DCSIMG

Once more into the valley

THEY WORE AWFUL CLOTHES, sang indecipherable lyrics and were routinely pilloried by the music critics of their day. As their former singer Richard Jobson admits, The Skids "never had a cool factor". Until now, that is.

Thirty years after they formed in Dunfermline, one of Scotland's first legitimate punk bands is finally being treated with reverence rather than ridicule. For this they can thank U2 and Green Day, who recently joined forces for a cover of The Skids' 1978 single The Saints Are Coming, released in aid of Hurricane Katrina victims. "By attempting to be cool you're not, is my philosophy," says Jobson. "The reinvention of The Saints Are Coming at a time when Skids had been pretty much dismissed just goes to prove that the work we did speaks for itself."

Sitting in the London offices of his film production company, Jobson admits he wasn't always so proud of his punk roots, having long turned his back on music for a career as a broadcaster, writer and director. "If The Skids have been dismissed, then I'm just as guilty in a way. I wasn't interested and hadn't thought about them for years. And then Stuart died."

It was 17 December 2001 when Jobson stepped out of a film screening and switched his mobile back on to discover 60 missed messages. "I knew something seriously bad had happened," he says. Stuart Adamson, The Skids' guitarist and founder who went on to even greater success as frontman of Big Country, had been found dead in his Hawaii hotel room.

Like many, Jobson was stunned to discover that Adamson had been secretly battling the bottle, a subject he later tackled in his 2003 film 16 Years of Alcohol. "No-one's ever really asked me about Stuart," he ponders. "The alcohol thing was a tremendous shock. It still is. But I have nothing to say about it because I don't know that much other than he died tragically. I'd rather not know too much about what he went through, to be honest."

A couple of memorial gigs in Dunfermline and Glasgow in early 2002 saw Jobson's return to the stage after more than a decade's hiatus, to play a handful of Skids tracks: Adamson's son, Callum, stood in for him on guitar. Jobson has since incorporated Skids music in his films, and named his latest after the group's 1980 single, A Woman in Winter. With the U2/Green Day cover reaching No 1 in ten countries worldwide, he now has every reason to re-embrace his past. Raised in the "100 per cent testosterone" Fife mining village of Ballingry, Jobson was a self-confessed "tough wee guy". He spent his youth bunking school to watch Kubrick's ultra-violent A Clockwork Orange and knock around with fearsome Dunfermline teen gang the Abbey View Toi. It was this same "toughness" which brought him to the attention of Adamson, two years his senior, who invited him to audition at Cowdenbeath Working Men's Club. Barely 16, Jobson, "the only other punk in town", got the gig.

For "about two pints" they called themselves Marcus Zen Stars with Tom Bomb and the Martyrs of Deal. "We all created stupid names," smiles Jobson. "Our first bassist, Willie Simpson, called himself Alex Plode. I still think that's fantastic." But it was as The Skids that they began making a name supporting visiting punk bands from England. "I remember when we played with The Clash, when we finished we stood right at the front of the stage among the audience. Joe Strummer thought that was hilarious. I think in their eyes we were the real thing - a bunch of kids from a housing estate, a world of nothingness."

Their first single was the self-financed Charles EP on manager Sandy Muir's No Bad label ("No Bad Records," laughs Jobson, "how very Fife!"). Its title track set the Skids' musical blueprint: Adamson's Celtic fuzztone riffs propelling Jobson's inscrutably mushy delivery about a factory worker so desensitised by his job that he mutates into the machinery. John Peel was among the first to take note, as did Virgin, who signed them in the summer of 1978. In November that year they made their Top of the Pops debut with the original The Saints Are Coming. The BBC make-up team could barely conceal a bruise on Jobson's face from a fight two days earlier. "It's on YouTube," he grins, "I've got a tooth missing as well. You can tell by the way I'm singing I'm a real little shit."

The single failed to get into the Top 40, not that it mattered - 1979 was to be The Skids' annus mirabilis, with four consecutive hits. The first, Into the Valley, was both a triumphant calling card and a commercial millstone. It also returned them to Top of the Pops, where a non-bruised Jobson appeared in a monogrammed "Captain Scarlet suit", the first of many dubious fashion moves.

Aptly described by one critic as "Thin Lizzy meets the Charge of the Light Brigade", Into the Valley was actually triggered by events in Northern Ireland. "A lot of the young guys my age on my estate had no chance of getting a job," Jobson explains, "so the only opportunity was to join the army. These kids wanted to be car mechanics or engineers and they were promised these gigs in the army but 20 weeks later they'd be carrying a rifle down the Shankill Road. Into the Valley was about that."

The song would gain greater notoriety for Jobson's garbled diction, famously sent up in a 1990s Maxell tape advert where "Boy, man and soldier" was instead transcribed as "Barman and soda". Jobson still isn't amused. "I hated that commercial. They did it without my permission. It put a spoiler on something quite precious."

Controversy of a different kind surrounded the release of The Skids' second album of 1979, Days in Europa. Its original cover illustration - evoking the 1936 Berlin Olympics, complete with Gothic lettering - was construed by the press as suspiciously Aryan in tone. Fearing accusations of Nazi sympathies, Virgin withdrew the LP before reissuing it in a different sleeve. "It was a time when people used these fairly empirical images," says Jobson, "but we were the ones who got singled out. It was OK to be called Joy Division, and they even had booking agents called Final Solution, but it wasn't OK for The Skids to use that sleeve? I thought, f*** 'em."

By the early 1980s, The Skids' fire had burned out, and Jobson and Adamson's relationship had reached an impasse. The latter quit during the making of The Skids' fourth, final album, 1981's Joy, on which Jobson tried unsuccessfully to push them towards traditional Scottish folk. Ironically, it was Adamson who went on to patent a Caledonian rock formula with his new band, Big Country.

"It was pretty bad," says Jobson of the break-up. "We never came to blows, but Stuart had a tendency to walk out a lot. Musically he was always the leader, so it didn't surprise me when he took centre stage in Big Country. I always thought Stuart had a better voice than me. And he was a tremendous guitar player. I think the best testament to Stuart is that when U2 did The Saints Are Coming, The Edge played the guitar solo exactly the same."

In the wake of the U2/Green Day cover (and, recently, a surprise namecheck from Arctic Monkeys), the Skids back catalogue has been dusted down for a best-of CD plus a live retrospective. "It has been suggested we do some gigs but, come on, I'm 46," says Jobson. "I was in The Skids when I was 16. I was a real little punk then, quite fearless. Now I'm the opposite, and a parent. And besides, I've got my views on bands who reform after 20 years. It's always naff." Such a cool perspective. How very un-Skids.

• The Saints Are Coming: The Very Best of the Skids and Masquerade Masquerade: The Skids Live are both released by Virgin on 26 February.

 
 
 

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