24.10.18: Nostalgia is a bitch. It’s something I’ve tried to avoid through the years ever since witnessing the Sex Pistols reunion, Finsbury Park, 1996 and quickly realising that hard-fought reputations and credibility can be deconstructed at an alarming rate. So it has come to pass for much of the bands churned out towards the end of the 1970s under the threadbare banner of punk.
Its the winter of 1977, at 16-years old, I met a mate Ste Birmingham (sadly no longer with us), and we took a bus from our hometown of Stockton on tees to the neighbouring town of Middlesbrough Rock Garden to catch the Tom Robinson Band (TRB) live.
It was another gig without parental permission, involving a stop off at a pub (The North Eastern) where I managed to drink 2 pints of Double Dimond Beer, witness grown men being men with their racist and sexist banter, masculinity overdrive, play my first game of pub pool (lose…badly), select a record on a pub Juke Box for the first time (New Rose by the Damned) and then subsequently make a fake excuse go outside gasp fresh air and throw up in the adjacent alleyway.
Within an hour or two I’m standing in an exuberant crowd of young men, full of testosterone, mostly dressed in homemade punk regalia singing, “Glad to be Gay.”
Today, such are the changes in attitudes that this would hardly raise an eyebrow, even in some of the UK’s most conservative towns and villages. Back in 1977, it carried the risk of a life-threatening physical assault from a mainly hostile public and police where queer bashing and racist abuse seemed a norm and a routine way of life. Nowhere more did these attitudes manage to incubate than in the pubs and socials clubs of 1970s north-east working-class England. This may feel like a lazy indictment, but nonetheless a cultural acceptance I was brought up in, which had many a complicated reason.
I recall a nervous confidence in Tom Robinson’s voice that night as he introduced ‘Glad to be Gay.’ A nervousness which is equally shared by an audience, initially not sure what to do with the singalong anthem. Sweat-drenched men who have been bouncing relentlessly to the guitar-powered set are now looking at each other, fuck it by the second chorus, a unified audience is wholeheartedly singing. Its one of those small moments in time when things start to change for the better.
Tonight (41 years on) I find myself at the Fleece, Bristol to capture Tom Robinson performing his classic ‘Power in the Darkness’ album in full and in celebration of its 40th year since release. First and foremost it remains a great (I mean a really great) rock album. Lyrically it is not only a reflection on how far we have come. It is also a recognition as to how far we have allowed ourselves to regress back into the darkness.
This evening I raise a glass to my old mate Ste and Tom Robinson’s bravery, his art, the man and a band of young men who recorded an album that had a very significant contribution in shaping my politics.
PS: I’ve still got my vinyl copy and its accompanying spray can stencil remains in perfect condition, unused….until tonight.