The Skids are back, but this time it’s different, Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody chats to singer Richard Jobson to find out what’s going on ahead of the release of the new album, Burning Cities.
It’s a long while since we saw The Skids in Liverpool. We were still at school back then. In their three year career The Skids released 4 albums and a made a slew of TOTP appearances. Now there’s a fifth long player – Burning Cities – on the way and they’re still as angry as hell.
It may come as a surprise to learn Burning Cities is only fifth studio album from The Skids, such is the wealth and depth of their back catalogue.
Produced by Killing Joke bass player, Youth, this is an anthemic rallying cry that will be familiar to anyone who was fan of the band all those years ago. The band toured extensively last year and has another string of dates lined up for the first half of 2018 as a recognition of 40 years since the release of their first EP, Charles, in 1977.
It was a surprisingly short lived career for Jobson and co (first album Scared to Dance was released in 1979 and their last, Joy, in 1981). Since then there have been sporadic re-unions and occasional gigs, but no real concerted effort at anything like the current extensive tour.
The new album sounds like The Skids, that’s for sure and maybe all you need to know. It’s unmistakably Jobson. There are vignettes of the old material. One Last Chance has a guitar riff straight from Working for the Yankee Dollar. And, I’ll swear I can hear Into the Valley just trying to burst out of Kings of the New World Order.
Youth has done a fine job of delivering an up to date version of the raw energy that exploded onto an unsuspecting Dunfermline audience at the band’s first gig in 1977 when Richard Jobson was 16 and (according to him) the only punk in town. He’s managed to keep the edge and sharpness that gets lost with so many reformed bands or those who go on for too long. This is neither of those things. It’s a proper Skids album and while it may not make many converts, it will certainly keep the class of 77 very happy indeed
Still, we wanted to find out what drives Richard Jobson and what continues to makes him so angry, so we had a chat on the phone to see what he had to say.
Read on for his forthright views – he doesn’t hold back – and a chance to win tickets for the band’s Liverpool gig on June 23 at the O2 Academy.
Getintothis: Where are you now?
Richard Jobson: I’ve just arrived in Scotland
RJ: In Fifeshire, Dunfermline. I live in Berlin now, so I’m constantly in transit. I seem to be pulled back to Scotland more and more, but I’m determined to see the Berlin experience out, whatever happens.
Getintothis: You’ve been touring with The Skids for a few months now. How’s it been?
RJ: Well, the project last year started off as a small project, that was just meant to be an anniversary gig. It was meant to be a bit of fun, nothing too serious. And then we kept on getting messages from people from other parts of the UK, mostly England and then beyond that in Ireland, people saying “How come you never venture further than Dunfermline, where you come from? You only ever do one gig and it sells out, nobody can come and see you.” And we, with a bit of humility said, “Well who would be interested? Is there anybody actually out there who would care?”
And we spoke about it, and coincidentally, I was hanging out with my friend Youth – the producer and guy from Killing Joke – and he said “Why don’t you record some new music?” I said “That’s a ridiculous idea”. So he said “Why don’t you come and hang out with me at my studio and see what happens? You never know and if you don’t like then there’s nothing lost”. So I went down and we write a song together and it felt really good, you know, the lyrics came very quickly, the atmosphere was good – he’s a fabulous producer anyway – and I really enjoyed the experience.
So, suddenly, the idea of maybe doing something that took us beyond the nostalgia, heritage trail that a lot of bands, you know, my contemporaries are on that trip and I’m not sure I want to be on that one. If I wanted to do it, I wanted to do it in a bit more of an advanced way, therefore I had to have a sentiment about it that felt real and contemporary. Recording and writing new material and it came really, really quickly.
I was actually really shocked by that. Because I thought it would be really arduous and hard. But there are two things, really, I guess. One is that there’s lots to write about at the moment. And secondly, technology is so amazing now that, if you’re as musically talentless as I am, then you can do things really quickly and disguise all the mistakes and stuff in a way that still retains the atmosphere of the songs without flattening it. You know, you’re not looking for perfection.
I mean, all I can judge it against is my last recording with The Armoury Show, where we spent days on it – every single drum sound and weeks on guitar sounds and stuff – whereas this was really fast. The old punk thing, like just getting into the studio, recording the song, put the vocal on it, maybe do two versions of the main vocal and not fucking about. We were really going for something that was just rich in atmosphere. And that’s how it worked. And I loved the experience. It was great.
Getintothis: You say there’s lots to write about at the moment, and I was going to ask you about a comment you make between tracks on the live album, that you’re still as angry as hell. What are you as angry as hell about?
RJ: Well, the world, from the era we were born into should have become a vastly improved place, where young people had an opportunity to participate in society in way that didn’t put undue pressure on them, but at the same time gave them a chance. And that’s gone now.
You know, who would wanna be a kid working in London, for example, where the rents are insane. You’re just making enough money to pay the rent and get through the week. And, you’re at the behest of multi-nationals. You’ve got no sense of who or what you are. And I would have thought, from the era I came from that we would have evolved and the world would have been a vastly improved place.
At the same time, I thought we would have become more and more liberal and living in a social democracy. And we’re not. We’ve gone the other way, in fact. Especially in the English speaking world – ideologues are taking control and history tells us about the last time that happened. It’s pretty frightening. So, there’s lots to be angry about. And the way they’re absolutely destroying everything you dreamed of. You never thought it was going to be a Utopia, but it should have evolved and it should have got better. And it hasn’t.
Getintothis: I think the new album sounds very much like a Skids album; it’s pretty recognisable as The Skids’ sound. As far as I know – I saw you twice last year at Rebellion and at The Grand in Clitheroe – you’ve not played a great deal of it live as yet. Is that going to change once the album is released?
RJ: I think so. That tour last year was a re-awakening.
There were people out there who were really friendly towards the music. When you get to a certain age, you’re no longer a fan, you’re a friend of the music, I think. And last year we just re-kindled that and gave The Skids a kind of re-birth. I think it was important that we played the songs we felt still had meaning.
We chose the songs for that set that still had a sense of vitality about them, that were still physical, classic Skids songs as we saw them, but of course that was just setting the stage for what we’re going on to do now which is to go out and start playing these new tracks. And fitting them together and seeing what is Into the Void going to sound like when set against Of One Skin, what is Burning Cities going to sound like when you put it next to Animation and what’s Kaputt going to sound like when you put it next to The Saints are Coming, so, yeah, it’s really exciting I think.
The album seems to have had a pretty good reception, I think – people know we’re not fraudulent – it wasn’t another one of those making music by the numbers. We actually put a lot into it and the energy is there. All the songs were written with the guidance of Youth, in the sense that: “If you can’t play this live, then let’s not record it”. So for example, one of the things he said was “Do not come to me with songs that have long fades, cos I’m not interested”.
If you listen to the album, none of the songs fade out. They all have a beginning and an end. He said, “These are something you have to be able to play in a live environment – they may all have different atmospheres and you can play in this particular way or whatever, but you’ve got to be able to play them”. We don’t just wanna create stuff that’s a studio thing – it’s got to be what The Skids were all about which was a kind of physical impact.
We weren’t post-modern, shoegazing types. And I think that tour last year – it seemed to me a lot of people were surprised by the energy we put out from the stage. It was quite dynamic, I think. The songs really needed that. OK, I’m not going to pretend I can dance or anything, but certainly, they make we want to move. And I think that seemed to be endemic in the audience in all of the shows. A lot of the shows were not the scale of Rebellion, obviously, or The Roundhouse in London, some of them were much smaller and more intimate, but that still works. It works because we were committed to them.
I think people are pretty savvy, you go up there and try and bullshit them with going through the numbers, you know and not communicating and stuff, they’ll turn their back on you, I think. When I joined The Skids, I was 16 and I didn’t really have very much to say that I understood. I’ve had a lifetime of experiences now, some of it’s been amazing and some of it’s been really shit. You bring all of that to the table now – you’ve got lots to talk about. You feel with people who currently have a very similar experience in a different way – dreams have not come to fruition and some of them have, you’ve had good times and bad times.
You’re hearing something that people who have had similar experiences and are not hiding behind anything, so I think on the tour last year I never hid behind anything, I tried to very open and honest and candid. I had to take the piss out of the band as well – it’s important – you know, we’re a British band and that’s part of our national characteristic, you know we need to take the piss out of ourselves.
Getintothis: Who’s in the line up now?
RJ: It’s the same band as last year. The two Watsons and Bill [Simpson], the original bass player and Mike Bailee who joined the band for the album Absolute Game and on certain occasions I think we’ll introduce Martin Metcalfe from the Filthy Tongues – you know the guy from Goodbye Mr Mackenzie – who wrote some of the songs with me to introduce some of the gigs with us because with some of those songs, he put a lot into it. He was a massive, massive Skids fan, so when you see a way to connect that music from then to now, he got it. He was really switched on.
It was interesting that thing you said about Rebellion because when I walked around Rebellion and probably watched about 15 – 16 acts before we went on there was a lot of bands who engaged with a very in your face thrash metally kind of a version of a new kind of punk. I was worried because I thought, we were going to go on at midnight or whatever time we were on, and The Skids are melodic, you know, and I thought “Fuck, you’re in trouble here, cos tunes are out” but actually, I think people had gone through a kind of almost sensory deprivation all day and suddenly you’re playing things that have a tune in the heart of them with an energy, then people seem to engage with it.
Getintothis: I think that’s quite an interesting comment because, yeah, I agree with you about Rebellion, and I’d wondered, after I’d been there for a couple of days, how you were going to go down as headliners, but it seemed to do alright.
RJ: Yeah, I loved every minute of it. Some of the acts that were on before us seemed to chase the audience, and I was really worried, it was the last night, people maybe had just gone home, you know, would they be interested in us considering the kind of music that had been punching them in the face all day. I was concerned about all of those things, but when I came on stage, we just stuck to what we’re about, which is commitment to the songs. We never ever take the audience for granted – and I’ve seen that with a lot of bands – again from our generation, who I’m not going to name, but I think we probably know what I’m talking about. You know, they turn up and they play their songs and they think that’s enough and they hide behind heir songs. I don’t think that’s enough anymore.
