Sunday, 21 October 2007

Power In The Darkness - Tom Robinson Band.

I owe the Tom Robinson Band a lot because they helped shape my musical future. Before I heard them I had had a strict diet of Showaddywaddy, Darts and other chart fodder. I remember seeing 2-4-6-8 Motorway on Top Of The Pops and liking it well enough but it was when I heard the follow up Rising Free EP that I really took to them. The stand out track from the EP was, for me, 'Right On Sister' a song written in solidarity with the woman's movement, although, perhaps not surprisingly, it was 'Glad To Be Gay' that attracted attention.

'Power In The Darkness' was released in 1978 and was produced by 'Never Mind The Bollocks' producer Chris Thomas. It was the first album I can remember being excited about owning. I was just coming up 13 at the time and I remember getting it home and pouring over the sleeve and the stencil of the band logo that was included in the package (I still have mine intact and unused). There was something intrinsically exciting about records in those days. The feel of the sleeve in your hand really meant something. I don't think cd's, even with their superior sound quality and robustness have ever captured that feeling.

The album opened with, what is still, one of my favourite singles of all time 'Up Against The Wall'. From Danny Kustow's opening riff, through his excellent, solo to his closing feedback it is a powerhouse of a track. Robinson's lyrics about the disaffected youth of London, might still ring true today and shows not a lot has changed for some in the last 29 years. It's by no means a subtle message but it hits you right between the eyes. In my view it is a classic and has been sorely overlooked.

The rest of the album is packed full of songs of, as Robinson said, "street fighting songs". I wouldn't disagree; along with 'Up Against The Wall' there is the equally hard hitting 'Long Hot Summer' and 'You Better Decide Which Side Your On' and 'The Winter Of 79' in which Robinson imagines a future looking back on a particularly tough period in his life and reminiscing about a time of violence, strikes, and the rise of the right. This was, remember pre-Thatcher and at the time the her form of 'society' was yet to raise its ugly head. It didn't quite pan out as Tom envisioned but some of it rings very true.

The title track 'Power In The Darkness' is quite different from the other tracks on the album. Robinson's bass line is quite funky (for a new wave record) and it drives the song along nicely. Typically for Tom the lyrics tell a story of struggle against the establishment and how, in order to gain freedom we have to stand and fight. This time however the establishment answers back. Robinson, in his very best posh voice, plays the part of 'The Voice From The Other Side' talking about his freedom. 'Freedom from the likes of you' he shouts at the end. It is quite a clever song as it parodies the enemy nicely.

The only non-political song on the album is 'Grey Cortina' where Robinson dreams of owning a Mark II Ford Cortina and having all the kudos owning one could bring (how times have changed). Apparently Robinson eventually did fulfill his dream.

'Power In The Darkness' is not the greatest album ever made, and I doubt anyone would claim that it is. However, it has an important place in my heart as it made me sit up and take notice. It brought my attention to Rock Against Racism for instance and injustice against all kinds of minorities in this country. But more than any of that it made me realise that there was more than just pop music out there. That loud guitars and meaningful lyrics were far better than the rubbish that was in the charts. It made me care about music passionately and for that reason alone it has a very special place in my collection.

1) Up Against The Wall
2) Grey Cortina
3) Too Good To Be True
4) Ain't Gonna Take It
5) Long Hot Summer
6) The Winter Of '79
7) Man You Never Saw
8) Better Decide Which Side You're On
9) You Gotta Survive
10) Power In The Darkness

Something quite exciting happened after I wrote this post. Danny Kustow and Tom Robinson are both Myspace friends of mine and I dropped both of them a line to tell them about the post. I was inspired to do so by Mondo's recent meeting with Bryan James of The Damned (which you can read about over at Planet Mondo). Tom sent me an email back saying that he was going to take a look at the blog which was rather exciting. Even better than that though was a message I received from Danny:
It really is brilliant what you have written, what I like about it is its truthful !! I am dead impressed and proud, thank you from bottom of my heart for penning this,
Bless you
All I can say is wow!!


Jack Gestures said...

Great album, one of my best friends at the time was a big TRB fan and I listened to this album a lot. I also liked the later Robinson/Kustow Sector 25 group who had a more " new wave" sound with a lot of guitar effects. This LP brings back memories of the politics of the time and TRB used to do rock against racism gigs with the likes of Steel Pulse & the clash.

T said...


The band was called 'Sector 27' - I liked it too.