North By Northwest [1982]

by Tom Robinson

supported by
/
  • Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.

     £7 GBP  or more

     

1.
2.
03:19
3.
4.
5.
6.
04:23
7.
03:48
8.
9.
04:11
10.
02:28
11.
12.
13.
14.
01:54
15.
03:34

about

Tom Robinson's Damp Denims

Taxi Zum Klo and Nighthawks, two recent films from Europe about gay male life, both concern schoolteachers who spend a lot of their time in the car, driving to work, going to movies or meetings, looking for love. Tom Robinson's new album North by Northwest could have been the soundtrack for either film: it's first-rate cruising music. Robinson has put in his own time as a teacher of sorts; after establishing himself as rock's gay spokesman with the bitterly ironic "Glad To Be Gay" he spent two years and two albums securing impeccable political credentials. Admirable in theory, his message rocked, too. On tour Robinson proved to be a gay Bob Marley, inspiring people to get-up-stand-up and get down at the same time.

I always wondered about Tom Robinson's personal life. Did he have one ? Was he lucky in love ? Did his boyfriend(s) treat him right ? Sector 27 started getting into it with "Can't Keep Away," a sardonic number about the joyless excitement of cruising public toilets:

"Door says welcome when you're all alone
Come in, sit down make yourself at home"

but that album was primarily a group effort, riff-heavy and emotionally anaemic. By comparison, North by Northwest is an open diary replete with obsessions, anger, and references so private that, they're at once cryptic (who's Claire Rayner? what's Uncle Po?) and inviting (fill in your own). Like the identical scenes in Taxi zum Klo and Nighthawks where the teachers "come out" to their students, North by Northwest is an act of confession that doesn't eradicate the noble image of moral exemplar but gives it a human dimension of temperament and need.

Robinson's LP tells a story of sorts about domestic bliss, loss, sexual compulsiveness, fear of attachment, empty holidays, memories of the lost lover, rejection, flight, connection, and (temporary) contentment. "Atmospherics" cowritten with Peter Gabriel opens with a detailed shot of inate coupledom-brooding, unflorid, vaguely punky; one works at "the bureau," the other catches a double bill of "Bitter Tears and Taxi to the Klo," and later they scan the dial from Moscow to Cologne listening to the radio and smoking in bed.

This equilibrium is quickly disrupted by a breakup or death (murder ?) as the singer wanders inconsolably from laundromat to Dial-a-Prayer crying "Now Martin's Gone". (Same chap as TRB's "Martin" and Secret Policemen's Ball's "1967" ?) Grief sends him back zum Klo to fill the vacuum with anonymous cock while "hating it all" in a reggaefied "Can't Keep Away". Reggae is the punk blues, and this version is certainly more ... well, more oppressive than Sector 27's, whose hyper B-52's guitar line is replaced by a dirgey skating-rink organ.

North by Northwest's most haunting cut is "Looking for a Bonfire" in which our guy goes trick-or-treating on Guy Fawkes' Day with a firecracker in his pants and a thirst for - love ? trouble ? revenge ? In a wonderful jumble of storyline and erotic metaphor, he starts up a flame but then backs off, too recently burned. Burping apocalyptic bad humor on "Merrily Up on high" eyeing a shy guy on "In the Cold Again" Robinson reeks restlessness. But eventually something seems to take, because the album ends with "Love Comes" Lewis Furey's rather mournful ode to beating the odds:

"Did you ever think you and me
Would ever end up happy ?"

The cycle of loving, losing, and loving again is often treated as tragedy in pop song, but to Robinson it's an accepted reality. And it's this matter-of-factness that distinguishes him from such gay romantics as Peter Allen, Sylvester, and David Lasley - indeed, from romantics of every stripe.

Almost as exciting as the revolutionary candor of its lyrics is the peculiar studio sound of North by Northwest. Recorded in Hamburg with just three musicians (producer/ guitarist Richard Mazda, drummer Steve Laurie, Robinson on bass and keyboards) the album bristles with battered machine sound effects, the swooning and buzzing of sick synthesizers. This eerie aural environment suggests the built-in dissonance and complicated wiring of modern romance; it also reminds me of the droogy disco you hear in gritty British films like Nighthawks and Bloody Kids.

And particularly on a cut like "Bonfire" - with its ominous synthesizer melody, cheesy organ backbeat, and the incredibly rangy guitar solo that cuts through the chorus like an excited heartbeat gone wild on the EKG - the disjunctive interplay of instruments and crudity of the sound perfectly capture, to my mind, the butch lyricism and sullen masculinity of post-Stonewall gay culture. So sinister yet so synthetic: all damp denim, flannel biceps, inscrutable glances.

