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Out of the Darkroom
  RAM - April 1985
Having celebrated his re-emergence with a successful tour of Australia and a new album called "HOPE & GLORY" TOM ROBINSON gets all metaphorical with Terry Byrnes...

'I don't think I could stand another ten years of this fighting / All this stabbing and wounding, only getting my own back / I don't want to batter you to your feet and knees and elbows / When I'm kneeling by the candle at the foot of my own bed.'


Harder when there is some height to fall from Hardest when you hit the bottom and start looking up.

In 1977, Tom Robinson was Everybody's Darling. His debut album Power In The Darkness was marked Essential Listening. His native British press wrote admiringly of Robinson's political adroitness, lyrical sharpness, and openly gay profile. Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons' hyperbolic catalogue The Boy Looked At Johnny went so far as to say: ". . compared to Tom Robinson, every other contemporary musician is pissing in the wind."

Considering Jon Landau had gotten away with his one about Bruce Springsteen being the future of rock'n'roll it was a fair enough shot - but Robinson was no born-to-run dustbowl cowboy, he was a Pom... and a gay Pom to boot! He fitted superbly into what Elvis Costello came to call This Year's Model.

TRB TWO, Robinson's second album, was mercilessly canned.. The hit singles (2-4-6-8 Motorway, Glad To Be Gay) dried up, and the decline and decline of Tom Robinson set in.


Losing the plot, finding the plot, stalking the Berlin Wall with a head full of terror and a heart like a land-mine. That's where.

TRB, Robinson's first band, folded under the pressure of expectation -theirs and everyone else's. "We started playing what was expected of us, what seemed appropriate rather than what came pouring out. I think the day you sit down and think'Right, now I'm going to write a song about repression in Argentina' is a day you're in trouble. Glad To Be Gay wasn't thought about. It just poured out in a fit of blind rage. I wasn't thinking about it in terms of a pop song.

"I think the Bronski Beat are having exactly the same problem as TRB. They're constantly on the verge of breaking up because Jimi can't handle the pressures - he didn't enter into singing from the point of view of being pushed around by eight photographers on the trot from Dutch teen magazines or being asked what underpants he likes wearing by French interviewers," rails Robinson, in a voice that is at once cultured and earthy.

Sector 27 was a band formed out of Robinson's desire to be more democratic; but the project never gelled, and only his stint as lyrical collaborator with Elton John (replacing Berni Taupin for one album) kept the project afloat. "Apart from anything else, the radio play resulted in royalties arriving every three months. It enabled me to run the group."

By 1981 Robinson was in Europe, practising his version of East-West detente. It was a time of catharsis for him, a time to seek the matrix of his identity outside the music industry.

He was looking for a new context, and in the atmosphere of Potsdam and East Berlin - through the choice of playing his songs to audiences unfamiliar with his past - he found inspiration free of prejudice, free of the machinations of pop, and began to write many of the songs that would comprise his eighth album: Hope And Glory.


The hope was that Tom Robinson would make a comeback. The glory was that he did. The song ? War Baby. A rumble through Armageddon, it caught the smell of terror Robinson so vividly talks about when describing the 'European pressure-cooker'. The album ? Stalked by death and regeneration. Full of tenderness and horror. It addresses The British Dream of rebuilding the Empire, of being something again, of hoisting the Falklands flag as an excuse for grand nostalgia. Tom Robinson says Britain is still suffering Post-Falklands shock.

"It's the British dream, really - the hope and the glory - and the last two years have demonstrated we're far more interested in the dream than the reality, because in reality there isn't much of either... I'm always shocked at how powerless we really are in the face of world events. People always say how could you stand aside and watch Hitler come to power, and the Germans always protested after the war, 'We were only obeying orders - there were good Germans too, you know'- and everyone goes 'No, they were all bloody Nazis, we saw you at Nuremburg! 'Now if anyone like me protests 'I wasn't for the Falklands War', they say 'Ah, we saw you at Portsmouth cheering the fleet off!!!"'

