I have taken some time to type out these sleeve notes for your pleasure, a great read, however, see if you can spot the mistakes!
Yes, Jolson. This, according to a mimeographed sheet from No Bad Records of Dunfermline, was the original line-up of the Skids.
The anonymous writer of this press release, which accompanied the first Skids single, was of the view that the band was 'destined for the top', and he was almost right. To quote further from his thoughtful paragraphs, the Skids were 'causing a substantial "BUZZ",' and this time he was spot on.
This was early 1978 and for some months Scottish fanzines had been noising abroad the excellence of Messrs. Jolson, Plode, Adamson and Bomb, remarking that they had moved beyond the confines of pure punk and were evolving into something entirely of their own devising, something that was, or so it was hinted, identifiably Scottish.
Thus it was that when No Bad NB1, 'Reasons', 'Test Tube Babies', and 'Charles', reached the sink-pits and stews of London, the Skids already enjoyed the first murmurings of a reputation, and when the band followed the record south they must have hoped for an enthusiastic reception.
Back home they had been heard on Radio Forth, for Heaven's sake, and had supported the Stranglers in Edinburgh, and when they clambered on stage in a Stoke Newington pub they must have been disappointed at the mute, incurious glances of the few regulars which greeted them.
Happily, my old brave ones, this performance was enough to win the Skids an outing on Radio 1 and a subsequent approach from Virgin Records.The rest, I am tempted to say, is history.
First out of the Virgin gate was 'Sweet Suburbia'. 'This white vinyl record has a wierd gimmick', warned the company's effervescent promotions department mysteriously, adding 'You'll like it'.
Consumers did, but only a bit, as the record pounced on the number 70 spot in the charts but then fell away into nothingness. 'The Saints Are Coming' improved on this, clawing its way as high as 48.
Next on our turntables was 'Into The Valley', released in February 1979, which reached the top ten, although the truly discerning preffered the reverse, 'TV Stars', assuredly the only record to date to bring together in song the stars of 'Coronation Street' and 'Crossroads' along with Kenny Dalglish, the greatest living Scotsman, and this typist.
There were further hit singles, stirring LPs, and it wasn't too long before the music weeklies, having come to terms that Richard Jolson was really Richard Jobson, spotted that he was also a likeable, gregarious, and highly quotable chap. 'Jobbo', as we had to learn to call him, has never been backward at coming forward, and he took to this notoriety with definate enthusiasm, using it to his own advantage and diversing into poetry and the theatre.
After the Skids third LP, 'The Absolute Game', Stuart Adamson, by now a highly individual guitarist, resigned his commission, leaving Richard, brother to Meadowbank Thistle's goal-hungry striker, John Jobson, to soldier on with bassist Russell Webb.
On the stage, amid locker-room gossip that he never simulated anything, no siree, Richard was to be spotted spending evenings lying on top of the celebrated ingenue, Honey Bane, and he could be observed at artistic soirees declaiming his and other folks' poems in a firm and manly voice.
Contemporary with this arts-lab activity Richard was working with Russell on 'Joy', an LP in which they ferreted back into Scottish history and culture. Despite a warm review from the Guardian, reaction to 'Joy' was pretty frosty and shortly after release the Skids were no more.
Brushing aside with a contemptuous snort all the usual stuff about legacies of fine music, the great sadness in the demise of this most admirable of bands lies, for me, in that in his search for a Celtic identity and sound, Richard Jobson (nee Jolson) overlooked the fact that it was precisely these elements that distinguished the Skids from the post-punk herd in the first place.
If you don't believe me, listen again."
Emerging from the fall-out of the punk explosion, THE SKIDS were inspired by the new class of'77-especially THE CLASH and BUZZCOCKS - but were influenced by artisits from an earlier age.
Guitarist STUART ADAMSON modelled much of his playing style on BE-BOP DELUXE maestro BILL NELSON while adopting the *bleep*y stance of US punk prototypes NILS LOFGREN and LOU REED.
At a party, Adamson met the 16-year-old RICHARD JOBSON - a gapped tooth headstrong punk with two - tone hair - and THE SKIDS were born, the first band from the cultural wasteland of DUNFERMLINE since blues rockers NAZARETH.
Completing the line-up was ex lorry driver drummer TOM KELLICHAN and taciturn bassist WILLIE SIMPSON, both local lads who combined as the typical quiet but solid rhythm section.
ADAMSON and JOBSON were not only the public face of the band, but also the creative force - initially Richard was simply a frustrated new-wave shouter (most forcibly displayed on their live version of MOTT THE HOOPLE'S 'VIOLENCE'), while the naturally talented Stuart provided both music and lyrics for songs such as 'NECKSHOTS', 'DON'T WANT TO GO' and 'SCARED TO DANCE'.
Support slots with THE STRANGLERS, VIBRATORS and RADIO STARS plus a series of London dates at famed venues like HAMMERSMITH RED COW, THE NASHVILLE and STOKE NEWINGTON ROCHESTER CASTLE were ideal promotion for their debut single, which comprised three Adamson compisitions 'CHARLES', 'REASONS' and 'TEST TUBE BABIES'.
They gathered a small clan of devoted fans, including one VIP, Radio One DJ JOHN PEEL, whose patronage led to a record deal with Virgin.
THE SKIDS repaid the debt by immortalising him in their seminal 'TV STARS' sing along-thus bizzare audience demands for 'ALBERT TATLOCK'.
By the time this live recording was made, THE SKIDS were about to release their first album 'SCARED TO DANCE', and the balance of creative input had shifted towards an equal song writing partnership, with Jobson providing virtuous, provocative lyrics for songs like 'MELANCHOLY SOLDIERS', 'THE SAINTS ARE COMING' and their breakthrough chart entry 'INTO THE VALLEY', delivered in his unique vocal style, part Scottish thug, part teenage street poet.
Jobson had recently adopted basic rhythm guitar duties-listen again to 'MELANCHOLY SOLDIERS' for his painfully fumbled chord changes, way to high in the mix, which nevertheless allowed he and Adamson to present a dynamic two-pronged visual attack, on some nights, the moment when they both crashed through the windmilling chord section on the same song was truly exhilarating.
In many ways, this live album captures THE SKIDS in their element, it features the original line-up (subsequent albums were recorded with new bassist RUSSELL WEBB and a variety of drummers), driven by a naive lust for fame and glory and damn the consequences.
But the future split with the home-loving Adamson retreating to DUNFERMLINE to form BIG COUNTRY and the cosmopolitan Jobson continuing with Webb for one more SKIDS album before the short lived ARMOURY SHOW, then a high profile career as a TV presenter, male model, performance poet and would be actor and finally an under rated solo album - was already on the cards during this club tour.
On a rare night off, while band and crew drove from Liverpool to see THE CLASH play in Sheffield, Adamson caught the train back to Scotland to see his future wife, Sandra.
But for a brief, glorious moment in 1979, THE SKIDS embodied everything vital and exciting that punk had liberated from the shackles of mid-'70's British rock torpor.
They were brash, frenetic, ragged, arrogant and burning with the unquenchable fire of youthful abandon. On this record, that spirit lives on.....Johnny Waller, November 1991.
In the pantheon of great UK punk rock bands, the Skids rate as one of the exceptional few that actually attempted to make something of their music that stood apart and beyond the easy slogans and inept posturing of most of their hard noses contemporaries.
While their punk credentials were impeccable, a four piece from Dunfermline that brought out their first Wide Open EP, in 1978, on their own self financed No Bad label, and whose regular appearances in the prominent punk fanzines and the continued patronage of Radio 1 DJ John Peel, led to them being snapped up by Virgin Records later that same year.
