A pair of gigs a mere 38 years in the waiting…!
Before The Gravel Pit, before The Gigolo Aunts, Parachute Men, Big Dipper, even before my late teens “home team” Echo And The Bunnymen, there were The Skids. The first band I truly, deeply fell hopelessly in love with, a love totally unrequited until now… All it took was the sight of vocalist Richard Jobson’s gloriously lunatic whirling dervish dance to the dramatically heavy, sonorous riffery of “Into The Valley” on “Top Of The Pops” in February 1979, and my 13 year old mind was officially fried. I was hooked, buying up all their anthemic terrace chant punk singles on their various limited edition formats, lauding their more sophisticated albums to the skies in front of my school mates, expanding my vocabulary trying to decipher Jobson’s delightfully prosaic lyrics, spending 25 years buggering my knees up trying to copy his insane dervish dance (well, somewhere between that and Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr’s more expansive dance gestures, anyway…) and even going so far as to write to “Smash Hits” magazine, vigorously attacking both their lukewarm review of The Skids’ “Circus Games” single, and defending the honour of Jobson, whom the reviewer had maligned as a poseur. Much good that did for the “Angry Skids Fan from Swindon” (as I had signed my letter), by the way, for they printed my letter in full, along with a pic of Jobbo wearing a ridiculous army cap and peering provocatively through a pipe, captioned, “Richard Jobson caught in the act of not posing”! Whoops…!
Nonetheless, The Skids were a comet that flew, huge, roaring and luminescent, into my line of vision, then just as quickly flew through; 3 stunning albums in quick succession, and by 1981 they were done, too soon for me to get to see them “live” first time around. I did get to see Jobbo’s next project The Armoury Show, along with guitarist Stuart Adamson’s charges Big Country a bunch of times, but the chances of a Skids reunion seemed to be extinguished by Adamson’s untimely passing in 2001. I found out a couple of years afterwards with some gall that they’d played Scottish festival “T In The Park” in 2007 to celebrate their 30th Anniversary, and hopes were buoyed, if not totally encouraged, by the playing of “Into The Valley” immediately after the Big Country reunion shows in 2011. Testing the water, perhaps? September last year finally yielded a result for the faithful; announcement of a 40th Anniversary London show at The Roundhouse, for which I immediately sorted tix for myself and the Big Man. A couple more dates were added, then news of an album via PledgeMusic (my pledge was there in a flash), then suddenly a whole tour, including an Oxford O2 date on a Friday, meaning I could take my 9 year old son Logan! Tix were voraciously snapped up for that one too, including a competitively priced “Meet And Greet” pre-gig event (my first such event – happy to pay £25 for that, which is half as much as other bands of similar or even lesser stature seem to charge!) so there’s where we start…
The Oxford meet and greet was scheduled for 4, so I grabbed Logan after his after-school club finished at 2, and we were on the road at 2.30, attacking Oxford’s underbelly and parking up in the Tesco’s Cowley car park easily, despite my concerns. My brother was seconds behind me, so we met up and queued up outside the venue whilst chatting to fellow meet and greeters, eventually getting in at 4.30 to watch The Skids set up then soundcheck 3 numbers, which sounded loud, dynamic and breathtaking (at one point I commented to my brother, “they sound so good I might just weep!”). That done, the boys then came down for the meet and greet, which was essentially a 45 minute social mingle with the c.20 of us; pics taken, signatures secured, various chats with the band (including my telling Jobbo my “Smash Hits” story to his general hilarity), and at one point drummer Mike Baillie even invited Logan up onstage to sit behind his drumkit! Logan also posed with guitarist Jamie Watson’s instrument, and bassist Bill Simpson (who initially thought that Logan was just along for the meet and greet, being surprised that the O2 is an 8+ venue so he was up for the gig as well!) mentioned, on hearing “Circus Games” was his favourite Skids song, remarked that they’d need to remember that. Hmmm…!
A lovely convivial time came to an end, so we left and grabbed tea at Subway, and were then first back in the venue at 7 pm doors! An hour wait as the place (very) slowly filled up with a slightly (but understandably) bored boy and his punkle winding him up came to a merciful end with Klammer, on at 8. Not heard of this lot before, although they were seemingly of similar vintage to the headliners, they played some rocky stuff which initially featured militaristic drumbeats and haunting, claustrophobic guitar effects, recalling the post-punk landscape roamed by the likes of Comsat Angels, and the vocalist displayed an off-kilter, dismissive sneer, which recalled The Stranglers’ Hugh Cornwell. Bits of the dour polemics of New Model Army and the loose-limbed feel of early Talking Heads as well made for a slightly juddering but overall intriguing opening set, although Logan felt a little hot so we took a break for some fresh air and a drink of water midway through. We were also joined by evening attendee Stuart “Langers” so caught up with some gig chat after their set, as the place filled to a more respectable 2/3rds full, and anticipation grew.