'Yellow skies in strange formation,
Warm wind and blinding rain;
High seas and strange contagion,
Our nation great again'


Onstage at the Tivoli, one Thursday night to be precise: 'Tom Robinson and Crew, all the way from England, for the very first time ladeez and gentlemen!' Tom Robinson bounces on bright as a beacon. He's a big boy, going slightly paunchy, but possessed of that magic ingredient: Presence. No mucking around, as he kicks the band off into an hour and a quarter set featuring material from all phases of his career. The Crew were rough, raw, and playing with just enough edge to let you know they weren't that interested in the mechanics of precision. Like Robinson, they went for the feel every time. They might have taken Rikki Don't Lose That Number too fast, but what the hell? It's the spirit that counts, right?

For his part, Robinson switched lyrics around to suit the local geography. Oxford Street, for example, scored a mention in Glad To Be Gay. Highlight of the night was a smouldering rendition of War Baby - band and singer locked into overdrive on this one. Sax seared, and when Robinson sang: 'I suddenly wondered who the hell we were trying to fool', he bit down hard on the syllables, spitting them out into an audience momentarily mesmerised by the potency of the song.

Two encores later, having slipped in an uptempo version of Dylan's I Shall Be Released, Robinson was: in high spirits, bringing the band on for bows and curtain calls. It was a good beginning to the Sydney leg of his pub and club tour.


Q: What do you compose on predominantly ?

A: "Predominantly the drum machine - the drums being my favourite instrument. That's why the only permanent member of the Crew is a drummer (Steve Laurie). Basically, I'll set up a groove on the drum machine...and then sit down and start working out the bass line and chord pattern over the top. Atmospherics and War Baby started out from the drums - in fact, pretty much every song I've composed in the past five years has started out that way.

"Programmable drum machines are the biggest boon...a group like Depeche Mode would have been unthinkable ten years ago. They were people with no physical technique to speak of, no facility to play a keyboard necessarily, but great ideas - and thanks to the fact that cheap synthesisers and drum machines were available, they were able to get across.

Its something Brian Eno pointed out years and years ago - you don't have to be particularly musicianly to turn out interesting music!"

Q: What led to a song like Murder At The End Of The Day ?

A: "It grew out of 'Sunspeak'.
We have this newspaper called The Sun."

Q: A sensationalist tabloid ?

A: "That's exactly what it is. The way The Sun was talking about 'our boys' penetrating the defences of the enemy, making a tactical withdrawal - the symbolism seemed so luridly sexual that I examined a stick-up from a psychological aspect. A stick-up in any sense you like - rape, daylight robbery, assault."

Q: What is it that you are scared of being put through in War Baby ?

A: "I refuse to be drawn" (laughs).

Q: How was Atmospherics (Listen To The Radio) arrived at ?

A: "That was a Hamburg song. I was living in Hamburg at the time, and I'd spent New Year's Eve at Peter Gabriel's place in Bath in England. Before the guests arrived for the party, Peter showed me some ideas he had. I had my trusty Walkman with me and taped them, and took the result away to Hamburg with me and eventually put those lyrics to it."

Q: Are your lyrics born out of what Wordsworth calls "the spontaneous outpouring" ?

A: "I don't like to analyse it very much, because you can destroy the most creative part of it. I read a very rare interview with Van Morrison, and in that they asked him what he thought when he was writing so-and-so a song, and he said 'I never think when I write songs - it comes from a different place.' Always, the best songs are the ones that come spontaneously - when you're not using the thinking Process at all. Mind you, I think you have to use the conscious brain to push the song into shape - to give it metre, rhyme, and say 'this is a middle eight'. . .

Q: Do you perceive yourself as an Outsider ?

A: "I wonder if a lot of artistes refer to themselves as outsiders. It surprises me to find out how many were the fat kid who got bullied at school, and found that music was a way of getting attention and acceptance.

Q: After your Australian tour, what happens ?

A: "I rest. That's one of the benefits of being a post-pop star - I'm actually going to stop and live instead of being a business machine, because the songs are born out of experience, and if your experience day-to-day consists of hotel rooms, then that's what the songs will be about - as we saw in the mid- seventies. I have a lot of material for my next album, but I don't have a lot of songs, if you take my distinction. You know that Isherwood statement: 'I am a camera'. As you're travelling around doing your daily work, you make notes, get flashes of ideas. . . the raw material... I have about 50 songs, and I have a word processor at home -which enables me to re-draft and update the fragments.

"For five days on the trot, you sit down each day and work through those song ideas, and that's like developing the film. You're coming in with a bag full of undeveloped film, and the word processor is the darkroom, and I suppose my drum machine is also the darkroom. . ."al

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