Back in the 70s and 80s, Tom Robinson was singing his anger and outrage at social, sexual and political injustice.
Now, as he releases his first new album for 20 years, the good news is that Tom feels things have improved considerably.
We’ve moved on from those dark days when rock had to make its stand against racism and Glad to be Gay offered hope to so many.
“Yes, in many ways, it is a better world. We have progressed in terms of racism, but think of Ferguson. We haven’t moved on universally or globally. But certainly this is now a more tolerant country than the one I grew up in. When you think back to the playground expressions and the nursery rhymes and the way other races were treated, it was just unbelievable. This is certainly a different country now in terms of gay rights. Who would have thought a Conservative government would introduce gay marriage?”
Is there still a way to go, though?
“It’s not so much that, I don’t think. I think the problem could be the swing of the pendulum. These things are cyclical. You can’t say that this is now the way it is and will forever be. I think things could still swing back the other way, which is why we have got to do as much as we can to encourage the spread of ideas of things like tolerance and equality.”
And in that sense, Tom certainly wouldn’t see engaged, committed songwriters and musicians as the leaders.
“Billy Bragg is on the new album, and we were talking about this. I think at gigs it is more a question of a tonic for the troops. The big accusation against political pop is that you are singing to the converted. Your audience already shares your thoughts against prejudice, and the people that don’t share those thoughts won’t come to your gigs. But I think that’s OK. I think that’s its great strength. The fact that your audience has a certain worldview means that you can give them real heart at gigs and the courage of their convictions. It’s the members of the audience that can then go out and change the world one by one.
“Just think if you were living in, say, Hull way back in the late 70s and you were being worn down by casual racist banter and jokes like that... and then you heard there was a Rock Against Racism gig, and you went along and there were maybe 500 people who felt the same way as you, and there was a punk band or a reggae band singing about unity.
“You are going to listen to that, and it won’t change your mind, but it might make you go back and challenge racism when you hear it from your dad or in your school or from your boss. I think music acts as a parabolic mirror that reflects back what the audience is already feeling. That’s what happened with Bob Geldof and Live Aid. It was not that everyone thought that famine was fine, that it was a good idea. It was more a question of Geldof saying ‘Come on, we can do something about this! Hey you! Pay attention!’ For those that felt powerless about what was happening, Live Aid provided them with a focus so they could do something about it.”
But now he’s back with an album, Tom certainly isn’t wishing he had done it sooner: “I am glad that I was away because by the time I had made my last album, there was a real danger of just getting into the nostalgia circuit and performing the same old songs and people just coming along because they wanted to remember their youth.
“That was the nice thing about (the) Wickham (festival which he played at the end of August). 60 per cent of the songs were songs people recognised, but 40 per cent of the songs were new, and they were loving it. The reason I am here is I am trying to find out if I have still got it. You are saying to the audience ‘Just see what you think of this’, and the reactions have been wonderful. It has been hugely gratifying.”
As for the album: “I had had these songs on the backburner. I hadn’t stopped writing, but after my second child was born in 97, I just had an album out and it just seemed like a good time to move and on try out other things. I moved on to the broadcasting.”
So why the album now?
“My children grew up! My youngest is now 18. I am now 65. But really the other thing was meeting (award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist) Gerry Diver.”
It all fell into place from there – and now Gerry joins Tom on tour as he takes Only The Now out on the road, stopping off at The Brook in Southampton on September 17 along the way.
Only The Now sees a star-studded cast join Tom on the record with guest spots from Sir Ian McKellen, Colin Firth, John Grant, Billy Bragg and Nadine Shah
The album will be released by Pledge Music in October. The first track taken from the album Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall is already out and features guest vocals from Mancunian artist Lee Forsyth Griffths.