Monday, 11 April 2016

Vintage Vinyl 17

Tom Robinson - War Baby 7"
Bought from: Slipped Discs, Carmarthen
Price paid: £2

During the half-term break in February, MrsRobster, TheDoopster and I headed west to visit TheMadster. She's in her first year of uni in Carmarthen and loving every minute of it. She's studying Personal Training (Health & Fitness), working part-time in a well-known sporting goods chain store, helping her course tutor coach some of his athletes at the local club and taking an additional course in gym instruction. She's also drinking lots of alcoholic beverages, because let's face it, it's great being super fit and athletic, but everything in moderation, eh!

None of this has anything to do with today's record, other than the fact that while we were visiting, we strolled around Carmarthen and, in the middle of its indoor market, I found Slipped Discs, a small space crammed with records and CDs. As is my wont, I spent half an hour sifting through the 7" singles while the family deserted me and went for coffee and cake across the road.

One of the things I picked up was a track I hadn't heard in many, many years, but have vague recollections of liking round the time of its release. War Baby appeared on one of those old compilation LPs I mentioned on the Associates post last time around. By 1983, Tom Robinson was a few singles into a solo career following the breakup of the Tom Robinson Band five years earlier. This was his first hit as a solo artist, reaching the dizzy heights of #6 in the UK.

War Baby has two of the worst things about 80s music - an over-enthusiastic sax, and the now cringeworthy sound of that electric piano underpinning everything. Yet, aside from that, War Baby is a really good song. Robinson wrote it during a turbulent time in his life, having 'done a Bowie' and moved to Germany to escape a personal crisis. He lived for a while in Hamburg before moving on to East Berlin. The song is about the divisions between East and West Germany, loved ones on two different sides, two different nations, yet one country, one nationality. The Cold War was at its height with Maggie and Ronnie stoking it as much as it pleased them. The wall wouldn't come down for another six years.

Musically War Baby is very much of its time and I would really like to hear a modern take on it (without that bloody sax) as lyrically it is still sadly pertinent. We may have a united Germany, but plenty of divisions and separations remain around the world.

  "I don't think I could stand another ten years of this fighting / All this stabbing and wounding, only getting my own back
  Corresponding disasters every night on the TV / Sickening reality keeps gripping me in its guts
 All my friends talk and joke and laugh about Armageddon / But like a nightmare it's still waiting there at the end of every day."

Even in the superficial, selfish decade that was the 80s, there was clearly still plenty of room for some politics in the charts. Whatever happened to those days, huh?

Oh, and here's an interesting fact to leave you with: Tom Robinson is the only person to have presented shows on BBC Radio 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Live, 6 Music and the World Service, a feat not even Peely could match.



  1. " All my friends talk and joke and laugh about Armageddon"

    Ah good times, good times...

    Incidentally the saxophone was played by Bob Holness.

    1. Urban myth Webbie.

      It was a musician called Mark Ramsden who was on sax....

  2. I don't think this one invaded American shores. Yes, lots of sax, but I do understand how you can see past it. I would have loved it too.