In lead vocalist Richard Jobson they had a frontman who, unusually for the times, was unafraid to flaunt his erudition, his thirst for experience and whatever hidden knowledge he could squeeze out of his often extraordinary surroundings.
Born in 1960, Richard Jobson was 17 when he joined the Skids, straight from school, where he had just passed nine ‘O’ levels
A Personal File from an early Smash Hits lists Jobson’s achievements thus, previous jobs, none, previous bands, none.
He claimed his Desert Island disc would be ‘La Mer’ by Debussy, that his pet hate was ‘cynics’ and that his biggest mistake I ever made was ‘talking to much, much too much.
But then there were always so many people, the fans, the journalists, the record company fops there to encourage him.
I remember as a young writer myself at the time, being told you could “always rely on Jobson for a quote, he’s got an opinion on everything and everything.”
Originally, his punk name was Joey Jolson, though he always claims to have trouble remembering why, mumbling vaguely about something to do with Zorro, or something, anyway, he quickly changed it back once he saw how ridiculous it looked in print.
Jobson’s main contribution to the Skids was writing lyrics in ‘poetic form’ , his phrase, and yodelling as convincingly as he could, which was pretty damn convincingly on some songs, though not all songs, as he would be the first to admit, to the music guitarist Stuart Adamson was then writing, a sort of hybrid celtic punk, all bag pipe guitars and knitting needle drums.
Three years older than Jobson, Adamson had previously worked as an environmental health officer and a trainee accountant.
His short lived punk name, strange to relate, was Stevie Cologne, though he was not ashamed to admit that he copped most of the licks to his earliest Skids songs from such pre punk cult stars as Bill Nelson and Nils Lofgren.
The rhythm section comprised of 20 year old bassist Bill Simpson, punk name Alex Plode, and drummer 23 year old Thomas Kellichan, a married long distance lorry driver known locally as ‘Tom The Bomb’, which of course handily became his punk name.
Early live favs included ‘Sweet Suburbia’, destined to become their first Top 75 hit, and ‘Of One Skin’, a rare treat not released on any of the original four albums, ‘Charles’ from the Wide Open EP, the prophetic ‘Test Tube Babies’, and not forgetting the daft but great ‘Albert Tatlock’, mostly Stuart’s songs in those early days, but already laced with Jobson’s more artful pretensions.
Note: Wish those who write liner notes get their info correct!
Their first album, Scared To Dance, released early in 1979, was good enough to have fevered Sounds scribe describing the Skids as the Scottish Clash, and it duly spent nearly three months hinged to the UK album charts, while the single from it, Into The Valley, also became a Top 10 hit in the UK, prompting their first hilariously over the top appearance on Top Of The Pops.
It was a tough act to follow and the second, Bill Nelson produced Skids album, Days in Europa, released later that same year, was initially much misunderstood by the critics, chiefly because of the ‘Olympic Man’ sleeve and the gothic script that wreathed the package, which led to the more sensitive of the critical swabs to lament the alleged ‘Nazi undertones’ as Sounds put it somewhat hysterically.
Of course, the accompanying promotional pix of the singer doing his stuff in matching PX/Blitz clothes didn’t strengthen the bands case, but plainly the charges were absurd.
“I thought it was a fashion statement,” lisped Jobson, and he probably did.
For the fans, however, it was a different story. Thomas Kellichan had been replaced by Rusty Egan, then late of Midge Ure and Glenn Matlock’s Rich Kids, and the album, itself another Top 10 cert, came complete with two more bona fide Skids hits in ‘Charade’ and, easily their most impressive single to date, ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’.
But just as it seemed the cloak of success was beginning to settle comfortably upon their young shoulders, so the seeds of their own destruction were already being sown.
Success bred confidence in some, certainly in Richard Jobson and Rusty Egan, who revelled in the London hi-life, nervousness in others, who couldn’t wait to get home to Dunfermline, as was usually the case with Stuart Adamson and Bill Simpson.
By the time of the Skids third album, ‘The Absolute Game’, released in 1980, though on the surface things couldn’t have looked rosier, bristling as it was with old Skids gems like ‘Circus Games’ and ‘Woman In Winter’, the band was privately teetering on the brink of dissolution.
By the end of the year Simpson had left the band, to be replaced by former Slik and Zones bassist Russell Webb, and Egan also drifted away.
Adamson was not far behind them. Alienated by what he saw as the increasingly pretentious inclinations of his increasingly famous frontman.
Adamson finally threw in the towel, claiming “a total lack of empathy between band members, I felt it was time for change, it’s just a pity I had to leave the Skids to do it.”
There was one final Skids album, the mostly, it has to be said, joyless ‘Joy’, released in the summer of 1981, which featured Jobson and Webb on any number of traditional, acoustical Scottish folk instrumentation, and was as far from the traditional Skids sound as the streets of Dunfermline were to the nightclubs of Soho.
Despite two admirably jaunty singles, the moody ‘Fields’ and the unashamedly romantic ‘Iona’, neither of which was ever more than briefly acquainted with the charts, few of their stunned fans actually bought the album.
Jobson returned to lick his wounds. He released ‘The Ballad Of Etiquette’ a poetry album, if you will, and even if you won’t, come to that, set to a backing of flute, saxophones, piano, clarinet and classical guitars.
He gave well attended poetry readings at Soho’s Cabaret Futura, made headlines for his ‘live sex’ scene in Chris Ward’s 1981 play ‘Demonstration Of Affection’ at London’s Experimental Arts Theatre, with then 17 year old Honey Bane, and he contemplated touring as New Skids, before ditching that for a game of gobblers and instead put his energies into The Armoury Show, the short lived band he formed with again with Webb in 1983.
History records that it flopped badly, the old anthem loving Skids crowd having by then swung firmly in the direction taken by Adamson in Big Country, who were just a refinement of early Skids, and that Richard Jobson went on to become a top paid model and, latterly, a cut above the duff TV presenter.
Ultimately, the Skids were young and it’s probably fair to say, that in retrospect, their ambitions always were always just a step ahead of their ability to actually fulfil them, and that the gap grew commensurate with their success.
But if you listen carefully, on certain, braw, dark, windy nights you can still hear those bag pipe guitars wail.
Mick Wall 1993
By the time of late 1979’s release of the Days in Europa album (v 2138) the Skids had firmly established themselves as a major force on the whole Punk/New Wave scene. Three chart singles, Sweet Suburbia, The Saints Are Coming and Into The Valley plus a Top 20 placing for their debut album Scared to Dance had pushed vocalist Richard Jobson, guitarist Stuart Adamson, bassist Bill Simpson and drummer Thomas Kellichan to the forefront of the whole New Wave explosion.
They looked different (much more dapper) to the majority of bands at the time, in Adamson they had a guitarist / songwriter of stunning ability with a totally unique sound whilst in Jobson they had one of the most quotable and newsworthy frontman of the day.
Days in Europa was preceded by two singles Masquerade and Charade.
Masquerade came out on May 17th 1979 (VS 262) and shot to No.14 in the UK Top 20 spending nine weeks in total in the charts.
Whilst their three previous hit singles had all been issued on coloured vinyl, Masquerade came as a standard 7” backed with Out of Town and as a double pack 7” with a separate 45 featuring Another Emotion and Aftermath Dub which was basically a dub version of the A side.
By the time of the September 7th release of Charade (B/W Grey Parade VS 288) Tom Kellichan had been replaced by ex Rich Kids sticksman Rusty Egan and the single shot to No.31, enjoying six weeks in the Top 40.
Like Masquerade and Charade, Days in Europa was produced by ex Be Bop Deluxe frontman Bill Nelson and it was released on October 12th 1979.
