Tom Robinson was the first gay rock star to be out-and-proud from the off.
In early 1978, at the height of his fame and barely ten years after homosexuality was legalised in the UK, he released Glad To Be Gay as a single.
It was unusual for being precise and prominent about an issue that simply had no precedent in popular song.
Other protest songs form part of a wider repertoire – classics though they are, Masters Of War and Eve Of Destruction weren’t the first popular anti-war songs. Other protest songs can be rousing but speak somewhat vaguely about the resilience of the oppressed, or the iniquities of the powerful.
Apart from a few gay activists nobody had heard a gay song before, let alone one as militant and furious as Glad To Be Gay. Tom Robinson put it in the top 20 and into the mind of the straight public.
It had been written a year earlier, to be performed as a one-off at London’s Gay Pride in August 1976. It was a bitter, snarling assault on the attitude of gay people who’d turn up to gay events wearing the ‘glad to be gay’ badges then in circulation, yet take them off in public, try to pass for straight at home and in the workplace. It accused them of tacitly accepting repression rife in the media, and out on the streets from thugs and the police.
Once it was played to a wider audience with punk pioneers the Tom Robinson Band, it became an anthem of combative pride. Audiences largely composed of straights would sing along in solidarity with gusto.
Tom changed the lyrics many times as new issues came up and old references became outdated. Live versions – it’s only ever been released as live recordings – would be put out as B-sides, bonus tracks or on live albums.
This site lists all the released versions plus several significant unreleased ones. You’ll find all the lyrics, highlighting the changes, explaining the references and talking to Tom about them. Each version’s page has streaming audio so you can listen as you read. You can also download MP3s of all versions.
It’s hoped that this will balance the scales a little – a songwriter as socially aware and politically forthright as Robinson deserves to be remembered for more than 2-4-6-8 Motorway.
Beyond that, it’s not just about musical history and insight into the creative process. It’s social and political history too.
Glad To Be Gay was written in a world where people were routinely referred to as ‘self-confessed homosexuals’, the same way you’d talk about murderers and rapists.
It takes us through the waves of media venom during the Aids scare of the 80s, with politicians calling for gay men to be gassed. It acts as remembrance for the many thousands of men like Peter Wells, imprisoned and assaulted for being a young man who had sex with young men instead of young women.
It stands as an unprecedented protest song that made a real impact on the wider society.
- Merrick, April 2010