Tom Robinson, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

Tom Robinson has turned his 60th birthday into a prolonged petition to save his current radio employer 6 Music, with the help of, among others, Franz Ferdinand. But it's when he dusts off his own angry humanist anthems that the night catches fire.

Fellow 6 Music DJ Steve Lamacq suggests the station follows John Peel's brief of creating a "new alternative". A curt two-song salvo by singer-songwriter Eugene McGuinness and Chew Lips' bland 1980s synth-pop repetitions don't manage that. Following them with the Malian kora virtuoso Toumani Diabate is more in Peel's spirit, though, sitting cross-legged on the floor, he's invisible in the stalls.

Robinson looks slightly abashed as he starts the second half, as if singing is no longer his main job. But when he takes his spectacles off and begins to bellow he's transformed. His gravel voice isn't built for pathos. But 1994's "Days (That Changed the World)" still makes the woman next to me sob helplessly, as Robinson recalls the activist pop he helped forge in the 1970s. Robinson is married with children and hardly remembers those turbulent times his song suggests. But the rabble-rousing venom with which it savages Rupert Murdoch, set against the pinnacle of punk idealism, Bob Geldof's Live Aid, says otherwise.

"Sing If You're Glad to Be Gay", a confession and rallying cry first released into the virulently homophobic Britain of 1978, still sounds insanely brave and darkly funny. The fact that a recent member of his own band, Lee Griffiths, once kept his homosexuality secret adds poignancy to Griffiths's astonishing take on James Taylor's "Fire and Rain", sung as if traumatised by it. Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy pop on, and the night finishes with 6 Music DJs and Britain's indie label chiefs singing "Stand by Me". The necessity of playing great pop was proven here.

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