Shooting to No.32 in the charts the album met with a mixture of controversy and critical acclaim
Melody Maker said ‘much improved effort by Scottish Punk band in transit between street credibility thumping and art as exemplified by lead singer Richard Jobson’s obscure would be intellectual lyrics’ whilst Sounds alarmingly thought the album had Nazi overtones because of the artwork depicting an Ayrian Olympian!
Nevertheless, the record was remixed and re-issued in a totally different sleeve even though Jobson told Sounds, “We checked things out very carefully, even the gothic script we used on the cover which supposedly had Nazi connotations but is actually Jewish”.
Working for The Yankee Dollar, one of the albums strongest tracks, was the first remixed cut to be released and it reached No.20 in the charts when released as a 45 on November 16th 1979 (VS 306).
Like Masquerade, it was issued as a standard 7” B/W Vanguards Crusade and as a double pack with two BBC Radio 1 tracks ‘All The Young Dudes (from a Kid Jensen session) and Hymns From a Haunted Ballroom (from a John Peel session).
Long time bassist Bill Simpson was disappointed at not being consulted over the albums remix and decided to quit the band (along with Egan who joined Visage) just as another single extracted from the album ‘Animation’ (c/w Pros and Cons VS 323) reached No.56 in the UK charts.
And that’s where we leave this particular instalment in the colourful career of the Skids who despite personal upheavals and nonsense dodgy politics accusations, still managed to come up with a classic album that over twenty later still manages to hit all the right places MARK BRENNAN..
The Skids are Scotland’s premier punk band, formed in Dunfermline 1977 and centred around the pairing of singer, songwriter and general hurricane Richard Jobson, along with whiz kid guitarist Stuart Adamson.
Their break happened almost overnight, when local record shop owner Sandy Muir agreed to be their manager. Muir paid for the recording of and released ‘Charles’, their debut single, on his own No Bad Label, which in turn attracted enough attention for Virgin Records to sign the group in May 1978.
They instantly became the cool card in the world of punk new wave, based on an impressive visual image, and Jobson’s almost impossible high kick dance style.
Right off the starting blocks with their new label the Skids recorded a John Pell session on May 19th, while also issuing their first major single ‘Sweet Suburbia’ in September of 1978, the record earned them a minor hit, and some school yard street cred.
Around the same time the group recorded another Peel session. By November they had also made their first impact on the UK charts with ‘The Saints Are Coming’, this followed by a much higher chart showing in February 1979 with ‘Into The Valley’, a white vinyl single that put them straight into the Top 10 and onto Top Of The Pops.
The groups debut album ‘Scared To Dance’ was a massive chart hit, despite tension in the studio, when Stuart Adamson threatened to quit after a row with producer David Batchelor.
In March, a non album single, ‘Masquerade’ went Top 20 and found the group on the cover of Smash Hits.
The next single ‘Charade’ was released in September 1979 and previewed perfectly the second album ‘Days In Europa’ (yes, that’s right, two albums in one year!).
The Skids were a huge hit on the live circuit too, and unlike other punk groups suffered rarely from audience fighting, after all you aren’t likely to do anything again once the six foot plus Jobson has told you to give it a rest.
Their second album spawned two more singles, ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’ and ‘Animation’, both charted and added to the groundbreaking success of the group.
A few line up changes then brings us to my own personal favourite Skids single ‘Circus Games’, another chance for the group to hit our TV screens on Top Of The Pops, it was followed swiftly by a third album, ‘The Absolute Game’ in September 1980.
The new album was arty, grandiose, and featured much material far removed from the original Skids style.
In the same month as it’s release, the group recorded it’s fifth and final Peel session, they would finally call it a day after one more album, ‘Joy’ in 1981.
While Richard saw his future first in music and later in television, Stuart left one successful group and walked straight into another of his own making, in the shape of Big Country.
This collection of Skids singles and album tracks was brought together in celebration of a great band, and in tribute to Stuart Adamson, one of the nicest people I personally ever met.
Alan Parker (The Gimmick)
The Skids were one of the most immediately distinctive bands thrown up in the wake of punk’s year zero. While some of their fellow travellers swallowed that musical accomplishment should be no barrier to art, the Skids, formed in Dunfermline in 1977, were essentially a gifted rock ‘n’ roll band with an energy and personality that made them perfect ambassadors for the Scottish punk revolution.
The band comprised Richard Jobson (vocals), Stuart Adamson (guitar), Bill Simpson (bass) and Tom Kellichan (drums). Jobson and Adamson were the principal songwriters. The former was one of rock’s most intrepid frontmen, part eloquent culture vulture, part gob on a stick. Adamson too had developed a hugely individual style, his piercing, trebly leads adding an extra dimension to the band that would be often and oft imitated.
Of all the punk acts, none would fit the turn of the decade aesthetic better, as they were embraced by readers of Smash Hits and the viewers of Top Of The Pops.
“It was a strange and effortlessly pretentious time in British pop culture,” Sean O’Hagan later noted, “and few bands were stranger or more effortlessly pretentious than the Skids.
Many assumed, given Jobson’s literary bent and playful pomposity, that the Skids must be a product of affluent backgrounds. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Jobson was the youngest of five brothers (not true). His father was a miner, his mother worked in the docks. They lived in a Protestant housing estate but were of Irish Catholic extraction.
“All my friends were die-hard Hearts supporters,” he stated later, “but I was never into that. I was always perfectly aware of who I was and where I came from. It was always Hibs or Celtic. But the sectarian thing was never an issue. It was music that united us, music and clothes.” In fact, Jobson was also a promising footballer who nearly made it as a pro.
Bill Simpson had been knocking around with Adamson from their days at Beath High School, rehearsing at the Adamson’s family home in Crossgates.
“When we started out, we were playing in Crossgates, at the Institute,” Simpson later recalled. “We had a band called Tattoo, mucking about covering songs by Bowie, Roxy Music or Status Quo, just doing cover versions. We had some great laughs touring round, going to pubs and clubs all over Scotland, as far as Kinloss and Lossiemouth.”
Adamson, who had been given his first guitar aged 13 when his father returned on shore leave, had begun work as a student environmental health officer, doing shop and pub inspections.
“Eventually me and Willie Simpson, the bass player, got into Roxy Music and Mott The Hoople and the other guys were still into Rory Gallagher so we split up. And then the punk thing started…”
Adamson first caught the punk bug aged 16 when he saw the Damned play Edinburgh in 1976. “Punk kicked in at the right time,” remembered Simpson, “and we were the first local punk band. We picked up a following and a name quickly.”
The new group was completed by Jobson and Tom Kellichan. The latter responded to a drummer wanted advert that emphasised punk’s new cultural apartheid, insisting that ‘no hippies’ should apply.
After support slots with the Stranglers and Buzzcocks, they made their debut with the self financed Charles EP. Containing three tracks, it was released on No Bad Records, financed by manager Sandy Muir.
A press release introducing the band, listing the vocalist as ‘Richard Jolson’, was sent to journalists and DJ’s. John Peel cherished the deliberate typo so much that he reproduced it when writing the sleeve notes for the group’s Fanfare retrospective.
Charles was Adamson’s depiction of a factory worker whose sense of self decreases until he becomes an integral part of the machine he operates, whereupon both are sold off for scrap.
Test Tube Babies is a great little curio too, a primitive but winning chugger that sounds completely untutored and unlike anything they would subsequently.
Peel was charmed, and the first of five sessions for his show was recorded in May 1978. It lead to a contract with Richard Branson’s ambitious Virgin empire as part of an eight album contract.
