The origins of the Skids: Tattoo
Stuart Adamson and Bill Simpson formed the Skids in the summer of 1977, among the first punk groups in Scotland far from the London hotbed. But they were formed from the ashes of covers band Tattoo whose story begins with the members still at school.
BILL:- “Stuart and I met at Beath High School in Cowdenbeath. Stuart was one of a bunch of guys I palled about with - and he was quite a cool guy in my mind even then, especially when I discovered he played guitar. I went along to see him at his parent’s house in Crossgates and I was amazed at how good a player he was at that age, this was around 1974 so he would only be about 15 or 16 - but even more amazing, he had a ‘Flying V’, a proper rock guitar.
“The next thing I knew he was playing in a local band called Tattoo. The bass player left for some reason and Stuart came along to my parent’s house and asked me “do you want to play bass?” and I said “bass, what do you do?”. I’d never played an instrument before. Stuart said “don’t worry, I’ll show you the basics”.
“There was Stuart on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jock (Paddy) McMonagle on lead guitar, Ian (Eetchie) Law on drums and yours truly. We played stuff like Status Quo, Bowie, The Stones all that stuff, Elvis numbers, a few standards like That’ll be the Day etc, and that was great fun. Then we looked for gigs in other parts of Scotland, we were playing RAF bases, Kinloss, Lossiemouth - Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion, Elgin Two Red Shoes Ballroom, Forres town hall etc- mainly up north touring and sometimes sleeping in an old transit van, how very rock & roll..“This was early 1975 but then Jock McMonagle wanted to leave and join the police so the band sort of disintegrated. Thereafter Stuart myself and another school mate called Graeme Burt all went across to Amsterdam for what was supposed to be a few months working and to experience living abroad. Stuart spent most of his money in the casino on the Ferry across from Hull and lasted about a fortnight before his money ran out and he wanted to come home, he was homesick, but even at that time I think he’d been writing some songs, there’s a few in his lyrics book that he kept, noted “Amsterdam 76”.
A punk band
With Tattoo in tatters and as “the Punk Rock” reached further out from London, the inspiration of these bands and especially visitors north of the border such as the Damned spurred Stuart and Bill to form a punk band:
BILL: - “When I came back from Amsterdam punk rock was exploding and it was the perfect outlet for us to, we loved the music, attitude, the bands - the Stranglers, the Clash, the Damned - we started trying to look the part, get some relevant attire from thrift shops etc. It was just an amazing time for us with all that great early music and the natural progression was to try and write our own songs. I don’t think we were looking too far ahead to forming a band or anything like that, it was just having fun jamming in Stuarts bedroom - that’s where Sick Club, Victims of the Weekend [the earliest Skids songs, later recorded for their first demo] all started and it kind of evolved quickly from there to try to get a band together.”
The first songs were written by Stuart before there was even a band:
BILL: “The Skids evolved from Stuart mainly having a number of songs in his mind; certainly a few of the lyrics he’d written and quite a few of the early songs were already structured.”
The band needed a singer with the right look and attitude but there were precious few punks around Dunfermline. Enter Richard Jobson.
BILL:- “Richard was somebody from Dunfermline who we saw walking around and thought “who the hell is that?, he was a tall imposing looking character in a big long black trench coat, with black and white hair, he just had a look and a presence about him. I never spoke to him but what happened next was we were talking about putting a band together and thought we’d audition for a singer. Stuart must’ve bumped into Richard somewhere and invited him along to audition with some other singer’s and that was that."
"As soon as we heard he could carry a tune, the confidence and presence he had, the overall look and the fact he was of the same mind-set, that was it, we had found our singer.“
But what did a schoolboy, 2 years too young even to (legally) get into a pub, have to make him the choice as singer?
BILL: -“That was the first time I’d met him. I’d seen him a few times but that was the first time I’d spoken to him. I didn’t know until then he was only 16. He certainly looked young and fresh faced up close, but the presence and confident attitude was there, certainly from afar seeing him walking down the street you certainly wouldn’t have thought he was just a 16 year old kid."
"He just had something about him, cocky, confident you might say arrogant, all the attributes we felt were ideal for somebody fronting the band. We discovered he was also a prolific wordsmith and had a lot of lyrics written already himself, mainly poems I’d describe them as, but Stuart being such a genius songwriter, he was able to structure them into a song, something that perhaps the rest of us weren’t really capable of."
"For that reason Stuart was credited as writing the music for the songs, although we all had our own input to the final result. He was leading the songwriting from that point of view but Richards lyrics were also a great asset to the whole Skids sound, they mean different things to different people and on different days perhaps, but when I look at some of the lyrics now I’m quite amazed at how he could put things like that down at such a young age."
"Very intelligent and talented to be able to do that instead of just your silly wee archetypal song you would imagine about relationships or whatever, but these words were just a bit more deep, you couldn’t see exactly what he was on meaning you had to ask what is this all about."
