October 25th 1979. I am spending half term with my Gran in Cherry Hinton. Aged 14 and a half, I am just becoming brave enough to head into Cambridge ( a 'Strange Town') on my own. Music obsessed, I flit between record shops, especially Andy's which is SO cheap and SO cool. Where I see a flier for The Skids, playing the Corn Exchange the very next day. The Skids. THE SKIDS!! The band whose 'Into the Valley' was the first punk single I ever bought, whose lyrics I've copied out painstakingly by hand, whose songs I've driven my parents mad by trying to play on my classical guitar, whose every move I've followed via the music press and John Peel, whose logo I've scrawled on pencil cases, exercise books and myself, whose obsession with words, with the war poets, with mixing melody with energy, with ideas and politics, with looking weird and being yourself, has helped change me indelibly. The Skids. And they are playing one mile from where I am staying. Tomorrow!
I've never been to a gig before. No one in our family
has been to one, unless you count Aunty Ally and her hazy Bowie interests.
I'd have no idea what it would be like. Probably dark and scary. But
The Skids! I consider sneaking out to it, borrowing Gran's bike and
racing to the Corn Exchange. But I know I won't dare. And anyway,
I don't have the £2 needed to get in. So the next day I spend
another night in with the family, probably reading Shelley, pouring
over the music press, listening to Peel. Nothing wrong with any of
this, but all night I am disappointed, wishing I am somewhere else.
As I have ever since.
For The Skids never played my home town Swansea. And I still remember a year later, listening in bed as John Peel read out a message from lead singer, lyricist and inspiration Richard Jobson, announcing that 'the marriage is over' and that the Skids had split. Although still to release one more album, the band were essentially no more.
So how weird, unexpected and almost amazing beyond comprehension is it to be standing in the photo pit of The Junction 38 years on as Peaceful Times gurgles out of the PA. Then Richard Jobson bounds onto the stage, just one metre in front of me. Yes, he maybe nearly 60, but he still bounds! And then 'Animation' explodes on the stage, gushing through the venue, filling the place with energy, light and anthemic melody and joy. It's clear that I am not the only one to have missed this band. And the thunderous applause that greets his name shows that Stuart Adamson, the band's founder member and original guitar player who tragically took his own life in 2001, is still missed too.
However the line up playing tonight sounds as good as The Skids have ever sounded, perhaps even better, if my stock of live bootlegs is anything to go by. While musical perfection is not necessarily always a positive thing, the line up of Bill Simpson (original bass player) and Mike Baillie (mid period drummer) along with Big Country father and son guitarists Bruce and Jamie Watson, is totally powerful, authentic and danceable. What's more, they spend the night grinning from ear to ear. They are clearly having as much fun as we are. They've even learnt to play songs they couldn't manage live back in the day, such as Thanatos and Dulce et Decorum Est. And how incredible it all sounds, a perfect foil to Jobson's inimitable concentrated lyrics and his trade mark loping (anti) dance moves. My son says I'll need a defibrillator he tells us but I don't fuckin' care!
Yes, Jobson is having the best fun of all, but still wants to be taken seriously, as his status as poet, author and film maker deserves. He makes the point that just as in 1977, society is at a point where things need to change, we can't go on the way things are with those at the top sucking the life out of everything and everyone. He clearly sees music as one way of bringing people together to effect this change. The one new track they play, from the crowd funded future album Burning Cities, seems to be making this point explicitly, eschewing teenage lyrical ambiguity for a straight forward call to get on the streets. Jobson's Glasgow St Pauli supporters t-shirt seems to be saying the same thing. Even the so called 'comic' TV Stars, reluctantly played in the encore and introduced as our one shit song, is updated to include disparaging mentions of Theresa May.
All of which means that, unlikely as it sounds, The Skids could be a band whose time has finally come. Feted by Green Day and U2 they may have been, and more importantly for us, recognised by The Manics as a motivation (with James Dean Bradfield citing Adamson's guitar playing as a major influence after the outro to Charles was sampled on Motown Junk), perhaps now they can claim a fraction of the mainstream success their songs, sound and sensibility deserves.
As Jobson leaves the stage to ecstatic applause, he promises that the band won't leave it another 38 years before returning to Cambridge. Which is a relief, because I don't think I could wait that long to see them again! With the tour rolling on all summer and work on the new album underway, things on the Skids front are looking more exciting than they have for years.
I hope that the 14 and a half year old me would consider tonight worth the rather long delay. After 38 years, I am finally over the disappointment of October 1979...
Thanks to Dave at Tenacity PR for the photopass and to Dennis for the loan of the camera for helping make this possible.
Words and Pix : Rosey R*E*P*E*A*T