Their Virgin debut was Sweet Suburbia, on which Jobson’s poetic inclinations are starting to flourish, ‘Ancient Hearts’, ‘Paper Periscopes’ and ‘Cardboard Expatriates’ litter the narrative. B-side Open Sound described Adamson’s signature panoramic guitar style. But the Wide Open EP was the first occasion in which the Skids truly squared their ambitions with their talent.
The personal familial echo of Jobson’s lyric to The Saints Are Coming is augmented by Adamson’s blisteringly concise chord work on one of the most tightly arranged songs in the punk canon, the sustained acceleration and eventual release of the outro is unwittingly orgasm like.
It’s a show stealing turn, but check also the divergence from punk musical rhetoric on the glam infused Night and Day or the blues grooved Contusion.
Adamson’s echoed melodrama seeps into every recess of the songs, in a manner that the Edge, who has openly admitted the historical debt, would later recreate with U2. Play Out Of Town back to back with Two Hearts Beat As One for evidence, or for a more contemporary comparison of Adamson’s influence, spin Franz Ferdinand’s Take Me Out next to The Saints Are Coming.
The band’s debut album Scared To Dance saw them refine their martial tattoos and innate bombast, largely instilled by Kellichan’s hard hitting percussive fills, with increased potency and self belief.
It’s title track, derived from an NME article about the repression of pop music behind the Iron Curtain, with it’s treated drums, harmonies and layered guitar, sign posted their later direction.
Elsewhere, Jobson’s focus on chivalry and lost causes was matched by the epic, somehow intrinsically Scottish, textures of Adamson’s guitar designs.
However, the sessions were troubled, not for the last time in the groups history. Adamson was unimpressed with producer David Batchelor’s (Sensational Alex Harvey Band) tinkering, preferring the raw copy the band supplied. So strongly did he feel that he had to be talked out leaving the band.
The standouts on Scared To Dance include the aforementioned The Saints Are Coming, the punk cabaret of Dossier Of Fallibility and their breakthrough hit, Into The Valley.
Famously parodied in a blank cassette TV advertisement due to it’s impenetrable Jobson lyric, it featured quite possibly the most obtuse imagery ever married to what was effectively a terrace chant. That duality, I think Voltaire fronting Sham 69, summed up the Skids’ appeal brilliantly.
I once described Valley as “the perfect, trashy, punk pop glam single.” It still is.
It was, however, as much loved for it’s b side, the stage favourite TV Stars.
This was drawn from the bands impromptu end of gig jam where a list of soap characters and other celebrities was rationally roll called by Jobson, or an audience member appropriating the microphone. It was a neat flipside to Jobson’s more grandiose preoccupations, name checking a cast of football and soap b listers, as well as old Peely.
Happily, this unlikely but wonderful keepsake has now been exhumed for your listening pleasure, alongside the original single versions and accompanying b-sides from the period.
The Skids were fully fledged pop stars as the 70’s closed out. There were great things to come, before the bands songwriting axis finally unravelled.
The late Stuart Adamson would enjoy further acclaim with Big Country, while Jobson would move into writing and film, where he is now enjoying sustained critical and commercial success.
The Skids reunited only once, at Glasgow Barrowlands, on 31st May 2002, to play a memorial gig for Stuart Adamson following his suicide in Honolulu the previous year.
During the halcyon days of 1979 and 1980 The Skids had arrived at a special place as a live band.
For me it was what we were all about, the rush, the energy, the audience, the sound of Stuart Adamson’s guitar and the two of us flying through the air on stage passing each other mid-flight, smiling with joy.
This was what we had dreamed of becoming; a band who could do it live in front a big crowd.
From the opening bars of Circus Games Adamson was capable of creating an electric tension.
The music was waiting to burst open, fill the room with an overwhelming sense of being alive.
He was in my opinion one of the greats to come from the punk and post punk period and the ghost of him on this recording is evident on every burst from his Yamaha guitar which created his beautiful uplifting sound.
Our friendship by the time of the last tour was finished, we had gone separate ways;
He chose to stick to what he was best at song-writing and being a musician, I was on a journey of self-discovery which was taking me further and further away from our roots.
We never ever talked about our point of departure, why it happened and why we did nothing to stop it.
It seemed natural and part of our evolution as people that we would both move on to do different things.
But when it came to playing live, we were as one, totally tuned into what the other would do and captivated by the sheer raw power of what we did each evening.
I loved playing live, hated the studio, and considered myself to be a limited musician but give me a stage and I could dance a Kung Fu ballet all night long.
We played with our hearts on stage.
Stuart had talent, bags of it, he was a special man, we were only ever equals when we the lights went up and we crashed, thrashed, bashed and on occasion elegantly pushed ourselves to a dizzy height.
These live recordings capture us when in our world the only thing that mattered was making peoples hearts pump with Joy. Richard Jobson
That musical idea was taken in to what passed for a rehearsal room behind the local High School and, with the help of two of their two comrades, thrashed out into a song that would be added to their band’s increasingly impressive body of work.
On September 25th 2006, the two biggest rock acts on the planet — U2 and Green Day — resurrected and unveiled that same song to a crowd of 70,000 in the newly re-opened New Orleans Superdome and a global Internet audience of millions.
The Saints Are Coming…punk fairy tales don’t come any bigger…
It’s a measure of the esteem in which I hold people who altered the course of my life that I can tell you the day and place we first met.
As life-changing experiences go, meeting two safety pin and leather bedecked punks backstage in a beer cellar-cum-dressing room at Edinburgh’s Clouds after a gig by Lanarkshire’s finest mod exponents The Jolt might seem somewhat underwhelming.
Nonetheless, it was here — July 15th, 1977 — that I first encountered Richard Jobson and Stuart Adamson.
That night, they were brash and brusque — fuelled by the “can-do” zeitgeist that this thing called punk bestowed.
Their bravado was infectious rather than intimidating. They wanted to support The Jolt and soon.
Of course, in the midst of punk’s DIY frenzy, everyone seemed to be forming a band.
However, these two were different.
They had their eyes on the prize and in those eyes you could see the drive and passion that would be instrumental in getting their visceral musical message out into the world.
Shortly after, Jobson and Adamson, now joined by the redoubtable rhythm section of Willie Simpson and Tam Kellichan, set about their task.
In keeping with the times the band adopted daft names.
Thus Joey Jolson (Jobson), Stevie Cologne (Adamson), Alex Plode (Simpson) and Tom Bomb (Kellichan), after dropping the ridiculous moniker of Marcus Zen Stars With Tom Bomb & The Martyrs Of Deal, emerged fully formed as The Skids.
One live appearance (opening for The Buzzcocks and Prefects in Edinburgh in November 1977) and a listen to their first demo tape was enough to be convinced of their transformative, life-affirming qualities.
As a live band, The Skids encapsulated — and were the soundtrack to — the fact that we were living at the start of something very good and at the end of many things that were bad.
As Richard states in his sleeve-notes on The Skids’ live album, Masquerade, Masquerade:
“For me it was what we were all about, the rush, the energy, the audience, the sound of Stuart Adamson’s guitar and the two of us flying through the air on stage passing each other mid-flight, smiling with joy.”
The band clearly revelled in their live abilities.
A typical live set of late 1977 and early 1978 would feature the debut single’s Charles, Reasons and Test-Tube Babies as well as New Daze, an ambitious three-part song called which veered dangerously close to psychedelia.
Songs like Nationwide, Zit and London offered consummate and the by now trademark anthemic riffing. (For decades, these songs could only be found on home-recordings of early John Peel sessions.
The good folks at Virgin are currently working on making these gems more widely available).
