The Skids have released a new album : in depth interview with Richard Jobson
The Skids deserved theirs more than anybody. it’s put them back finally in the spotlight and is a reminder of just how how forward thinking their music really was.
Initially coming back for a one off show in 2007 to celebrate their late guitar genius Stuart Adamson and their back catalogue, it’s become a fully fledged affair now with a full tour and their first new album, Burning Cities, since the post punk era and is the band’s first studio album in nearly 37 years since Joy came out in November 1981. The line up is the first to feature Big Country father-and-son guitarists, Bruce and Jamie Watson. It is also their second with drummer Mike Baillie, and their third with founding bassist Wiliam Simpson.
Produced by the ubiquitous Youth, the new album takes full advantage of the band’s deep intelligence where they somehow give a nod to their late guitarist and utilise their line up of of Skids and Big Country family to create a record that both sounds like the old band but a tougher, starker version of a still more dystopian future despite the producer’s attempts to reign in charismatic frontman, Jobson’s, self confessed nihilism.
It’s a worthy return and matches the excitement of the sold out tour of big venues that was a real highlight of 2017 and sets up the band for an interesting late period.
In the late seventies The Skids seemed to arrive fully formed.
A perfect band with a tough yet fluid rhythm section, a stunning young guitar player and a charismatic, youthful singer who carried the whole thing off with the confidence of someone 2/3 years older, there they were with John Peel supporting their early releases. Releases like Charles EP, Sweet Suburbia, The Saints Are Coming – one of those twitching bands full of ideas and electricity that sprang up everywhere after punk rock and making their own rules as they went along and creating great rushing electrical music. We caught them on that 1978 Stranglers support tour where, under a hail of spit, they delivered a set that was more mature and assured than it should have been. Within weeks Into The Valley was in the top ten and the band was in a rush.
One of the great strengths, if not the key strength of punk was its depth. Not just a flash in the pan moment of highly stylised London music biz bands but deeply developed groups with their own energy and agenda from all corners of the UK.
Even small pit villages in Fife now had a band of frontline contenders with the Skids – a group with a self taught imagination, integrity and a deep intelligence that somehow embraced this powerful new music they loved but pushed it forward on their own agenda and were briefly easily the equals to the main bands of the form. These bands were the product of wild young minds who wanted more from their worlds. In the pre-internet age this was hours spent in libraries learning, on guitars seeking, looking for the magic which they explored over 4 albums. There is a very strong argument that the 16-year-old kids up and down the UK who picked up the baton were the real revolution in action.
Richard Jobson and the Skids are very much proof of this.
The band came together in Fife in 1977, playing their first gig on 19th August 1977 at the Bellville Hotel in Pilmuir Street, Dunfermline, Scotland. Within six months they had released the Charles EP on the No Bad record label. They were part of a loose community of artful dodgers and wild-eyed young creatives in the corner of Scotland whose paths must have crossed – like the great Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin and the Rezillos – the Skids were the youngest of these, coming out of the small towns with their frustration and violence and gang warfare in the forgotten corner of Scotland, but with an innate talent and enormous willpower they self taught themselves into becoming one of the most original bands of the period.
The late Stuart Adamson was one of the best guitar players of the period with a deft and skilful style that still retained the fire and brimstone of punk rock but fast forwarded it into the future, whilst singer Richard Jobson, spent hours in local libraries firing up his imagination with words and trying to redirect his feral energy from the rough streets and into his mind.
By the time I first saw the Skids supporting the Stranglers on that 1978 Black and White tour they were already a fully formed unit and somewhere in that aforementioned hail of spit that was part and parcel of the support band circuit at the time they sounded fantastic. Soon after their anthemic Into The Valley was in the Top 10, opening the doors to their ground breaking music and a fantastic pretension which marks out all the great bands who want to be more than mired in the sludge of average rock.
Invariably they fell apart, with Adamson going on to big success with Big Country and Jobson finding a more cult level with the Armoury Show – the band he put together in 1983 with The Skids, Russell Webb on bass guitar, and from Magazine, John McGeoch on guitar and John Doyle on drums. After one album and six singles, Jobson went on to become a TV presenter and filmmaker.