Glimpses of gayness in pop music usually tend toward camp or coyness or emotional masochism, but I can't think of anyone who has evoked the day-to-day life of Everygayman as well as Tom Robinson. Even his most sodden harmonies and private hieroglyphics draw me in deeper than better-made records I enjoy, like Marshall Crenshaw or Mirage. I guess it's no big surprise.

I take to Tom Robinson for the same reason you'll find matrimonially inclined rock crits embracing X, Human Switchboard, and Lou Reed on these pages: hey, Mister, that's me up on the jukebox.

DON SHEWEY
Village Voice
May 1982

credits

released February 2, 2013

tags

tags: pop music London

license

all rights reserved

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

shows

contact / help

Contact Tom Robinson

Streaming and
Download help

Shipping and returns

Redeem code

Track Name: Now Martin's Gone
Martin's gone...
Martin's gone
Things will never be the same again
Now Martin's gone

I told my mother and the boy next door
The girl at the garage and my brother in law
I talked to the doctor and I told my boss
The launderette lady and the corner shop
I told the postman, then I told a gag
I told Claire Rayner and the local rag
I told the barmaid and the landlord too
I told everybody in the world I knew

Martin's gone... Martin's gone
Things will never be the same again
Now Martin's gone

I told our father and my favourite guys
Ten Hail Marys and a few white lies
I told the Samaritans, I told my dog
I talked to the telly and the talking clock...
Back on the wagon when the nights are dark
I drive by the diner where I made my mark

Martin's gone... Martin's gone
Things will never be the same again
Now Martin's gone
Track Name: Atmospherics
Atmospherics
Leave the bureau in the snow
Catch a tram to Onkel Pö
Early evening ring around the moon;
Slip in past the concierge
By the bikes and up the stairs
Snap the latch and creep into the room

You throw off your coat,
Pick up the post
And put a coffee on
Lie down on the bed
Prop up your head
And smoke a cigarette...
Listen to the radio.

In the city late tonight
Double feature, black and white
Bitter Tears and Taxi to the Klo
Find a bar, avoid a fight
Show your papers, be polite
Walking home with nowhere else to go

You throw off your coat
Pick up my note
And put another coffee on
Lie down on the bed
Lay back your head
And smoke a cigarette...
Listen to the radio

Atmospherics after dark
Noise and voices from the past
Across the dial from Moscow to Cologne:
Interference in the night
Thousand miles on either side
Stations fading into the unknown:

So throw off your coat
Butter some toast
And put the coffee on;
Lie down on the bed
Lay back your head
We'll smoke another cigarette...
And listen to the radio...
Listen to the radio
Track Name: Can't Keep Away (Part 2)
Real World Music/Notting Hill Music

Can't Keep Away (Part II)
Mainline station at a quarter to four
Down in the tearoom watching the wall
Wait till forever - the boy next door
Daylight fading, I'm hating it all

Can't keep away, keep away, keep away
I can't keep away...
Can't keep away
I keep coming on back for more...
Can't keep away, keep away, keep away
I can't keep away...
Can't keep away
From the other door

The door says welcome when you're all alone
Come in, sit down - make yourself at home
Can't help crying when I'm lying in bed
Cos I need this feeling like a hole in the head

Can't keep away, keep away, keep away
I can't keep away...
Can't keep away
I keep coming on back for more...
Can't keep away, keep away, keep away
I can't keep away...
Can't keep away
From the other door
Track Name: Looking For A Bonfire
Been collecting pennies
In a hat and a mask
On a bitter November
Before the fireworks start

Woodsmoke drifting into the trees
Crackle of bracken and burning leaves
At the height of the season
I'm looking for bonfire...

See the smoke and cinders fly
Feel as if I'm on fire
Just another jealous guy
Looking for a bonfire

Well we found our matches
And we started a spark
Now we're touching the paper
And standing back in the dark

Hot potato - better for some
But I've burnt my fingers
And bitten my tongue
I can never remember:
I'm looking for a bonfire...

See the smoke and cinders fly
Feel as if I'm on fire
Just another jealous guy
Looking for a bonfire

I don't want to turn away
We've been on the wheel
Now we're watching it
Burn away
Track Name: Merrily Up On High
Everybody's on vacation -
Have a holiday, take a break
Spend and borrow, there's no tomorrow
So get your present today

Take some thyme and stuff the turkeys
Watch the western world go by
Pull a cracker and light the candles
Merrily up on high

Lets all party - war has started
Let's forget about days gone by
We won't see another year like it
So drink your dinner tonight;

It's no use to face the future
Count to twenty, close your eyes
This year, next year
Thermonuclear...
Merrily up on high

End of term administration
Private prison or public school
Graduation celebration
Everyone playing the fool

Family gathering - strained relations
Festive gesture, don't say die
Drunken patients, ould acquaintance
Merrily up on high

Lets all party - war has started
Let's forget about days gone by
We won't see another year like it
So drink your dinner tonight;

It's no use to face the future
Count to twenty, close your eyes
This year, next year
Thermonuclear...
Merrily up on high
Track Name: Those Days
There's thunder on the Baltic
Radiation on the rain
Uncertainty and mayhem in the wind again;

Ever since I left you I've been stranded on the tide
Just another hundred miles now
Till I'm by your side...