You could always depend on the band to drop in an inspired cover version to keep things interesting.
Mott The Hoople’s Violence, Garland Jeffrey’s 35 Millimetre Dreams and even Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich’s You Make It Move all took a robust assault from the four Fifers.
Stuart could also be counted on to offer up snatches of songs by his beloved Be-Bop Deluxe and Nils Lofgren during sound checks.
While The Skids were an assault on the senses replete with a tune that would burrow into your sensibilities, their maelstrom of manic energy was clearly built on a bedrock of great musical knowledge and taste.
Lyrically, Jobson was like a puppy with a bone, playing with word and found text in an always-intriguing manner.
He was a writer who could craft poetic crescendos that perfectly complemented their epic musical backdrop.
He was also, I would suggest, one of punk’s greatest front men — a mad kung-fu ceilidh dancer and a perfect foil to his scissor-kicking guitar buddy.
The sonic and lyrical attack of songs like Into The Valley and Working For The Yankee Dollar showed that home-grown Scots talent could compete with the best that London, Manchester and New York had to offer.
In many cases, The Skids would eclipse through art that offered greater depth, more vigour and no little pride.
As word of mouth and media exposure grew, The Skids influence was reaching furth of the band’s native land.
In Dublin’s Malahide area a teenage David Howell Evans had picked up on the band.
Stuart’s sterling work on his beloved Gibson Marauder guitar (the cheapest model available in the range) chimed with young Evans.
The Skids’ lyrical content also resonated with the guitarist who would become better known as The Edge in the band he was forming with three former school mates.
That The Skids’ first three singles (Charles, Sweet Suburbia and the magnificent Wide Open EP — which featured The Saints Are Coming and included Of One Skin and Night And Day) influenced the evolving U2 is self-evident.
These three releases during 1978 set a template that U2 would adapt and modify en route to the low-key September 1979 Irish release of their Out Of Control EP.
A full 28 years later, while looking for an anthem to launch Music Rising — a charity to help rebuild the musical heart and culture of the Gulf Region by replacing the musical instruments lost during Hurricane Katrina — The Edge remembered a red vinyl 12-inch EP from his record collection.
As The Edge states: “When the idea of playing at The Superdome re-opening came up I immediately thought of The Saints Are Coming. It could have been written for the occasion … the lyric fits so well it’s almost eerie.”
The Edge would also later tell Jobson: “Good work never dies. It just goes to sleep for a while until somebody wakes it up.”
In later years it became clear that both Richard and Stuart were unaware of the profound influence they had bequeathed to a generation of young Scots.
However, the spectacle of a Scottish band successfully planting a flag on Summit Punk was to have an immeasurable impact on countless fans who went on to form their own bands, their own labels, start fanzines and follow media careers.
Latterly, that influence and inspiration would also be apparent and more widely visible and audible in the music of the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen, The Cult and Blur to name but three.
Tragically, Stuart is not around to savour the living legacy of his work.
As a musician’s musician he would have been quietly delighted by recent events.
When Bono Vox — “only the world’s biggest *bleep*ing rock star mind” you can almost hear one of those teenage Skids saying — strolled onto the stage of the Superdome and offered up the vocal incantation “Cried to my daddy on the telephone, how long now?” it was more than a brilliant spine-tingling rock moment.
Here was final and fitting recognition of the fact The Skids were something truly special and were deservedly reaching a worldwide constituency while gaining the respect their work should have been accorded long before.
It could be said that we look back on the music we grew up with as special only because we were there.
U2 and Green Day — here and now, onstage and on record, pouring new life and raw emotion into the song that saw it’s birth in that dingy rehearsal room in Dunfermline — prove conclusively just how special The Skids music was and still is.
The Saints Are Coming… punk fairy tales don’t come any better… By RONNIE GURR
“A staggering achievement, a perfect progression for a band who must be numbered amongst the most innovative and refreshing in the country. It’s one of the finest and most forward thinking albums you’ll hear this year.” From Sounds Five Star Review.
The Absolute Game was the Skids’ most successful release, reaching the Top 10 of the British charts in September 1980.
The band had been remodelled earlier that year to feature the new rhythm section of Russell Webb on bass and Mike Baillie on drums.
The Skids formed in late 1977 in Dunfermline by singer Richard Jobson and guitarist Stuart Adamson, were now a viable commercial force following the success of two 1979 albums, ‘Scared To Dance’ and ‘Days In Europa’ (both of which are available in expanded form through Captain Oi).
Jobson, in particular, was a hit with journalists not only for the weeklies, but also teen mags like ‘Smash Hits’, where he could be relied in to hold court in his customarily opinionated fashion.
For ‘The Absolute Game’, Mick Glossip (who engineered Scared To Dance)was brought in to provide a pop sheen to proceedings.
“It’s fair to say that both David Batchelor (Scared To Dance) and Bill Nelson (Days In Europa) produced higher charting Skids singles,” notes Russell Webb, “whereas Mick Glossip produced lower reaching singles, but the Skids highest charting and biggest selling album. Mick was Virgin’s flavour of the month and had produced ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’ for the band before I joined.”
As for the recruitment of the new rhythm section, “Richard said it was because Willy Simpson couldn’t play very well (*Bollocks, Bill is a Legend*) and Tam Kellichan just wanted out. Stuart didn’t really offer any reasons. My own understanding was that both Richard and Stuart wanted to take the band further musically and felt a new rhythm section was the first step in that process.”
In 1980 the pop world was changing fast. Punk had, to all intents and purposes and refuseniks aside, dispersed or splintered into diffuse new territories.
Some of the key albums of 1979 had been Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’, The Jam’s ‘Setting Sons, Magazine’s ‘Secondhand Daylight’ and The Clash’s ‘London’s Calling’.
Each of those bands had a history readily traced back to the punk era, but they emerging from its shadow and charging for new ground in the post punk land grab.
Orthodoxy was disdained and instead there was a groundswell of instrumental innovation, a rediscovered appetite for pop melody and less overt, didactic themes.
The tone was now less strident, more introverted and personal. The Skids were, in some senses, fellow travellers, though they never did outgrow their love of bombast.
Adamson was the ‘Duane Eddy’ of his era, a hugely melodramatic yet ‘clean’ guitarist and the group’s primal sonic presence, like Eddy, he favoured guitar parts that either replaced or predicted lead vocal lines.
“I would say Stuart was more influenced by Pete Townsend (partly due to the open tuning Pete used from time to time) and Bill Nelson (Be Bop Deluxe era),” notes Webb.
“Stuart particularly enjoyed a multi layered guitar sound and began using a harmonizer, set up to produce a harmonic fifth above the root riff. In Big Country this multi layered approach found its true expression with the addition of another player, Bruce Watson.”
Jobson, long since immersed in a pick ‘n’ mix of literary pretension, working class homily and histrionic oratory, still loved his epic, gladiatorial themes, and wasn’t pulling any muscles restraining himself.
I asked Webb how the rest of the band interpreted Jobson’s lyrics.
“I have to confess I saw them as partly sonic constituents of the overall song, although they did elicit tacit empathy from listeners from time to time. Richard liked to put forward an impression of himself, call it a caricature, as a person of cultured learning and he would always walk about with a book, like Sartre or Sylvia Plath, hanging out of his pocket. Mostly the book in his pocket betrayed its unopened pages and hid a well thumbed thesaurus behind it. I must give Richard his due, he tried ever so hard to kill the idea he carried around inside that he was an ignorant son of a miner. He literally pulled himself up by his (football) bootstaps and tried to make himself better than he believed he was.
