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Tom Robinson
Born 1 June 1950 (1950-06-01) (age 59)
Origin Cambridge, England
Genres Pop, Rock music
Occupations Radio presenter,
Singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, bass guitar
Years active 1975–present
Associated acts Café Society
Tom Robinson Band
Sector 27
Website Official website

Tom Robinson (born 1 June 1950) is an English singer-songwriter, bassist and radio presenter, better known for the hits "Glad to Be Gay", "2-4-6-8 Motorway", and "Don't Take No for an Answer", with his Tom Robinson Band. He later peaked at #6 in the UK Singles Chart with his solo single "War Baby".[1]

Contents

Biography

Tom Robinson was born into a middle-class family in Cambridge on 1 June 1950.[2] He attended Friends School Saffron Walden, a co-ed privately funded Quaker school, between 1961 and 1967. Robinson has two brothers and a sister: Matthew (former executive producer of BBC One's EastEnders, currently running Khmer Mekong Films in Cambodia), George and Sophy.

At the age of 13, Robinson realized that he was a homosexual when he fell in love with another boy at school[3]. At that time, same-sex activity was still a crime in England, punishable by prison.[2] Wracked with shame and selfhatred, he had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide at 16.[3][2] A head teacher got him transferred to Finchden Manor, a therapeutic community for disturbed teenagers in Kent,[3] where he would spend his following six years.[2] At Finchden Manor, Robinson was inspired by John Peel's The Perfumed Garden on pirate Radio London, and by a visit from Alexis Korner.[3] The legendary bluesman and broadcaster transfixed a roomful of people with nothing but his voice and an acoustic guitar. The whole direction of Robinson's life and career became suddenly clear to him.[3]

In 1973, Robinson moved to London and joined the acoustic trio Café Society.[2][3] They impressed Ray Davies of The Kinks enough for him to produce their debut album, though it sold only 600 copies.[3] The working relationship with Davies supposedly ended when, infuriated by Davies' lack of punctuality, Robinson sarcastically performed The Kinks' hit "Tired of Waiting for You" to him when he finally arrived at the studio. Davies retaliated with the less-than-complimentary Kinks single "Prince of the Punks", about Robinson. In London, Robinson became involved in the emerging gay scene and embraced the politics of gay liberation, which linked gay rights to the wider issues of social justice.[3]

Inspired by an early Sex Pistols gig,[3] he left Café Society in 1976, and founded the more political Tom Robinson Band.[2] The following year the group released the single "2-4-6-8 Motorway",[2] which peaked at #5 in the UK Singles Chart for two weeks.[4] The song alludes obliquely to a gay truck driver.[2] On February 1978, the band released the live extended play Rising Free, which peaked at #18 in the UK Singles Chart and spawned the hit "Glad to Be Gay", originally written for a 1976 London gay pride parade.[5] The song was banned by the BBC Radio 1.[2][5][3] On May 1978, the band released its debut album, Power in the Darkness, which was very well received, peaking at #4 in the UK Albums Chart,[6] and receiving a gold certification by the BPI.[3] Their second album, TRB Two, however, was a commercial and critical failure, and the band broke up four months after its release.[2]

In 1980, Robinson co-wrote several songs with Elton John, including his minor hit "Sartorial Eloquence (Don't Ya Wanna Play This Game No More?)" which peaked at #39 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Robinson organized Sector 27, a less political rock band that released a critically acclaimed but unsuccessful album produced by Steve Lillywhite.[2][3] The band nevertheless received an enthusiastic reception at a Madison Square Garden concert with The Police.[2][3] However, their management company went bankrupt, the band disintegrated, and Robinson suffered another nervous breakdown.[2] Desolate and in debt, Robinson fled to Hamburg, Germany.[3] Living in a friend's spare room, he began writing again and ended up working in East Berlin with local band NO55.[3][2]

In 1982, Robinson penned the song "War Baby" about divisions between East and West Germany,[2] and recorded his first solo album North By Northwest with producer Richard Mazda. "War Baby" peaked at #6 in the UK Singles Chart[1] and at #1 in the UK Indie Chart for three weeks[7], reviving his career.[3][2] His following single, "Atmospherics (Listen To The Radio)", peaked at #39 in the UK Singles Chart[8] and provided him further income when it was covered by Pukka Orchestra in 1984. The Pukkas' version was a top 20 hit in Canada under the title "Listen To The Radio".

Robinson's return to Britain, led to late-night performances in cabarets at the Edinburgh Fringe, some of which later surfaced on the live album Midnight at the Fringe.[3][2] His career enjoyed a resurgence in the mid 90s with a trio of albums for the respected folk/roots label Cooking Vinyl.[3] In 1986, a BBC producer offered him his own radio show on the BBC World Service.[2][3] Since then, Robsinson has unusually presented programmes on all the BBC's national stations: Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4 5 Live and 6 Music.[3] He has presented The Locker Room, a long running series about men and masculinity, for Radio 4 in the early 1990s, and later hosted the Home Truths tribute to John Peel a year after his death in 2004.[3] In 1997, he won a Sony Academy Award for You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, a radio documentary about gay music, produced by Benjamin Mepsted.[3] He currently presents his own show on 6 Music, featuring live music sessions, on Monday and Tuesday nights, and freelances on Radio 2's Mark Radcliffe Show and Radio 4's Something Understood, and Pick of the Week.[3] In 1994 he wrote and presented Surviving Suicide, about his suicide attempt.[2]

Currently, Robinson rarely performs live, apart from two annual free concerts, known as the Castaway Parties, for members of his mailing list. These take place in South London and Belgium every January. In the Belgian Castaway shows, he introduces many songs in Dutch. The Castaway Parties invariably feature a wide variety of established and unknown artists and groups who have included Show Of Hands, Philip Jeays, Jan Allain, Jakko Jakszyk, Stoney, Roddy Frame, Martyn Joseph, The Bewley Brothers and Paleday alongside personal friends such as Lee Griffiths and T. V. Smith.