"It wasn’t “my first girlfriend” and all that crap, it was deep meaningful stuff. I think great credit has to go to him for that. He gets a lot of bad publicity for them being pretentious but he just likes words, he likes the formulations of words and how they work with each other."
"I remember Stuart and I were always fascinated with people such as Bowie how he put his lyrics together, cutting words out of magazines and chucking them up in the air etc, just sort of random, but I think Richard’s lyrics had a little more thought to them, a little more depth, they certainly made some kind of sense when he was writing them. So we were very impressed with that, the whole package the look the aggressiveness the confidence the appreciation of words the fact he could write lyrics and poems and he was also mad for the band. That was the first time I met him, at the audition."
MIKE BAILLIE: - “I’d met Richard before the others, on a bus to Hillhead Technical College, he was going to Ballingry but I was hopping off at the college. He was really, the first buzzword I’d use would be energy, I suppose, and focus, he knew what he wanted and he was focused on it. He just had so much energy and, it’s not drive, but he’s so enthusiastic about what he wanted to achieve, which was something big that nobody could miss. I was just really impressed with that. It was about 1976, I was going to Halbeath Tech as an apprentice. That was really the starting point for me.”
Drummer required - no hippies need apply:Tam Kellichan was clearly not a hippy. And his uncle had the all-important van:
BILL: “Next thing afterwards was to find a drummer. I don’t know if Richard put this in the advert, someone did, “Drummer required - No hippies need apply”. We had auditions in the Gun, a pub in Cowdenbeath, a Wednesday afternoon, probably May or June 77. Anyway 2-3 guys came along; they were all reasonably decent but in our minds Tom stood out. It’s kind of passed into folklore, but said to Tom “how did you get down?” and he said “my uncle Eck brought me down in his van” and we thought “your uncle Eck has got a van!”. So Eck started driving us to all the early gigs and ended up being our driver certainly up to the time I left. He drove us all over the country, to all the early gigs and he was a kind of a bouncer for us as well, he certainly looked the part. That was the band put together.”
Marcus Zen Stars Tom Bomb and the Martyrs of Deal, and other names the Skids (wisely) didn’t call themselves:
BILL: - “I think that was just too many beers one night, just having a laugh. I remember when we were starting off we had all these stupid names just for a laugh, Skid marks and the brown jobbies and all that sort of crap. . I think it’s just a myth really, somebody just said it for fun. You know Morton Sobothnik and the Silver apples, that probably came from Richard, coming up with some daft names. Sounds good but it was never a serious thing."
"We might have been Skid marks at one time, but there was already a band called Skid marks I think at the time and if I remember rightly we just said “we’ll just shorten it to The Skids, although sometimes we dropped the “The”, but certainly originally it was The Skids. It’s just kind of a myth that’s grown arms and legs.”
Clive Ford, the band’s first technician recalls:
“I first saw Stuart & Bill in June 77 when they started coming into the Belleville Hotel trying to get a gig. I had noticed Richard around town, he was hard to miss, his hair was cut short and died black except for the front which was bleached white. It stood out in Dunfermline at the time. Pano had arranged for the band to rehearse in the Belleville's function room where he held the "Friday Rock Club".
“The first scheduled rehearsal didn't happen as Richard or Ricky as he was known as then, had to leave before they even started.”
“I arrived there the same time as two policemen came in looking for Richard. Apparently there had been an incident at school (I think it was his last day) and there was a question over a stolen watch. Richard had supposedly stolen it from someone that day, they didn't find him (he was hiding behind Stuart’s amp) and I don't believe anything came of it.”
“The first time I met the band as a whole was about three weeks later. I had just returned from hitchhiking around France & Switzerland and my first stop was to check in at the Belleville and let Pano know I was back in town. I was walking up the stairs to the function room when I heard this slow deliberate plodding bass line, then the drums started and finally the guitarist joined in. The strange thing was he started playing a solo right at the beginning of the song.”
“I was fascinated, this was better than anything I had heard by any of the bands that Pano usually had playing at the Belleville. Now Pano had told me they were a “punk” band and this was no Punk song I was listening to. I soon found out the song was called Scared to Dance.”
They had their band, they had a name, they had some songs, now they needed to get a gig. Local Hell’s Angel “Pano” AKA Mike Douglas gave them an opening and was impressed enough to take on the job of being their first manager:
BILL: “It was Pano that we went to, the Belleville had some sort of rock night on a Friday night and we wanted to try and get a gig there, Clive [Clive Ford, subsequently the Skids’ technician until 1980] was also involved on the door. This was about August 77. The Belleville was our 1st gig; it seemed to go down well. “
An understatement if eyewitness Clive Ford, who was impressed enough by the band to become their technician is to be believed:CLIVE:- “Pano had been suitably impressed with the bands progress and he arranged for Edinburgh's Matt Vinyl & the Decorators to play the Rock club and he thought this would be the perfect gig to launch the band. The Belleville could hold about forty to fifty people and that night we let in about eighty paying customers and on top of that there was the usual gate crashers."