He didn’t always succeed mind you, actually I’ll rephrase that, he often failed but he tried his bollocks off and that’s worth something by any standards. Most of his lyrics are impenetrable only because he didn’t use his thesaurus well. If you disassemble his words and backwards thesauruses them, sorry, I think they would show quite a bit of honest pain and poetic depth. Unfortunately those attributes terrified Jobson to a pulp, his thesaurus was the only weapon he used to try destroy his enemy.”
The structure of The Absolute Game was fashioned by Adamson and Webb, who wrote much of the album in Dunfermline.
It was the first time that Adamson had collaborated in such a way and the music reflected this by shifting away from harmonics to a fuller sound with greater equanimity between instruments.
Of course, there would be a number of show stealing turns by Adamson, but his riffs were no longer the sole peg on which the songs were hung.
Webb said, “We wrote most of the stuff in Stuart and Sandra’s flat above a chip shop in Dunfermline whilst his son Callum slept beside us in his pushchair. (Note, Callum was not even born at this time). Stuart had a very lyrical guitar style and Richard used this as the basis for his words, which often came along after the music. Sometimes the lyrics were unfinished until we were in the recording studio doing the master vocal sessions which isn’t all that unusual in general as lots of bands work like that. Richard was good at turning the phrasing and melodies of Stuart’s guitar work into song that sounded seamlessly like a lyric, which was later set to music.
When I became involved in the Skids’ writing process, Richard simply used my bass and keyboard melodies too. For him it was a legitimate starting point for his lyrics, ‘Filming In Africa’, ‘Arena’ and so on are examples.”
Virgin plucked up three singles from the album, ‘Woman In Winter’, an almost choral rocker, is driven by a bravura performance from the rhythm section, notably Baillie’s repeating drum cycle.
The silly comic book that came with the single, featuring the band as a kind of Lairds of the Loch detective agency, was also momentarily diverting.
Goodbye Civilian featured another hopelessly obscure Jobson lyric, the sound dated to its moment of creation by the synthesiser effects, which took the band closer to the new pop of Visage and Ultravox.
Webb said “Fair comment. The synth approach came partly from Bill Nelson who layered them into the Skids sound in a kind of subliminal way to add depth to his productions. When I arrived on the scene, a massive Kraftwerk fan, I brought with me a balls out approach to synths. You can see this in some of the work I did in The Zones. Stuart was intrigued by synths , The Who’s Teenage Wasteland’ etc, but as a guitarist he was little inhibited in his willingness to push them higher up in the mix. I didn’t have that problem as I was a bit of a musical slut and would use almost anything to get my jollies. Nearly all the synth on The Absolute Game, in particular Goodbye Civilian and the Strength Through Joy tracks, was played by me.
Stuart was no slouch with a synth, far from it, but he tended to follow my lead when it came to using keyboards in an upfront way.”
We may never know what Jobson’s oblique, and repeated references to boys in the river actually meant, nor ‘The Absolute Game’ that gave the album its title, but the most affecting part of ‘Goodbye Civilian’ is its rhapsodic refrain.
The b-side ‘Monkey McGuire Meets Specky Potter Behind The Lochore Institute’, was Jobson’s reflection on the bands early gigs at the venue and a nod to some of the childhood acquaintances of those names.
The most emphatic track, and the only extracted release to deliver any significant chart reward, was ‘Circus Games’.
Featuring a kiddie chorus that was creepy rather than cherubic, the muscular chorus was immediately followed by a dazzling, rapier like Adamson guitar break and then what seemed like a Viking war horn.
Webb said, “ My first use of a fretless bass as a colour rather than a backbone”, bleating in the background.
The Skids were still pretty much sticking to a rock format, which is what gave their sound its power base, but there was all sorts of weird stuff going on under the bonnet.
And when it worked, as on ‘Circus Games’, it was really quite marvellous.
The entire kiddie choir even got a name check on the album sleeve.
Where now, Chloe Dymott?
Webb recalls, “They were all extremely well behaved in the studio. It’s amazing what a couple of quid and an ice cream can achieve. They were the kids of the cleaners, chefs, managers and the gardeners at The Manor, where we recorded the album.”
While ‘Hurry On Boys’ is a return to the bands anthemia punk roots, ‘The Children Saw The Shame’ features extensive use of xylophone, and there are more ensemble vocals on ‘Happy To Be With You’.
‘The Devil’s Decade’, returning to themes of loss and parental separation that were key to earlier Skids tracks like ‘The Saints Are Coming’, is the album’s darkest, most plaintive moment.
It’s uniquely rich in terms of its evocation of a Dunfermline childhood, notably in the collapse of industry and the images of forsaken, ‘hungry children’.
‘One Decree’ could have readily found a berth on Days In Europa, returning to Jobson’s love of history’s more heroic passages, this time with Biblical overtones.
The closing track ‘Arena’ seems to summarise some of the albums themes, loss of innocence, duty and destiny.
The first 20,000 copies of the album came with a free disc, Strength Through Joy, featuring several studio out takes
Webb says “ The recordings actually took place in the Manor mobile studio parked outside a brilliant rehearsal place a mile or o from Rockfield studio in Monmouthshire. We had been rehearsing for the tour to promote The Absolute Game and ‘borrowed’ the mobile studio just to mess about in during breaks in the rehearsal schedule. It arrived on Friday night just as Stuart was heading back to Dunfermline for the weekend. Jobson and I stayed up most of that Friday night into Saturday afternoon experimenting with sounds and riffs.
We were like teenage schoolboys let loose in a sex shop and we almost went blind playing with the ’forbidden gadgets’.
By Monday evening, when Stuart returned, we had about five skeletal tracks to play to Stuart who flipped, in the best way, when he heard them. Before even stopping to unpack he had his guitar on, put on a pair of headphones and he just let rip. I watched and listened in awe and hero worship as those skeletons grew shiny flesh and a blood supply and Strength Through Joy was born.
We loved what we had created so much that when a chance came to do an Old Grey Whistle Test session, we got Billy Currie from Ultravox to come along and play violin on ’Filming In Africa’. I will always remember that day as one of the really special times.”
Of course, the title inflamed a media that had already castigated Jobson for flirting with Nazi imagery circa Days In Europa.
He claimed that he’d taken the title from Dirk Bogarde’s autobiography , but a far more likely explanation was that he was knowingly winding up his opponents in the media.
Webb said, “Don’t forget the name Skids came from an early attempts to ‘play’ with words. Jobson wanted to call the band SS Kids in the beginning. I have no idea where he got his Aryan sensibilities from. Perhaps something in his history lessons at school prompted it, perhaps not. My own feeling is that it came from his mother, but you will need to look into some of his later work, the film, ‘16 Years Of Alcohol’ to prise out a motivator for this.” (*blasphemy*)
Thereafter, things went awry for the Skids. The album didn’t turn them into world conquerors like U2, who’s guitarist would openly acknowledge Adamson’s influence, and found themselves falling short of Virgin’s obvious commercial ambitions for them.
The Absolute Game was probably their optimum effort at harnessing two talented individuals pulling in increasingly different directions.
It was difficult to envisage where the band could go on from here without one of the two accepting a subordinate role in the bands future direction.
Webb said, “When I arrived on the scene Stuart instantly had the musical ally he craved, just someone to talk to really. Stuart couldn’t share any of his musical sensibilities with Richard, and Richard confessed he knew and cared little about that side of things anyway.
Willie and Tam likewise, although I think Willie tried quite hard to learn how to talk about musical stuff with Stuart.
Stuart kind of felt he carried the weight of the band on that level until I came along and took some of the burden. It’s a big regret of mine that I didn’t try harder to be a better friend to Stuart instead of just a musical counterpart.
