Tom Robinson Band Newcastle City Hall 27th September 1978
The Tom Robinson Band are often overlooked when the history of punk and new wave is written. That’s a shame, because they were one of the best live acts of the period, and their songs contained all of the necessary political messages of the time. I first saw them live in the early days, probably 1977, at Middlesbrough Rock Garden. It was probably only about half full, and the punks were very unsure as to how to take an openly gay singer, but managed some quite nervous singing along to “Glad to be Gay”. Tom Robinson must have had some nerve, it was quite a brave thing to do, to go out and sing that anthem in clubs packed with punk and skins, many of whom had strong right wing views. I was impressed by TRB that night, although it was the first time that I was seeing the band, and I hadn’t heard any of the songs before, it was obvious that they were strong pop songs, with political messages and great hooks. The first, and classic, Line-up of the band was Tom Robinson (vocals, bass), Danny Kustow (guitar), Mark Ambler (keyboards) and Dolphin Taylor (drums). The other band members were all an important part of the mix, particularly Danny Kustow; his guitar playing was excellent and his passion, energy and presence matched Tom’s. And they had a clutch of great tunes, many of which ended up on the first Tom Robinson album, which is one of the strongest debuts of the time. Most people remember the big hit single “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, but there were better tracks on the album including the call to arms: “Up Against the Wall” and “The Winter of ’79”, the simply excellent catchy “Long Hot Summer” and title track “Power in the Darkness”. The big live favourites were the sing-along chirpy ode to a big brother “Martin” (just listened to it on YouTube and it sounds as good as it ever did) and “Glad to be Gay” which seemed to be playing everywhere I went in 1977 and 1978. I saw the Tom Robinson band at a triumphant concert at Newcastle City Hall on 27th September 1978 and also at Reading festival 1978 and at Sunderland Mayfair on 28th March 1979. By the time of the Sunderland gig both Ambler and Dolphin had left the band, and things were never going to be the same. The Tom Robinson band split in 1979, shortly after the 1979 tour and the release of their second, and much less successful, album.
Support at the City Hall gig was the excellent Stiff Little Fingers, not as the the ticket says reggae band Third World, and at Sunderland it was The Straits, an all-girl new wave band from Leeds.
“The British Police are the best in the world
I don’t believe one of these stories I’ve heard
‘Bout them raiding our pubs for no reason at all
Lining the customers up by the wall
Picking out people and knocking them down
Resisting arrest as they’re kicked on the ground
Searching their houses and calling them queer
I don’t believe that sort of thing happens here
Sing if you’re glad to be gay
Sing if you’re happy that way”
(Tom Robinson, 1976)