Cabaret 79 [1982]

by Tom Robinson

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about

1967 seems so long ago...

And in 1979 it did; an achingly nostalgic East End world of bombsites and day trips to Southend which had already disappeared. Now, another 20 years along the line, 1967 is in exactly the same place, but 1979 has joined it on the sepia shelf. It's one of those trick tracking shots from a camera which remind us, as we get older, that what we thought were our personal memories are in fact history.

So, a bit of history. 1979 was a cusp year for gay people in the UK: the liberation movement that had started with the Stonewall Riots in America in 1969 - and Gay Liberation Front in Britain soon after - had snowballed to the extent that it had built up its own momentum without having actually achieved any significant reforms. By 1979 our paper, Gay News, was selling 25,000 copies a fortnight; we were shortly to have our very own (and wonderful) ITV magazine series, Gay Life; and Greater London Arts had given £1,000 for a gay arts festival.

The result of this was a Gay Pride March the like of which no-one had ever seen in this country. 10,000 dykes and faggots flaunted themselves from Charing Cross to Hyde Park. Not many by today's Pride standards, but looking along Piccadilly that afternoon and seeing nothing but happy perverts in either direction was one of those empowering moments you draw on in times of trouble for the rest of your life.

Afterwards there was a rally in Hyde Park, hemmed in by ludicrously large numbers of police and compered by T. Robinson. He thanked the lesbian and gay members of the Force for turning out in such large numbers to support the cause. We laughed. They blushed. We relaxed. Power again, you see.

Then there was Polly Perkins - the biggest openly lesbian entertainer this country had produced up to then and very popular on the pub circuit. She sang "I'm a Superdyke" in spangly hotpants and - in protest at her pandering to male fantasies - was dragged off the stage by some of the people you hear on the track "Stand Together" on this album. That's the kind of folk we were then. No respect, no empathy.

And that's the kind of situation in which Tom Robinson set up Cabaret 79. It was a personal venture in all respects. Having put up - and lost - a lot of money to subsidise Pride that year, he also staged a week's performances at a 500 seater West End venue. He showcased gay material for which he didn't have an outlet elsewhere. He brought in jazz musicians - though it has to be said that he didn't use them to their full potential.

He put himself on the line with a solo set to open the programme, looking for a rapport with his queer audience, daring them to accuse him of selling out, or to find the material "right off". He flirted with us, flattered us, challenged us. Only when he'd got us more or less tamed did the band come on. And by the end we felt the kind of affirmation you only get at maybe a dozen concerts in your life if your lucky. Sure, it was time and place, but it was also the words and the music.

Listening to "Coldharbour Lane", we recognised the success of scoring, the gloom of rejection, in "the upstairs room on the right"; we knew that fresh-faced teacher in the big leather coat, that dance hall crowded with guys. And all wrapped up in the most glorious boozy cruisy blues tune.

"Coldharbour Lane" is a chanson, not a song. The difference is that a song tries to be general and universal, where a chanson is precise, particular, offering a character, a situation and a story. At its best - as here - a chanson is a play sung in three minutes.

I've always thought of Tom as a chansonnier; one of his strengths as a performer has been the ability to characterise his songs so accurately. He should have a crack at more music theatre - or even, if you'll pardon the expression, straight acting. On this album he has the chance to go over the top on "Mad About the Boy" but there are other, more subtle characterisations as well.

Aside from "Coldharbour Lane" there is "1967", full of accurate nostalgia and culminating in the terrifying fear (at 23) of growing old. "Truce" is a brilliant example of 'Only Connect' - the First World War soldiers' pact reflecting the uneasy settlement all misfits make with their parents over Christmas. Even more pertinent in these backlash laddish days, Barbie Norden's "Pub Hassle" wickedly captures the tones of all intrusive male drunks on female get-togethers, while Lewis Furey's "Closing a Door" survives as a desolate anthem to self- sufficiency. All these songs prove that Tom Robinson is a great singer-actor, which is the best kind of singer to be.