I admired him greatly but his emotional difficulties were far to hard for me to deal with. I knew how much Stuart needed me to come with him when he decided Richard’s pomposity (*blasphemy*) was holding him back, but I couldn’t do it.
I stayed with Richard and produced Joy for my sins. I don’t regret Joy in the slightest. It was a perfect moment in time for Richard and I and the single, Iona, was the last session I ever did with Stuart on guitar. I still choke back a tear when I hear it again because I think it shows Stuart’s lyrical guitar genius in its best light and for all the commercial success of Big Country.
I don’t believe he ever got as close again to that perfection in his guitar work. (*WTF??????*)
I realise many Big Country fans will disagree with that assessment but that’s cool with me. Stuart was much loved and still is sorely missed by many people, including me,”
Any philosophical differences between the two principals were also emphasised by distance.
Jobson had been drawn increasingly to the London scene while Adamson remained in Dunfermline. The break up following shortly thereafter.
Adamson put together Big Country while his erstwhile partner continued to fly the Skids banner, retaining Webb as discussed above, for the release of Joy, an album rooted in traditional Celtic songwriting featuring an expanded cast of collaborators, before both formed The Armoury Show.
Jobson would subsequently work as a poet, initially with Webb’s musical assistance, before moving into presenting and more recently, film.
Webb, who subsequently designed his own board game, is currently writing a biography of his friend John McGeoch, with whom he played in both The Armoury Show and Public Image Limited.
The Skids reunited again at Glasgow Barrowlands, on 31st May 2002, to play a memorial gig for Stuart Adamson following his suicide in Honolulu the previous year.
There have been occasional reformations since, notably in 2007 to celebrate the bands 30th anniversary, as Jobson has gradually come to recognise the measure of affection in which the band is still held by so many.
Alex Ogg with thanks to Russell Webb.
FLASHBACK. It’s the early hours of December 25th 1977. A silver salon car threads its way through Edinburgh’s deserted streets. Beside the driver is a school kid who’s somehow hitched a lift.
In the back seat are three of the four Skids, front man, Richard Jobson, bassist Willie Simpson and crammed I the middle, guitar hero Stuart Adamson.
The faint smell of sweat lingers, legacy of the explosive gig they’ve just played at a city centre venue called Nicky Tam’s.
The show had been front loaded with self penned but now long lost classics like Rose Street Baby, New Daze, Don’t Want To Go and Sick Club. They’d also squeezed in in covers of 35mm Dreams by Garland Jefferys and in an extended encore, it’d been Christmas Eve after all, a bad tempered Johnny B Goode.
Now, with the gear packed up and freighting homewards elsewhere under the watchful eye of drummer Tam Kellichan, the talk is desultory, records, half remembered jokes, a guitar someone’s seen.
Suddenly the car hit’s the open road and the driver floors the accelerator. The speedometer ticks steadily upwards until Stuart leans forward and breaks the silence. “Slow down” he pleads, a note of panic edging his voice. “I hate going fast…”
The irony, of course, was that around The Skids everything seemed to move fast.
Initially it was just their 100mph punk rock anthems like My Life, Victims Of The Weekend, Mouth To Mouth or Johnny Wants, but the rapid pace of the bands musical development quickly outstripped even those.
By the time they released their first self financed single Test Tube Babies on February 24th, 1978, they were already moving forward and metamorphosing at an incredible rate.
By May 16th that year, as they recorded their first radio session for John Peel, they’d unveiled a newer, more challenging sound. By then Adamson had ceded lyric duties to Jobson, framing his words with an architecture of glittering guitar work that was becoming increasingly unique.
While bands that had initially inspired them, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, found themselves facing a musical impasse by that point, The Skids were blazing a trail towards post punk, mining new seams of creativity with dazzling innovative anthems such as Of One Skin, Withdrawal Symptoms and Contusion.
The latter was one of the key moments in the evolution of a sound that had begun in Adamson’s bedroom at home in the Fife mining village of Crossgates just 12 months earlier.
“Contusion was quite important to me,” recalls Jobson. “It was the first time I wrapped up a lyric in a metaphor. The song itself was about Communism, Fife was something of a red state back then but, where we came from, sentimentality and open agonising would never have been accepted. I had to dress it up in a different way. But the revelation that I could do that was really crucial to what came later.”
As Adamson explained at the time, “The lyrics are the drawing and the music is the colouring.”
Within weeks of the session being broadcast, The Skids had inked a deal with Virgin Records, travelling down to London for the signing on the new high speed Inter City 125 train.
“It was as quick as we could get our hands on the pens,” Adamson later told NME.
“We were just young boys down from Scotland, not expecting anything. To come by a record deal was like being the conquering heroes returning home with the FA Cup.”
Their first single for the label, Sweet Suburbia, was in the shops by September 1978, rapidly followed by the Wide Open EP, which reached the ears of a fledgling U2 in Dublin.
“It was a big inspiration to us at the time,” The Edge confirmed years later.
By the time of its release, the band had shifted gear yet again. Sloughing off almost an entire set of powerfully individual songs, A Question Of Style, London, It’s The Summer, Zit, in favour of the dense, full bodied sound that would characterise their debut album.
Scared To Dance emerged early 1979,its release flagged up by the success of Into The Valley, which entered the charts on February 17th and climbed to No.10.
Yet the bands relentless creative momentum was already pushing them forward.
By May, a new recording, Masquerade, had been issued. Significantly, for production on this single they had drafted in Bill Nelson, who’s extraordinary guitar playing and song writing with Be Bop Deluxe was a crucial part of The Skids DNA.
Adamson got his introduction to Be Bop Deluxe in 1975, on John Peels show.
“It was Maid in Heaven from the Futurama LP,” he told me later “and the guitar playing hit me right to the very core. I’d never heard anything like it before.”
In a glowing testimonial that could just as easily have summed up his own style, he added “It was aggressive and melodic at the same time. It was really obvious he was a technically brilliant guitarist, but his playing wasn’t just a technical exercise. Thee was a point to it. Every guitar part either illustrated something in the song or created a melody in its own right. It wasn’t a run around the fretboard for the sake of it.”
“The thing that struck me about The Skids was that they weren’t afraid of taking risks,” says Nelson. “I had heard Scared To Dance and the core of it was really good. There was a lot of energy, obviously, but there was also a certain bravado that some of the other bands of the era lacked. It was clear there was a lot of potential.”
The success of Masquerade, which gave the band their second Top 20 hit led quickly to further recording sessions with Nelson at Rockfield Studios in Wales.
“As soon as we got there,” he remembers, “it seemed they were on the cusp of something new and adventurous , partly because of Richard’s interest in content, lyric wise, and partly because Stuart was eager to expand the guitar away from the limitations of punk.”
Working at a speed scarcely conceivable in the modern rock industry, they completed the ambitious follow up to Scared To Dance in record time.
Released on October 12th 1979, Days In Europa expanded the band’s sonic palette with a range of synthesisers including Nelson’s Yamaha C580 and Adamson’s Minimoog, pushing the boundaries, as Nelson suggests, beyond the horizons of many of their contemporaries.
“A better collection of dilemmas, war stories, dreams and wishes you’ll have difficulty finding,” declared Record Mirror journalist Ronnie Gurr.
“It was a sort of adventure,” reflects Jobson. “Working with Bill was an inspired move in some ways and it became a catalyst for many things.”
By November, the album’s second single Working For The Yankee Dollar was scaling the charts but The Skids were facing another dilemma as former Rich Kids sticksman Rusty Egan, who’d taken over the drum stool for Days In Europa after Kellichan’s departure, had other pressing commitments.
