This Tom Robinson article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Gavin Wells
Radio 6 presenter Tom Robinson has been absent as a musician for a long time. His last set of new songs was ‘Having It Both Ways’ in 1996. He still has a lot to say and an eclectic mix of styles and collaborators to call on, making ‘Only The Now’ a satisfying bag of folky protest and personal story telling.
As befits an older man, some tracks are nostalgic and deal with ageing and closure. Opener ‘Home In The Morning’ is a tale about a life wasted on secrets. “Tomorrow I’m gonna be gone” sings Robinson over a tune that switches between folky ballad and lilting tango. ‘Never Get Old’ is sung in a similarly raspy voice, with Robinson looking back on “long ago when we both were young”.
The stand-out track is a powerful personal attack on inequality in the legal system, ‘The Mighty Sword Of Justice’, which includes a guest appearance by that old Folk-Punk protest song writer Billy Bragg. After a TV newsreader voiced by Colin Firth announces legal aid cuts, Robinson sings:
“My daddy did his articles in 1954, when he began soliciting, the work stuck in his craw, enforcing for the bourgeoisie, he very quickly saw, there’s one law for the rich, and another one for the poor.”
He contrasts how “Rebekah’s friends and fortune protected her in court” while the Lawrences had to wait 18 years for justice. The music matches the lyrics perfectly, in the best tradition of folk protest.
Robinson sounds angrier than he was in the 70’s and 80’s on ‘Merciful God’, with screeching Electric Guitar mashed up with an Arabic Violin riff. “I’m not frightened, I’m not fearful, doing the job that God put me here for” is the worrying chorus, as Robinson rails that “preaching democracy and gentle Jesus, they lie and bully us, bomb and bleed us”. ‘Holy Smoke’ is about making joints out of bible pages. Ian McKellan makes an amusing guest appearance here as the voice of God, after a brief rap by Swami Baracus.
McKellan also appears on ‘One Way Street’, adding his sonorous voice to a story about a road accident that has a 60’s feel to it, like an old album by poet John Betjeman. Poetry is never far away — the last album Robinson released was the spoken word ‘Smelling Dogs’ in 2001. This poetic tendency is further demonstrated on ‘Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall’, the pathetic story of a drug and alcohol-fuelled suicide. Lines such as “the needles are in me, the demons within me” suggest drugs are also the theme of Gospel Rock number ‘Cry Out’, helped by John Grant adding his rich and authentic North American singer-songwriter voice.
Producer Gerry Driver introduces string arrangements on ‘Home In The Morning’, Beatles cover ‘In My Life’ and banker-bashing ‘Risky Business’, and Steel Drums on ‘The Mighty Sword Of Justice’, while the title track, ending the album, is largely stripped back to acoustic guitar and keyboard.
‘Only The Now’ is out now via Castaway Northwest Recordings