"I hadn’t picked up on the energy of the band during rehearsals, I dug the songs but I was not expecting the full onslaught that the band delivered that night. From the rock & roll of “Mouth to Mouth”, to the social Commentary of “Nationwide” & “Sick club”, the self-analysis (Stuarts) of “My Life” & “Victims of the weekend” and the haunting and exhilarating “Scared to Dance”.
"This was our Pistols/Clash; this was the Birth of the modern Scottish Music scene. This was the band that was going to give us hope and this was the band that was going to set the pace for all Bands North of the Border for the next five years.”
Having the plug pulled, again. The Fife Chile Defence gig at the Glen:
BILL:- “That must be 78 not 77 as Clive suggested because Stuart had an SG2000 in those photographs and he got that in 78. Also I’m wearing a pink satin jacket, which unfortunately I didn’t know anyone had photographs of."
"You don’t think 30 years on you’re going to be seen by thousands of people! I got the pink satin jacket at some flea market in London and that must’ve been after the 1st trip down there which would’ve been early 78 perhaps just before we signed to Virgin, on the first tour to London playing the Hope and Anchor, The Nashville etc, all that sort of stuff.""So it must’ve been summer of 78 that Glen gig, it was the Fife Chile Defence gig, on the outside stage of The Glen Pavilion where the plug was pulled."
"What happened was the organisers took some offence to the song Contusion. They obviously construed the lyrics to have some political overtone which they didn’t like and they didn’t want us to play that song. We were threatened that if we played it they would pull the plug and of course that’s exactly what happened, we played it and they pulled the plug."
"Everyone was up in arms both on the stage and in the audience and before you knew it there was almost a full scale riot going on and that’s where the cops came in. You can see in some of the photographs that they’re actually trying to stop Stuart playing."
"It was a great event but unfortunately it came to an abrupt halt. I can’t remember how far we were into the set, about halfway to three quarters into it maybe, but it just came to an abrupt end and that was it we were bundled off. That was the last time we played the Glen Pavilion.”
The spirit of anarchy burned brightly from the outset. There exists a photograph of the very early Skids somewhat under-attired which requires explaining:
BILL- “I remember one of the earliest was in Wishaw. We did 2 shows, one in the afternoon for kids, a matinee type thing. We were just having a laugh & somehow these photos got published. We were sternly warned not to drop the pants or the gig would be stopped!”
“The Meadows Festival: that was a very early gig. The sound was very poor, but we had a core of fans down the front that enjoyed it.”
The lack of bands playing locally to give support slots, or the lack of an audience did not hold the band back from seeking out gigs:
CLIVE:- "The Manchester gig came about when Myself, Pano & Johnny Waller were sitting going through the NME, Sounds & Melody Makers gig guides looking to see who was playing where and when we realized that there was nothing happening in Scotland that weekend. Pano came up with the Plan to ambush the Rezillos gig in Rafters in Manchester. We jumped into Johnny’s car and sped through to Cowdenbeath to the flat above the Junction Bar where the band all lived (imagine the Monkees but in Cowdenbeath). We burst in and ran thought the flat telling them to make no plans for that Friday as they were playing that weekend. So we turned up to the gig where we were told that there was already support band. Undeterred Pano persuaded the guy to buy us all a meal and still give us a slot."
“So the band played to about eight people, there was one group of four girls down from Liverpool who became big fans of the band, including one girl called Helen who I believed ended up marrying Ian McCulloch from Echo & the Bunnymen (so I heard)."
"The Rezillos were very gracious and as usual I ended up running around the stage with Faye Fife on my back. The following day we tried to play a gig at The Virgin store, it nearly happened but the manager chickened out , we then harassed one of Sad Cafe' trying to convince him it would be a great idea to have the Skids open up their gig at Manchester Poly that night. We ended up in a club getting drunk with one Rossi from Slaughter & the Dogs.“
The first recording: REL Demos, October 1977
The band recorded their first demo at REL Studio in Edinburgh on 21st October 1977. The songs show clearly the band’s punk origins, but tracks like “New Daze” showed that there was more to them than the “3 chords and an attitude” bandwagon:
BILL: “I was really pleased to get a copy of these recently and pleasantly surprised to hear the songs again and the quality of them. Sick Club, “the catalogue boys are here tonight, they’ve got their brand new outfits and they look just right!”. That’s one of our earliest songs. And New Daze is just fantastic: “we are the sound police, welcome to 1978”! I hadn’t heard a lot of those songs for so long so it’s just great to hear them again. My Life was a fantastic wee song; so many songs got dumped too quickly perhaps. We just felt the new stuff was coming through so quickly. Hang onto the Shadows is another favourite, we should’ve done something more with that.”
The Christmas Ball at the Kinema, 1977CLIVE:- “This was the XMAS ball in the Kinema Ballroom, this spot was always highlight on the Ballrooms calendar and usually they forked out and got a name act for the night.”
