Tom Robinson‘s return to Belfast with the Tom Robinson Band has been long overdue – since 1979 to be precise at the Ulster Hall as part of a Rock Against Racism campaign show. The Radio 6 personality, known for his Desert Island Discs and catchy singles including 2-4-6-8-Motorway, performed the politically driven ‘Power in the Darkness‘ in its entirety as part of a UK tour at the Belfast Empire this week with support from Derry rockers The Wood Burning Savages, columnist and poet Gavin Martin and Andy White.
For those who are conscious of the diverse NI music scene, The Wood Burning Savages are a band who are burning brightly. Fresh off a tour with Fangclub and a number of prestigious bills under their belts (and more to follow in 2018) – the band continue this roller-coaster ride by ending 2017 on a high. Approaching the stage bathed in a dense blue, the band built up the pressure with the opening track ‘Stability‘ before kicking up a racket with the explosively catchy ‘We Love You‘. The band are known on the scene for their furious and choppy rock n’ roll stylings and as politically-aware songsmiths, drawing their intensity from punk rock n’ roll roots.
With the highlight of their set being the new single ‘Living Hell’ – the band were functioning at maximum overdrive, tearing through The Empire as a force to be reckoned with. The sound of abrasive feedback generated by Michael Woods was succeeded by a crunchy grooving riff, Elliot Finlay’s pulsating drums and Daniel Acheson’s fuzzing bass with Paul Connelly’s sharp-to-the-tongue lyricism and trembling vocals that summons Jello-Biafra himself. ‘Living Hell‘ perfectly demonstrated the power of this gang as a live entity. Dropping the guitar for ‘Thoughts of You‘ – Paul dominated the stage with manic movements and aggressive in-your-face approach complementary to bands like MC5 and Against Me! to bring the set to its ultimate conclusion. This was the best set I’ve seen the band perform, tapping into a vein of exuberance which kept on delivering beat after beat, shout after shout, riff after riff.
The band later joined journalist Gavin Martin who took to the stage to perform an extensive poem inspired by his experiences with punk rock scenes, Belfast during the Troubles and exposure to the Sex Pistols – providing reflections of a culture shock that impacted so many young people at the end of the 1970’s. He was soon followed by well-known NI singer-songwriter and poet Andy White who shared a small selection of original material from his extensive discography including the 1985 single ‘Religious Persuasion‘. Armed with a 12 string acoustic, the solo artist delivered an entertaining set of impactful songwriting with thought-provoking lyricism and socially-conscious themes that cross generations – providing a very suitable sonic bridge to Tom Robinson’s headline set.
Following a short intended interval, Tom Robinson (he was also MC’ing the whole show as well as stimulating conversation during changeovers) took to the stage to deliver this evening’s main attraction. Armed with a candy red bass and his band of merry-men – the TRB dove right into ‘Up Against The Wall‘ with its cheerfully upbeat pop hooks, gritty rhythm guitars, Gary Moore-esque soloing, and lyricism attacking the status quo of the day (albeit still relevant!). Performing ‘Power in the Darkness‘ in its entirety this evening, the TRB went from song to song with effortless execution, fantastic sound and demonstrating mastery in their stagecraft – showcasing themselves as an incredibly tight unit.
With songs like ‘Grey Cortina‘, the stabbing rhythms and anthemic raucousness of ‘Ain’t Gonna Take It‘, ‘Long Hot Summer’ evoking sonic sentiments similar to The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and swaggering set closer ‘Don’t Take No For An Answer‘ – the audience this evening was ravaged by nostalgic powerpop dynamism led by a politically conscious tongue, tipped by a bombardment of infectiously harmonious choruses. Tom was on his toes the entire show, breaking out poses, interacting with each band member continuously amidst the swing and showing ample enthusiasm in his performance, with his renowned radio voice projecting through the PA with stories and tongue-in-cheek reflections in-between bursts of energy.
Returning to the stage after the traditional walk-off, the Tom Robinson Band came back on for 3 fan-favourites beginning with the most cabaret ‘Martin‘ accompanied by his pianist and a heavy amount of crowd participation (including one punter being told, humorously, to shut up for speaking too much) before easing into gay rights anthem ‘Glad to be Gay‘ that put a smile on many a punter’s faces. Tom and the boys finished on the singalong standard ‘2-4-6-8-Motorway‘ concluding a fantastic night and incredibly zealous set with copious amounts of dancing and clapping in return. Utterly friggin’ phenomenal!
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Photos and review by Steven Donnelly, 2017