Although his career had pretty much flamed out by the start of the '80s, there were few punk-era major-label performers as intensely controversial as Tom Robinson. Cutting his teeth with folk-rockers Caf+¬ Society (who released a Ray Davies-produced record on the head Kinks' Konk label in 1975), Robinson roared into the spotlight in 1978 with a great single ("2-4-6-8 Motorway") and a much-ballyhooed contract with EMI. What was remarkable about this was that Robinson was the kind of politically conscious, confrontational performer that major labels generally ignored: he was openly gay and sang about it ("Glad to Be Gay"), vociferous in his hatred for then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, helped form Rock Against Racism, and generally spoke in favor of any leftist political tract that would embarrass the ruling ultraconservative Tory government. His debut album, 1978's Power in the Darkness, was an occasionally stunning piece of punk/hard rock agitprop that, along with being ferociously direct, was politicized rock that focused more on songs than slogans.
However, by the release of the second album, the Todd Rundgren-produced TRB Two, the songs were getting weaker and Robinson began sounding like a boring ideologue. Similarly, the band, even terrific guitarist Danny Kustow, sounds as if on automatic pilot. By the end of the '70s, Robinson had been dropped by EMI and signed to maverick major IRS as a solo act. In a wise move, he ditched the hard rock polemics of TRB for a more sophisticated pop/rock sound, but found his audience dwindling. A brief period of silence ended with him, somewhat surprisingly, signing with Geffen and releasing Hope and Glory. It was a politically tinged but mostly mainstream rock record that featured a cover of that decidedly non-punk song, Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," with Robinson deftly exploring the song's homoerotic subtext. Still, it wasn't enough to resuscitate his career and for the remainder of the decade Robinson released England-only albums that tried the patience of even longtime fans.
As to his current whereabouts, Robinson is (amazingly) rumored to be married to a woman and raising a family in England. He's still writing songs and occasionally performing, also working as a DJ for BBC6. ~ John Dougan
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