“A month or so earlier the Skids had been given the coveted Friday night slot which was a roaring success bringing in about 500 more people than the usual Friday night turnout (the ballroom was in a decline at that point, disco was dying) so George the manager of the ballroom thought the band would be the perfect draw for Xmas (plus it would be cheap).”
“The only trouble was the people who go to the Xmas ball usually go to party, get drunk etc the last thing most of them would want was a band who was not playing the recent chart hits. I would say out of the fifteen hundred people there that night, three hundred were there to see the Skids, the rest did not give a shit and most of them were in the bar. On top of this the regular Ballroom crew were complaining to Ronnie Cowan the resident DJ to start playing Records. He started bugging George to pull the band, eventually George gave in.”
“I think the band must have been about six or seven songs into their set when I noticed George approach Pano telling him that the band had to come off after they finished the song they were playing. Pano got Stuarts attention and Stuart said “Aye, that’ll be fucking right” and continued on with the next song.”
“Ronnie was mad and took it upon himself to start fucking with the band. He started playing records trying to drown out the band, Pano in turn cranked up the PA. I then saw George and a couple of his goons coming running towards Pano and then the PA was unplugged. Did this stop the band, no, without even blinking Stuart went straight into the bands Only cover song at the time which was Mott The Hooples “Violence” (Skids version rocked) and Richard started inviting the diehard fans down the front onto the stage.”
“I guess there must have been about Twenty of them up there when the bouncers came up, and they started throwing people off, including the band. I was pissed off and I thought one of them was coming for me, I grabbed one of Toms cymbal stands and I was ready to lay into this guy. Instead he comes over and said “who’s in the band?, thinking he was looking for a fight."
"I was about to start swinging but then he said, “George told me to get everyone off the stage but I can’t tell the difference between the band and the Audience, can you help me. I started laughing because it was total chaos. There was the band shouting at Pano & George, fans jumping all over the place, as soon as they were put off, they were back up seconds later."
"I was just concerned that nothing was going to happen to the band or the gear. I had become really protective by this point and I let George know my feelings, I was kind of a marked man in the Ballroom from then on, It took about a year before George would speak to me again.”
“I’m pretty sure this was the last time the band played “Violence”.”
STAINLESS:- “They played the Ballroom with Wreckless Eric and the Rezillos onetime. That may have been the first time Jobson played guitar - when Ricky 1st played guitar that was a big breakthrough. I took my wee brother along , he wasn’t into that kind of music at all, but when I took him into the dressing room to meet the band he was well impressed that I knew these rock stars! The Rezillos were brilliant. There was nothing like a Rezillos/Skids gig in Dunfermline. There was never any animosity over whether the Skids or the Rezillos went onstage first. Wreckless Eric was off his face though, he got booed off the stage.”
Aye, No Bad: Sandy Muir & Charles
Pano and Clive were earnestly punting the first demo tape to try and get a record out.
STEVEN STARR:- “I remember walking home from Edinburgh after Pano had been pushing the Skids first demo all over the place, thumbing a lift and then crapping ourselves because the guy that picked us up was high on drugs and no doubt a budding axe murderer too.”
They approached Bruce Findlay (of Bruce’s Record Shop) who’d just put out the Valves, “For Adolfs Only” as his first release on his new label Zoom.
CLIVE:- “The meeting with Bruce & his brother was to see if they were wanting to release the band on Bruce’s Zoom label. I can remember Bruce trying to hide his excitement with this find, I know he always wanted to manage the band but he never tried to poach them, too much of a gent.”
“But Bruce was simply too involved not too say overwhelmed with the success of the Valves’ single which was on its way to selling 15,000 copies. He suggested they approach his friend Sandy Muir of Muirs’ Music Shop in Dunfermline. Sandy wasn’t so sure, as he’d never done such a thing in his life and Bruce was surely better placed?”
Bruce Findlay:-"I told Sandy he should do it himself, which was the key punk rock ethic, and he was very suspicious of my motives, until I guaranteed an order of 500 copies for my shops."
CLIVE: - “Sandy Muirs record shop. This was the meeting place for most of Dunfermline’s disenfranchised.”
STAINLESS:- “Muirs record shop in Dunfermline was the fans centre, their nest, kind of like their head office. It was a chart return shop , and we knew it. Joyce, Helen and Mary who worked there were very tolerant of us and they’d always chat. There was loads of activity at Sandy’s. He’d always tell you what was happening and people brought in their demos. As soon as we heard about a gig, we’d run out of the shop up to the local bus company and hire a bus to wherever it was going to be. We got 4 free seats.”
Charles made the band’s mark, selling 20,000 copies and confirming them as local heroes:
Ian Rankin, author:- “At Dunfermline games, the home crowd used to sing 'Charles' off the first single/ep, and would also sing: "Testing Testing One Two Three... We are the DAFC.... “
London, Virgin, Record Deal
There was a buzz about the Skids when they first ventured down to London in April 78, courtesy of JJ Burnel who’d seen them support the Stranglers at a secret gig at Clouds in Edinburgh, and the Albion Agency (their first contact with Ian Grant, who would later manage them). John Peel showed up at the first gig (at the Rochester Castle) and had a pint with the band. They soon recorded their first session for him.
