2-4-6-8, Tom Robinson took the motorway this week to Bonn Harmonie and the 72-year-old showed he very much still has something to say, and also to play, during a cracking set with the 21st Century incarnation of his TRB Band.
To put things into immediate perspective, ticket sales had not been good. Maybe too expensive? Maybe the upcoming Crossroads Festival? Maybe all the problems Tom’s 70’s hits addressed have been solved? (they haven’t, see my interview). Tom Robinson is good with words though, and soothes the audience straight away by saying “I was told there might only be fifty people here tonight. But I said, ‘that’s fine’ – they are exactly the fifty people I want to play to!” Gotta love that attitude. Especially since this wasn’t people from Endenich with nothing better to do in the City on a Monday evening. A gentleman I spoke to outside had come all the way from Austria, another, sporting a ‘Glad to be Grey’ t-shirt had come down from the Netherlands. In short – never mind the quantity of support – feel the quality!
With audience numbers in mind it would have been easy to just cruise half heartedly through the evening, but these guys, to their credit, instead rocked enthusiastically through it. guitarist and backing vocalist Lee Forsyth Griffiths in particular displayed the energy of punk bands like this in their 70’s prime. Punk Band? Well, they were lumped into a category with The Clash and Sex Pistols for the anti-establishment lyrics, but come on, were TRB really ever Punk? Always far too musical to my mind.
Back to the band hitting the stage this evening with an energy you had to admire. There was a stool next to Tom’s mike stand but I don’t actually remember him sitting on it. He’s back playing concerts because he wants to play his music again he told me in the pre-show interview, and here he was, proving it. I’d forgotten just how many quality songs Tom Robinson has under his musical belt. Early in the set we had ‘Winter of 79’ and ‘Grey Cortina’. The first high point for me though was ‘Martin’. Is it a song? Is it a poem? It’s a lyrical jewel either way:
“People get the wrong impression with Martin
I know he doesn’t mix much but he’s no snob
The weekend I got out of remand home
He’d got Uncle Ruby to find me this job
And back at my Nan’s he’d repainted my room
And bought me a brand new carpet
There was all me old records and books on a shelf
And a secondhand telly from the market
You can get a bit hard when you’ve been inside
But I hugged the old bastard and I almost cried
Cos no-one ever had a brother like Martin
No-one ever had a brother like him”
The first set was rounded off by ‘Listen to the Radio (atmospheric)’ which was co-written together with Peter Gabriel in Hamburg, after a worn out and in-debt-to-the-UK taxman Robinson took a leaf out of David Bowie’s book and fled for financial and mental survival to Germany. An excellent first set, showing that the present TRB are a musically tight and enthusiastic combo. In particular a quick nod to Lee Forsyth Griffiths for his excellent ‘Silence = Death’ on acoustic. A close up camera trained on his emotion ridden face and you would never know there weren’t 50,000 people in the hall. Nice one indeed Lee!
A short break – finally a chance for Tom to sit down and well deserved – before he and the band were back again for part two where the wall of hits was let loose. “The TRB band flame burned hot. So hot that it inevitably couldn’t last” lamented Tom about the original line-up, particularly guitarist Danny Kustow. It was all over in little more than two years in fact. Two years and two albums to be even more precise. But what a fantastic bunch of songs those albums had on them! “Too good to be true“, “Up against the wall”, “2-4-6-8 Motorway”. All perfectly created, perfectly timed, 45 rpm classics containing a batch of anti- establishment verses, a catchy chorus and a riff that stuck in your head for days after. Take a listen to the lyrics and licks on these and compare them to today’s pop fodder – and these were ‘mere’ punk songs?!
Imagine asking punk audiences to ‘sing if you’re glad to be gay’ (any audiences in fact) in the late 1970’s. Tom laughs at the memory of how they used to get audiences to join in: a favourite was to say that the real gay contingent of audiences were the ones who didn’t sing along. It worked wonders he recalled. Is Bonn in 2023 brave enough to sing along? We are (even if most of the audience seemed to come from further afield).
It seemed like all the hits had been played. Together with a couple of excellent songs that were actually on the last band release from 2016 – ‘The Mighty Sword of Justice’ sounded like it came from the Proclaimers and ‘Never Get Old’ co-written with Tom McGuiness showed a keen sense of self-deprecating humour:
“Long ago when we both were young
Living for kicks, kisses and fun
We were carefree, pretty and dumb
Take a good look at me now…
Did you think we’d never get old
Never get old, never get old?
Take a good look at me now”
Is Tom Robinson growing old ‘gracefully’ as his employment as a regular presenter on BBC Radio might suggest? Well, just watching him and the band bound through tonight’s encore ‘Power in the Darkness’ is enough to show Tom Robinson is in fact growing old as gracefully as a 70’s punk-rocker might be expected to age. He still cares, his voice is as strong as it ever was, and he is decidedly glad to be grey. May he continue cajoling audiences to join in on that chorus for many years to come.