Amidst those stalwarts of early 70s folk-rock (Steeleye Span, Fotheringay, Pentangle) this year’s Great British Folk Festival at Butlins Skegness, also had a bit of late 70s new wave protest-singer vibe to it, with both Billy Bragg and Tom Robinson on the bill. Apart from seeing him do a guest spot for one song at Fairport’s Cropredy festival, I’d never seen a full Tom Robinson set until this evening. Robinson is one of those artists that I’ve long been aware of but I’ve only really ever been familiar with a handful of his songs. I remember being amazed (and pleasantly surprised) hearing Glad To Be Gay on the Secret Policeman’s Ball album as a young teenager. I remember his early 80s hit War Baby being on the juke box when I had a job collecting glasses in my local. And, of course, I was familiar with the wonderful 2-4-6-8 Motorway which we all sang along to at Cropredy when he did his guest spot with Fairport there a couple of years ago. But beyond that, my knowledge was pretty thin. We had a bit of a crash course from one of our number who is a serious fan on the way there and got to hear his new album in the car on the way up.
So what did I find? A really engaging performer. A singer and musician whose passion and sense of justice burns as brightly now as it did thirty-odd years ago. Some great entertaining songs – new and old. A really amusing and often hilarious raconteur. And a sincere and convincing advocate for the power of music as a force for good. In short – he impressed.
Songs from his new album, Only The Now, sat well against older material. Tracks like Risky Business, railing against the bankers, exhibited much in the way of both the style and passion of the 70s era Tom Robinson Band material, yet the subject matter is bang up to date. He didn’t disappoint in performing all of the songs I actually knew, either. A stripped-back acoustic War Baby. A mass-singalong 2-4-6-8 Motorway. And, of course, the song that was such a political statement for the mid to late 70s…
A quick scan of our Grindr apps (purely in the interests of demographic research you understand) would suggest that early December at Butlins in Skegness is perhaps not the gayest of venues. But what the folk scene lacks in diversity, it certainly makes up for in tolerance. One of the absolute highlights in a weekend of many highlights was seeing the massed ranks of the Bulins crowd bellowing out each chorus to Glad To Be Gay. I’m certainly glad to have seen Tom Robinson. And I look forward to exploring further.