Then there are the lovesongs. They evoke a lost gay scene of furtiveness, stereotypes and self-oppression unimaginable to today's confident young readers of Boyz - no coincidence that our club was The Masquerade. This was a world of "suckers and chickens" in an Earls Court where Tom started out performing at the Troubadour cafe - an area where you picked up red-headed lecherous angels who drove you off on Kawasaki Z900s to Max's cafe - if you were lucky. Here you'll also find a man with Sartorial Eloquence, Sweet Steven and Pretty Boy Peter.

These too are chansons, if only because a man writing a love song to another man remains a precise and particular act, unlike the song to "you" or the diva singing of The Man That Got Away. At the time these songs were written and performed, they were an affirmation for us; we needed to see ourselves on stage with a hunger which no longer applies.

What have I left out ? Oh yes - "Stand Together" - an embarassment even in the show for which it was written. In Cabaret 79 (the show) it was a tedious interlude which took hours to get on stage and appealed only to Rabbit's Friends and Relations. We knew it had to be there to appease Gaia, but couldn't say we enjoyed it. Skip.

"Glad to Be Gay" is the albatross which hangs around Tom's neck - the song which everyone feels is theirs, defining and trapping a generation. For years he kept adding verses as a running commentary on the times, as did others, with varying degrees of success. So the song continues to be the song of those lesbians and gay men with any kind of political awareness. It remains such a classic because of that quality, rare in protest movements, irony: the cheerful anthem of the chorus jarring with the increasingly bitter catalogue of oppression in the verses. Included here is a 1997 version with a new last verse referring to Tom's own home life, which I have to say I find jarring. This song has always been a public song, not a private one. I say let it go, Tom - it's not yours any more. It's that good.

"Mad About the Boy" - an encore which was splendidly, publicly liberating. Noel Coward had tentatively come out at the end of his life in "Song at Twilight". Everybody knew he was queer - queens had been performing or parodying the song in private for forty years - and there were rumours of a fourth, gay, verse somewhere. Yet the Coward estate was a large prickly beast which refused to allow male performance of Sir Noel's supposedly female songs. I don't know how Tom cleared the rights, or even if he did, but he got away with something others had tried for years. At the end of a marathon concert he launched himself into character with gusto and wrecked what was left of his voice. We didn't care. He wore a brocade dressing gown too.

That dressing gown also seemed a farewell to Punk. Tom had always been ambiguous about it, although he'd been marketed on the same bandwagon. The blazer, and tie at half-mast, were meant to signify dangerous illegal adolescent sexuality, but compared with self-mutilation it was tame stuff. Yet for all Punk's in-yer-face antics, precious little about it was genuinely sexually challenging. Tom was the man who put the S onto punk.

But he also had other stories to tell, more complicated stories which led elsewhere. Over the years since, the songs have got longer, more fragmented, more allusive and elusive - which is maybe just another way of saying we've grown older. Unusually for middle aged pop stars, his politics haven't moved to The Right for tax purposes, and there's been a pretty much continuous development right up to "Having it Both Ways" in 1996.

Nevertheless this remains his definitive album where art, politics and feelings came together in a uniquely direct and moving way.

1979? It's right here in my living room.

Peter Scott - Presland
London, April 1997

credits

released June 1, 1982

Tracks 1-12 recorded live at the Collegiate Theatre (now the Bloomsbury Theatre), London June 1979. Engineered by Bill Price. Produced by TR. Front cover photograph by David Corio.

