The Tabernacle in Notting Hill is quite comfortably filled this evening with a mix of ages who remember TOM ROBINSON from his 1970s heyday and those who learn about their new favourite bands from his BBC 6 Music show. The atmosphere is incredibly welcoming, and the crowd’s enthusiasm for this criminally under-celebrated, humble and satisfyingly gravel-voiced champion of music is infectious.
The set is musically diverse, as Robinson brings up several special guests, including rapper Swami ‘The Barracuda’ Baracus, soul singer Melissa James, and fellow punk-rock singer songwriter T.V. Smith from the band The Adverts. A break in the Robinson band set is filled by the energetic acoustic punk rock of New York’s Ed Hamell (under the alias ‘Hamell on Trial’), who plays an exceptional set peppered with comedy that had the crowd doubled up with laughter. A personal favourite lyric: “I’m a bad motherfucker and you can’t deny it, but I haven’t got the balls of Pussy Riot.”
On return to the stage, Robinson and his bandmates own the room, performing a string of hits, including “Power in the Darkness,” “War Baby,” “2-4-6-8 Motorway” and the anthemic and once controversial “Glad to be Gay” (ironically, originally banned by the BBC), which receive the loudest singalong. It is a stirring experience to hear the packed-out venue singing in full voice to the chorus “Sing if you’re glad to be gay” echoing around the large hall of this converted church. Ever the considerate gentleman, Robinson has prepared for the early noise level curfew and has arranged the closing song as an acoustic, un-amped and un-mic’d number, gathering the crowd closer to the stage to hear him and his band, making for an intimate closing to the show.
Robinson might have a day job now, and the punk rebel child era might have come and gone, but if nothing else, tonight’s show proved that Tom Robinson is not only a masterful radio DJ, but he’s still more than capable of delivering the goods live onstage, and remains one of the UK’s leading advocates of gay rights on which his music has had a massive impact.