Simon Draper of Virgin had been taken out to see the Skids on their first London visit by John Peel. But at times the band resembled the national football squad: their own worst enemies. With Virgin interested, they travelled to London to record demos with Virgin in-house producer Mike Howlett of hippy band Gong:
CLIVE:- “What I can remember about the session was it was in a small studio in Swiss Cottage and everything started of great in, in fact the band laid down what you hear in about two days with Richard getting stronger with his Lyric writing. A common approach for the band was to write in the studio and that’s why there are two unnamed tracks. Where it went downhill was kind of funny. It was a Saturday, everyone had an early start and about mid- afternoon we all went out for lunch. We passed this TV showroom where they were showing the England V Scotland game live from Hampden. England won.”
“So when we went back to the studio the band just ripped into Mike, anything he suggested the band disagreed with him & told him what they thought, the band were pissed, especially Richard & Stuart. Why! Nothing to do with the session just the fact that Scotland got beat and Mike felt the brunt of it. That’s why the session is unfinished, we all went home the next day.”
20th May 1978 for trivia fans, as any sad-eyed Scottish football fan old enough to remember will tell you.
A big break occurred on 24th May 1978 at Satellite City, Glasgow supporting Magazine.
CLIVE:- “This was a show case for Virgin, CBS were also interested but Virgin got in there first. They signed on the dotted line sometime during the following two weeks.”
On tour with The Stranglers - Bridlington 1978
With a record deal and a growing reputation, the Skids were touring further afield. The band faced violence as well as applause. On tour with the Stranglers in autumn 1978, some members of the audience decided that the Skids were legitimate targets for their aggression.
BILL:- “We got a lot of assistance from them, JJ Burnel wanted to produce our first album: we had some of our heroes singing our praises and giving us good press. We played a couple of festivals with them: Loch Lomond and Battersea. I felt a wee bit of cramp at Loch Lomond, nerves or something. I wasn’t quite comfortable, they were the biggest audiences we’d played to.”
“Most times we were going down a storm but sometimes it was “Stranglers only” crowds. We were aware of an element in the crowd to my side of the stage (stage right), we were staying within walking distance of our hotel, so what did we decide to do?”
“After the gig we were milling about hanging out the back of the venue, not thinking of course about these guys probably waiting there. A bit of a brawl started, the kicks and blows were coming in fairly fast & I was on the ground trying to protect my face.”
“The middle finger on my left hand was broken. It was one of the last English gigs before we finished the tour in Scotland, and we had to cancel the rest. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy from the guys, in fact it caused a bit of friction with Richard and Stuart, “what you go and do that to yourself for?.”
“I was disappointed as I was looking forward to the Scottish gigs, especially Dunfermline.”
CLIVE:- “An absolute case of wrong place wrong time with a cruel twist of fate thrown in. The Skids were asked to be the Support on the Stranglers “Black And White” Tour. The tour kicked off at Lancaster Uni and was then supposed to move up to Scotland and take in gigs at The Kinema Ballroom, Dunfermline, Aberdeen & Glasgow Apollo."
“Dave Greenfield’s Hammond organ was giving him problems at the Lancaster gig so it was decided that the Scottish dates would be postponed and tagged on to the end of the tour with the last gig to be the Kinema Ballroom. A perfect change of plans and we all knew that The Skids would own that gig.”
“The tour went really well, highlights were Cardiff, Bournemouth and the Wide open EP charting at 48 and the band dropping one date to do the Saints are coming on Top of the Pops. The last Day of the English leg of the tour was Bridlington Spa, Pavilion. It was a good gig for the Skids. Since playing TOTP the band were finding that their share of the audience had increased considerably.”
“Instead of going back to the hotel after the Skids had finished their set Bill decided he wanted to catch the Stranglers. I decided I would stay too. After the show we left out of a side door which meant we had to walk around the front of the building, we had just come around the corner when a car pulled up and it was JJ Burnell asking where our hotel was and did we need a ride. We said it was ok as our hotel was a five-minute walk away. He pulled away and we realized that we had a few fans wanting to speak to Bill.”
“We started to pass the front of the Pavilion, talking to the fans as we walked. Just as we got to the door I saw one guy looking at us and I knew he was up to something. Right as we passed him he made a move and I said “move it Bill” but it was to too late. The guy hit Bill on the side of the head.”
“I then realized that some of the so called fans were with this guy , there was about five of them. So we started to run in the direction of the hotel. I thought Bill was right with me but I turned around and it was one of these guys yelling at me how he was going to kill me. I looked over his shoulder and saw Bill on the ground with three guys laying into him.”
