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Look Who's Talking

Music comes first, sex a close second

to Tim Wapshott

Rock star, gay rights campaigner, devoted father: Tom Robinson on the lessons he has learnt

THE PRESIDENT of Geffen Records once told me: Opinions are like assholes - everybody's got one. Actually, nobody gave a toss about my opinions until the Tom Robinson Band had a pop hit in 1977 with "2-4-6-8 Motorway". Only then did our work for Rock Against Racism and gay rights become news, although my priorities were always music first and changing the world third. Sex came second.

Things soon got out of hand: journalists started asking me how to solve the problems of Northern Ireland, and I started trying to tell them. I was 27 and determined not to let the attention go to my head, but whose ego could withstand it ? Not mine. In the end, my sense of self-importance got bloated and I began believing my own publicity.

Than it all came crashing down. Having believed the praise on the way up, I agonized over the abuse on my way down. People wrote that I was pompous, boring and I couldn't even sing - that bit really hurt, although maybe it was true then.

People become irrational when the subject of homosexuality comes up. Because I was openly gay, they used to say I couldn't possibly be - it had to be a front. Because the rest of the band weren't gay, other people would say: "They must be. Who are they trying to kid ? Just look at them ! What a bunch of screamers !" By the same token, in all the years I lived with a man, no one ever wanted to know his name, or whether or not we were monogamous. But in the seven years I've lived with my girlfriend, journalists have hardly asked about anything else.

Some newspapers used the fact that I live with a woman as ammunition to try to devalue my campaigning efforts for lesbian and gay rights - a cause I still passionately support. Having made such a song and dance about being gay - almost literally in the old days - I suppose I cant really complain. But it's hard on my partner when the papers make up bollocks about her as well. The bloody Times is worse than the Sun in some ways: last year it announced that I was now "a married heterosexual, thanks to 10 years of psychotherapy." Actually, I've never claimed to be anything other than gay, because "bisexual" sounds such a cop-out. The trouble is, journalists simply research the old cuttings, then embellish the lies they find there. Nothing you can say to the contrary seems to counteract it.

Fatherhood is brilliant, though. In my experience, lesbians and gay men make not only great teachers but great parents, too, given the chance. We know from experience how different a childs needs may be from those of its parents. For the first time, I have a passionate concern about the next century. Before my son was born four years ago, what might happen after 2030 all seemed a bit academic.

I grew up in and around Cambridge. When I was 16, my family moved to Teesside, and under the pressures of A-level Latin, I had a nervous breakdown at school. I felt under so much pressure to get to university, while this kind of emotional maelstrom was going on internally. Six years in as therapeutic community sorted me out, more or less, and in 1973 I moved to London. I have lived there ever since.

One of the mainstays of my career in the Eighties was the Edinburgh Fringe each summer. The chance to meet and work beside writers, directors, actors and stand-up comics, rather than just rock'n'roll musicians, proved an inspiration. Playing there thought me to mix entertainment value and some thoughtfulness . . . I think.

My latest album (1994) is an attempt to combine both. It's called "Love over Rage" because I've come to believe that love is the more powerful emotion - though, in an age when Ronald McDonald tells us to save the rainforest, the irony-meter is rising. I belong to Transport 2000 but drive a seven-year-old Golf. The only green option would be to melt it down for scrap, but I doubt I'll be the first in queue.

Fifteen years on the road have taught me not to worry too much about being politically right-on: it's a struggle you can never win. Your political opinions are interesting only in proportion to your worth in the marketplace - benefit concerts want stars not saints. All that matters is how many records you sell. That's why music remains priority No 1 on the new album - with sex again a close second !

Same as 17 years ago...

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