Those happy days we used to spend
Do you remember the time of year...
(It feels like)
Those happy days are here again...
Those happy days are here.

Now the days are getting colder
And the nights are drawing in
Floodwater rising as the waves roll in;
Out across the Alster I can see the lights
Hold out a little longer
I'll be home tonight...

Those happy days we used to spend
Do you remember the time of year...
(It feels like)
Those happy days are here again...
Those happy days are here.
Track Name: In The Cold
Got an earsplitting headache
And it's driving me blind
Can't work any faster
And I'm falling behind;

Mr Gillett's always on at me
Getting hard on my case
Picking me up on
Every little mistake:

Out in the cold again
Out in the cold...

There's a kid down the corridor
Doesn't know what to do
Standing in the passage
Blue eyes on you;

It could be the first time -
What on earth would he say ?
He'll never dare approach you
Now he's walking away:

He's out in the cold again
Out in the cold...

Seems such a long way
Looks like a long way
Feels such a long way
To go...

Stood up on your doorstep
Try the buzzer again
Waiting on the pavement
Like a fool in the rain;

Well you said 7.20
Now it's 9.15
Maybe you're trying to tell me something
I don't wanna believe

Out in the cold again
Out in the cold...
Track Name: The Night Tide
For christsake, Chrissy
Won't you open the door -
Don't tell me you're still sleeping
All hell's going on in the street outside
All the roads are closed this evening;
Tried to call you but the lines are jammed
Don't say you're not ready
After all we planned...

Sail on the night....
Sail on the night tide.

There's no need packing
You can leave your keys
We're running out of time now
That money's worth nothing
When we're all at sea -
Leave it all behind now
Down the culvert
And across the tracks
Down to the river
As we turn our backs...

Sail on the night....
Sail on the night tide.

Only one way out of town tonight
Miss the madness if we time it right...

Sail on the night....
Sail on the night tide.
Track Name: Duncannon
After a month here out of the country
Thought I'd go up the wall
Twisted and turning,
Can't stop the burning -
It isn't any better at all
(Drove me over the wall...)

So I'm stood at a slip road
Tired and unshaven
Next day at quarter to three
Left all the troubles
So far behind me
I know where I want to be:

I... wanna see, wanna see Duncannon
I... wanna see, wanna see him

Found the name in a phone book,
Major obsession
A mile away in the rain;
Out of the darkness
Psychotic schoolboy
Watching your window again
(Looks like nothing has changed...)

I... wanna see, wanna see Duncannon
I... wanna see, wanna see him
Track Name: Love Comes
Love comes
And takes you by the hand again
Did you think that you'd remain
Melancholy, baby..?
The watermelon's tasting so sweet
This year...
It's gotta be a good year
It's gotta be your year;

Did you ever think you and me
Would ever end up happy....
Can it be true ?
Well it's gotta be true
I'm sending my love
Out there to you

Love comes
And takes me by the hand again
I never thought I'd feel the same
But here I am beside you...
The watermelon's tasting so sweet
This year...
It's gotta be a good year
It's gotta be our year;

Did you ever think you and me
Would ever end up happy....
Can it be true ?
Well it's gotta be true -
I'm sending my love
Out there too
Track Name: Tango An der Wand
Hier machten Hünde ihr Geschäft
(immer an der Wand lang)
Heute ist der Platz besetzt
(immer an der Wand lang)

Wessen Zukunft ist verschwommen
Heimatlos und mitgenommen
Laßt sie nach Berlin herkommen
Und tango and der Wand entlang

Letzte Tango an der Wand
Liebling, gib' mir deine Hand
Jedes Kind im ganzen Land singt:
"Ich bin ein Berliner"

Kommu-Kapi-Apokal-ismus
(immer an der Wand lang)
Kamikaze Pazifizmus
(immer an der Wand lang)

Wessen Zukunft ist verschwommen
Zählen Greise Megatonnen
Laßt sie nach Berlin herkommen
Und tango and der Wand entlang

Letzte Tango an der Wand
Liebling, gib' mir deine Hand
Jedes Kind im Ganzen Land singt:
"Ich bin ein Berliner"


Immer an der Wand lang, immer an der Wand
Immer an der Wand, an der Wand entlang
Immer an der Wand lang, immer an der Wand
Immer an der Wand entlang

Stepp' doch mal auf dem Vulkan
(immer an der Wand lang)
Macht die rote Lichter an
(immer an der Wand lang)
Auf dem Boden um zu sonnen
Ihr habt den Blumentopf gewonnen
Braucht nur nach Berlin zu kommen
Und tango an der Wand entlang