“I went, fuck this, and ran towards the guy who was chasing me, he bolted and I ran yelling at the group who were laying into Bill. As I ran towards them they ran off but not before one of them took a last kick at Bill. This was the blow that broke Bills finger.”
BILL:- “It was the middle finger on my left hand and to this day it does affect me a bit because it’s out of synch with the rest of my left hand. It’s been pulled out slightly and bent when I make a fist. We never really had anyone giving the event any sort of consideration. I went to the hospital and it was just some young man, been fighting, and he (the doctor) just pulled it out, put a splint on it and then it was “Right out!”.
CLIVE: - “This was a huge blow for the band as everyone had been looking forward
getting home and playing to a home crowd. I was just furious with myself for not getting to Bill sooner. (Side note, The Delinx opened up for Wire in Newcastle this same night, three days later they would take the Skids spot at the Kinema Ballroom and the Simple Minds took the opening slot at the Glasgow Apollo, this gig was their turning spot.”
BILL:- “I was a bit accident prone , when I was touring with Stuart in Tattoo at Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion, we were young lads, had a few beers, jumping up and down on the beds, we stayed in a dormitory over the venue as we had a two night stand , and who fell on a pint glass? I ended up in Ross Memorial Hospital in Dingwall, stitched up and then out on the street at about 3 in the morning miles from our digs. Thumbed a lift eventually.”
Scared to Dance
BILL: “Stuart walked out, back home to Sandra. Richard, Tom & I didn’t know what to do , he’d walked out a few times, but this one seemed more definite. We phoned a guy called Willie Gardener who played in the Zones and asked if he wanted to help us out but Willie was a bit hesitant, I think we put too much pressure on him saying “we’re looking for a guitarist”.
"I’m not a guitarist, Richard neither, so there was this guy Chris Jenkins who worked at the studio, he was an engineer or something: I know he didn’t volunteer we had to push him a bit to do it. He only played on a couple of tracks in fact possibly only one, Calling the Tune. There’s a few un-Stuart-like guitars in that. That’s my favourite album. David Batchelor got a bit of a hard time, but I think the sound on that album is fantastic.”
Success , Hit Singles, Top Of The Pops.
BILL: - “Sweet Suburbia was the first time we appeared on TOTP. It’s never been to air. I don’t know if it’s been deleted , but the way it worked then was that they’d record all the bands that were going to be on the show and then they’d record two other bands after the main show ended that were bubbling under in the charts, just in case the record went into the top 40 the next week. There was us and that band, what were they called, My Sharona aye, The Knack! And their record went sky high the next week. We missed out.
STAINLESS:- “When Sweet Suburbia came out [Sandy Muir] put up a poster saying “Skids on TOTP this week”. We listened to the Scottish chart on the Ken Bruce show on Sunday and the record had climbed 25 places. But when the UK chart came out, it had actually dropped 35 places. Basically there was a huge amount of plugging going on down south and My Sharona by the Knack was being plugged massively.”
BILL:- “Then The Saints Are Coming, we’re getting close here!”.
STAINLESS:- “When Wide Open came out Sandy put up another sign saying it was going to be on TOTP this week, everywhere in Edinburgh that week there were people with the red and white stripes of the record in their hands, people of all ages , everyone had them. [but, again, they got bumped from the TOTP line-up].”
BILL:- “Into the Valley just kept going on and on and on. We sold about 240,000 copies I think, which is a shame because we just missed out on a silver disc for quarter of a million! But that’s about 20 times more copies than you need for a number one these days anyway. “
The Into the Valley tour was a phenomenal success:
CLIVE: - “The band broke every house record on that tour, previously set by the Banshees. This was a good indication of the bands rising popularity.”
BILL: - “I always thought we should’ve followed up with Melancholy Soldiers, but the consensus was that there were already too many singles off the album. Masquerade came out and got to #14 and we thought, right, we’re kind of a mainstream band now. So we had a look and an image, the clothes, it was just really exciting and we were young, it was the era of tapered baggy trousers, shoulder pad T shirts etc from PX and Johnstons in London.”
STAINLESS: ”Bill Nelson came up to Dunfermline to see the Skids demoing Masquerade. We saw this guy who looked kind of familiar and he asked us the way to the Castleton. Then we figured out who he was and took him up there to meet the Skids.”
The meeting was a high point for all connected with the band , because there might have been no more band without it. Clive recalls this as his 23rd greatest high point with the band:
CLIVE: - “The band meeting Bill Nelson & him agreeing to record the next record. This meeting also made Stuart reconsider his decision to leave the band.”
Another high point was the Edinburgh Odeon Gig during the Edinburgh festival in the Summer of 79.
CLIVE: - “The Band broke the house record (previously held by Status Quo). This show was the first airing of the songs that appeared on DIE. It was a new sound and look and the band had gone overboard with the shows production with us renting Pink Floyds circular screen, playing film during the songs, a lot of lights & imagery. It had taken about three weeks of pre- production in Dunfermline Glen Pavilion (I slept there as security during that period).”
