The rumours about Tom Robinson’s first album (Only The Now) in 20 years in collaboration with Gerry Diver had piqued my interest and when I saw that the Karousel Music Collective were putting on a “Rough mix of tunes from Tom Robinsons new album” the urge to undertake a 3 hour journey from Somerset to Wood Green was irresistible.
With drinks ordered, the audience were sat in anticipation at The Karamel Club, a high ceilinged yet intimate room in what was an old chocolate factory. The band arrived 10 minutes before they were due on stage, allowing Gerry Diver to spend a purposeful few minutes wandering the stage giving a little stamp here a tinkle on the old piano in the corner and with a nod deemed the stage set.
The first 5 or 6 songs of the set were performed by Tom Robinson solo and consisted of a selection of his songs culminating in Martin which, as he explained, used to be one of his more raucous numbers performed in pubs across North London in which audiences used to resound in a cockney roar of “Martin!” every time the name was sung in the chorus. Tom suggested as this was an acoustic evening we whispered our response, and this was the point that the night took on magical properties. Tom had the audience totally engaged and he was obviously enjoying himself as Gerry Diver and Lee Forsyth Griffiths joined him on stage.
If what followed were rough mixes of the tracks I hope they don’t change to much in future live performances. Gerry became the soundboard for the band with foot stomps, plucked fiddle, single piano notes creating the perfect sonic backdrop to Tom’s voice which has lost none of it’s punk edge as he approaches his 65th Birthday.
The songs can best be described as a cross-genre mix of folk, punk and rock, which will give the new album a great of breadth of appeal. Amongst the showcasing of his new music Tom managed to surprise everyone as he announced in the middle of a set that he was going to play “A medley of his only hit” and, much to the joy of those that were there back in the day, ambled beautifully through 2 – 4 – 6 – 8 Motorway with Gerry hitting the piano to emphasise the chorus brilliantly.
There were more surprises to follow and one of the most enduring memories of the night was during the anthemic Glad To Be Gay when the band stopped playing and we were told in the most eloquent terms that “… you are all unique human beings that deserve love and this song is about the human condition, throw away your reticence and sing it loud”. The next chorus I suspect had the windows rattling on the other side of the Thames. This was followed by an emotional version of War Baby with Gerry performing a fiddle solo that at one point had the whole audience convinced that armageddon was approaching as it collapsed into a roar of dark notes and mayhem before pulling us all back to reality with a lyrical, melodic instrumental of the songs chorus.
The evening ended with the latest single “Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall” which is about a teenage runaway going off the rails and all proceeds are being donated to CALM The Campaign Against Living Miserably. It starts with Tom telling the story of “A small blonde kid aged 9 or 10….” with Gerry sawing a single note. The audience remained in utter pin-drop, something I also credit to the amazing Mancunian songwriter Lee Forsyth Griffiths who prowled the stage all night with a presence that left us in no doubt that he believed every word being sung and felt the music with his heart. At times he looked mildly menacing but when he sang his voice was pure and angelic a real lesson in never judging a book by it’s cover.
An incredible night of music that I would gladly travel for 6 hours to see again, they are taking it on the road for the summer festivals, a London Showcase on the 18th September at Queen Elizabeth Hall and a 15 date UK tour during October/November. I recommend you keep your eyes peeled as there will be more of these “rough mix” nights prior to these dates as they perfect their set and if you can get to one of then don’t spurn the opportunity. If this is what happens to old punks as they hit 65 we need more of it.
Only The Now has been funded by a Pledge Music campaign, will be released on the 5th October and features Martin Carthy, Billy Bragg, TV Smith and Sir Ian McKellen as the voice of God. The single “Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall” is released on the 1st June which also happens to be Tom’s 65th Birthday.
Review by: Jon Earl
Tom recording with Martin Carthy and Billy Bragg: