The Skids mark their 40th anniversary this year with a Scotland-wide tour. But with a new album out – their first in 36 years – it’s not just an exercise in nostalgia, Richard Jobson tells Fiona Shepherd
There is something quite telling – and also quite fitting – about The Skids’ 40th anniversary falling a year after the “official” 40th birthday of punk rock, as they represent the second wave of bands who emerged as punk made its influence felt well beyond its London epicentre and who treated the original sound and style as a license rather than a blueprint.
Formed in Fife when Richard Jobson, the only punk in his village, met budding guitar hero Stuart Adamson, The Skids were one of only a handful of Scottish punk bands who made it all the way to Top of the Pops and even then they were treated as misfits among misfits, crude provincials offering more brawn than brains.
The Skids were never the cool band, thanks in part to Jobson’s foghorn voice and ungainly dancing and Adamson’s thinly disguised facility for a guitar solo, but this was precisely their spirited appeal to a generation of uncool kids. Their muscular, politicised hits Into The Valley, Working For The Yankee Dollar and The Saints Are Coming – the latter revived in 2006 by U2 and Green Day as a chart-topping Hurricane Katrina benefit single – were definitely victories for substance over style.
“Punk was essentially an urban thing, so the landscape of rural Fife, the mining villages that we were all born out of made us slightly different,” says Jobson. “My mother sang sentimental folk songs from her Irish heritage and that was ingrained in me and also in Stuart. My father was a coal miner so I knew lots of those types of songs. Mixed with the edge of punk, it created something quite unique. Our sensibility and how we saw the world and each other was different from the urban sound.
“The band were like aliens and people either came towards us like a magnet or they kept well clear because they thought there was something disturbing about us. We made a bold statement in the type of landscape where people do not make bold statements, everybody follows in the traditions of their mothers and fathers, nobody wants to be different. Whereas the punk generation made being different OK for a lot of people from those kind of backgrounds, and I think that has probably stayed with us as part of our culture until the enormity of the madness that is coming our way now, where everybody seems to be looking over their shoulder to the past, wants to dwell in an idyllic version of a world that never existed in the first place.”
Jobson is acutely aware that punk, and his part in it, could be viewed through precisely the same rose-tinted spectacles, memorialised and sentimentalised the way revolutions often are. That same nostalgic appetite for the sounds of one’s youth has allowed The Skids to reform and spend the rest of this year touring to mark their middle age.
“It’s actually shocked me that people are genuinely that interested,” he says. “I was nervous of the heritage trail which seems to be quite a big thing in UK music culture now. I understand that that’s what we are, but I wondered if we could put another spin on that, and try and do something new.”
Word of the band’s 40th anniversary tour dates filtered through to punk peer-turned-ace producer Youth, who approached Jobson to co-write some songs. Their collaboration became the starting point for Burning Cities, the first new Skids album in 36 years, slated for release this summer. As the title suggests, The Skids have resumed their diet of socially engaged songs.
“Well, it’s not like there’s nothing happening in the world, is there?” says Jobson. “The album feels pretty fresh, it has an anger and an energy which I think it had to have or it was never going to work. I think a lot of bands in later life start to think of themselves as musicians and start to show their technical skills. We haven’t done that – because I don’t have any technical skills – so they’re songs that are just rich in atmosphere, and have an edge and a vitality that really excites me at this stage in my life.”
Jobson has certainly enjoyed a rich and varied time of it over the years as musician, model, filmmaker and broadcaster. He is currently writing a memoir of his early years up to and including The Skids, in which he makes public his long battle with absence seizures, a form of epilepsy, which was not properly diagnosed until his late 20s.
“Of all the people in the band, I expected to be dead first, so that had a massive impact on how I presented myself live, the fearlessness. I had nothing to be afraid of, because in the back of my head it didn’t really matter. It was a brief thing anyway because then Stuart called it a day – Stuart called it a day an awful lot of times I might add during this period – so we stopped when we were at our peak and there’s something good about that, so people remember it fondly.”
Adamson went on to more sustained success in Big Country, taking a distinctly Scottish pop/rock sound to a global audience until his premature death by suicide in 2001. His Big Country compadre Bruce Watson completes the current Skids touring line-up alongside his son Jamie and original Skids bassist Bill Simpson and drummer Mike Baillie.
“If I was to think what is the real reason for doing this,” muses Jobson of this latest reunion, “it’s just the experience. So why not just turn the page and enjoy every single minute of it? The words are serious but there’s also a cheekiness about it that I think we must never lose – my s*** dancing and all of that – because it’s exuberant, effusive and why not grab on to it again for a little while? It gives us an opportunity to pay respect to something, but at the same time reinvent it again.”
The Skids play PJ Molloys, Dunfermline, 3 & 4 May; the Liquid Room, Edinburgh, 5 May; ABC, Glasgow, 6 May; Montrose Town Hall, 29 June; Glen Pavilion, Dunfermline, 30 June; Inverness Ironworks, 4 October and Beat Generator, Dundee, 5 October