Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend Distraction: Tom Robinson Band

I first heard of Tom Robinson Band when I was newly out. I was given their second album, TRB Two, by a friend who didn’t like it. The album was a failure, and the truth is, I don’t remember listening to it at the time.

Years later, I heard what is probably his best-known song, "Glad To Be Gay" (video above, recorded live in Manchester and broadcast in November, 1977). It was originally written for London’s Gay Pride in 1976, and the lyrics reflected that time. From the Wikipedia article on the song:
"Glad to Be Gay" is built around four verses criticizing British society's attitudes towards gay people. In the first verse, it criticizes the British police for raiding gay pubs for no reason at all, once homosexuality had been decriminalized since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.

In the second verse, it points out to the hypocrisy of Gay News being prosecuted for obscenity instead of porn magazines like magazines Playboy and notoriously homophobic sensationalist tabloid The Sun. It also criticizes the way homosexual people are portrayed in other parts of the press, especially in conservative newspapers News of the World and Sunday Express.

On the third verse, it points out the extreme consequences of homophobia, such as violence against LGBT people.

In the final verse, the song makes a plea for support of the gay cause. This part, originally intended as a bitter attack on complacency of gay people at the Pride march in 1976, became a rallying call for solidarity from people irrespective of their orientation.
Over the years, verses were changed, added, dropped, depending on the point he wanted to make.

In 1979, Robinson performed the song at “The Secret Policeman’s Ball”, a benefit for Amnesty International (there’s a YouTube video of it). Again from the Wikipedia article:
“[Robinson] reinstated a verse about Peter Wells not used since the original demo. Wells was a young man who had been imprisoned for sex with an 18-year-old man. Had his partner been a woman it would have been legal, but the gay age of consent was 21 as opposed to 16 for heterosexuals. Robinson sang this pointedly, as Amnesty were refusing to acknowledge gay prisoners as human rights cases.”
That has changed over the years, and Amnesty now considers violations of LGBT people’s human rights, too.

In the mid-1980s, Robinson fell in love with a woman he eventually married and with whom he had two children. That caused him to add a verse about bisexuality in 1996:
"For 21 years now, I’ve fought for the right, for people to love just whoever they like. But the right-on and righteous are out for my blood, now I live with my kids and a woman I love. Well if gay liberation means freedom for all, a label is no liberation at all. I'm here and I'm queer and do what I do, I'm not going to wear a straitjacket for you."
Bisexuality is, ironically, something about which many gay people agree with the anti-gay industry, believing bisexuals are “gay people who won’t admit it”, or that “they want it both ways”. The truth is far more complicated than simplistic slogans—isn’t it always?—and human sexuality is not binary, and it's not either/or, but far more fluid. The more-or-less radical British gay activist Peter Tatchell said after a superficial article on Robinson’s bisexuality was published, "Tom Robinson has behaved rather commendably, in my view. Ever since the beginning of his relationship with Sue [his wife], he has continued to describe himself as ‘a gay man who happens to be in love with a woman’. Who could quarrel with that? I can't."

The song in the video below, "2-4-6-8 Motorway", was also popular—and the first song of his I heard. The song is said to allude obliquely to a gay truck driver, though I don’t get that, personally.

Robinson, who is now 62, seldom performs in concert, but remains one of the founders of openly gay and queer pop music, and I think it’s important to remember our history.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

I have so many compilation LPs - I have 2,4,6,8, but I'll be darned if I can remember where it is.