The last time I saw Stuart Adamson he played an acoustic show in Manchester and we hung out with him that night a few weeks later he had committed suicide in a shocking final blow to a talented career.
When the Skids first reformed in 2007 it was a celebration of all of the above and to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the group’s formation and as a final tribute to Stuart Adamson, who had died in 2001. The shows on 4 and 5 July were at Dunfermline’s Glen Pavilion went well and the itch couldn’t be scratched.
There was no serious plans for anything nor permanent but something this good would not be hidden away for long and in 2017 there has been a tour and festival appearances that have seen the band on fire (live review from Manchester here) and that new album due this month, produced by Youth, which combines the power and electricity of the original Skids with a 21st century edge. We have heard the record and it’s a great comeback that somehow celebrates their much-loved guitar player and forges their own version of the sound.
We catch up with Richard Jobson in Berlin where he doesn’t disappoint with his powerful, straightforward, speaking manner and fierce intelligence untainted by the years.
LTW : Was there a pressure making the new album?
Richard Jobson: It was important that it felt in tune with what the Skids were about but brings it back up to date. Which is why Youth was faithful to what the band was about but we also had to make sure it was part of the modern world. Already it was important that the gigs we were doing were not part of the nostalgia circuit and it was crucial that this thing was part of modern culture. With the album – the real reason to exist was that in the back of the mind was the love of the band from that era and not to go through the motions. You see some of the reformed bands and you feel the response to the audience is derisory and they take the audience for granted and it’s odd that kind of emotion which is quite cynical in some ways.
It’s got to be done properly, done for the right reasons. We had that initial idea to do few more gigs – the small one of being in Scotland obviously and humility is there and were wondering who the hell would be interested!
We got an energy in there and the band felt good. I spoke to Youth and he said do some music and I had never thought about that. I had never done any music since Armoury Show. I’ve done music films but not bands. I said it was down to him and I went to his house in south London and he came up with really powerful stuff in key with Skids. I thought I’d be hopeless. He’s a great producer he’s not my version of a punk more edgy and aggressive, he’s a hippy punk. He gets the best out of you. He manages to convince you that you have a value and I subscribed to those ideas of getting on with stuff. He was a fan of the band and it worked and the album has got this energy.
LTW: One of the tragedies of punk is that the world never did change and the lyrics never dated
Richard Jobson: It’s the return to the seventies with the ideological lunatics in control with what happening to us in this island like the Island in 70s decimated society and split it down the middle. I don’t understand how to repair the damaged young people who are full of resentment and anger. I hope left-leaning liberal consciousness will be enraged by this lunatic and what they have done with Britain returning to the dark days of the seventies. Punk lore is more relevant than ever was we gone full circle whether that makes a band like mine any more relevant is someone else’s decision ill we appeal to anyone beyond the core audience is a young people with dads and mums who knows they might connect old man’s anger.
I kept myself in really good condition. I have to be strong, healthy and fit mentally. I thought what the hell am I doing when we hit England. Are we out of step in Scotland when we started doing gigs in big English cities like Manchester. There were all these full houses and people singing along and it felt something for the first time since Stuart left and we never played again. We left it at a high point. We didn’t last that long. We had a good impact. A lot of hits in a short period and it was a brief period.
After the gigs, I would listen to the people’s stories. I always talk to people and listen to their stories – some tragic and some wonderful. The difference is now in that in the early days of the Skids when we supported the Stranglers, the Clash afterwards we would be down the front and people would say, shit we just saw you guys on the stage but we were also fans. The key component for us was Stuart Adamson who instilled that in us to not be that wanky rockstar crap. And it was important that we carry that through to people who come now and are our friends, not fans.
LTW : This is the beauty of the Skids story, being in so-called backwaters but reaching beyond…
Richard Jobson: I was 15 when i joined the Skids. I was a punk in the truest sense. A very feral kid who came out of the gangs. I’d had a very troubled life and found my feet in this new thing connect to me prior to punk I had listened to Lou Reed, MC5, Iggy Pop, Alex Harvey, Bowie – a real eclectic mix of different things were going on there from the androgynous New York Dolls to Leonard Cohen whilst my friends listened to Yes and Genesis and already the different music defined our generation.
