Before he was a disc jockey auteur on BBC 6 Music, the politely astute Tom Robinson was a rock ’n’ roll hero.
Frontman of his own eponymous band, he shook up the charts in the late Seventies long before he slipped behind the decks at the BBC – a somewhat ironically fruitful partnership, given that the organisation banned his protest hit Glad to Be Gay on 1978.
Several decades removed from the zenith of the same movement that spawned Johnny Rotten and The Clash, the Cambridgeshire musician’s razor-sharp songs still resonate with the politically-charged times – and at Wakefield’s Unity Works, he manages the impressive act of balancing deep-seated anger and warm geniality across a brisk, hour-plus show.
His stop in Yorkshire celebrates the 40th anniversary of debut hit 2-4-6-8 Motorway, with the TRB’s first and most successful LP, Power in the Darkness, duly rolled out in full. A clenched-fist of a record bristling with societal frustration and Costello-style pub-rock melodies, it still packs a vital punch all these years later; when Robinson unleashes a full-throated roar on spiky and essential opener Up Against the Wall, a thrillingly physical charge still cuts through the air. Ain’t Gonna Take It’s furious staccato racket sees him wrap a more gnarled voice than his heyday around the chorus –a blisteringly defiant swagger remains lurking underneath.
The breadth of genre palates the TRB lent on for Power in the Darkness is also readily apparent; Too Good to Be True owes its rootsy soul shuffle to the late Tom Petty’s Breakdown, whilst the bluesy-R&B scuffle of You Gotta Survive recalls the likes of Van Morrison.
Robinson too is a congenial host, putting his broadcasting nous and ability to play an audience to good use, with quips about his then-infant son mistaking vinyl for “large CDs” and recalling a hilariously dirty anecdote about his hero, Scottish singer Alex Harvey.
He updates the Enoch Powell-esque monologue on the Police-aping title track for a more tasteful version, pleading for a return to nominal decency in British values; he’s ditched the old one as it “hasn’t aged particularly well”.
By the time he’s reached 2-4-6-8 Motorway – amusingly referred to as his “secret encore” – a bevy of ageing punks are bopping along enthusiastically as the bassist-vocalist gurns and grins around his microphone.
Fierce, fiery, yet oddly cosy; a homely contradiction aptly suited to this most well-spoken of rockers.