REVIEW

TOM ROBINSON
Bottomline

Of all the bands churning around the UK club circuit during 1976-77, as punk arose from the gutter to forge a new rock aristocracy, few were so powerful as the Tom Robinson Band. Part of it, of course, was the group’s so loudly outspoken political stance, so far to the left of what then passed for Socialism that even the Reds feared their disruptive influence. But there was also the fact that they wrote some incredible songs, minor masterpieces that still sound fabulous today, long after the band’s polemic has fallen into prehistory.

TRB were also a very British phenomenon, which meant American success was NEVER going to greet them, no matter how hard their US label tried… and it did try, releasing the debut album as a bonus-packed double, and foisting Todd Rundgren upon them as a second album producer. Nothing came of it, but still they had a devoted Stateside audience, all of whom appear to have gathered at the Bottom Line on a muggy night in June 1978, to catch TRB at their peak… for this was their finest hour, one album and four singles into their lifespan, with the UK already spread-eagled at their feet, and half the band’s repertoire elevated to national anthems by proxy.

Robinson understands the dichotomy of preaching British politics to New York trendies - most of the songs are prefaced with at least a few words of explanation… those that need it, anyway; "Glad To be Gay" translates into any climate you like. "Power In The Darkness," the most powerful of all the band’s political addresses, even takes on a whole new complexion, as Robinson transforms the song’s customary mid-section political platform into a greeting to all of America’s right wingers that is as thought-provoking as it initially seems amusing.

Excellent sound quality taken from an FM radio broadcast adds to the thrill of the performance and, in the absence of a disc that captures TRB on their native soil, before an audience that instinctively understands every nuance, this set is the closest you can get to the album TRB should have released at the time. Sheer brilliance. - Dave Thompson

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