I was completely different from all other guys in the band at Doctors At Madness gig who were quite hippy but they had something quite irreverent and theatrical in a non Genesis kind of way and were quite a force. These connections which at the time you didn’t realise you were defining yourself through the cult of music. You would go to a friends house and they would play Genesis and you would think, what’s this shit and you would pull out Raw Power and it would be what’s this shit? this friendship is over! that Yes album you are walking down the street with? fuck me! don’t walk with me.
A lot of bands in that era in later years like the Who, early stuff is pretty cool I didn’t think that at the time I hated Roger Daltry who looked like a dick but the early Who are amazing but at that time I was so caught up in the tribalism of it.
LTW : The story of Scottish punk has been, of course, rewritten. The whole era has seen its narratives tampered with and the Skids have been victims of this. A recent film about Scottish punk and post-punkabout didn’t even mention the band because they didn’t fit with their story.
Richard Jobson :
‘We were definitely the real deal in Scotland. We were not from the city like other bands who had an urban art school element to them. We were from the rural backwaters, places of hardcore working class coal miners and dock workers sons who were not informed in the way that other Scottish punk bands who were so gauche and so derivative of the Velvet Underground and not unique. I watched a recent documentary called ‘Sound Of Young Scotland’ which started punk with Orange Juice! first of all, Orange Juice were not a punk band, I liked them but they were not to do with punk! the documentarian who made the film is a fucking idiot who started the whole story of punk in Scotland with the Postcard Records explosion when we were there years before after being inspired by the Ramones, Clash and the Stranglers.’
LTW : The Skids are yet more victims of this convenient rewrite of history…
Richard Jobson :
‘History is defined by people who were not there. We were regarded as a new wave band but we were there at the beginning but we didn’t release records when we started and the full impact of punk had gone by the summer of ’77 so when Charles came out on our own label in early 1978 which was not that easy to do at the time. We were already up and running and touring and on John Peel but the postmodernists were almost already refining what the story was. Charles may have been our debut and we may have been very young but it was very sophisticated with its taut guitar, very elegant. It was not thrash and not associated with the initial genesis of what was going on in that period like Eater and the Lurkers which were more thrash whilst we were more MC5, Ramones but with Stuart Adamson who took us somewhere smarter than that. It still had an ingredient of punk political lyrics but Stuart brought melody to the table, a melody that was not in other bands. We were not anti-melody. Maybe that was a reason that l was apprehensive when we played Rebellion. I went to see 15 other band play before we took the stage and there was not much to separate them. They all kind of sounded like a new version of the metal thrash thing punk became. Very shouty. Pretty much identikit and I thought there is something wrong about us being there. I was worried because we were on last and it was a late slot and I thought everyone would have gone home or would they have the energy left to respond to our energy, commitment, and honesty with no bullshit attached to it.’
LTW : This sense of being on the outside was a common theme to many bands in the period but even more underlined in The Skids who were creatively, and geographically very much on the outside.
Richard Jobson :
‘People were always sniffy about us. They couldn’t quite find the right place to put us. We were the generation who came out of this new wave and there were lists and categories because things needed to be divided. We felt like we were living in history – the whole postmodern thing with these new types of writers who were all very left leaning, postmodernist creating the narrative. We were living in real history. We needed to clearly define what’s going on. Like being interviewed by Paul Morley for the NME. He couldn’t work us out. He was dazzled by the music but nervous of liking it because of what would his contemporaries would think with him liking these songs of coal miner’s sons coming out of a backwater. None of us were from privileged backgrounds like a lot of other bands. These days people criticise Oxbridge bands that have appeared with their rich parents that can subsidize them but even back then a lot of people were from nice backgrounds. I came straight out of school and I joined the Skids, it was a totally different thing to other bands. People related to us in early days the other bands seemed so old and they would be 22 old fuckers! Andy Blade from Eater is the same age as me, I’m not a huge fan of the band but like him, I’m the same age even though I looked older. People assumed my lyric writing was quite abstract but my own take on stuff the people assumed young kids write that stuff. When people met us they were baffled not only by our accents but by the nature of who we were and were we came from and how these songs were quite sophisticated and not straight down the line 100 mph punk cliche.’
LTW : From an early age this autodidact drive had been embedded in Adamson’s quest to find his own style and Jobson taking a break from the rough and tumble of local gang culture to getting engrossed in books in the local library.
Richard Jobson :
‘It was the central library in Dunfermline – the Carnegie Library which allowed homeless people to come in and keep warm which was radical at the time. The place was a huge haven of information and knowledge and it was there that I was would sit and write from school life at home. It was not easy with people all around me stinking of whiskey and cigarettes trying to keep warm. But I was reading great books until about 6.30 when the library would close. I was sitting amongst them. My older brother, who is dead now, was a big influence on me as I moved from sci-fi – inspired by Bowie and my brother, Marvel comics, Asimov, Wyndham Lewis to much more intelligent stuff beyond the fantasy of science fiction – stuff that had a left-leaning political undertow like Sartre and beyond. The first Skids album had that ‘They could not so much as bring themselves we’re just a lot of cheap heels, a bundle of predestined failures: could not even comfort themselves with the thought that life was a gamble”” J.P. Sartre’ quote on the back cover.
I was 16 years old and reading this kind of stuff. Pre-internet one thing would lead to another, from the back of a Penguin classic to a Picador and if that was the way that works then fine. It was a very Luddite version of the internet. Television has never been interesting to me. It was music and art and culture and reading and most of the time was spent reading – I have epilepsy so I spent a lot of time on my own and what you do? you read or listen to music and that’s what made my life difficult but it helped me to get this done. Incidentally, Ian Curtis and I became friends because of the condition after we spoke about it when Warsaw – the band as it was known before Joy Division (get date) supported us’
LTW: The outsider…
Richard Jobson :
‘All my friends were reading Skinhead, Chopper and Suedehead books but that was all pretty banal to me. If you read good books you get plenty from them. Those books were quite visceral and people wanted to read about violence and they had young people in them which was also an appeal. All the TV programmes you watched in the seventies that had young people in them were played by old people. There was nothing about you on television and you could carry that idea into music. Rock stars had become old immediately and you were left thinking who are these weird people?
Fiction was the same thing – we were looking for representations of ourselves in these books like Clockwork Orange and that book had a huge effect on my generation. It had young people in it doing things that you could associate with like music, identity, clothes and violence – if you came from a masculine culture, like we did, a society which was like a hardcore Islamic culture with the women locked away at home! you were looking for an identity in gangs and violence and no police ever seemed to be present in these communities at that time.
Bowie was important to me in that he made it clear it was ok to be different. Clothes, hair, sexuality – what really freaked people out marks you out for being different and was a big stamp on the back of your head. Bowie made that ok. When the new Skids album comes out, my debut novel, Speed Of Life, also comes out at the same time and is a love letter to Bowie. It’s trying to work our relationship with music out and an exploration of what makes the connection between art, music and culture such a subconscious relationship that we have with stuff. I can’t tell you what that deep-rooted thing that is going on there is but I still listen to Bowie every day- the same thing and it’s the same with Lou Reed. Berlin I knew when that album came out and it meant a lot to me and I preferred it to Transformer and when I read the reviews years later I couldn’t believe it got such a slagging.’
LTW: What was the seventies Fife music scene like?
Richard Jobson :
‘Kirkcaldy was where I was born. My brother (Francis Jobson) played for the local team, Raith Rovers. The author Ian Rankin was a contemporary of mine. He used to go to a little club called Pogo a Go Go. I remember a bunch of guys hanging out there. He was was one of them. When we played there I remember there was no stage and we were on the floor and all these people were pogoing and the girls joined them like space-hoppers. He was one of the guys, I spoke to him recently and he’s never dropped his commitment to music even though now he’s very much an international superstar but when you meet up he’s a very unassuming and very humble guy. You see pictures of him reading in Canada and it’s packed. We did a Q and A with him before the Skids gig in a 2000 capacity hall and I’m sure if that was done by someone else there would be 1/3 of the amount of people in there but he was so humble. I hold him in great esteem.’
LTW: How did the new album come together?
