Ray Davies of The Kinks gave Tom Robinson his first break, signing Cafe Society- a trio of Robinson, Hereward Kaye and Raphael Doyle- to his Konk label and producing their eponymous 1974 album. However, Punk brought Robinson to prominence: with The Tom Robinson Band (guitarist Danny Kustow, keyboard player Mark Ambler and drummer Dolphin Taylor), he wrote songs laden with pointed, if sometimes clumsy, political commentary.

One of his few apolitical songs, the stomping '2-4-6-8 Motorway' reached the UK Top 5 in 1977. It was followed in the chart by their 1978 album Power In The Darkness and the 'Rising Free' EP, which contained the sardonic '(Sing If You're) Glad To Be Gay'. His next album, TRB 2 (1979) was poorly recieved, critics complainng the polemics overwhelmed the music, and TRB promptly split. Robinson had a new band, Section 27, before going solo.

He hit the chart in the UK again with 1983's romantic 'War Baby', from North By Northwest, and re-formed TRB for a tour and 1990's live Last Tango. Currently a radio presenter, Robinson continues to record (hence 1996's Having It Both Ways) and perform.

Tom Robinson, British musician and gay icon, was born on 1st June 1950. His musical background during his childhood was confined to singing as a boy soprano in local choirs until his voice broke – and this sign of adolescence was swiftly followed by an awareness that he was gay. That's a troublesome realisation, even today, in 1960's Britain, at a Quaker boarding school, it was devastating.

At the time, homosexuality was still a crime, and punishable by prison – the sexual revolution was only just finding its feet and hadn't got as far as embracing acceptance of non-standard sexuality. Gays were unnatural, sinful, objects of hatred – so Tom, took that hatred on board and applied it to himself. Hopelessly and unrequitedly in love with a schoolmate, he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of pills at the age of 16.

Luckily for him, the Friends School at Saffron Waldon was run by an understanding and tolerant headmaster, Kenneth Nicholson. So, instead of being expelled in disgrace, he was transferred to Finchden Manor in Kent, a therapeutic community in a rambling Elizabethan house run for "disturbed adolescents", by what Tom describes as "a formidable 75-year-old" called George Lyward. There he was, at least, amongst people who shared his sense of alienation, and he stayed for 6 years. Therapy consisted simply of communal living – fifty boys and ten staff - chores and so on, and boys stayed until they were ready to leave and face the outside world. During his time there, blues singer Alexis Korner, himself a Finchden old boy, visited to perform an 'unplugged' set for the residents. It proved to be an inspirational performance for Tom – it's what he puts his own decision to pursue a career in music down to.

Together with two friends, Hereward Kaye and Raphael Doyle, he formed an acoustic band called Café Society in the early 70's in London, and became part of the emerging gay scene. The band was discovered by Ray Davies of the Kinks who produced their self-titled first album, which sold an abysmal 600 or so copies. The trio didn't last much longer, but Tom wasn't disheartened – he was too busy finding love and getting involved with campaigning movements for gay rights and various other left-wing causes concerned with equality and social justice.

In 1977, he formed the Tom Robinson Band (Tom on vocals and bass, Danny Kustow on guitar, Mark Ambler on keyboards and Dolphin Tayor on drums), an overtly political group, that hit the scene just at the right time – amongst the anger and rebellion of punk. His first hit 2-4-6-8 Motorway was an apolitical rock track, a stomping kind of thing that appears on CDs of music to drive to, but he followed it up with Glad to be Gay, which the BBC banned instantly, and which equally instantly became an anthem for the gay rights movement, as the music press latched onto it with fervour.

It's a bitter, biting and occasionally humorous number, which is incredibly singable and remains THE Tom Robinson song – indeed, it has evolved constantly, starting as a commentary on police, press and public attitudes to homosexuals, and, over time, covering celebrated prosecutions, AIDS, in-fighting within the gay community, police entrapment of politicians and celebrities, press treatment of protesters at Greenham Common, paranoia about paedophilia and the internet, The Matthew Shepherd case, the gay community's attacks on Tom personally – of which more later – and often included a triumphant statement of position "We're lesbian women, we're men who are gay/We're here and we're human and... won't go away". It incidentally also made him the first musician in the UK to openly 'come out'.

