Tuesday, 5 August 2014

THE SKIDS remembered


Producing only four LPs between 1979 and 1981, Scottish post-punk band the Skids left a rich legacy of music that still sounds fresh and vital today.

Richard Jobson (right) and Stuart Adamson in orbit.  (Image: Junk Archive)      

The Scottish New Wave band the Skids - Richard Jobson (vox, guitar sometimes), Stuart Adamson (guitar), Bill Simpson (bass) and Tom Kellichan (drums) - were one of the best things about 1979. That was the year of an extremely severe winter: I remember my joy at being allowed to stay off school, stay in bed, cuddle up and read Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment. Then there were crippling public sector strikes (not that this seemed to affect Lowestoft that much) and ITV going off the air because of another industrial dispute. Two years earlier, I had had my 'road to Danmascus' moment and officially discovered contemporary music as I watched the Sex Pistols' video for 'Pretty Vacant' on Top of the Pops. Gone were mild flirtations with Abba and the Electric Light Orchestra (for now, at least).

In a time before digital radio, YouTube and the internet generally, a musical act was made by a successful TOTP appearance. Everyone knows about the cultural impact of seeing David Bowie put his arm around Mick Ronson as they performed 'Star Man' in 1972, but the punk and New Wave bands also seized the opportunity, granted them through TOTP, of direct access to every living room in the land.

So it was with the Skids in January 1979. For one thing, unless you were in the Stylistics or the Floaters, lead singers of bands just didn't dance. As the intro chords of 'Into the Valley’, the opening track on their debut album Scared to Dance thundered out, Jobbo the Yobo/Gentleman Rick (depending on who you talked to) didn't stop dancing. For the duration of the song, he whirled around the band's tiny stage, legs kicking towards the studio lights, while - not to be outdone - Adamson jumped and swung his guitar, arm windmilling Pete Townshend-style. I'd found My First Favourite Band.

The Skids were ahead of the game, too, something they're never given any credit for. In late 1979, they released their second LP - two in one year from the same band rarely happens now - that pretty much invented the following year's New Romantic movement. The latter's obsession with Europe was there in the title, Days in Europa, a concept album about the rise of fascism in pre-World War II Germany. Synthesiser heavy and using tape loops, thanks to the innovative production by former BeBop Deluxe maverick Bill Nelson, the Skids stood apart from the sombre seriousness of the New Romantics in their banana yellow jump suits and smart uniforms that Nelson himself designed. There was another classic TOTP appearance when the lads performed 'Charade', the first single from Days.

1980 rolled around. By now I was impersonating Jobson's kick-dancing at school discos along with my friends every time the DJ was persuaded to put a Skids record on, which was fairly often. For their third album, The Absolute Game, there was a line-up change and Rusell Webb now performed bass duties while Mike Baillie was behind the drum kit (Rusty Egan took the drum stool for the Days era). Lead single 'Circus Games' was another singalong, rabble-rousing call to arms and, suddenly, the Skids were playing at the University of East Anglia in nearby Norwich.

There was no way I wasn't going. I can't quite remember how it happened, but I organised a trip of Skids fans to the UEA - hired a minibus, collected the money, sent off for the tickets. It was my first gig and I still remember the date - 2 October - and the band were brilliant. Live, 'Animation' became what Jobson called "Skids heavy metal", 'Out of Town', the b-side I had frequently jumped around to in my room, was electrifying as the second song and the closing majesty of 'Into the Valley' was even more more special, beginning and ending with 'Sloop John B'. Naturally, 'Masquerade' was the encore. I was also tangentially excited that the new Doctor Who Peter Davison had clearly taken his fashion cues - cricket jumper, summer colours, white shoes - from the haute couture favoured by the Skids on the Game tour. How good is that?

It couldn't last. In 1981 the boys' featured slot on BBC2's Rock Goes to College was disappointing - underpowered and unfocused. Before the year was out, Adamson had left and shortly afterwards Baille walked, leaving Jobson and Webb to the folk-rock experiments of the band's fourth and last LP, ironically titled Joy. Over time, Jobbo beacme a respected film maker while Adamson, after an even more successful music career with Big Country, sadly took his own life.

I've liked and loved a lot of other bands since the Skids but I always go back to them, marvelling at how fresh the music still sounds, playing their albums very loud on rotation for about a week. Pride of my collection is Skids Live: Masquerade Masquerade (Virgin, CDV 3027), recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon on the same tour I saw them on. Listen to it and you're left in no doubt that Jobson, Adamson and co. were one of the top live bands - if not the top live band - in the UK at the time.

With their punky optimism, instantly recognisable guitar riffs - yes, they do sound like bagpipes in places - and swaggering, nothing's-gonna-stand-in-our-way image, the Skids were the perfect soundtrack for a teenager whose horizons were rapidly widening.

Charles got a job in a factory,
Drilling sheet metal from 6 til 3.
Worked extra hours for a better wage,
Lost in his task quite needlessly.

'Charles', The Skids (1978) 


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