Scared to dance? marking The Skids’ fortieth birthday

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Amongst the new wave bands celebrating their fortieth birthday this year is Scottish band The Skids.  They are releasing their first new album in 35 years and are embarking on a four month nationwide tour, including several dates in Dunfermline, where they got started.  I’ve taken this opportunity to revise and reissue my novel, Feeling called love.  The story is set partly in Dunfermline just at the time that The Skids started their career and punk rock is a major theme in the book.  

Here I pick out a few themes in the career of The Skids which were significant to the development of many other bands too.

Marking four decades

A range of events took place in London during 2016 celebrating four decades of punk rock.  These concerts and exhibitions have now all closed, but in 1976 punk was still very much a metropolitan fashion, limited to London, Manchester and a few other cities.  It was in the following year that it reached all the smaller towns and cities.  It might be said that this year began on December 3rd 1976 when the Sex Pistols appeared on Bill Grundy’s teatime television show and gained publicity and notoriety in an instant.  After that interview, and the hysterical reaction of the media to it, everyone knew what punk was (or though that they did) and lots of teens wanted to join in.  For most of the UK, then, 1977 was in fact the year of punk and 2017 is the true fortieth anniversary.

One of the teens converted to punk in 1977 was Stuart Adamson, born in Manchester but brought up in Fife.  He got his first guitar aged eleven and, by the time he was fourteen, he had formed a band with Bill Simpson, a bass player attending the same school in Cowdenbeath.  By 1975 this band, Tattoo, had established a reputation as a rock covers outfit and  had regular work, playing songs by Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Status Quo, the Rolling Stones and Bowie.  Their career was curtailed following O-grades by one member leaving to join the police.  Briefly, Adamson and Simpson went to Amsterdam to live and work, but this ‘Beatles in Hamburg’ venture was neither happy nor a success and within two weeks they were back home and resigned to returning to school to study Highers.

Punk iconoclasm

1977 was a musical watershed when rock went out of fashion, sometimes overnight.  In March Adamson saw the Damned play in Edinburgh.  Like many of the same age, he was instantly converted by the new music’s energy and feeling. Tattoo quickly rejected their previous heavy rock allegiances and were reconstituted as a punk band (a transformation that again affected many bands that year).  All the same, the two friends were still in full time education and not yet fully committed to a musical career.

It was not until after their exam in summer 1977 that the pair found a suitable vocalist.  Their choice was Richard Jobson, who was neither a singer nor a musician; he has variously been described as being, at the time, a chancer, a drunk and violent.  The last is certainly true: he had been in a notorious local gang and was well known as a ‘tough wee guy’ who enjoyed a fight.  This was part of the reason Jobson was recruited as the front man: he was ‘cocky’, ‘confident’ and ‘arrogant’ and he looked the part.  By early July 1977 an advert in the Dunfermline Press had a secured a drummer, Tom Kellichan, and The Skids had formed.  With a core of songs by Adamson and Simpson already in place, events moved quickly from that point (as was the case for many new bands at that time).

Gigs came thick and fast, a tribute to The Skids’ ability and confidence.  Their first public performance was at Dunfermline’s Belleville Hotel on Friday August 19th 1977.  The band was well received and a succession of small local gigs followed.  Of these the most significant were the string of dates during late-1977 at Dunfermline’s Kinema, where they consistently attracted substantial crowdsThey supported The Clash and Richard Hell and the Voidoids there and finally, on December 25th, headlined an unsuccessful Christmas Ball before an audience who wanted to hear covers of Wizzard and Slade and who reacted badly to a set comprised of challenging new wave originals.  It was all excellent experience, nonetheless, enabling the band to hone their set and their stage craft.

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Entrepreneurial pioneers

With the start of 1978, it was time for The Skids’ next career step.  The band had recorded a demo back in the autumn, and now Adamson and Jobson approached Bruce Findlay, owner of Bruce’s Records in Edinburgh, with a view to him releasing a single on his new Zoom label.  He liked their tapes but didn’t feel that he had the capacity to handle another release just then; instead he suggested they contact Sandie Muir back in Dunfermline.  Sandie ran Muir’s Music, an independent store in the town that stocked punk releases.  He had seen The Skids at the Belleville Hotel and he knew there was money to be made from the new genre.  With a promise from Findlay that he would take five hundred copies of any release, Muir funded a new PA for the band and set up a company, AIM Music Ltd, to run a new label, No Bad RecordsThe Skids’ first single, ‘Charles’ b/w ‘Reason’ and ‘Test Tube Babies’, was released on February 24th 1978.  It sold ten thousand copies, easily recouping Muir’s investment.

Despite its anarchic associations, the spread of punk depended considerably upon individuals like Muir and Findlay speculating upon success by investing in the movement.  Bands funded their own labels and releases, as did their managers and as too did some independent record shops: Small Wonder Records of Walthamstow, E17 is another example, issuing singles by Crass and Bauhaus amongst others, and the Manchester branch of Virgin Records was instrumental in launching Buzzcocks’ first ever release.

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The patronage of Peel

As with so many bands, endorsement from John Peel was crucial.  Further gigs in mid-Scotland followed for The Skids, but what finally lifted them out of mere local success was their visit to London in April 1978.  They met John Peel, who had loved the first single, and agreed to record a prestigious session for his Radio One programme; secondly, they played several famed punk venues in the capital.  The Peel session was broadcast in mid-May and major record label interest became intense.  In June The Skids signed to Virgin Records.  More gigs in London, a nine date UK tour and two singles followed during 1978.  The classic single ‘Into the valley’ was released on February 16th 1979, in advance of the band’s first album, Scared to Dance. The Skids were now firmly established as a band with a national reputation, based in London and touring extensively.  Three more albums were released before they split in 1982.

Adamson quit The Skids in 1980 and went on to form Big Country.  Sadly, he took his own life in 2001, but Jobson and Simpson have reunited for the fortieth birthday concerts.  Jobson and Adamson both feature in Feeling called love and I have added a new preface to the book examining the band’s formation and influences in more detail.

 

 

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