With special thanks to Noel Greig, Jill Posener and Barbara Norden.
This release digitally remastered by Jay Burnett at NODE recording, London 1997 with the addition of *bonus tracks 13-16

CHARLIE MORGAN - drums
IAN PARKER - piano
GRAHAM COLLIER - double bass
JEFF DALY - saxophone
JEFF SHARKEY - electric guitar
TOM ROBINSON - guitar/bass

The Deviant Wreckords Women's Voice Choir appear on "Stand Together"

Originally released 1982 Statik Records (UK) and Line GmbH (Germany)

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tags: pop music London

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about

Tom Robinson London, UK

Tom Robinson (b.1950) is a UK songwriter & broadcaster first known in the 70s as an anti-racist and LGBT campaigner. He released 19 albums between 1975-2001 with various bands and has co-written songs with Elton John, Peter Gabriel, Dan Hartman and Manu Katché. He's an award-winning presenter at BBC Radio 6 Music, and released Only The Now (his first album in 19 years) in October 2015. ... more

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Track Name: Coldharbour Lane
The first night I dared to come out on the town
It was hard believing my eyes
Met a fresh faced teacher in a big leather coat
On a dancefloor crowded with guys
And though he never told me he loved me
I know he never told me no lies

Hoping... moping
Freezing at the bus stop in Coldharbour Lane
Blew it... knew it
Hitting the bottle I could hardly remember his name

Wasn't too easy
It wasn't slow
You wanna leave me
You'd better go

Time out taking the tube into town
To the upstairs room on the right
Stuck in the middle but feeling the need
To keep it up night after night
One time I hit the jackpot
Made out with the hottest in sight

Grinning... winning
He was a slim dark mover
With devastating eyes
Fun night... one night
He came and left me there barely saying goodbye

Boozing... cruising
Bitterly sipping a half pint of 'E'
Who's he... choosing
Clenching my toes
And just wishing to God it was me

Wasn't too easy
It wasn't slow
You wanna leave me
You'd better go
Track Name: Baby You're An Angel
Getting a refectory breakfast
Laghing in the midday sun
Kawazaki Z9OO
Two-up over the ton
Visits in the winter vacation
Vino in the afternoon
Long term away on location
Letters from the Venice lagoon

Hey ho baby you're an angel
Choking on a cheap cigar
Red head lecherous angel
Propping up the Union bar

All night parties with Charlie
Swimming in the middle of May
Eyeing up the rival bikers
Hanging out at Mac's Cafe
Stoned cold over in Cromer
Rolling up a last resort
Kissing at the Saturday disco
Riot on the studio floor

Hey ho baby you're an angel
Cutting up a couple of cars
Red head lecherous angel
Propping up the Union bar

I must have been crazy to end it
I must have been out of my brain
I felt he was getting dependent
So I said I'd never see him again
Now I miss him when I listen to a jukebox
I miss him when I'm having a shave
I miss him in the middle of the morning
I miss him at the end of the day

Hey ho baby you're an angel
I'm missing you wherever you are
Red head lecherous angel
Propping up the Union bar

Hey ho baby you're an angel
Choking on a cheap cigar
Red head lecherous angel
I miss you, wherever you are
Track Name: Glad To Be Gay (1979)
The British Police are the best in the world
I don't believe one of these stories I've heard
'Bout them raiding our pubs for no reason at all
Lining the customers up by the wall
Picking out people, knocking them down
Resisting arrest as they're kicked on the ground
Searching their houses and calling them queer
I don't believe that sort of thing happens here
Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy this way, hey (x2)

Pictures of naked young women are fun
In Penthouse and Playboy, page three of The Sun
There's no nudes in Gay News our one magazine
But they still find excuses to call it obscene
Read how disgusting we are in the press
In the Evening News and the Sunday Express
Molesters of children, corruptors of youth
It's there in the paper, it must be the truth
Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy this way, hey (x2)

Have you heard the story about Peter Wells
Who one day was arrested and dragged to the cells
For being in love with a man of eighteen
The vicar found out they'd been having a scene
The magistrate sent him for trial by the Crown
He even appealed, but they still sent him down
He was only mistreated a couple of years
Cos even in prison they...
Look after the queers.
Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy this way

