❉ The Skids, Scotland’s finest New Wave export, are resoundingly back.
‘“They said if we came down South, no-one would be interested!” Richard Jobson announced from the stage of the Roundhouse on Friday 16 June 2017. The affirmative roar from the crowd he received in response showed how wrong that prediction had been.’
“Ahoy! Ahoy! / Land sea and sky /Ahoy! Ahoy! / Boy, man and soldier…”
Formed in 1977, Scottish punk band the Skids – original line up: Richard Jobson (vocals), Stuart Adamson (guitar), Bill Simpson (bass) and Tom Kellichan (drums) – have always been very special to me. I fell in love with them after I saw them on Top of the Pops in early 1979. They were performing their fifth single Into the Valley and I was immediately sold, from the pounding, military drumming, through Adamson’s inspired guitar playing, which somehow sounded like a battalion of the instruments – what Johnny Marr calls a “guitarchestra” – to Jobson’s rousing vocal style and singular dancing, somewhere between kick boxing, Scottish Country Dancing and, um, actual boxing.
These guys couldn’t help writing anthems and each single was punch-the-air, singalong better than the last: Masquerade, Charade, Working for the Yankee Dollar, Circus Games… in October 1980 they played the University of East Anglia, twenty or so miles from where I lived. I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of seeing them and somehow found myself organising a minibus full of Sixth Formers up to the UEA, which turned out to be the first concert trip in a long line I put together over a couple of years.
The Skids were the first band I ever saw and they were brilliant. Decked out in cricketing gear – their then current, third album covered sporting and gaming themes – they were, to reuse a phrase, a powerhouse live act. Jobson was one of the best front men around at the time, entertaining the audience with witty remarks and dealing ruthlessly with miscreants who, in 1980 in one of punk’s nastier hangovers, still spat at bands. He saw the offenders out of the venue with a sharp tap on their head with his mic stand and a chant of “Scary monsters, super creeps!”, which he encouraged the audience to direct at the humiliated gobbers.
An inspired dovetailing of Sloop John B and Into the Valley ended the set and I desperately wanted to see them again. Sadly, only a year later they were gone. In 2001 Stuart Adamson sadly took his own life, which seemed be the end for any possible future reunion.
Nevertheless, The Skids did reconvene for their 30th anniversary in 2007 for a few dates, and two more in 2007 and 2010. Jobson and Simpson were joined by drummer Mike Bailie from The Absolute Game LP line up and, in an inspired piece of recruitment, Bruce Watson from Adamson’s post-Skids, highly successful outfit Big Country. An indication of how sophisticated his playing was saw the reconstituted Skids joined by a second guitarist, Bruce’s son Jamie.
I remember being rather miffed because the shows stayed North of the Border. Then out of the blue, ten years later…
“They said if we came down South, no-one would be interested!” Richard Jobson announced from the stage of the Roundhouse on Friday 16 June 2017. The affirmative roar from the crowd he received in response showed how wrong that prediction had been.
Finally, 35 years later, I got to see my first favourite band again. It’s a cliché, but they were as good as I remembered. Coming on to blast through Animation from the Days in Europa LP, Jobson looked lean and fit and, impressively, his special brand of dancing didn’t let up all night. On equally lean bassist Bill Simpson the only sign of the advancing years is a pair of glasses and greying hair – curiously, he now closely resembles my brother-in-law – while Bailie’s once abundant curls have gone altogether. The Watsons, meanwhile, jumped, spun and threw shapes like enthusiastic guitarists half their age. They Skids might be a heritage act – as Jobson admitted – but they do it with style, passion and power.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the evening were the front man’s between-song anecdotes, which formed a running commentary on the band’s career (finding the energy to do that and sing and dance was a tribute to Jobson’s match fitness). Particularly entertaining was the story of how a belligerent “Jobbo the Yobbo” – as christened by Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook – intimidated the other potential vocalists at the Skids auditions into leaving, after which Jobson performed, by his own admission, “awful” versions of Iggy Pop songs. Adamson’s reaction? “He’s brilliant!” Jobbo got the job.
And the music… everything a Skids fan could want was there. Apart from the singles, choice cuts included the pile-driving B-side Out of Town, which I remember dancing to in my room at my parents’ place on many an evening; favourite stomper Hurry On Boys, which began with Jobson leading the audience in the chorus chant for several minutes; a good selection from the Wide Open EP, including Of One Skin (twice) and a rafter-rattling The Saints are Coming, dedicated to the firemen who attended the blaze at the Grenfell Tower, some of who were the Skids’ guests for the evening. From Days in Europa, Thanatos and Olympian powered along like the adrenalized proto-New Romantic anthems they are.
Before playing Scared to Dance, Jobson’s request for the audience to show their appreciation for Adamson’s contribution to the band resulted in applause and cheering that went on for a long time, a response which visibly moved the band. It was a privilege to join in with and witness.
For a band that trademarked the New Wave singalong chorus, it was fitting that the Skids came to the front of the stage en masse before they left for the night, leading the audience in the “Woah woah woah” chant from the shimmering ballad A Woman in Winter. It was a moment of valedictory communion that moved this old closet punk to tears.
During the preceding encore there was one new song, from the imminent new album Burning Cities. The music made all the trademark Skids moves, but as much as I’m excited by the prospect of a new album after all this time, the lyrics seemed dated and obvious. In the past, the clever, literary word-play of the band’s words set them apart from their contemporaries – indeed, it’s largely why their music has stood the test of time – so even though the Skids may still be “angry as hell” about the state of the world, perhaps it’s better to celebrate past glories.
There’s no better band to do so with. And if I can see them again and again, I will.
❉ 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.