getting keyed up for the show later that night. So, I can't do anything else. Besides, I like to ensure everything about the gig is right.”
Fittingly, for someone who has always enjoyed a dedicated following in Ireland, Robinson is the first performer who will grace the new luxurious rock venue Vicar Street set up by Harry Crosbie and Peter Aiken. Tom has heard only good things about the place and is looking forward to the occasion.
Meanwhile, in keeping with the technological theme, Robinson is an advocate of the internet. He has his own web-site and sells as many of his albums via e-mail as he does through record stores. As he explains, his latest live collection is also the record of a special event.
“A global network company Merlin Communications have their own satellite and world-wide transmission service. Recently, they had a day-long celebration of their achievements so far. This culminated in a live broadcast of a concert of mine from Abbey Road Studios.
“There was an invited audience. I hesitate to say that the most impressive aspect to the CD is the ‘sonic quality’ but it was a unique venture. The show was broadcast simultaneously on the BBC World Service short wave radio, satellite and as a web-cast. There isn't the slightest hiss on the end product.”
In the early 1990s Robinson presented a radio series on BBC Radio 4 called Men and Masculinity. Naturally, he's still interested in the whole area. He believes that masculinity and femininity are deeper than being merely cultural constructs.
“I’m sure all of this comes into my music,” concludes troubadour Tom. “But, to be honest, I don't think about it all that much. It's like Van Morrison says, the only thing you need to write a song is that you're compelled to do so.”
• Tom Robinson opens Vicar Street on Sunday August 30th. The album Live At Abbey Road is available through his website address, http://www.tomrobinson.com. email:[email protected]