The bubbling synth pulse of backing track “Peaceful Times” built as the lights dimmed at 9, the band taking the stage and bursting into the sweeping riffery and marching beat of opener “Animation”. Jobson was immediately “on it”, strong-arming and shadow boxing through a slightly toned down version of that manic dance of youth, maybe understandably given his 56 years but still gamely putting in his promised shift. And the smile! Clearly loving it up there, relishing in the opportunity to celebrate his band’s legacy, he and the entire 5 piece Skids (including Big Country guitarist Bruce Watson, again subbing for his lost bandmate and clearly loving the chance to play in a band he was apparently a massive fan of, from the off) were in Fantasy Band Camp throughout, belying their years and the lack of activity therein with a performance as tight and dynamic as any band I’ve seen of late. Or ever, even…! Unsurprisingly this gave the whole evening an euphoric, celebratory feel throughout, underlined by the voluble Jobson’s frequent visits to the mic between numbers. “It’s been a long time coming!” he announced after the opener, noting that they intended, “to cover the whole spectrum of the Skids [music]” before a frankly brilliant “Melancholy Soldiers”. We also had a shout out for a fellow punter, “big black gay beautiful Mike from Cardiff!” before the racey gallop of “Thanatos” (which Jobson introduced incorrectly in the excitement!), and an anti Theresa May chant before “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, which descended into a beautifully eerie funereal march. Haunting and lovely.
The huge anthemic hook of “Working For The Yankee Dollar” saw arms thrust into the air, including Logan’s, and Jobson’s comment of, “if I’d have known it was this much fun I wouldn’t have gone into a coma 35 years ago!” skewered tonight’s overall mood perfectly. Time to acknowledge absent friends as well, as Bruce channelled the ghost of Stuart Adamson with some excellent, intricate fretwork during “Scared To Dance” (which was preceded with a poignant chant of, “Stuart! Stuart!”). The taut, stretched “Charles” was brilliant, the final riff a joyously heroic fanfare, and even “Hurry On Boys” (a track I’m not too fussed about on record) was an all-inclusive terrace roar. Then came “Circus Games”…
Jobson made the point about greeting fans earlier this evening, with some fathers bringing their sons along, then remarked, “we met a lovely little lad called Logan, he’s 9 years old… there he is!” as my brother lifted him up for all to see. A couple of quips about giving him, “a punch in the puss,” later, Jobbo announced, “[Logan’s] favourite Skids song is “Circus Games” – OK Logan this is for you, pal!” as the dual guitars burst into epic life, leaving a grin on my son’s face as wide as the Forth Bridge. Lovely stuff, a brilliant moment and an utterly epic widescreen rendition of this soaring anthem, which underlined the moment perfectly. Wow. As if more was needed, set closer “Into The Valley” tore the roof off as the crowd went batshit mental to this all-time classic, an extended post-song acapella singalong resounding around the room long after the band had left the stage for their break. And, following the choppy first encore “Charade”, a totally saturated Jobson acquiesced to the crowd’s cries for “Albert Tatlock”, racing through their throwaway punk number with some more sneery Theresa May references, then leading them through some, “Simon Cowell? What a wanker!” chants to hammer home tonight’s resounding triumph for real music. Newie “World On Fire” and a “Woman In Winter” acapella hook singalong closed out a flawless gig, one where my childhood favourites came back to brilliant incandescent life before my eyes. Simply stunning.
