|Posted on May 30, 2018 at 12:50 PM|
RICHARD Jobson is alive and well and living in Berlin these days. It’s all Brexit’s fault.
“When Brexit happened I just didn’t understand it,” he tells me. “I’m still baffled by what people are thinking. I was living in England at the time and I really felt a massive disconnection with the country.”
His son was living in Berlin at the time and Jobson himself has been going there off and on since the end of the 1970s, so he decided to get out of the UK and go to Germany.
Moving there has given him a shot of adrenalin, he says. “It really energised me. When I was out of Britain I just felt the shackles were off. I felt anonymous and free.”
And with the shackles off, he’s finally got around to writing a novel, entitled Speed of Life, about aliens and Bowie, and a memoir, called Into the Valley. And of course the band he made his name with, the art-punk rockers Skids, has been revived as a gigging band. There’s even a well-received new album, Burning Cities.
So, yes, Berlin has been good to him. This time around. It was not always so.
Most days you will find him in the Kreuzberg district where he lives with his wife Italian Francesca.
But the city isn’t home. Jobson’s not sure anywhere is home really. But it’s as close as he’s found.
And yet other places have their pull on him too.
A text pings on my phone. “I’m sitting in the garden,” is the message as I arrive at the Carnegie Library in Dunfermline. He is sitting on his own this Friday morning wearing a FC Saint Pauli T-shirt.
He is instantly recognisable. The hair may be cropped, but the jawline still ploughs the air. I sit down and he starts talking and doesn’t stop. At the age of 57 he remains quintessentially Jobsonesque.
Over the next hour men of a certain age – OK, his age and mine – will come up and ask to take a photograph with him. He is happy to oblige.
Upstairs in the library’s museum space a small but handsomely put together exhibition of Skids posters, memorabilia and photographs has just opened. It’s the reason he is in Scotland. The reborn Skids have already played an acoustic set here and will play another in the garden where we sit later in the year.
When he was in the band he used to sit in the library and write lyrics, including those of the band’s top 20 hit Masquerade.
He is still writing now. He is clearly very excited about becoming a novelist. But it’s his memoir of his early life I’ve really come to talk to him about.
It wasn’t written actually. He narrated it into a tape recorder and had it transcribed. He wonders now if he would have been a bit more guarded if he had sat down in front of a screen.
“I’ve been as honest as I could,” he writes on the first page, “never shying away from the fact that I was lost and lonely and a bit of a wanker.”
It’s true it is a candid book about his early years; honest about his parents, about his relationship with Stuart Adamson and the rest of the band (drummer Rusty Egan might be smarting a little if he reads it). Honest, too, about Jobson himself and his many failings.
He also talks about his poor health. It opens with an account of the accident that left him suffering epilepsy.
It’s a condition that doesn’t go away. Jobson is still living with it. “Mostly, I get attacked at night and it’s pretty shocking. You think you’re having a heart attack. It’s really bad.
“But I went to a doctor in Germany and he said to me; ‘What you need to do is get yourself really physically strong and you’ll be able to control this. Get a better diet.’
“And it’s really worked. I feel strong and when these things come on I know what to do. It’s not gone away but I’m not feeling sorry for myself.”
It’s also why he was never that interested in that perennial rock star pastime, drugs, he says. “If you take 300 mg of Phenytoin every day you’re not really interested in snorting cocaine or taking heroin.”
Thinking back, he says, maybe the illness had much to do with the teenager he was. “I was a pretty crazy young guy, quite feral, quite violent.”
Well, indeed. In his memoir he talks of his days in a gang, fighting with Rangers fans. Knives and hammers were involved.
“Where was that coming from?” he asks himself now. “I think it was about life expectancy. Not feeling particularly confident that you’re going to be here for much longer, so you enter each day with a kind of gusto.”
Gusto is one way of putting it. At another point in our conversation he will use the word aggression which might seem more appropriate.
Growing up in Fife in the 1970s his illness distanced Jobson from those around him. “It’s almost medieval, epilepsy. People have a view that you’re almost tainted. At school it was very difficult to have much camaraderie with the people around you.”
Family wasn’t the retreat it could have been. His father was a miner and his mum worked at the docks at Rosyth among other jobs. They were at odds with each other throughout his childhood. In the book he says their relationship was a violent one. Were they physical?
“To each other.”
To you? “No, never. Certainly, my father never raised his hand to us. I think my mother did, yeah.
“My mother had lots of issues with alcohol and it was pretty bad. She was a very hard-working woman. Classic working class. Their life was work all week, then Friday, Saturday, Sunday it was down the working mens’ club.
“My father was a very handsome man. And women really liked him. So, I think he had dalliances. And that had a terrible effect on my mother.”
Jobson’s childhood was collateral damage. “Was it a warm household with lots of loving care? No, absolutely not. I think you were pretty much on your own. The only person I really connected with was my brother Francis.”
It was Francis (who eventually became a Hare Krishna monk before dying in India) who would introduce Jobson to Marvel comics and left-field rock music, and who began to suggest there might be a world outside working-class Fife.
Jobson’s passport to it would be music. He met Stuart Adamson in the early days of punk. Soon, Jobson was putting the gang days behind him and writing chewy lyrics about violence and masturbation, war and the Troubles. And then getting up on stage and channelling all his aggression into performing.
“The other guys in the Skids were quite gentle. Stuart was quite a gentle guy, although he had dark stuff that overpowered him. I just wasn’t like that. Violence was normal.