Days In Europa
BILL:- “A lot of people prefer Days in Europa and that was a great experience for us. We went into recording Days in Europa a bit unprepared. We didn’t appreciate we’d have to do all that other stuff , the touring, TV slots, press interviews, rehearsals etc , and we didn’t have time to write new songs.
"Home of the Saved, The Olympian, Thanatos and obviously Peaceful times were worked out in the studio. We didn’t have enough material ready and but Stuart remembered the riff from New Daze and played it, and we built the Olympian around that.”
“I think the sound on that album is fantastic, the way Bill Nelson got that sound for us. Rockfield Studios in Wales, that was a great time. Bill was adding a lot of textures we wouldn’t have thought of, like the keyboards.”
“Grey Parade, that was the guys mucking about in the studio. I don’t play on that, that’s Bill Nelson on bass. Stuart and I saw Bebop Deluxe in Dunfermline Carnegie Hall in 1975, on the Sunburst Finish tour I think. Stuart and I were in the Top balcony and we thought “bugger this!” and went down to the front of the stage right in front of Bill, it was a fantastic gig.”
“It was unbelievable recording with Bill , I just kept thinking back to 1975! I remember when he first came up to see us at our rehearsal place near Queen Anne High School when we were doing the demos for Masquerade. I went to see Bill again after I left , he was in Red Noise then in Edinburgh , above The Playhouse, went for a meal with him afterwards to an Italian restaurant on Lothian Road. Bill drove us in his Rolls Royce. I was thinking, this is my hero. I’m just this wee quiet guy from Lochgelly!”.
BILL: “We all came from different places. I’m from Lochgelly, Stuart’s from Crossgates, Richard’s from Ballingry. Tom came from Cowdenbeath. We all went out to places in Dunfermline and hung out there, but we didn’t hang around together the whole time. Tom was starting to get a wee bit disillusioned with things. I think there was a suggestion about Stuart and Richard getting more royalties’ in Tom’s mind anyway that was one of the last straws. I was a wee bit surprised, a wee bit shocked and disappointed. It was a bit of a shame. He’d just had enough of the business and the lifestyle.”
“Rusty Egan came in and did a fantastic job on DIE and the subsequent tour. I don’t think he gets enough credit for his contribution. Ali Moore came on board, he’d been a school friend and is a very good, trained pianist and musician. We knew he was very good musically, but there was maybe a bit of a culture clash there, musically he didn’t really suit with the type of music we were into.”
“I was in full agreement that Ali wasn’t fitting in as I would like, and we were thinking that maybe keyboards weren’t right for the band, there was a bit of an element in the crowd giving him a hard time on tour, but it was just the way it was handled.”
“Richard & Stuart were on a flight down to London, the rest of us were to follow to record a Kid Jensen session. I asked Sandy (Muir) where Ali was and he said “Oh, he’s no longer in the band” - Richard and Stuart had decided to sack him. I was not consulted and felt left out, although I would have agreed with the decision. I was very hurt and disillusioned. I decided to leave as well at that point.“
“It all started going kind of pear shaped, with Tom leaving and all the other things, but you know, that’s just life. I never picked up an instrument again after I left, until Stuart’s Tribute concert. It was just back to the grindstone, I didn’t have a trade or anything, so I just did sales type jobs, I worked for an aerial photography firm, insurance company and from there into estate agency.”
Rusty Egan (Rich Kids, Blitz boy, man about town and later of Visage) filled the drum stool for the Days in Europa album and tour after Tom left, but only ever as a temporary arrangement. Mike Baillie was recruited as drummer on a permanent basis before sessions for the third album The Absolute Game
Mike Baillie:- “The Skids had had success and cut their first album, but I’d still see them coming back into the town, down at the Castleton and I was impressed with the effort they made fit back in to their hometown. Rusty came along but he was only ever filling in temporarily as drummer, so I approached them and said “if you need to recruit a drummer, here I am”. So it was into the studio the next day, there were a couple of months of rehearsals, and I was still working in the dockyards at the time.”
“The 1st time I played was at the Music Hall in Aberdeen. I was just watching from the wings and Rusty waved me over, and I played on Charles for the 1st encore. It was the 1st time I’d played on a stage that size, it was very gracious of Rusty to do that.”
“The first time I played a gig was the Christmas gigs , just before Christmas , at the Kinema Ballroom. Then I went into a long period when all I did was a couple of TV shows and Top of the Pops. Then the first time I played again was at the Hammersmith Palais with Simple Minds and the Berlin Blondes.”
STAINLESS: - “The wee man at the Music Hall was going around putting out the gas mantles before the band came on!”
Well why go to the expense of getting electricity in Aberdeen of oil places, European capital of Oil and Gas?
The Absolute Game
MIKE: “Those demos, things developed so quickly. At the time there were at least 2 people in the frame to take Bills place. Cowboys International, I saw them at the Blair Drummond gig with Dr Feelgood and the Boomtown Rats and I thought they were a really unique band. I had immense respect for the bass player, Jimmy Hughes, but then Russell appeared and the rest, as they say, is history.”