A swift and sweaty drive home with a totally buzzing Logan, loaded down with his bounty (set list, Mike Baillie’s sticks and Jamie’s pick) closed out Skids part one, then a week later it was time for part two! This time I picked The Big Man up at 4 on a scorching Friday afternoon, then endured a difficult journey to The Roundhouse; half an hour to get to the motorway for starters, circumnavigating an accident near Newbury, stop-start Friday traffic elsewhere, and nose to tail through London seeing us parking at the Bush at 7! Problems not over yet, though, as we tubed over and hit the venue just before 8 to discover our e-tickets weren’t sufficient to get us in and we had to queue for our “actual” tickets, then Rich’s ticket scanned as already having been scanned and he was initially refused entry! More queues to clarify the situation back at the box office and we finally, frustratingly, got in, midway through support The Vapors’ set (which also started 15 minutes earlier than advertised at 7.45. Bah!) Late 70’s contemporaries of the headliners and known for one big chart hit, their set was a lot more mod-ish than I expected, with “Jimmie Jones” a 60’s influenced push’n’shove Jam-like rhythmic workout, the “big hit” “Turning Japanese” racily but perfunctorily delivered with odd staccato vocals from rat boy vocalist Dave Fenton, and closer “Here Comes The Judge” easily the best number on offer, a sinewy and bratty tempo changing beast. Not bad, but not startlingly great either, and they seemingly featured Woody Harrelson (or a convincing lookalike) on guitar!
Ran into facebook friend Pete Cole as we wormed our way down the front, and enjoyed some rock chat before the lights dimmed in this large and seemingly sold-out auditorium, The Skids emerging again to the shredding synth sound of “Peaceful Times”. Ripping into the steadfast and powerful drumbeat of “Animation”, they were immediately stunning, surprising even me – and I thought I knew what to expect! A few words of greeting from Jobson (“strangely enough we’re still angry as hell – let’s share that tonight!”), straight into the descending guitar riff of “Of One Skin”, and the place, replete with old punks and rockers, likely 90% male and over 50, went utterly batshit crazy.
Once again The Skids were magnificent, striding and imperious, their heroic, anthemic material resounding around the venue, towering and massive, the band in telepathic sync. And for once this London audience reacted in kind, turning this large hall into a sweaty rock’n’roll place of worship, turning this “gig” into an event, a tribal gathering, a joyous and all-inclusive celebration. Jobson was once again the rabble-rouser, the ringleader, the storyteller, regaling us with tales of his audition for The Skids (“I told [the other applicants] to fuck off, so when they opened the door I was the only one there!”) and opinions of the state of the world today (“the world has gotten worse [than the seventies] but we can change that with a bit of joy and some terrible dancing!”), also taking time to comment on the appalling Grenfell Tower fire, earlier this week, and announce, “we’ve got some firemen here as our guests,” to sincere and lengthy applause.
But for me Bruce Watson pipped him for tonight’s MVP; subject of a health scare the night after Oxford (the details of which Jamie informed us of later) which necessitated the cancellation of their Sheffield gig, he seemed determined to prove himself fit tonight, his performance almost as kinetic and stage-covering as Jobson’s overdrive dervish dance, his guitar work spot on, each note ringing with impressive clarity. Well done Bruce, we’re proud of ya, bud! Also, for me it didn’t matter that the set was again EXACTLY as per Oxford; knowing what was coming actually heightened the anticipation rather than deadening the impact. “Thanatos” was more sweepingly epic than a whole series of “Game Of Thrones”; Watson again channelled Stuart Adamson impressively during a haunting, baroque “Scared To Dance”, one of the more “elegant” entries from the Skids canon according to Jobbo, and a breathless, roaring “Olympian”, with its’ impressive and instinctive guitar interplay between Watson Junior and Senior, caused Rich to turn to me and remark, “you’re right, they ARE on fire!”
The excellent “Circus Games” this time saw Jobbo ponder on this song being one of the only times they weren’t introduced on “Top Of The Pops” by Jimmy Savile… “Masquerade” saw a huge influx to the mosh to Jobbo’s favourite song of the tour, and the inevitable “Into The Valley” again tore the roof off, a towering and totallyappropriate way to end the set, the hook again sung back by the crowd, resounding for ages. Encore “Albert Tatlock” was preceded by Jobbo thanking the London crowd for being, “the only audience NOT to shout for it!” and then being deluged not only by the inevitable clamour, but also an Albert Tatlock t-shirt! A curfew-bashing rerun through “Of One Skin”, then the band took a deserved bow, after again belying their years (Jamie notwithstanding) and delivering a brilliant, celebratory set. Utterly stunning.
A chat with an affable Jamie afterwards, through the backstage side-gate, saw him also go get my list fully signed. Result! A difficult and tiring journey home (roadworks and diversions) pitched me home at ¼ to 2 (yikes!), knackered but elated and vindicated. 38 years in the waiting, these two gigs, but for my money you can give “Live Act Of The Year” and “Band Of The Year” to The Skids right now. Simply awesome!