So sit back and watch as they close down our clubs
Arrest us for meeting and raid all our pubs
Make sure your boyfriend's at least 21
So only your friends and your brothers get done
Lie to your workmates, lie to your folks
Put down the queens and tell anti-queer jokes
Gay Lib's ridiculous, join their laughter
"The buggers are legal now -
What more are they after ?"
Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy this way
Track Name: Stand Together
Stand Together
All you gay women
All you gay men
Come together, stand together
And each others' rights defend

There are ghettoes in our cities
Some are black and some are white
Some you see and some are hidden
In the shadows of the night
To be gay is to be fighting
All the prejudice and lies
That condemn us to be running
Scared and lonely all our lives

All you gay women
All you gay men
Come together, stand together
And each others' rights defend

There are people in the cities
And the towns throughout the land
Who are saying to themselves
This is the time to make a stand
Workers, women, gays and black and white
Now opening our eyes
To the need to take control
Of both our bodies and our lives.

All you gay women
All you gay men
Come together, stand together
And each others' rights defend
Track Name: Truce
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
Fröhliche Weinacht
Kamerad, Freundschaft
Let's all be friends for a days

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

Well it was nice to pretend
We could love our fellow men
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 could all live as friends
With the Christmas angels calling
But the dream turns sour
In a matter of hours
And they make it all up in the morning
Track Name: Closing A Door
If you go
I think you should know
You're closing a door
Behind you
And if we meet again
Try not to pretend
We lost anything
Of value

My generosity
Generosity
Is fading fast
For you, baby
Don't wanna hear 'bout tomorrow
My curiosity
Curiosity
Is not gonna be
The undoing of me
I'll carry my own tiny sorrow

Like the hawk
That yearns to lock
His claws into every
Sparrow
You're the one
That loves to run
The needle through the bone
To the marrow

Twenty lovers in a week
You can get 'em
Sure you can
There's lot's of geeks
And every mother one of them
Wants to get lucky
Or maybe you need
More than one man
Probably a legion
Every one a fan
I'm trying to find it in me
To hope you're happy

So when you go
I feel you oughta know
You're closing a door
Behind you
And when we meet again
Promise not to pretend
We lost anything
Of value
Track Name: 1967 (So Long Ago)
Fighting with the kids on the fairground
Caravans and TV masts
Generating trucks and Alsatians
I never seen you run so fast
Picking through the litter left afterwards
For .22 shells in the grass
Found a pound note and a keyring
Martin, it's funny them days are past

Saturday flicks at the fleapit
When we had the money to go
Always on the side of the outlaws
And staying for the second show
Bonfires down at the bombsite
And watching the embers glow
Candles and cake in the dugout
Martin, it seems so long ago

1967... it seems so long ago
We were only eleven
It seems so long ago

Day return to Southend Central
Nanny's little treat on the train
Every year we sat on her blanket
And every year it started to rain
Eating apples off the allotments
And swapping cigarette cards
Lending Fat Freddy's train set
And treading on his restaurant car

1967... it seems so long ago
We were only eleven
It seems so long ago

Now I don't wanna give up football
And I don't wanna settle down
Maybe there's life after 25
But I don't feel like sticking around
I don't wanna work in a garage
I don't want my dreams to fold
Never want to have to stop laughing
Martin I'm terrified... of getting old

1967... seems so long ago
1967... it seems so long ago
Track Name: Even Steven
We set sail on a Monday
Tuesday was all at sea
Scrubbed the decks on a Wednesday
Thursday locker and key
Friday came to the coastline
Saturday I was ashore
Someday I'll quit this crazy business
And testify the law

Get even, Steven
Go down the line
Come in and get happy
And the sun will shine
Come on the right side
Get off your pride
Come in and get happy
And get satisfied

Met a young girl on a Monday
Tuesday I was in love
Saw her again on a Wednesday
And Thursday just wasn't enough
Friday I gave her a halfpenny
Saturday sat on her knee
Someday I'm gonna have to tell that girl
You're the only boy for me

