Richard Jobson on The Skids: 1977-2017
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May 1, 2017
The Skids were one of Scotland’s most successful punk exports. Formed in Dunfermline in 1997 and fronted by the idiosyncratic double act of teenage singer Richard Jobson and gifted guitarist Stuart Adamson (later to form the much loved Big Country), they scored a handful of enduring hits, including Into the Valley, Working for the Yankee Dollar and The Saints Are Coming (subsequently covered by U2 and Green Day in 2006), in their short lifetime.
The group reformed, minus the sadly departed Adamson, for their 30th birthday in 2007 and now they’re doing the timewarp again to celebrate their 40th anniversary. A new album, Burning Cities, will be released in the summer. Before then, there’s an anniversary tour, commencing this week. And before that, there’s our chat with Richard Jobson, who regaled us with tales of the band’s Fifer roots, unique worldview and Apollo memories…
Punk was essentially an urban thing so where we came from, the landscape of rural Fife, the mining villages that we were all born out of made us slightly different. Our view of the world was non-urban. My mother sang sentimental folk songs from her Irish heritage and that was ingrained in me and also in Stuart, so there was a folk tradition there. My father was a coal miner so I knew lots of those types of songs, so mixed with where we were from with a bit of the edge of punk created something that I think was quite unique.
I remember when we first saw Johnny & the Self-Abusers [later to regroup as Simple Minds], for example, they were much more elegant, they were much more Velvet Underground-inspired, as a lot of those Glasgow bands were at the time. We weren’t. Our influences were much wider and rooted in something else, and I think that eventually came out in the music, with the things I sang about and Stuart Adamson put to music with his very particular guitar sound. And it had a toughness. The Skids were not romantic at all, they were more nihilistic.
Also, I have the condition of epilepsy which I’ve had all my life. Of all the people in the band, I expected to be dead first, I didn’t expect to get past 25 if I was lucky, so that also informed the urgency of what I was all about. 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.
My great hero was David Bowie who spoke to me from an early age and indirectly told me it was okay to be different. I was already different because I had a health condition that made me look really ill, so I never really fitted in anyway. The band were like aliens really and people either came towards us like a magnet or they kept well clear because they thought there was something disturbing about us.
You’re making a statement, and 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 because the word ‘different’ is a negative thing whereas the punk generation made being different okay I think for a lot of people from those kind of backgrounds.
When we did our last tour, it was truly an amazing thing. We were playing the Odeon in Edinburgh and I always wanted to play there because I’d seen so many groups there that I love, like the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. When I was a kid my brother had taken me to see Lou Reed there and I always dreamed of playing on that stage.
On that tour we also played the amazing Apollo in Glasgow. The Odeons and the Apollos – they were huge venues but they were still very intimate. The Glasgow Apollo was something else, that huge stage, the height of it, there was definitely a connection with an absolutely mental audience. The first time I went there was to see Television and Blondie play together and it was just amazing. Then we supported The Stranglers there for three nights and it was the most violent thing I’ve seen in my life. The bouncers would take on the whole audience and turn the audience on them, and it was pretty terrifying. We toured with The Stranglers for two years and then Hugh got put in jail [for drug possession] so I had to do the opening stuff with The Skids for 45 minutes and then I had to go back on and sing with The Stranglers. They were crazy times.
And then Stuart called it a day – Stuart called it a day an awful lot of times I might add during this period, he had a lot of things going on in his head – so we stopped when we were at our peak and there’s something good about that, so people remember it fondly.
It’s actually shocked me that people are still genuinely that interested, but it did offer up a few problems for me. I feel that the old songs still have a relevance, but I was nervous of the nostalgia trip, heritage trail which seems to be quite a big thing in UK music culture now. I understand that’s what we are, but I wondered if we could put another spin on that, and try and do something new.
I think a lot of bands in later life start to think of themselves as musicians and they start to show their technical skills. We haven’t done that, because I don’t have any technical skills! I’ve never really liked that sort of thing. Even when I went on to do the Armoury Show with John McGeoch, I was very clear that I didn’t want us to become a second class Magazine, we had to have our own identity that had to have a simplicity because of my technical deficiencies as a singer.
If I was to really dig in to myself and think what is the real reason for doing this, it’s just the experience, so why not just turn the page and enjoy every single minute of it? It’s not the only thing that’s in my life, therefore I can have a lot of fun with it. I take it seriously, because the words are serious about serious things, but there’s also a cheekiness about it and I think we must never lose that because it’s exuberant and effusive.
Is it going to change anything out there? Of course not. Is it going to change our lives? A little bit, I think. It’s going to give us an opportunity to really pay respect to something but at the same time reinvent it again, and why not?
The Skids play PJ Molloys, Dunfermline, 3/4 May, Liquid Room, Edinburgh, 5 May and ABC, Glasgow, 6 May