Letzte Tango an der Wand
Liebling, gib' mir deine Hand
Ich weiß gar nix von diesem Land, da
Ich bin kein Berliner

Immer an der Wand lang, immer an der Wand
Immer an der Wand, an der Wand entlang
Immer an der Wand lang, immer an der Wand
Immer an der Wand entlang

------------------------------------------------------------
(loose rendition into English)
------------------------------------------------------------

Here dirty dogs had stuff to hide
(All along the wall)
The place today is occupied
(All along the wall)

If your future is uncertain
Homeless, heading for a Burton
Berlin beckons to you all
To tango all along the wall

Final tango with the band
Darling, let me hold your hand
Every kid throughout the land
Sings "I am a Berliner"

Commu-Cap-Apocal-ism
(All along the wall)
Kami-kaze-Pacifism
(All along the wall)
If your future's dead as mutton
Old men's fingers on the button
Berlin beckons to you all
To tango all along the wall

Final tango with the band
Darling, let me hold your hand
Every kid throughout the land
Sings "I am a Berliner"

All along the wall all day, all along the wall
All the along, all along the wall
All along the wall all day, all along the wall
All along the wall all day


Dance in this volcano's crater
(All along the wall)
Set the warning lights for later
(All along the wall)
Lie right down, protect your eyes
You've gone and won the booby prize
As Berlin beckons to us all
To tango right along the wall

Final tango with the band
Darling, let me hold your hand
Don't know a thing about this land
Cos I ain't no Berliner

All along the wall all day, all along the wall
All the along, all along the wall
All along the wall all day, all along the wall
All along the wall all day

N.B. This rough English version loses some nuances
and the rhymes are a bit naff - but you get the idea :-)
Track Name: Now Richard's Gone
(Instrumental)
Track Name: Alptraum Tango Dub
(instru) mental
Track Name: Any Favours
If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours
If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours
If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours

I never get to meet your friends or folks
(Don't do me any favours)
And I'm the butt of all your jokes
(Don't do me any favours)
You talk down to me like a clapped-out fool
(Don't do me any favours)
If you're so clever and cutting and cool
(Don't do me any favours)


If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours
If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours
If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours

Well you may be pretty and you might be young
(Forget it !) - Don't do me any favours
But you think the sun shines out of your bum
(Forget it !) - Don't do me any favours
You're so sarcastic, ha ha ha
(Forget it !) - Don't do me any favours
Just who the hell do you think you are ?
(Forget it !) - Don't do me any favours

If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours
If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours
If you think you're slumming
when you're coming with me -
Don't do me any favours

Talk, talk, talk... Talk, talk, talk...
Bitch, bitch, bitch... Talk, talk, talk...

Talk, talk, talk... Talk, talk, talk...
Bitch, bitch, bitch... Talk, talk, talk...

If you think you're coming
when you're slumming with me...
Forget it.
Track Name: Out To Lunch
Tom it's Colin here.
Er... are you there ?
If so, don't forget lunch today, erm...
12.30 Ian Randall.

Er... give me a call
Or something
So that... it takes place
Bye.

You're not there are you ?
Tom, Colin here...
Tom, it's extremely urgent:
We're meant to be having
Lunch with Ian Randall -
Where are you?

Tom... Tom, this is Colin
Are you there?
Are you there ?
This is EXTREMELY urgent
I'm ringing to remind you
We're meant to be having
Lunch with Ian Randall

If you do get in
While I'm at lunch
Will you PLEASE go to L'Escargot
At the bottom of Greek Street
As fast as possible
The lunch is due
To start at 12.30
I shall be there.
See you later.
Bye.

Hi, I'm ringing
on behalf of Colin Bell
regarding your lunch date today
Thanks very much
Goodbye.

Tom, it's Colin here
Are you there ?
Are you there, Tom ?
You're not there.
Well, I'm at L'Escargot.
Alright...
Bye.

Hello - I'm calling
On behalf of Colin Bell
At the Press Office
regarding your lunch date
Today
This is Jill
Thanks
Bye bye

Hello - this is Jill here
From Phonogram press office
Regarding your lunch date today
Thanks
Bye bye

Here are you there
Here are you there
Here are you there

Are you there, Tom...Tom
Are you there, Tom...Tom
Are you there, Tom...Tom

Hello - it's Jill again
Ringing on behalf of Colin Bell
At the press office...

EXTREMELY urgent
EXTREMELY urgent
EXTREMELY urgent

Lunch with Ian Randall
Lunch with Ian Randall
Lunch with Ian Randall

Tom, you lucky schmuck
You've missed a wonderful lunch
With Ian Randall
Heh heh
Give me a call
When you get in
Don't worry about it
Alright ?
See you later
Bye