Remarkably it’s 40 years ago this year that Power in the Darkness was released, the debut studio album by the Tom Robinson Band.
The irony is that it’s probably more relevant now than it has ever been since those dim distant days when it first came out.
Deciding that the band had missed its moment, the NME famously labelled the album Paranoia in the Darkness, and Tom admits that in the intervening years there have been times when maybe the label wasn’t so many million miles from the mark.
But right now – just as when Tom was writing the album – we are living in an era of remarkable uncertainty.
“We really really didn’t know what 1978 was going to be like, what our world was going to be like. And now it is anybody’s guess again… anybody’s guess what Brexit is going to mean for us, what Trump is going to do.
“These are terrifying times, just like things were in 1978.
It’s an album that is once again hitting the spot – though Tom is quick to point out that in many ways we have certainly progressed as a society. As he says, we have come a long, long way from the days when it was a crime for two men to kiss in public, when there was open homophobia and open racism in the streets.
“But definitely, despite what is happening now, we are living in a much kinder world. Back in 1978-79 we had endemic racism, and two men kissing in the street was an arrestable offence. And the police are like Mother Teresa compared to the Met back then.”
Even so, there are compelling reasons to revisit the album – and not just because of the roundness of the anniversary. Tom will be playing it in full on his latest tour, taking in The 1865 in Southampton, on Saturday, October 20 (https://bit.ly/PITD2018Southampton).
Inevitably, it was difficult to gauge the album’s impact at the time, Tom says: “You just think that the album sounds like what it sounds like. It is only when you come back to it, having become a DJ, that you start maybe to listen to it critically with a different ear. But back at the time, it was like having teeth pulled. It was like two to three months working on it solidly. The long and short of it was that Power In The Darkness was the result of so much blood and sweat and tears that it was hard to listen back objectively.”
Complicating things was the “we set them up, we knock them down” principle of the music press: “We were the happening thing in 1977. But the time the album came out in 1978, the NME decided that we were Paranoia in the Darkness!”
But the band soldiered in, gigging and gigging and gigging… and very dutifully answering the fan mail. Looking back, Tom suspects their time might have been better spent writing more songs: “But the fact is that the album went gold in the UK, and whatever the critics said the audiences loved it.”
The album was first performed 40 years ago in Victoria Park, London in front of 80,000 people at Rock Against Racism’s Carnival Against The Nazis alongside Steel Pulse, The Clash and X-Ray Spex.
The album was certified gold in the UK and Japan resulting in a major 28-date UK tour supported by Stiff Little Fingers in the autumn of 1978.
When Tom performed the entire Power In The Darkness LP at London’s 100 Club in 2017, all three shows sold out almost instantly. Now to mark the album’s 40th anniversary, Tom will once again perform it live on tour in the UK – culminating in a special headline show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Saturday October 27.
As ever, his band features Faithless drummer Andy Treacey, guitarist Adam Phillips (Richard Ashcroft Band), keyboard virtuoso Jim Simmons and Tom himself on bass and vocals.
Tom Robinson first became known in 1977 as a musician, LGBT activist and anti-racist campaigner with the Tom Robinson Band (TRB) whose debut release 2-4-6-8 Motorway became one of the landmark singles of the UK punk era. Other well-known songs at the time included Glad To Be Gay, Up Against The Wall and Too Good To Be True.
Tom later co-wrote songs with both Peter Gabriel and Elton John and had further solo hits in 1983 with War Baby and Atmospherics: Listen To The Radio. His 15th studio album Only The Now (2015) included guest appearances by Billy Bragg, Nadine Shah, John Grant, Ian McKellen, TV Smith, Lisa Knapp and Martin Carthy.
As a radio broadcaster Tom hosts three shows a week on BBC Radio 6 Music, served for 10 years on the Ivor Novello Awards committee and was awarded a fellowship of LIPA in recognition of his support for new music with BBC Introducing.
Support on all shows is Mancunian soul singer Lee Forsyth Griffiths, whose first two albums were produced by Trevor Horn and Ian Grimble.