CLIVE: - “The band wrote and recorded Arena, A Woman in Winter & Circus Games. The session was done in one 36 hour session and it was a really incredible pace that the band worked at. The future looked good.”
MIKE:- “We joined up with the rest of the Scottish Mafia in London: John McGeoch, Simple Minds, Fingerprintz , there was a definite Scottish link up going on down there, but we were all about 20 years old , it was a bit of a culture shock.”
“You’d be getting chased down the road by skinheads because you had a Jock accent’ then it would be a party at Phil Lynott’s house. I spent 18 months down in London meeting up with John Cooper Clark, Cook and Jones from the Pistols, all these people. Safe to say that initially when we got there it was just a mind fuck."
"There was so much to do, anything going on, you just had to make a phone call and you were there, but inevitably the relentlessness of the people that lived there just became unbearable. Us Scots will just speak to anyone at a bus stop, but down there it’s like “are you gonna stab me or what?.” People just didn’t know what to make of us.”
“Things like doing TOTP, meeting Elvis Costello and the like were real high points. The Nolans story is just a vicious rumour as far as I’m concerned, there was no danger of any of us doing that - one of us was supposed to have spat on their dressing room door at TOTP.”
“We inherited the Stranglers’ road crew when we joined Modern Management , Ian Grant and Alan Edwards. When we joined I went up to Finchley, I’d just got some nice new clothes from Johnson’s. There’s all these guys there , the Finchley Boys , and they said “We’re going on manoeuvres” , whatever that means , and they’ve got these jeeps and these paramilitary romper suits on and they say “come on” , and we drive off in this convoy, miles away, to this private school in the country.”
“So we get into the grounds and there’s this loch , a pond , above this valley, and one side of it is this retaining wall. And they’ve got these entrenching tools and these fire extinguishers and suddenly I realise what their plan is, they’re going to blow it up and flood the valley below! And their Alsatians are jumping in the water and all hell’s breaking loose and I’m in my brand new Johnson’s clothes. I thought, I’m not going up to Finchley again.”
“We did a 6 week session at the Manor which was just an amazing experience, although I didn’t see eye to eye with Mick Glossop , it was almost a wall of sound thing he was going for and I wanted a more natural sound to my drums. Some of the records I was listening to at the time had a great natural sound to them, like The Correct Use Of Soap by Magazine. I just wanted the record to reflect how natural we were as a live band and that didn’t really happen.”
“Stuart was really very sober at the time he was probably the healthiest one of the band. He spent most of his time on the phone to Sandra. Some days we would work 8 or 9 hours a day recording or rehearsing.”
“I remember a series of dark dingy rehearsal rooms for hours to perfect the set for touring, until we had it really, really right. It wasn’t what I expected: there were times when I was ready to walk out and say “fuck it all”! But the end result was worth it.”
“It enabled us to play with the power and the energy: we felt like nothing could stop us. The response we got from the performance was worth it we enjoyed the post-gig interaction with the fans. The worst thing of all was that the tour manager had a deal with the hotel chain, and every one of them was identical, I mean in every detail. Touring’s not what people think it is, it can be an endless slog.”
“We flew to Portugal to play one gig during the tour, in a Bullring near Lisbon, with the Tourists and 999. You’re halfway through hacking your way around Britain on a tour and then you’re in Portugal! It was amazing, we met all the bullfighting people and families, the people welcomed us in, it was just amazing, we were only there for a day. In the evening someone took us into the local pub which was more like someone’s house, and in the morning we went and picked oranges off the trees and had them for breakfast.”
After the Game
MIKE:- “The Venue was the very last gig I played with them. We’d demo’d Blood and Soil at NOMIS, in Shepherd’s Bush I think, in late 80, early 81. That and The Psalm, it was just those 2. Blood and Soil, we did a lot of work on it: when we wrote it was a 4 person effort, the objective of the band was to arrange these ideas.”
“Stuart and Richard were big enough to recognise that it wasn’t just Jobson/Adamson compositions any more. It was just a question of peoples’ nature. Stuart and I gravitated together and Richard and Russell went their way. Stuart and I would be thinking about home and family. My wife designed Richard’s “RJ” shirt [on the sleeve of Into the Valley] she made it herself!.”
“I left before Stuart left. I wanted to be a musician not a pop star. I wanted to play music, not be a pawn in somebody’s game in the music industry. “
The Skids went into the studio to begin recording what would be their final album, Joy, in April 81, but Stuart had had enough and left the band that same month, the main personalities of the band had drifted apart and no longer shared a common musical cause.
The story ends early in 1982 after a pair of bravely against-prevailing-currents singles and the album were released to critical and commercial indifference. In a way the Skids stayed true to their name with their stated intention never to be constrained by image or expectation.
by Bill Simpson 2007