ALBUM REVIEW: Tom Robinson - Only The Now

Tom Robinson - Only The Now (Castaway Northwest Recordings),
Tom Robinson - Only The Now (Castaway Northwest Recordings),

Nearly 20 years after his last album, singer-songwriter Tom Robinson is back with a new one - and it’s quite possibly the best of his career.

As a young man, Robinson was one of the most outspoken spokesmen for the emerging gay scene of the mid-1970s, at a time when coming out was a very dangerous thing to do.

As founder of the Tom Robinson Band (TRB), he enjoyed hits with 2-4-6-8 Motorway and recorded the anthemic Glad To Be Gay, which was banned by the staid old BBC.

After enjoying a career high with the No 6 solo single War Baby in 1983, Robinson became a radio producer - ironically for the very BBC which had banned his music.

At 65, he is now one of the elder statemen of the Corporation’s radio output, and inspired by the new music he has heard through his 6 Music show, has returned with a new album.

Initially funded via PledgeMusic, it’s now been given a general release, and it’s one of my favourite records of the year.

There’s an impressive array of special guests, including John Grant, Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy, South Tyneside singer Nadine Shah, TV Smith and Nitin Sawhney.

The songs are as edgy as any he’s ever written, addressing sexuality, identity, politics and injustice, with opening track Home In The Morning leaving the listener guessing about why the protagonist is leaving London - is he merely leaving behind his old life, or ready to end it all?

Mighty Sword of Justice, based around some African rhythms, is, for me, the standout track on the album, addressing the injustice in seeking justice in Britain today.

There’s real feeling as he spits out the lines “Rebecca’s friends and fortune protected her in court, ‘the Shredder’ lives in luxury his millions have bought, but Doreen Lawrence had to wait for 18 years and more, there’s one law for the rich and another one for the poor.”

Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall is another enigmatic song, with Robinson’s whispered vocals painting unsettling pictures of a troubled young man, with the chorus, courtesy of Mancunian artist Lee Forsyth Griffiths, a plaintive plea - but for what?

Holy Smoke has Robinson making spliffs from pages of the Bible, and being admonished by the voice of God - none other than Sir Ian McKellen.

Never Get Old is the nearest he gets to TRB territory, while a cover of The Beatles In My Life is all the more poignant for the fact it’s not perfect, and sounds like a first-take demo.

McKellen is back for One Way Street, the cautionary tale of a reckless young driver who meets a premature and untimely end, and it’s another highlight.

In fact, there’s not a bad song among the 11 tracks here, and if this doesn’t make every end of year list going, there’s something sadly wrong. 9/10. GW

• Tom Robinson is at The Sage Gateshead on Monday, 9 November. Tickets are £21.50 from HERE.