Get even, Steven
Go down the line
Come in and get happy
And the sun will shine
Come on the right side
Get off your pride
Come in and be happy
And get satisfied

We made love on a Monday
And Tuesday woke up alone
Broke out in a rash on a Wednesday
Thursday I lost a stone
Friday they certified me
Saturday I was in bed
Someday I'm gonna quit this stupid song
And go back home instead

Get even, Steven
Go down the line
Come in and get happy
I wanna make you mine
Come on the right side
Get off your pride
Come in and get happy
And get satisfied (x3)
Track Name: Sartorial Eloquence
You've a certain sartorial eloquence
And a style that's almost all your own
You've got the knack of being so laid back
It's like talking to the Great Unknown
You've got a selfsufficient swept-back hairdo
Pretty certain that you've got it made
Oh, your lifestyle shows in the clothes you chose
Sitting pretty in the Masquerade

Don't you wanna play this game no more
Don't you wanna play no more ?
I wouldn't really mind
But you seem so bored
Don't you wanna play no more ?

You remain the only mean contender
Though you never meant to lose at all
Down at mouth, yet unsurrounded
Adam Ant before The Fall
Oh when you go, you know I might be lonely
But I'll keep it under close control
Go and get your kicks and we can call it quits
I believe I'm feeling indisposed

Don't you wanna play this game no more
Don't you wanna play no more ? (x3)
I wouldn't really mind
But you seem so bored
Don't you wanna play no more ?
Track Name: Mad About The Boy
I met him at a party
Just a couple of years ago
He was rather overhearty and ridiculous
But as I'd seen him on the screen
He cast a certain spell
I basked in his attraction
For a couple of hours or so
His manners were a fraction too meticulous
If he was real or not I couldn't tell
But like a silly fool I fell...

Mad about the boy
I know it's stupid but I'm
Mad about the boy
I'm so ashamed of it but must admit
The sleepless nights I've
Had about the boy

On the silver screen
He haunts my foolish heart
In every single scene
Although I'm quite aware
That here and there
Are traces of the cad about the boy

Lord knows I'm not a fool girl
I really shouldn't care
Lord knows I'm not a schoolgirl
In the flurry of a first affair

Will it ever cloy -
This odd diversity of misery and joy
I'm feeling quite insane and young again
And all because I'm
Mad about the boy

It seems a little silly
For a girl of my age and weight
To walk down Picadilly
In a haze of love
It ought to take a good deal more
To get a bad girl down

I ought to have been exempt
For my particular kind of fate
Has taught me such contempt
For every phrase of love
And now I've been and spent
My last half crown
To weep about a painted clown

Mad about the boy
I know it's stupid but I'm
Mad about the boy
He has a gay appeal that makes me feel
There may be something
Sad about the boy

Walking down the street
His eyes look out at me
From people that I meet
I know that quite sincerely
Housman really wrote
"The Shropshire Lad" about the boy

I'm hardly sentimental
Love isn't so sublime
I have to pay my rental
And I can't afford to waste much time

How I should enjoy -
For him to treat me
As a plaything or a toy
I'd give my all to him
And crawl to him
So help me God I'm
Mad about the boy
Track Name: Easy Street
17 years I've been running and hiding
Never thought loving was sweeter than this
Now I'm alone again, I'm only thinking
Of soul brother Steven, the man that I miss

Now I'm alone again, I'm only thinking
Of soul brother Steven, the man that I miss

Carry on cruising the crowds at the Catacombs
Carry on hustling into the night
Easy way out for the suckers and chickens
But I've lost my mainman, the love of my life

Easy way out for the suckers and chickens
But I've lost my mainman, the love of my life

Steal me a car and a bottle of Teachers
A few dozen downers, I'll go out in style
Goodbye sweet Steven and pretty boy Peter
I'll see you on Easy Street after awhile