The band's 1978 debut album Power In The Darkness was a massive success, going gold, but the follow up, 1979's TRB2 failed to impress, the members of TRB started fighting, and the band fell apart.

In the early 80's, Tom formed Sector 27 with Jo Burt, and released an eponymous album produced by Steve Lillywhite (one-time husband of singer Kirsty MacColl) which was received well by critics, but only got a lukewarm reception from the buying public, although the band played to enthusiastic audiences in America, on a tour which included a gig at Madison Square Gardens on the same bill as The Police. Immediately afterwards, however, Robinson and Burt went their separate ways, leaving Tom pretty much broke.

After spending time living in a friend's spare room in Hamburg , where he says he had a nervous breakdown, he returned to the UK, and the Top Ten, in 1983 with the single War Baby, from the album North by Northwest. and in 1984, he was offered a show as a broadcaster on the BBC World Service, following in Alexis Korner's footsteps.

He soon moved to the BBC proper, working on Radio One occasionally, before becoming an increasingly regular contributor to Radio Four, where he fronted his own show The Locker Room" between 1992 and 1995, a kind of antithesis to those shows for women that pushed the envelope and let them voice concerns for things outside the emotional and nurturing – this was a show for and by men, which allowed them to explore their emotions and personal issues openly; it caused something of a stir.

Also for Radio Four, he produced a Sony Award winning history of gay music, called You've Got to Hide Your Love Away. There's a certain sweet irony to that, given the BBC's ban of Glad to be Gay two decades earlier.

While all this was going on, however, Tom's personal life was developing. He'd struck up a friendship with a person he'd met and been attracted to at a 1982 Gay Switchboard benefit, friendship had developed into love, the pair had become lovers and moved in together. These things happen, of course – but not usually between a gay man and a woman. The British tabloids Robinson had pillioried so often loved it – they had a positive field day when his partner (whose name has never been revealed to protect her privacy) had their first child. There were rumours of a marriage, that Robinson had "turned heterosexual", and the gay establishment were quick to attack him and call him a traitor – hence that verse from Glad to be Gay I mentioned earlier. It goes:

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 kid 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 I do what I do
And I'm not gonna wear... a straightjacket for you

Because, despite his love for his partner, Robinson still calls himself gay – not bisexual. It's men he likes, he says, and the fact that he has fallen in love and sleeps with a single specific woman doesn't change his natural orientation. There's no reason to doubt him either, given the number of men who lived so called "normal family lives" for years before coming out; the main difference between them and Tom Robinson is that his partner already knows he's gay.

The experience of loving a woman did lead to Tom exploring the subject of bisexuality more in his work, with a 1990's album entitled Having it Both Ways , and the song Blood Brothers in 1998 which took the awards for Best Song and Best Male Artist at the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards in New York.

He is still an active campaigner for many of the causes he's embraced all his life, including Amnesty International, anti-racist groups and The Samaritans, has a four-nightly show every week on the BBC digital network 6 Music, and runs numerous creative workshops for adults and teenagers, when he isn't writing or performing – he also keeps tabs on the doings of his brother, TV producer and poet Matthew Robinson, and records them on his website at www.tomrobinson.com, where he also keeps his blog, and where the majority of the material for this biography was sourced.

Discography – Albums

Cafe Society
Power in the Darkness 1978 Reissued 1994
TRB TWO1979 Reissued 1994
Tom Robinson Band 1981 (Compilation)
The Winter Of 89 1992
Rising Free: very best of TRB

Sector 27 1980
Sector 27 Complete 1996

North by Northwest 1982 - Released on CD 1987
Cabaret 79 1982
Hope and Glory 1984
Still Loving You 1986
The Collection1987 (Compilation)
Back in the Old Country 1989 (Compilation UK Only)
Living in a Boom Time 1992
Love Over Rage1994
Having it Both ways 1996
The Undiscovered Tom Robinson 1998
Tom Robinson - the Gold Collection
Home From Home 1999 (+ Band)
Smelling Dogs 2001 A collection of poems, letters, rants, advice and incidental music

Midnight at the Fringe 1987

We Never Had It So Good 1990

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