As the tour wound on, a replacement was quickly earmarked in the shape of one time Matt Vinyl & The Decorators/Insect Bites drummer Mike Baillie.
“I guess I was being groomed as an understudy,” he explains. “I had rehearsed with the band a few times and when we played the Capitol in Aberdeen at the end of the tour, Rusty motioned me onstage and I took over on drums for the encore.
Shortly after, I got a call from the band’s manager at the time, Sandy Muir, asking me to take over permanently. I flew down to London a few days later to record a Top Of The Pops appearance. I have to admit though, it felt quite strange miming to Rusty’s drum parts on Working For The Yankee Dollar.
The wasn’t the last of the personnel switches. The dizzying speed of the band’s ascent was beginning to fracture other, more long standing, relationships. Keyboard player Alistair Moore, another Crossgates native who’d come onboard to flesh out the sound for the Europa tour, moved on following two special hometown shows at Dunfermline’s Kineme Ballroom.
Simpson resigned his commission soon after.
“At the start we were just four lads having a good time” he says now. “Little did we know that a year and a bit later we’d be recording albums and going on Top Of The Pops. It wasn’t a plan. It just evolved so fast. We were all kids. Maybe if we’d been three or four years older, we’d have handled it better but we were all evolving into different people and we were clashing a bit.”
By April 1980, however, the third Skids album was already on the horizon. After one exhausting 26 hour session in a demo studio in London’s King Cross, they found themselves with some new songs, including Circus Games, Arena and A Woman In Winter plus a new bass player.
Russell Webb had previously played with Glasgow outfit The Zones who’d fabricated an under rated new wave classic with their 1979 album Under Influence before dissolving. Touring to promote it, they’d supported both Iggy Pop and The Skids.
“I didn’t know what to make of the band the first time I saw them,” remembers Webb. “It was almost like sensory overload. Jobson was larger than life and Stuart, of course, had this very distinctive guitar style but we got to know each other well enough that eventually, when they booked that demo session, I felt I was just helping some mates out. We all got a bit of a surprise at how well we got on together. Mike had a very sophisticated touch as a drummer and we developed an instant musical rapport, Stuart was blown away. I’d never really played that way before The Skids but I was very sonically charged at the time.”
“This was like a new band for Richard and I reall,” Adamson told the NME later that year. “ The first time the four of us were in the studio together it just seemed like we were able to work together easily without any problems, no ego tripping or anything like that.”
The band decamped to Nomis rehearsal studios in London’s Hammersmith for three weeks of intensive pre production with Mick Glossip, who had worked as engineer on Scared To Dance and guided them through the chart friendly remake of Working For The Yankee Dollar.
“I don’t remember a lot of rearrangements of song structures,” he explains.
“We might have shortened the odd verse or chorus, but the songs were generally in good shape. By that time, they had recorded an EP and two albums so they had developed their song arranging abilities.
“Stuart and I had talked about what we liked form all the previous work,” recalls Jobson, “and we both wanted to take what we had learned from working with Bill Nelson and do something a little bit more along the lines of the first album. Mick saw all the good things in The Skids that we had forgotten.”
Work began in earnest on The Absolute Game at the Manor Studio in Oxfordshire in May 1980. The rhythm parts were laid down initially and Baillie’s drum kit was the first to be set up in the studio’s new live room.
“It was so new the cement was still wet on the floor ,” he recalls. “It was a larger version of the Townhouse 2’s stone room where Scared To Dance was recorded,” Glossip adds. “That had a large influence on the eventual drum sound, but I remember we spent quite a lot of time tuning the drums to create the impact we needed.”
Glossop also focused on ensuring the glittering metallic sheen of Adamson’s live guitar sound was perfectly replicated.
“Wet tried a selection of amplifiers but we always returned to Stuart’s beaten up H+H Musician, the amp he had used since the bands earliest days. He’d fine tuned his sound using it and whenever he tried a different one, something was lost. One of the loudspeaker cones had a tear in it, which no doubt contributed to that signature sound. He used very little effects, though we regularly double tracked his parts.”
As the album began to take shape it quickly became evident that The Skids were within touching distance of their finest hour.
The quality of the playing, the song writing still marvellously innovative and the production aligned to create something infinitely superior to the standard rock ‘n’ roll of the era.
“It was odd for me because Stuart and I had really started to go our separate ways,” remembers Jobson. “But somehow we managed to find a common thread one last time for what I think was our best work together. I never managed to replace the special writing bond I had with Stuart in any of the work I made after we split. That’s proof of the deep understanding we had, which was not something we ever spoke about much.
“In essence the music captures everything great about Stuart as a musician, his energy, showmanship and incredible talent. Mick knew how to bring out the best in him and I think the stand out tracks are pure Adamson, Circus Games for example, is a full on testament to The Skids, inticate guitar lines, fast, catchy and with a big chorus chanted by a group of kids shouting their lungs out. It also captures the major theme of the album, the loss of innocence. I felt I had gone through some kind of rite of passage over the previous two years and the lyrics reflected that.”
“There’s only one way to classify music,” Adamson later told his friend Johnny Waller. “It either gives you shivers up the back or it doesn’t.”
But while the music was stirring, anthemia and uplifting, the lyrical themes on Circus Games, Hurry on Boys and Arena had a bleaker side.
“The high energy of the songs gave of a sense of positivity and hope,” explains Jobson “but my mood at the time was dark, as was Stuart’s. That was reflected in a lot of the words.”
The album completed, the band went their separate ways, Adamson and Baillie back to Dunfermline, Webb and Jobson, still only 19 and by now relocated, to London.
They reconvened to prepare for The Absolute Game tour at a farmhouse next door to Rockfield but with the Manor Mobile parked outside this most creative of outfits couldn’t resist turning their backs on the chore of rehearsals in favour of some sonic experimentation.
The result was Strength Through Joy, an eight track album given away free with the first 20,000 copies of The Absolute Game and included here on CD for the first time.
“We had the opportunity to do anything we wanted,” recalls Jobson. “So we put together something slightly of centre and beautiful.”
Initially the band wanted the haunting A Woman In Winter, a track so special to Jobson he went on to name one of his feature films after it, to be the albums lead single but that honour fell instead to Circus Games in July 1980.
It was followed in October by Goodbye Civilian, which came with a floridly titled jam on the flip side, Monkey McGuire Meets Specky Potter Behind Lochore Institute, also included here on CD for the first time, referred to two legendary local characters.
Monkey was an old acquaintance from Jobson’s home village of Ballingry, not far from Lochore itself.
Specky meanwhile, played a blistering guitar in a Dunfermline based heavy metal outfit called Abnormal Load. Two and a half minutes inn it’s Adamson’s voice yelling “What did you stop for?”
The Absolute Game was to become The Skids’ most successful album, but after a UK tour and two well received nights at New York’s Hurrah, they were once more moving forward.
Conceived at Sound Control’s rehearsal studio in Dunfermline, Blood and Soil and Iona were the first two tracks prepared for the band’s final LP, Joy.
Baillie didn’t stay to see it through. He quit in April 1981. After finishing his parts on Iona, two months later, Adamson quit too, going on to form Big Country with Bruce Watson.
“I’m sure it’s for the best,” he told Record Mirror journalist Billy Sloan a few days afterwards.
By the time of Joy’s release some months later, Jobson was preparing to fold the band. It had lasted just four years, but few acts have left as fine a legacy in such a short space of time.
“The Absolute Game was all about Stuart’s guitar playing,” concludes Jobson. “He had an absolute confidence when he strapped that instrument on that he didn’t carry into normal life. The guitar gave him a voice and right from the very first day we played together, that voice was special.”
Tim Barr 2008