Born June 1st 1950 in Cambridge, Tom Robinson was a choirboy until his voice broke, and everything else broke along with it. At a time when homosexuality was still punishable in Britain by prison, he fell in love with another boy at school. Wracked with shame and selfhatred, Tom attempted suicide at age 16. An understanding head teacher got him transferred to a pioneering therapeutic community for disturbed adolescents in Kent.
There at Finchden Manor, Tom was inspired by John Peel’s Perfumed Garden on pirate Radio London, and a visit from old boy Alexis Korner. The legendary bluesman and broadcaster transfixed a roomful of people with nothing but his voice and an acoustic guitar. The whole direction of Tom’s future life and career became suddenly clear.
In the early seventies Tom joined the acoustic trio Café Society with two friends in London. They impressed Ray Davies of The Kinks enough for him to produce their debut album, though it sold only 600 copies. Meantime he discovered London’s emerging gay scene and embraced the politics of gay liberation, which linked gay rights to the wider issues of equality and justice in society at large.
Inspired by an early Sex Pistols gig, Tom left Cafe Society and formed the more overtly political Tom Robinson Band (TRB) in 1977, aged 26. His band had a hit with “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, quickly followed into the Top 20 by a live EP despite a BBC ban on the controversial lead track “Glad To Be Gay”. Swept along by a tide of music press hysteria TRB’s debut album “Power In The Darkness” went gold. But the band fell from favour equally quickly and broke up – demoralised and squabbling – in 1979.
As the ’80s arrived, Tom ploughed his remaining earnings into a new band, Sector 27. They recorded a critically acclaimed album with Steve Lillywhite and took New York by storm (playing Madison Square Garden with The Police) before they too split up and left Tom technically bankrupt.
Fleeing the taxman, he packed his few possessions into his Austin A40 and headed for Hamburg. Living in a friend’s spare room – Tom began writing again and ended up working in East Berlin with local band NO55. He returned home with fluent German and a song that became his Top 10 comeback, 1983’s ‘War Baby’.
Tom’s continental exile had given him a fresh perspective on pop, and his return to the charts was marked by with a string of shows – not at regular rock venues – but performing late night cabaret at the Edinburgh Fringe. His career enjoyed a resurgence in the mid 90s with a trio of albums for the respected folk/roots label Cooking Vinyl.
He has become an advocate for a wider sexuality than his earlier potrayal as only a homosexual campaigner allowed – marrying a woman and starting a family. Having kickstarted his musical career with the notoriety of “Glad To Be Gay”, Tom rounded it off twenty years later with an album cheerfully titled “Having It Both Ways” (Cooking Vinyl, 1996). In 1998 his bisexual epic “Blood Brother” won in three categories at the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards in New York.
Over the past two decades Robinson has gradually become better known as a broadcaster than as a musician. In 1986 a radio producer offered Tom him his own series on the BBC World Service. Just like his heroes Peel and Korner, he soon found himself broadcasting his favourite music to a worldwide radio audience.
Unusually, Tom has presented programmes on all the BBC’s national stations: Radios 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5Live. He fronted The Locker Room, a series about men and masculinity, for Radio 4 in the early nineties and later hosted the Home Truths tribute programme to John Peel a year after the latter’s untimely death in 2004.
With producer by Matthew Linfoot he won a Sony Radio Award in 1997 with the gay music documentary You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away, and currently hosts his own show on BBC 6 Music on Monday and Tuesday nights, while freelancing on Radio 2 (Mark Radcliffe show) and Radio 4 (Something Understood, Pick Of The Week).
Tom remains an active supporter of Amnesty International, The National Assembly Against Racism and The Samaritans along with Peter Tatchell’s Outrage! campaign among others.