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2023/4 Albums Thing 296 - Tom Robinson Band (TRB) “Power In The Darkness”

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Much like Tom Petty earlier, the Tom Robinson Band, or TRB (they are referred to as both on this albums cover and it’s labels), were sold as being part of the Punk/New Wave thing that was happening in 1977. Hindsight tells me that they weren’t really. They were however a high powered Rock band that, crucially, had something to say.

Part of the joy of going into town in those days and buying a new LP was the journey home by train or bus and the time you could spend reading all the information on the record sleeve. The lyrics, who wrote what,  who the producer was and any thank you’s from the band. “Power In The Darkness” was different, it had a lot of that stuff but it also had little notes about each song, information about Rock Against Racism and a “political” statement by Mr Robinson lifted from an NME interview. There was plenty to keep you occupied until you got the record home.

It also came with a stencil of the bands logo which was based on the Black Power fist  encircled by the bands name (it was also co-opted by the Northern Soul crowd surrounded by the legend “Keep The Faith”). If you ever go see The Wonder Stuff check out the flight cases upon which guitarist Malc Treece’s speaker cabinets are perched, one of them is emblazoned with this TRB stencil. And in fact, Miles still does his vocal soundcheck by singing “Martin” from TRB’s “Rising Free” EP, so yeah, Tom and his band were a big deal to a lot us back then. 

So then, they really weren’t a Punk or New Wave group. Their best known song to most would still be “2-4-6-8 Motorway” (which isn’t on this album) I’d guess, a song which is a truck drivers lament, more Country than Punk in subject. We also have a song about wanting to own a grey Cortina. But if not Punk in sound Tom’s lyrics are definitely Punk in spirit. Having said all that the record begins with the Punk rush of “Up Against The Wall” with it’s “vicious, suspicious sixteen”s coming out from the cold.

After the boy racer romp of “Grey Cortina” (Tom’s ambition was indeed to own one if you read the sleeve notes) we’re then taken on a tour of grim, inner city Britain in the late 70’s, where the lonely are trapped in “bedsitter bedlam” but at the same time are ready to stand up for each other cos they “ain’t gonna take it no more”. You’re exhorted to decide which side you’re on and in the final title track reminded, if it were needed, of the hypocrisy of the ruling class, “Freedom we’re talking about your freedom” but what they really want is “Freedom from the likes of YOU!”, and all of this to a very groovy backing track.

Now, please indulge me while I focus in on one song, the epic “Winter Of ‘79”. It’s right up there with The Jam’s “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight” as a vivid picture of what an, at times, scary and violent place Britain could be at the arse end of the 70’s. The song sits at the start of side 2 and is kicked into life by Danny Kustow’s monumental power chording, the perfect exemplar of the power lying in the combination of a Gibson Les Paul driven through a Marshall stack (yes I know at tims Danny played a Gibson and a Yamaha SG but at this time I’m sure it was a LP). Kustow was a superb guitarist and here he conjures a sound most would kill to achieve. And while Danny blows up a storm Tom sings of a dystopian Britain where blood runs in the streets after football matches, relatives die and friends commit suicide, beer is cheap but Communists are being rounded up, National Service is re-introduced and the SAS are checking names, social security and public transport stops, clubs and cafes are being fire bombed, gays are being jailed, black kids are being targeted, the National Front are on the rise and in the end “A few fought back and a few folks died”. Then from the depths of quiet Danny rips a solo that…well if all solo’s were that good the world would be a much better place.

Was it Punk ? No. But it had more to say than many a Punk band before or since and helped a lot of us see things differently. You can still find Tom Robinson gigging and on Radio 6, still fighting the good fight. He chose which side he was on, as he says in here “if left is right then right is wrong”. TRB were politically as important to us back then as The Clash, The Jam and Steel Pulse and I thank them for shining that light.

Winter Of ‘79 - https://youtu.be/yKOUuw8R1aw?si=5a1YCN_rKnFs0fXu

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