Goodbye sweet Steven and pretty boy Peter
I'll see you on Easy Street after a while
Track Name: Good To Be Gay
It's the same old story all over the world
When a boy meets a boy and a girl meets a girl
We all come together cos we're happy to say
It's a natural fact that it's good to be gay

We've been analysed, ridiculed and driven away
By our elders and betters just for growing up gay
They trampled on our feelings
Till we hid them for shame
Well now "Glad to be Gay" is the name of the game

Cos it's the same old story all over the world
When a boy meets a boy and a girl meets a girl
We all come together cos we're happy to say
It's a natural fact that it's good to be gay

Don't feel guilty if you're passing for straight
If you wanna be yourself, well it's never too late
People won't mind if you're honest and gay
You might even find they prefer you that way

Cos it's the same old story all over the world
When a boy meets a boy and a girl meets a girl
We all come together cos we're happy to say
It's a natural fact that it's good to be gay

Some sisters and brothers who are glad to be gay
Say they've no need to join us 'cos they're doing OK
But we need supporting, and we need it today
And besides - if they tried it, they'd like it - in CHE

Cos it's the same old story all over the world
When a boy meets a boy and a girl meets a girl
We all come together cos we're happy to say
It's a natural fact that it's good to be gay (x2)
Track Name: Glad To Be Gay (1997)
The British Police are the best in the world
I don't believe one of these stories I've heard
'Bout them spending £3m to bust up a ring
Of consenting leathermen doing their thing;
It might have been private,
where no-one complained
But the judge put an end to their fun & their games
He sentenced the members to four or five years
I can't believe that sort of thing happens here

Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy that way, hey (x2)

The liars of Wapping are really the pits
Commissioned by bigots and written by shits
They plaster their pages with bingo and tits
Then add all the scandal and slander that fits
They pick out their victims, destroying their lives
They sneer as they smear as they damn and despise
If it's paedophile teachers or lesbian nuns
If it's filth and it's fiction... it's there in The Sun

And now there's a nightmare
They blame on the gays
It's brutal and lethal and slowly invades
The medical facts are ignored or forgot
By the bigots who think
It's the judgement of God
Attacked by the Vatican, bashed by The Bill
With cheap politicians all making a kill
The message is simple and obvious, please
Just lay off the patients and let's fight the disease

For 21 years now I've fought for the right
For people to love just whoever they like
But the right-on and righteous are out for my blood
Now I live with my kid and a woman I love
Well if gay liberation means freedom for all
A label is no liberation at all
I'm here and I'm queer and I do what I do
And I'm not gonna wear... a straitjacket for you

Sing if you're glad to be gay
Sing if you're happy that way
Track Name: Last Rites
Mother nature has a way of fighting resistance
Punishing me for an imperfect existence
But in reality this free society
Fears the man who seeks alliance

If I should die, it won't solve a great deal
It won't change the way that people feel
I wish to God that I could pray
But I feel he's made me pay
For a life I've been trying to conceal

Oh I don't really mind the pain
My strength for loneliness is getting higher
Unless it starts to rain
I'll keep adding fuel to fire

Up till now I've had nothing to complain about
But now it seems that I've lost
More friends than I can count
Oh must I face it quite alone ?
They won't even use the phone
There can be no doubt

Oh I don't really mind the pain
As the media feed up my fire
I don't need their selfish gain
As I watch their readership get higher...

Man could not have been created without flaws
Sure we expected to lose a few wars
Yes I know that I'm crying
Well I'm shit scared of dying
When we ourselves opened the door

And yes I really mind the pain
My strength for loneliness is getting lower
It may never rain - for personally
The search seems to be...
Getting slower.
Track Name: Gay Switchboard Jingle
If you're down in London town
And happen to be gay
There's a great information service
Open every day
They'll tell you who and where and when
And how and why and more
On 8-3 double 7-3-2-4
8-3 double 7-3-2-4