❉ We report back from the first two-day event dedicated to Dunfermline’s finest late 1970s New Wave export.
‘The Skids are enjoying a glorious Indian summer and the band has never been in ruder health. Richard Jobson didn’t want the reconstituted Skids to be a nostalgia act and they’ve pulled it off and now, in 2018 the band are in a good place to celebrate their past, 41 years on from when they started out.’
“I was in a band called The Skids – we were shit, had a couple of hits, fell out, split up and now some of us are deid. Then we got back together.”
It’s the little things you remember. Chief among them was Skids vocalist and frontman Richard Jobson’s comedy Scotsman rant to a group of us conventioneers, sat outside a wine bar in the sun opposite P.J. Molloys & Sons: this was the central venue during the first two-day event dedicated to Dunfermline’s finest late 1970s New Wave export.
I’ve been to a lot of conventions based around vintage TV shows, but I really didn’t know what to expect from one based around a band. If there’s one word that sums up what both events have in common, it’s “community”. Jobson always refers to Skids enthusiasts as “friends”, not “fans”. In this day and age, it’s easy to be cynical about a comment like that, but the way the four band members – Jobson, bassist Bill Simpson, drummer Mike Bailie and guitarists Bruce and Jamie Watson – interacted with attendees confirmed the sense of mutual camaraderie. Whether happy to sign record sleeves, chat about the band’s history or recent gigs, the band to a man were generous, enthusiastic, genuine and often warmly funny.
The Skids and their friends are enjoying a glorious Indian summer. From a few reunion shows in Scotland a few years ago, to a full tour south of the border in 2017 to the triumphant release of – and reception to – the new LP Burning Cities earlier this year, the band has never been in ruder health. Richard didn’t want the reconstituted Skids to be a nostalgia act and, against all the odds involved in this kind of enterprise, they’ve more than pulled it off. Firmly re-stablished in the here and now, in 2018 the band are in a good place to celebrate their past, 41 years on from when they started out.
First port of call on the Saturday was the exhibition about the band at Dunfermline library, running until 26 August. It’s an appropriate setting, as a teenage Richard used to sit in there all day, writing such anthems as Night and Day and Melancholy Soldiers. Upstairs in one of the galleries, you can marvel at a variety of modestly priced gig tickets, Bill Simpson’s bass guitar and those early, scribbled lyrics. What comes across most strongly from this distance, though, is what a modern band the Skids were/are: their angular logo, like their LP sleeves, graphics and intellectual lyrical content, have more than stood the test of time. In particular, watching them perform Charade on Top of the Pops dressed in proto-New Romantic outfits (in a video loop of archive performances), you realise that in style and content the Days in Europa album was ahead of the Blitz Kids by almost a year.
The library exhibition was billed as ‘Richard Jobson and The Skids’. During the weekend it was easy to see why: it seemed like he spoke almost non-stop, from readings of his autobiography Into the Valley to his Bowie-inspired novel Speed of Life, to taking A LOT of time to stop and chat with people. From being initially reluctant about a reunion, Richard has fully embraced the revived Skids and is in many the driving force, going out of his way to promote the hell out of a band he’s very proud of. Bearing that in mind, it wasn’t surprising that he had to curtail the Saturday night new LP/greatest hits set by two songs, as his voice needed a well-deserved rest.
The convention was a great opportunity for one-off events. The two centrepieces were playing the ‘comeback’ album Burning Cities in its entirety and an acoustic set on the Sunday afternoon, interspersed with taking questions from the audience. Set highlights included the rousing Up on the Moors, the sonically intricate Refugee, first single Charles and the victorious Circus Games. In the acoustic set, stand outs were the brooding Desert Dust (which hadn’t really been at the top of my list of songs until then) and Fields, the best track on The Skids’ contentious fourth album Joy – it soared and thundered like you suspect it was always meant to. The acoustic set closer, The Skids’ theme song Into the Valley, had an unexpectedly different pace and rhythm which had really won me over by the end.
Like I said at the start, it’s the little things you remember. Aside from all the well-staged events on the convention programme – the only real hiccup was a technical delay in a video screening on the Sunday morning – I have a variety of treasured memories; during his TV presenting career, Richard periodically interviewed original Skids guitarist, the late Stuart Adamson, as his new band Big Country grew steadily more successful: “Rub it in, why don’t ye.”… The audience having a whip-round to buy Bill “tighter than Lou Reed” Simpson Richard’s books… The guy who came up to sing T.V. Stars during the Burning Cities set who didn’t know the words: “How can you make a shit song even shitter?”… The band breaking into The Knack’s My Sharona at various points… As Bill, Bruce, Jamie and Mike were doing a guitar, bass and drum workshop, some wag had asked Richard if he was going to do a dance workshop. His reply? “The guy’s currently up the road in A&E.” … Having a G&T with Bill at Richard’s brother’s The Old Town Barber Club then walking up to the Fire Station Creative to hear Richard read from Speed of Life. Along the way, Bill very generously offered to put me and two new friends, Sharon and Neil, on the guest list for Spear of Destiny at P.J. Molloys & Sons. It’s a sign of how conventioned-out we were that we turned down his kind offer.
Perhaps the event which best illustrated the sense of strong community between band and fans was the band ‘workshop’. Rather than demonstrate how to tune a guitar and plug in an amp, members of the audience were invited up on stage to sing a Skids song with their heroes. Regardless of how good – or not – everyone was, they’ll have that memory forever. Naturally, I’m now kicking myself that I didn’t have the bottle to get up and give it a go myself.
On the Monday morning, I made the point of going to the memorial gardens in The Glen where there’s a bench dedicated to Stuart, inscribed with Skids and Big Country lyrics. Dunfermline was always home for him and now – again – it’s the honorary and actual home of his first band. As I sat there on a warm, almost-summer’s morning, reflecting on how important Stuart and Richard’s music has been in my life, I realised that – as a friend of mine once put it – music is life and life is music.
And so it goes on for The Skids and their friends. In the autumn, there’s the release of an acoustic LP and accompanying tour, and in 2019 the band will be touring the Scared to Dance and Days in Europa LPs (plus B-sides, natch) as it’ll be 40 years since those ground-breaking records were released. We really are spoilt.
Will there be another convention? Almost certainly, because – as the band might probably say – this one was “no bad”.
❉ The Skids – Burning Cities (NB3CD) was released on 12 January 2018 on CD & LP by Nobad Records. Buy the album from Rough Trade Other outlets are available.
❉ Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and ‘SFX’. He is the author of books on the iconic TV series ‘The Prisoner’, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’. His biography of the actor Ian Carmichael was one of ‘The Independent’s Top 10 Film Books of the Year for 2011.