In 1978 when I was budding 19 year old gay activist, one of my most treasured possessions was my copy of Tom Robinson Band's Power In The Darkness. That summer I had gone shopping for the album just to get the hit single 2-4-6-8 Motorway, which I'd seen at the top of UK charts. Back in those days, I often bought records unheard, based merely on their position on the British charts.
But scanning the back of the record in the store, I was thrilled to see a track called Glad To Be Gay, and hoping that the song wasn't some sarcastic punk anti-gay rant, I rushed the album home. Two minutes into my first playing of Glad To Be Gay, I was standing in front of my record player, weeping. Recorded live, the song was a blistering recounting of gay-bashing by British police and media.
Don't try to kid us that if you're discreet
You're perfectly safe as you walk down the street
You don't have to mince or make bitchy remarks
To get beaten unconscious and left in the dark
Yet after ticking off all that misery, Tom Robinson urges his audience to "Sing if you're glad to be gay!" Sing anyway. And they do. Later I found out that Robinson was a well-known gay activist who originally wrote the song for the 1976 London Pride rally. These days, Tom Robinson is largely retired from music, working as a broadcaster for BBC Radio 4. He raised the ire of gay activists in the 90's when he came out as bisexual, married a woman and had children. His last album was titled Having It Both Ways.
Today Glad To Be Gay is in the news again. Alan Johnson, the British Secretary of State for Education and Skills told BBC Radio 4 listeners yesterday that he would be happy if the song were included in a new songbook being published for schoolchildren. As you might imagine, this has caused a huge controversy. Johnson has been a stalwart supporter of gay rights in the UK and has a chance of becoming deputy leader of the Labour Party. Hats off to Mr. Johnson!
You can download many of Tom Robinson's tracks, free, on his personal website. I recommend his great love song War Baby (which was especially meaningful to me in 1984), and his cover of Steely Dan's Rikki Don't Lose That Number.
UPDATE: Tom Robinson responds:
Thanks for your kind and appreciative words, they mean a lot. And Robin, I'll track down the Secret Policeman's Ball version and get it YouTubed ASAP. But there is now a decent version there of the "Elton's Song" video - which depicts a story of unrequited gay love and for which I wrote the lyric. Have made a page with links to the YouTube version (and a higher-res Quicktime file) at http://eltonsong.com/
With all good wishes from London