STANDING in the Cheese and Grain in Frome last night, hearing the yells and whistles and watching the delight spread on the faces of people who at the start had obediently raised a hand in response to the call ‘and if you’ve NEVER seen me play?’, I realised (yet again) how true it is that great singer/songwriters only improve as they age.

Tom Robinson’s voice was never the strongest on the 70s punk scene, and age has deepened its gravelly tones, adding it more breadth and depth to his singing which only emphasises even further the power of his lyrics and songwriting.

He may well be 65 (please Tom, don’t turn into one of those irritating old people who tell you how old they are at least twice in every conversation) but his music and its messages still have all the passion of a 20-something.

The set opened with Winter of 79, reminding some of us powerfully of a time when this was our future not our past, and rolled steadily through a mix of punk anthems and songs from Tom’s new album Only the Now. Apart from the modern references in some of the lyrics, I would defy a first-time listener to reliably spot what was old and what was new, because Tom Robinson found his songwriting voice very early on and has not wavered from that driving need to declare what he feels is right through music.

He’s always written intensely personal songs, from Glad to be Gay through War Baby to the beautifully elegiac Only the Now, which closed the night. Of the new songs several, including the anthemic Cry Out and Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall, are among the undateable ones, and have even more impact because of the rasp his older voice gives them.

Tom’s always been lucky to have his music benefit from some top class guitar playing. On this tour, which sadly played its last night in Frome, he teamed up with Faithless drummer Andy Treacey, producer/multi instrumentalist Gerry Diver, who worked with him on Only the Now, his regular session guitarist Adam Phillips and guest vocalist/guitarist Lee Forsyth Griffiths. Phillips and Forsyth Griffiths had a ball with songs old and new, Too Good to be True sounding especially powerful. Support came from bouncy band Swampgrass, and the wonderfully-named, and even more wonderfully diverse, Kitten Pyramid started the second half of the main set as guest artistes.

Tom Robinson began the night by revealing that this is the first time he has toured this century: as maybe one of the few people to have seen him at the very start of his live career, during its lifetime and today, I hope this isn’t the last time he goes on the trail of venues large and small, rather than just sticking to the festival stage, as seems popular with many of the surviving musicians of my generation.