“I got rid of that quite early. I think the Skids changed that. The guys sometimes went: ‘Holy shit man, calm down. You’re fighting the whole audience.’”
He sometimes feels the band has been written out of the history of Scottish pop. He never sees them named in any of those 50 Best Scottish Bands lists, he says.
And yet, at the end of the 1970s, they were huge.
“We stopped at our peak. Crazy. We were playing the Hammersmith Odeon and the Glasgow Apollo. These were iconic venues where we used to go and see our heroes Alex Harvey or The Clash or whatever and suddenly we were playing those venues and selling them out.”
But maybe destruction was inbuilt. There were times when Adamson would just disappear without a word and the rest of the band didn’t know if he would turn up for gigs. As for Jobson, he moved to London and then, chasing the ghost of Bowie, Berlin. The ghost of Bowie and a German girl he had met in London called Caroline.
Caroline was his first proper girlfriend. He writes about her sparingly but with feeling in Into the Valley. Their relationship ended tragically when she committed suicide in their apartment in Kreuzberg.
“She had a lot of her own problems,” Jobson says now. “She was recovering from drug addiction and suffered from terrible depression.”
Her death hit him hard, it’s clear. “It was a massive blow to me because she was the first proper girlfriend that I had. And no sooner did I have a relationship for the first time ever than it was gone again.
“And, of course, you look to yourself for responsibility. Did you do something? But I don’t think so. It was a mental health thing. And that city. Suicide was so normal in Berlin.
“I can’t really explain to you what happened there really other than somebody suffered from terrible depression and I didn’t understand that.
“I don’t think we as a community understand depression enough. I suffered from it after her death and the combination of being on medication and coming back to Britain and trying to get a new album going and not really knowing where we were going … I went through a tough little moment there.”
Well, yes. In the book, I remind him, he admits that he himself considered suicide at this point. I have to ask, Richard, did you act on that impulse in any way? “No, I didn’t,” he says.
But, he says, Caroline’s death left him in a bad place. The spirit had gone, he says.
In fact it was Adamson who would walk away from the band first. The rest of the band carried on and made another album. They called it Joy.
Not that there was much of that in it for Jobson. All the things that had made the Skids matter to him – the sense of camaraderie, of finding a gang he could belong to – had gone. “The end of that whole era was written in Berlin,” he admits.
There is a lot of loss and grief in this story. Caroline, Francis and Adamson who sadly killed himself in 2001.
Jobson was also friends with Joy Division’s Ian Curtis (they shared an illness) and Billy McKenzie, two more of pop’s lost boys.
Add to the list, Jobson reminds me, John McGeoch, the former member of Siouxsie and the Banshees, Magazine and Jobson’s post-Skids band The Armory Show.
“John was a hugely troubled guy. He’d had a lot of success with Visage and Magazine obviously. Everyone loved John. He was a very loveable Glaswegian guy and a hugely talented artist. But he drank alcohol and snorted cocaine like it was an Olympic sport. And it’s hard to be with. It was bad. He was doomed.”
The thing is, I say, the young man he describes in the book is sick and often lost but unlike so many people he knew back then, it’s Jobson who is still here.
“I met someone who was very kind to me,” he says by way of explanation. That would be his first wife Mariella Frostrup. It was their relationship that helped pull him out of his dark Berlin fug.
“She had an amazing spirit. She was the kind of person it was impossible not to like.
But even that relationship failed in the end and it was all his fault, he admits.
He worries away at this moment in his life for a moment. “You’re asking me a question that’s unanswerable. When did that person fix himself? I don’t think he ever did. That was a hugely life-changing thing that happened to me and I had to find my identity from different things.”
Those different things included acting and modelling and making spoken word poetry records that got him labelled pretentious, though the fact that a poorly-educated working class guy from Fife was ready to claim that stuff for himself always seemed kind of heroic to me whatever the merits of the work.
Maybe, he says when I suggest as much. But some of it was terrible, he says. “Let’s not beat about the bush.”
But Jobson kept going. And maybe that’s the best answer we can have to why he’s still here. He had stuff he wanted to do. He still does.
He has made a career out of turning his hand to new stuff. He’s been a TV presenter, a film director and now a novelist. A father too, of course. Given his own family story, did he have the tools for that particular job? “No. I was absolutely hopeless. Completely terrified by the reality of it.”
It worked out though. His son Archie has a masters in war studies and works in the field of cyber-terrorism, while his daughter has just opened a new restaurant in Shoreditch with the chef du jour Jackson Boxer.
Jobson, meanwhile, is writing another novel and reliving his teenage Skids years.
“I can’t lie to myself that it’s not part of the heritage trail, the whole nostalgia thing, but for me it had to be a wee bit more than that and I think when we tried to make some new music it felt good, you know.
“And obviously there’s plenty to write about. The songs are fairly ferocious. They’re called Into the Void, The World on Fire, Burning Cities. I think it tells you everything you need to know about the content.”
We go inside where he wolfs down a bacon roll and a coffee before going upstairs for pictures. While we’re there, the exhibition’s curator shows Jobson a photograph of him she has just had framed, taken in Berlin when he lived there the first time.
He looks closely at it and tells me it was taken the day after Caroline killed herself. In the photograph his face is a mask that doesn’t quite hide the pain.
That was then. The past is another country. Richard Jobson doesn’t live there anymore. But he will still sing you the old songs if you ask him to.
Into the Valley is published by Wymer Publishing, £19.99. Speed of Life is published by Unbound, £9.99. Burning Cities is out now and the Skids play Kelvingrove Bandstand, Glasgow on June 17.