❉ Stars at 45! The Dunfermline punk band are back on the road, as Rob Fairclough bears witness to the ‘Skids: 1977-2022’ tour.
It was Skids singer Richard Jobson’s birthday the day they played Norwich. He’s 62 now. One of the band’s guitarists, Bruce Watson, even brought a birthday cake onto the stage – not very punk, but a lovely moment. Richard made a joke about punks having to park their mobility scooters on their way to see the The Skids at the Rebellion Festival, cheerfully announced he’d be parking his alongside them, and would keep performing as long as there was breath in his body. Predictably, there was a heartfelt cheer from the audience.
The projection screens at either side of the stage proclaim ‘Skids: 1977-2022’ – 45 years, so for all of us, band and fans alike, I guess those mobility scooters are definitely on the horizon.
To be strictly accurate, the original life of the Dunfermline punk band, originally proclaimed by the NME as “a Scottish Clash”, was only five years, when they crashed and burned after three brilliant albums – Scared to Dance, Days in Europa and The Absolute Game – and one experimental LP, 1981’s Joy. Über-guitarist Stuart Adamson, one half of The Skids’ songwriting duo with Richard, subsequently conquered the world with his next band, Big Country, before leaving this mortal realm way too soon in 2001. Richard, meanwhile, always restless creatively, explored a variety of careers, from presenting to film making.
I saw them only once the first time around. It was my first ever gig, at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, 11 October 1980. Those were the days when venues often produced their own tickets. Largely because it was my first concert, I still have mine, a wonderfully psychedelic pink and orange creation; looking at it’s like a doorway into a different world, now. It was a helluva night, defined by Richard’s distinctive dancing, part boxer’s shuffle, part Highland fling, and Stuart’s equally distinctive guitar sound which, yes – and it’s been a cliché for a long time now – did sound like bagpipes (in places).
When Stuart left us in 2001 I thought that was it. How could they ever reform, with him gone? Subsequent reformations from bands from my youth have proved that the loss of a founder member is no obstacle to a revived career, and in 2017, ten years after some tentative reunion gigs, Richard got The Skids back on the road properly.
He couldn’t have done it without Bruce Watson who, appropriately enough, was the second guitarist in Big Country. Needing a sideman to fully replicate Stuart’s seminal guitar sound, Bruce recruited his “Ed Sheeran lookalike” son (his words), Jamie.
Six years on, the Watsons and Richard are the core of The Skids, while the rhythm section remains fluid, just as it did in the band’s heyday. Epic Studios sadly isn’t full tonight, but it’s a great venue: tucked away in a bohemian part of Norwich, the extensive floor space affords everyone of varying heights a good view, and there was plenty of the room in front of the stage to dance around trying to emulate Richard’s fancy footwork.
What’s not often acknowledged about The Skids’ music is how positive and uplifting it is. There may be songs about war, the slaughter of the Light Brigade and a concept album about the rise of Nazi Germany, but those distinctive call and response choruses – e.g. “Ahoy, ahoy! / Land, sea and sky / Ahoy, ahoy! / Boy, man and soldier” – make the band and the audience one joyous, life-affirming whole. No wonder Richard says we’re “friends not fans”.
Another bonus of seeing The Skids live is the front man’s seemingly endless supply of anecdotes. If telling stories was an Olympic sport, Richard would certainly triumph for Scotland. He was amusingly honest in his contempt for Bob Geldof and jealousy over Big Country supporting Bowie, and dryly witty about curbing Pete Docherty’s interest in his daughter at a festival – “That’s not going to happen.” Richard was also winningly self-deprecating about being in his sixties: “I’m the bloke who thinks its Wednesday.” Comments like that only endeared him to the audience even more.
They played all the classics – Working for the Yankee Dollar, Masquerade, Into the Valley, The Saints are Coming et al – but the good thing about The Skids is that they do shake up the set list. Lesser heard cuts featured tonight were Happy to Be with You and Arena, the latter track a particular treat of an encore. There was only song from their 2018 comeback album Burning Cities – Kings of the New World Order – which was a bit of a shame; there are some cracking tracks on there that deserve a permanent place in the live show. This slight disappointment was more than made up for The Skids delivering a blistering version of The Clash’s Complete Control, the recorded version of which can be found on the excellent Songs from a Haunted Ballroom (2021).
From what I could see, everyone left the gig happy. I know I was; it was 42 years almost to the day since I first saw The Skids and, making it an extra special occasion, thanks to the generosity of Epic Studios’ management, I was allowed into the photographer’s pit to photograph one of one of my favourite bands.
Next year The Skids release Destination Düsseldorf, their second album of new material since reforming. My mobility scooter is ready and waiting.
❉ Recorded in 2022, Destination Dusseldorf, the brand new studio album from Scotland’s legendary Skids, will be released in March 2023 on an array of Vinyl, CD and DL. Click to visit the Skids Official Site for more information!
❉ Robert Fairclough is a writer, designer, photographer and sometime actor. He writes on a variety of subjects, including mental health and popular culture (sometimes both at once). Robert has written six books, contributes to magazines and websites and is a creative consultant for The Restoration Trust, an organisation that delivers ‘culture therapy’ for people with mental health issues. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org and his website can be viewed at www.robfairclough.co.uk
❉ Photographs: 2022 © Robert Fairclough. All rights reserved