Richard Jobson :
‘Initially, I worked on a couple of songs with Youth which I took it to the band and asked what do you think? and everyone was excited so we started writing more stuff with the guys and then we played and recorded those songs with Youth overseeing and it went down fast. He’s pretty nuts and super creative. In his house where he records there always seems to be about 5 types of musical forces at the same time from Sufi mystics doing Killing Joke classics on one floor, Nik Turner on the next floor doing sax overdubs on an Orb album and then suddenly Nik Turner is in the studio with us! Freak Factory – a Norwegian metal band somewhere else in the house and he was also doing Jesus and Mary Chain work and in the middle of all that there we were. He comes in and gives us his tuppence worth on the song I wrote with him which was about Brady and Hindley. He said it’s too negative, you need to change it, you can’t sing song about them, you’ve got to be positive and made me rethink the lyrics. Now the song is about a person locked in the city which is killing them when the natural feeling is to feel free and energized.
On the Skids album, Youth has done nearly everything – not just the sound of the instruments or helped with the sound but also the lyrics because I’m naturally more cynical and in some ways, he turned it into more forceful stuff. One song was about when during the Russian revolution in 1917 people volunteered to clean the streets and to become decent members of the communities. Stalin felt threatened by the positive force of people so he had them all killed. It’s like positive in the Orwellian mantra – peace is war that double speak that is everywhere now.
Youth was underlying everything. He was keen on all that and very on my case in case I descended into nihilism – I’m guilty of that in my movies. Youth was really involved with everything like this – every detail of the music to the lyrics. He’s a proper producer. Bill Nelson was the only person who ever asked me about my lyrics before when he produced the Skids. Youth was all over it and sometimes in the most simplistic ways like when he was asking what’s this ending to this song? and I said let’s fade it out…and he would say we don’t do fades! check every song on the album they all have ends because Youth said when you play live do you fade?! he’s very persuasive in a non aggressive way like that. He’s different from me. He’s a hippy punk guy. He likes a spliff and I don’t – the first week in there was like the John Carpenter film The Fog! In a secondary way it was loosening me up being in that environment because it must infuse its way into your blood system. I have a more Presbyterian work ethic and like getting on with stuff. He likes sitting around for hours talking. Badly Drawn Boy was in there and Youth was talking about Sid Vicious, the Viv Albertine book and Damian was listening for three hours and they had done no work but then he did a vocal in the first go and he was in the groove. That’s what it was like and it was the most positive experience I’ve ever had in anything I ever done.’
For Youth it was not just the sonic music thing but the underlying message of the songs that was less abstract. The thing to remember about the Skids and my story as a member of that band was I was a young guy with not much life experience looking into the world and not looking back at the world.
Youth kept me away from the nihilist approach to the terrifying world in front of me.
I’m a fair person, a tough person and not easy to work with, also it was incredibly important that it was a credible record and not a crowdfunding exploitation – would I be able to look at it myself.
If people invest in it have to give them something. That was the best I could do at that time.
LTW: And all the time the shadow of Stuart Adamson
‘I would always be thinking Stuart Adamson was overlooking. I could hear him saying he would never have allowed that. A lot of those old principles are still in place. Some of the album doesn’t sound entirely like the Skids because it’s moved on and the power of it has got a very contemporary feel yet the energy is very much of that era – songs have to be connected to where we came from.’
I was aware of playing old stuff like Scared To Dance or Charles – songs Stuart was responsible for. I always want do the right thing and pay a little tribute to what he achieved in the early part of his career where he defined the sound the Skids. Without him the sound would be vastly different. Bruce Watson had been a Skids fan before he joined Stuart in Big Country. He had his own band – one song was called ‘Some Cunt Nicked My Moped’ and having played in Big Country he knows how that guy played. He knows what he does in songs. He knows how that guy played and I feel him. There is a big difference between the Skids and Big Country. The Skids were pretty tough whereas Big Country was soft and romantic – Into The Valley was not a romantic song. It was more confrontational because where we came from at the time you either dealt with it or didn’t. Big Country songs would lull you into liking them, the Skids were not about that and all this is in the pot with the new album.
The new album Burning Cities is reviewed here.