Updated: Monday, 22nd October 2018 @ 6:00pm

Punk icon Tom Robinson chats to MM about mental health, penning LGBT hits and his upcoming tour

Punk icon Tom Robinson chats to MM about mental health, penning LGBT hits and his upcoming tour

| By Simon Pilkington

Tom Robinson is back – and he promises he’ll be ‘shouting his head off and playing at 100 miles-an-hour’.

The singer is gearing up to mark the 40th anniversary of one of his classic hits with a tour – featuring a date at HOME, Manchester – next month.

The veteran musician and radio presenter will be playing every track from the Tom Robinson Band’s debut album ‘Power In the Darkness’, including the raucous single 2 4 6 8 Motorway, from October 1977. 

He told MM: “There’s some big surprises going back to some of the songs – not least how fast they are. They’re unbelievably fast!”

Formed in 1976, the Tom Robinson Band captured the spirit of the punk era on their incendiary records.

Despite that being four decades ago, the rocker believes there are parallels between today’s society and the political climate in which he wrote ‘Power In the Darkness’.

The 67-year-old explained: “It was a time of flux and uncertainty – which bizarrely does chime with the present situation.

“There was a possibility that you could work for a better world… but at the same time, deep uncertainty. And here we are in Brexit-land, and with Donald Trump.

“Nobody knows where we’re going to be a year from now.”

Tom champions new music on his BBC 6 Music shows and believes some of today’s young musicians – particularly those on the grime scene – are challenging the recent turn towards political reaction.

However, he believes music now has less of an influence on society.

The hit-maker detailed: “In this internet era, I don’t think music plays the same role.

“People don’t buy music with quite the same passionate intensity that they did because there are so many other ways in which you can transmit ideas and culture.”

Tom’s bravest and most defiant song is arguably Glad to be Gay, which was released separately to ‘Power in the Darkness’ in early 1978.

Tom initially had a nervous breakdown as a teenager in the 1960s when he fell in love with a boy.

ICONIC: The musician made his name in the 70s

However – after being inspired by the androgyny of David Bowie – he became one of Britain’s first openly gay songwriters.

Tom now has a wife, who he describes as the ‘love of his life’, but remains a vocal advocate of LGBT rights.

Reflecting on how Glad to be Gay became an anthem for young LGBT people, he explained: “Those kids always have that thing of feeling isolated at first and have to find their own community.

“The hope with a song like Glad to be Gay is that it would flag up a big ‘over here!’ that would point to where they would find their community.”

The songwriter also praised news outlets – such as MM – that put LGBT on the masthead of its website.

He said: “For people who need to find a community, they’d only have to open that page and they’d see right there what they need.”

In the years since his troubled youth, Tom has spoken openly about mental health issues.

TOUR: Robinson will be playing at HOME in Manchester

He praised the charity CALM, which aims to prevent male suicide by, among other things, encouraging men to talk about their feelings.

He explained: “Mental health is one of those things, like being queer, that doesn’t get talked about.

“Therefore, the people who are affected feel they’re alone. If only people were a bit more open and honest about it, it would encourage people to go and seek whatever it is they need.”

Tom also detailed how he helps to support new talent in the music industry, which has failed in the past to support artists with mental health difficulties.

The musician said: “I have a whole website that’s aimed at providing free advice to emerging musicians.

“Freshonthenet is dedicated to trying to pass on the insider knowledge of how things work, how best to get your music heard, how to approach all kinds of things, including mental health.”

Tom’s long-standing support for good causes has given him an admiral record and he is most proud of being part of Rock against Racism, a campaign group that held a momentous concert at Victoria Park, East London in 1978.

The event brought anti-racism to the forefront of music and popular culture, and the Tom Robinson Band appeared alongside acts including The Clash, X-Ray Specs and Steel Pulse.

Despite all the talk of politics and campaigning, Tom believes that what matters most in pop is ‘great tunes’ – of which 2 4 6 8 Motorway is surely an example.

Tom teased that his audience could expect this and other classic songs at his upcoming gig at HOME, which is being held as part of Manchester Folk Festival.

He revealed: “Everyone who missed Power in the Darkness at the time in ‘78 and who wishes they caught it – this is the chance to finally make it up and hear those songs.”

Playing cracking tunes and, in his words ‘fighting the good fight’, it’s clear Tom is a countercultural hero.

Here’s to you, Mr Robinson. 

*Tom Robinson plays at HOME on Saturday, 21 October. You can buy tickets HERE.