You need to talk to people and communicate with them. And find the fun in it as well as the seriousness. So, we just stuck to that, that’s our principle. I’m not saying it’s always going to work, but at the moment, for us, I’m not sure we know what else to do. I don’t know if we have a Plan B. Maybe it’s the new album. That will be attacked with the same flourish and energy as we attacked 2017.
And 2017 was a massive surprise to me. It was a really beautiful surprise. I never expected any of that and it was an absolute privilege to go out there and reinvigorate those songs and hear them, in many ways like you always imagined them.
The Skids should have had two guitars. On the other hand Stuart’s guitar kind of made me play rhythm guitar and I hated it. I don’t mind playing guitar in the studio, but I hate playing guitar live. First of all, I’m not very good at it and second, it just feels like having an anchor around you – you’re stuck to this thing. I didn’t like that, so suddenly having two guitars blazing out those anthemic tunes sounded kind of quite majestic to me.
Getintothis: I gather you’ve got a book coming out as well.
RJ: I have, yes. Obviously, I’ve written other books, but they’ve been more factual. This is my first novel. It’s called The Speed of Life. I’ve been a David Bowie fanatic since childhood and for a variety of reasons I had a difficult childhood, Bowie made me feel better about that in a funny kind of way and made me feel better about being different from other kinds of people. So I’ve stuck with him all my life.
I started on the project when he was alive and he was aware of the project because I have a contact through his manager and they were very supportive. Essentially, it’s the story of two aliens who come to earth to try and work out what creativity is. On their planet they don’t have creativity, so they can’t work out what it is – it doesn’t make any sense to them.
So, the kind of music that’s given them a tingle factor, they don’t understand is David Bowie’s music. They come to earth and travel through different periods of Bowie’s life to try and work out what it is. They don’t find out what it is because it’s such an unknown thing – what makes you fall in love with music? What makes you fall in love with a song? You know, it’s difficult to really kind of break that down and work out what the component parts of that are. So, it’s kind of about that, really, but essentially it’s a dressed up love letter.
Getintothis: When’s the book out?
RJ: This month. So, it’s very exciting. This week the album comes out. In two weeks time the novel comes out, and they’ve just re-released this morning my original memoir 16 Years of Alcohol that became the film of the same name.
A company in Manchester called Bracket Press have just re-released it. You can’t start a year – you tell me a better way to start a year than that – two books and an album. It’s funny, if you were to say to me last year in January, “What do you think 2017 holds?” And I would have said “Another year of frustration, how am I going to get this published? How am I going to get my old book re-published?” And then suddenly, it’s all happened. So, I think there’s a little motto in there – Never give up. If you believe in it, then never give up on it.
Getintothis: Thanks for talking to us. Just a couple of quick questions. Do you have a favourite Skids song, or is that like choosing one of your favourite children?
RJ: Ha! It is, but during the tour, it felt to me like it was Animation or Masquerade. But I’ve also really started to like The Saints are Coming again, and a song called A Woman in Winter because the audience have really seemed to embrace that song. It’s a very important song for me because I had a girlfriend who committed suicide. The song’s kind of about her. So to hear a whole room, like in Blackpool or at The Roundhouse singing that refrain, the chant, was quite emotional, for me, although I kept a hold of it as I’m not that kind of performer.
I’m really getting engaged with the new album I’m loving Into the Void and Kaputt, One Last Chance and you can see from the titles where we’re headed, with the actual meaning of the album and what we’re talking about.
Getintothis: What other bands do you listen to at the moment?
RJ: Erm, It varies really. I’ve always been a bit of an ambient lover, so I listen to a lot of soft ambient music, but the band that seems to have got under my skin the most at the moment is Royal Blood. I’ve been listening to them a lot – the intensity of them and the simplicity of it. It just punches you in the face. I like that a lot.
The new album, Burning Cities is released in the UK on 12 January.
The Skids play :
- February 9 – Glen Pavillion, Dunfermline
- February 10 – The Venue, Dumfries
- May 27 – Corn Exchange, Bedford
- June 1 – Picturedrome, Holmfirth
- June 2 – O2 Ritz, Manchester
- June 7 – Sub 89 & The Bowery District, Reading
- June 8 – Cheese & Grain, Frome
- June 9 – Tramshed, Cardiff
- June 15 – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
- June 16 – O2 Academy, Newcastle
- June 22 – The Rescue Rooms, Nottingham
- June 23 – O2 Academy, Liverpool
- June 27 – The Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth
- June 28 – Robin 2, Wolverhampton
- June 29 – Concorde 2, Brighton
- June 30 – Shepherds Bush Empire, London
Win tickets for the Liverpool date:
To win a pair of tickets to the Liverpool gig all you have to do is like the Getintothis Facebook page, share the post below and tag in two of your friends.
Or follow the @GetintothisHQ Twitter account – and RT our competition post.