27 December 2005

Tom Robinson - Truce (live)

Well haven't I been the slackest of music bloggers this month. Damn me and my inability to share the hidden musical gems I have. I had this plan to do a bunch of great lesser-known christmas songs - The Cocteau Twins' Frosty The Snowman, The Dickies' Silent Night, The Greedies' A Merry Jingle and others - but it's just all been too hectic and I'm sadly finding that when I get busy Dust On The Stylus is the first thing to suffer.

Still, one festive one's making it up here. As I've left it till after christmas I thought I'd go for something a little sharper than most seasonal songs. A strong candidate was Legendary Pink Dots' Government Health Warning. Set to out of tune playing of the chords of Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime, the lyrics deal with that age old tradition, drunken car crashes:

They followed stars
and drank in bars
and wrapped their cars
round lamp-posts
as the posters whistled "Think before you drink!"
They didn't!

Toasted ghosts in different angles
tangled up in metal
as the cameras clicked and stretchers rolled
and sheets were laid out white.

It's Christmas.
Happy birthday Christ.
Let's have another drink!
Fa la la la la....

Great as it is, I've plumped for Tom Robinson's Truce. Like Government Health Warning there's an ascerbic tinge giving it a refreshing knowingness that makes the point with dark wit.

It's a motif common in Robinson's political songs, giving them all the power of the uncompromising protest song but with an additional under-no-illusions clarity borne of having tried and failed and thus seen how big the dissenter's task is, yet still being just as big-hearted and determined to try.

Glad To Be Gay, one of his earliest political songs, is still the giant among his works. There had been no out-and-proud rock star before him, let alone one so militant.

Even today, it's not easy. When Jonathan King got seven years for having sex with teenage boys in the early 1970s, one had to wonder if the same treatment would've been dished out if it was Mick Jagger fucking girls. King was treated harsher cos of the differences, namely he's ugly, he's a smartarse, but mostly because he's gay.

Robbie Williams, a man who's flirted with a homo-friendly image for ages, recently sued The People and a couple of other idiot gossip rags for alleging he'd had gay sex.

Of course, a newspaper should not make false allegations and when it does it should be punished.

But again, I doubt the newspaper would've been prosecuted if they'd wrongly alleged Williams had had sex with women. Certainly, in asking for an apology for 'the injury and distress caused', he's made it clear that he regards allegations of being gay is derogatory to his character.

In 1979 after the split of the modestly named Tom Robinson Band, Tom did a gig of gay songs to mark the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. He mixed his own songs with some great covers - notably Noel Coward's Mad About The Boy, which the 'Noel wasn't gay, really he wasn't' Coward estate refused to allow men to cover.

Among the Robinson originals were several that were never released in studio versions. Prime among these is Truce, a solo acoustic guitar and vocal number with all the yearning, wit, bite and boldness of Robinson's best work.

The live tape was released in 1982 as Cabaret 79 (Panic Records, NIC2), and then - the place I've lifted it from - reissued in 1997 as part of Robinson's excellent Castaway Records reissue series with quality rare bonus tracks thrown in (Castaway, CNWVP003CD).


Truce, call a truce
Stop all the firing and the fighting
Christmas morning, 1914
What would the good Lord say?

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the shelling and the shooting
Froehliche Weinacht Kamerad, Freundschaft
Let's all be friends for a day

In the man made hell
In the putrescent smell
In the mines and mud and trenches
The men from the Rhine
Crossed over the line
For a truce with the Tommies and the Frenchies

But the very next day
There were hand grenades
There was gunfire, gassing and slaughter
As we blasted the Hun
To Kingdome Come
With machine guns, shelling and mortars

It was nice to pretend
We could all live as friends
With the Christmas angels calling
But the dream turned sour
In a matter of hours
And we made it all up in the morning

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the bitching and backbiting
Who'd leave their lover
Or send in the bailiffs
This one day of the year?

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the sackings and the stealing
Who'd rape a schoolgirl
Or cut off someone's pension
And spoil all this Christmas cheer?

There's a couple of days
When the bashers of gays
Who oppress, arrest and charge us
All leave us alone
To return back home
For a truce with our mothers and our fathers

But the very next day
It's back to the fray
And setting our homes in order
Bashing lesbian mothers
And underage lovers
Disowning gay sons and daughters

Well it's quaint to pretend
We can love our fellow men
With the Christmas angels calling
But the dream turns sour
In a matter of hours
And they make it all up in the morning

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

Incidentally, Robinson has released about a dozen versions of Glad To Be Gay. Determined not to let it become a museum piece he's updated it frequently - e.g. jettisoning the bit about the older age of consent, adding bits about AIDS and topical cases - and the altered versions have cropped up on loads of b-sides and compilation albums. It'd be cool to maybe do a fortnight of posting all the different versions on this blog or something, if it's wanted. Anyone think it'd be a good idea?