On 18th April, 2015, at just about this time of the day, I pitched up all agog at Gerry Diver‘s studio in ‘Sowf Lundun’ for an in-studio session with the legend that is Tom Robinson. Except that at the time, I didn’t realise he was a lege, I just thought he was ‘that bloke’ on the radio, the one with the lovely velvety voice.
Joking aside, all I really knew about Tom was that he was a jock on BBC6 Music and, that he ran an hub for emerging artists in tandem with this stint at the Beeb. Called Fresh on the Net, I used to read its weekly music reviews with amazement, wondering how on earth this small team of guys n gals managed to squish listening to nearly 200 songs into a timespan of just under four days, every week, non-stop.
I was vaguely aware that Tom had had a pretty solid career in music, but that was back when, and there hadn’t been any recent releases, until ‘now’. Now being back in 2015 and a new album, the first in twenty years, being the reason I, along with several other ardent admirers, found myself standing in a fairylit studio, glass of wine in hand, less then three feet from this mega-God of the music industry.
We were wined, dined (yes Malteser ice-creams do count as food) and entertained by the TRB equivalent of Huey, Duey and Luey – Tom, Gerry and Lee (Fosyth Griffiths, Tom’s musical batman) – from early afternoon, through to the late evening, way past the scheduled finishing time, which would have come as no surprise to those like Terry Hughes, who knew Tom going back donkey’s. A beautiful sunny day, filled with laughter and song, it remains, and will always remain, a treasured memory. With the ever gracious Tom’s permission, I penned a wee blog about our day in’t studio and ipso facto won’t bore you with any further detail, as suffice it to say, you can read about it here.
One year to the date later, and I’m now a member of that moderating team of whom I was then in such awe, and who inspired me so much to listen to new artists, and up my musical game by dragging my sorry ass outta the 20th century. How did that happen? Simple really .. Tom cut me break. He saw that I liked writing and was obviously a bit of a music nut (or as Steve Harris would say, just ‘nut’ will do Derv, innit), which in Tom’s world translates as, 1 + 1 = moderator. Tom is never looking for the next John Peel or Caitlin Moran … he simply wants a team who think the same as he does, those who ‘get’ what FOTN is all about, which is giving new, upcoming artists a voice, a reach, and a chance to be heard.
Neither Tom nor the rest of us do this for the glory of us … we do this because we care. Because we want to try make a difference when it comes to helping new musicians get a step up on the musical ladder.
The mods on FOTN work as a team … Every team needs a captain, and every captain needs a wingman. In our case, those are Tom and the afore-mentioned Steve Harris, he who is the glue that keeps us together (*PoI : Steve has stopped me from unravelling on many occasion at any o’clock, day or night x 7!).
Steve was the guy who, when Tom was touring his afore-mentioned album, (more of which anon), kept the FOTN ship afloat. So I thought it only fitting, as this is a wee tribute to the big man, that Steve should speak up about TC on behalf of team Freshnet. Here’s what he had to say …
“Here’s my attempt at writing something nice about his Tom-ness. It’s probably way too long, but tough fucking shit.
The thing I most admire about Tom is his dedication to discovering and supporting new and emerging artists and getting their music heard.
Far too many people in this business seem to leap on a bandwagon as it’s about to set off, but by that point Tom will probably be waving it goodbye, before returning his attention to the next thing, which he doesn’t just do this as a paid gig on the radio, but through the ad-free, volunteer-run Fresh On The Net web site too.
This stuff isn’t easy or glamorous, you have to listen to a lot of tracks that aren’t quite there yet looking for some kind of spark; it can be years before these artists really find their feet, but by then Tom will have known them since they were in the musical equivalent of short trousers.
The rewards are great though. I’ve had the honour of watching a few artists build themselves up from nothing, and it’s often a story that goes untold, all those years and hard work honing their craft, but one day a track comes in and you know they’ve completely nailed it. THEN they start appearing on all those other blogs. Quite often, it was Tom who helped provide the platform they needed to get going and build that momentum in the first place.”
Hear hear, Steve.
In October 2015, Tom released the album, ‘Only the Now‘, in part as a celebration of his 65th birthday but also because his fans desperately wanted him to go back to what he does best, ie. making music.
“… loaded with barbed attacks on everything that gets his goat, Bush, Blair and the neo cons, the government’s restrictions on legal aid, Rebekah Brooks and Fred “The Shred” Goodwin, city boys and bankers all come in for a well deserved batterin’ …”*** this much anticipated album was received with critical acclaim and more than a few standing ovations. The release was followed by a sell-out UK&I tour, which was so successful that Tom has tagged on another series of live-dates, check here for details.
It’s been a hell of a year in which lot has happened, and mostly all for the good. Tom has inspired me to forge ahead, establish my blog and plough my own musical furrow. I’ve made new friends, heard oceans of new music and been embroiled in lots of laughter filled merry high jinks (usually involving Andy ‘Christmas Elf’ Von Pip and Big Jim ‘Could You Get Those Shorts Any Shorter’ Cambo).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief reminiscence, penned with love and admiration, in tribute to a wonderfully supportive and inspirational mentor, leader, musician and above all, human being, family man, and friend. Thanks for everything Tom, from us to you, and here’s to another year of music & laughter filled moments. Derv xxx
‘Only the Now’ is available through the usual digital channels, including Spotify, Bandcamp, and via the official Tom Robinson website. You can tune into Tom’s radio shows for BBC6 Music on Saturday and Sunday nights from 9pm. Follow Tom on Twitter, here.
** Photographs courtesy of Kate de Ban Photography, Oxford
*** Quote taken from The Best of 2015, The Devil Has The Best Tuna