Personal life

Although widely assumed from his public posture at the time to be homosexual, Robinson is indeed bisexual. A longtime supporter and former volunteer of London's Gay Switchboard help-line, it was at a 1982 benefit party for the organization that he met Sue Brearley,[9] the woman with whom he would eventually live and have two children, and later marry.[2]

In the mid-1990s, when Robinson became a father, the tabloids ran stories about what they deemed as a sexual orientation change, running headlines such as "Britain's Number One Gay in Love with Girl Biker!" (The Sunday People).[2] The gay press reviled him, but Robinson continued to identify as a gay man, telling an interviewer for the Manchester Guardian: "I have much more sympathy with bisexuals now, but I am absolutely not one".[2] "Our enemies do not draw the distinction between gay and bisexual", he added.[2] Robinson eventually added an additional verse to "Glad to be Gay", in which he sings: "I won't wear a 'straight jacket' for you".[10]

In a 1994 interview for the Boston Globe, Robinson asserted, "We've been fighting for tolerance for the last 20 years, and I've campaigned for people to be able to love whoever the hell they want. That's what we're talking about: tolerance and freedom and liberty—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So if somebody won't grant me the same tolerance I've been fighting for for them, hey, they've got a problem, not me".[2] In 1996, Robinson released an album about his bisexuality, titled Having It Both Ways.[3] In 1998 his epic about bisexuality Blood Brother won three awards at the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards in New York.[3]

Peter Tatchell criticized an article by Vanessa Thorpe about Robinson published in The Independent. In his view, "Tom Robinson has behaved rather commendably" since his relationship has been revealed by the press, once he still calls himself a gay man. "I'm campaigning for queer rights because people should be able to love who they wish, without fear of prejudice or discrimination. I don't have a problem with people switching their affections from one sex to the other. It's their life", he added.[9]

Activism

Robinson has been a strong advocate of liberty for all. He is a supporter of Amnesty International and Peter Tatchell's Outrage! human rights organization and a leader of the Rock Against Racism campaign.[2][3] He is also an enthusiastic proponent of Apple computers, which he has used extensively since the mid 1980s. In 1999 and 2000, Robinson was involved in a celebrity seminar work for Apple to promote their home video editing software iMovie.

In popular culture

A 31-year-old fictionalized vesion of Tom Robinson (portrayed by Mathew Baynton) appeared in the last episode of the first series of the BBC One drama Ashes to Ashes, as the leader of a Gay Liberation Front protest in London. He is later incarcerated with the other protestors and sings "Glad to Be Gay" in his cell.

Discography

Over his career, Robinson has released more than twenty albums either as a solo performer or as a member of a group.[2] He has also released fanclub only bootlegs known as the Castaway Club series.

Albums

  • North By Northwest (1982)
  • Hope and Glory (1984, later reissued as War Baby: Hope and Glory) – peaked at #21 in the UK Albums Chart[11]
  • Still Loving You (1986)
  • The Collection (1987)
  • Last Tango: Midnight at the Fringe (1988)
  • We Never Had It So Good (1990, with Jakko Jakszyk)
  • Winter of '89 (1992, bootlegged as Motorway: Live)
  • Living in a Boom Time (1992)
  • Love Over Rage (1994)
  • Having It Both Ways (1996)
  • The Undiscovered Tom Robinson (1998)
  • Home From Home (1999)
  • Smelling Dogs (2001, spoken word album)

Singles

Year Song Peak position
UK Singles Chart
1980 "Not Ready"
1980 "Invitation"
1981 "Total Recall"
1982 "Now Martin's Gone"
1983 "War Baby" 6[1]
1983 "Listen to the Radio - Atmospherics" 39[12]
1984 "Back in the Old Country" 79[11]
1984 "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" 58[11]
1985 "Prison"
1986 "Nothing Like the Real Thing"
1986 "Still Loving You" 88[11]
1987 "Feel So Good" 93[11]
1987 "Spain"
1988 "Hard Cases"
1990 "Blood Brother"
1992 "Living in a Boom Time"
1994 "Hard"
1996 "Connecticut"

Notes

  1. ^ a b c "War Baby" at ChartStats.com.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Rapp, Linda (2004). "Robinson, Tom (b. 1950)". GLBTQ: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z Simmonds, Sylvie. "A Brief History Of Tom". TomRobinson.com.
  4. ^ "2-4-6-8 Motorway" at ChartStats.com.
  5. ^ a b "Sing If You're Glad To be Gay" on BothWays.com.
  6. ^ Power in the Darkness at ChartStats.com.
  7. ^ List of UK Indie Chart number-ones from the 1980s at Cherry Red Records
  8. ^ "Listen To The Radio - Atmospherics" at ChartStats.com
  9. ^ a b Peter Tatchell. "Not Glad to Be Gay?".
  10. ^ Medicoff, Zack (19 July 2001), "Glad to be... Paid", NOW, http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2001-07-19/music_feature4.html, retrieved 2007-10-26 
  11. ^ a b c d e Tom Robinson at ChartStats.com.
  12. ^ "Listen to the Radio - Atmospherics" at ChartStats.com.

External links








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