So here we are. Post number 1500 since the blog was raised from the dead after being killed off by Google.
A huge thanks to all of you out there for the amazing support you’ve given, and a special word to those of you who have contributed guest postings, offered comments or just encouraged me through some nice e-mails. I wouldn’t be motivated to do all this if wasn’t for the fact it is being enjoyed and responded to so positively each and every day.
I was going to mark it with a look at a Northern Soul single but that plan fell through as it was featured recently over at Brian’s place. So I’m turning to Plan B with an ICA from The Skids, one of the best bands to emerge out of the post-punk era.
They played Glasgow a few weeks back as part of a 40th Anniversary Tour. I didn’t get along as I was otherwise very happily occupied with the visit of Dirk, Walter, Adam and the afore-mentioned Brian along with meeting up with and enjoying the company of Drew (whom it was gave me the Northern Soul 45 that I was intending to feature today), CC, Aldo, Strangeways and Comrade Colin. But a couple of other friends went along to The Skids, and come Monday reported that it had been outstanding; seemingly Richard Jobson still has it in spades while the band, consisting of Bill Simpson (bass), Mike Baillie (drums) and the father and son combo of Bruce and Jamie Watson on guitar, delivered a blisteringly loud and perfectly paced set that also paid fitting tribute to the contributions of the late Stuart Adamson.
The thing is, just after The Skids broke up in 1982, a compilation LP entitled Fanfare was released by Virgin Records and its 12 tracks (six on each side of the vinyl) is quite tough to better. So Fanfare is your ICA today for nothing else other than the fact it also came with these liner notes composed by John Peel…and so I can claim he’s written something for this blog!
John Peel writes….
“Richard Jolson (vocals)
Alexander Plode (guitar)
Stuart Adamson (guitar)
Thomas Bomb (drums)
Yes, Jolson. This, according to a mimeographed sheet from No Bad Records of Dunfermline, was the original line-up of the Skids. The anonymous writer of this press release, which accompanied the first Skids single, was of the view that the band was ‘destined for the top’, and he was almost right. To quote further from his thoughtful paragraphs, the Skids were ‘causing a substantial “BUZZ”,’ and this time he was spot on. This was early 1978 and for some months Scottish fanzines had been noising abroad the excellence of Messrs. Jolson, Plode, Adamson and Bomb, remarking that they had moved beyond the confines of pure punk and were evolving into something entirely of their own devising, something that was, or so it was hinted, identifiably Scottish.
Thus it was that when No Bad NB1, ‘Reasons’, ‘Test Tube Babies’, and ‘Charles’, reached the sink-pits and stews of London, the Skids already enjoyed the first murmurings of a reputation, and when the band followed the record south they must have hoped for an enthusiastic reception. Back home they had been heard on Radio Forth, for Heaven’s sake, and had supported the Stranglers in Edinburgh, and when they clambered on stage in a Stoke Newington pub they must have been disappointed at the mute, incurious glances of the few regulars which greeted them. Happily, my old brave ones, this performance was enough to win the Skids an outing on Radio 1 and a subsequent approach from Virgin Records.
The rest, I am tempted to say, is history.
First out of the Virgin gate was ‘Sweet Suburbia’. ‘This white vinyl record has a weird gimmick’, warned the company’s effervescent promotions department mysteriously, adding ‘You’ll like it’.
Consumers did, but only a bit, as the record pounced on the number 70 spot in the charts but then fell away into nothingness. ‘The Saints Are Coming’ improved on this, clawing its way as high as 48.
Next on our turntables was ‘Into The Valley’, released in February 1979, which reached the top ten, although the truly discerning preferred the reverse, ‘TV Stars’, assuredly the only record to date to bring together in song the stars of ‘Coronation Street’ and ‘Crossroads’ along with Kenny Dalglish, the greatest living Scotsman, and this typist.
There were further hit singles, stirring LPs, and it wasn’t too long before the music weeklies, having come to terms that Richard Jolson was really Richard Jobson, spotted that he was also a likeable, gregarious, and highly quotable chap. ‘Jobbo’, as we had to learn to call him, has never been backward at coming forward, and he took to this notoriety with definite enthusiasm, using it to his own advantage and diversing into poetry and the theatre.
After the Skids third LP, ‘The Absolute Game’, Stuart Adamson, by now a highly individual guitarist, resigned his commission, leaving Richard, brother to Meadowbank Thistle’s goal-hungry striker, John Jobson, to soldier on with bassist Russell Webb.
On the stage, amid locker-room gossip that he never simulated anything, no siree, Richard was to be spotted spending evenings lying on top of the celebrated ingenue, Honey Bane, and he could be observed at artistic soirees declaiming his and other folks’ poems in a firm and manly voice. Contemporary with this arts-lab activity Richard was working with Russell on ‘Joy’, an LP in which they ferreted back into Scottish history and culture. Despite a warm review from the Guardian, reaction to ‘Joy’ was pretty frosty and shortly after release the Skids were no more.
Brushing aside with a contemptuous snort all the usual stuff about legacies of fine music, the great sadness in the demise of this most admirable of bands lies, for me, in that in his search for a Celtic identity and sound, Richard Jobson (nee Jolson) overlooked the fact that it was precisely these elements that distinguished the Skids from the post-punk herd in the first place.
If you don’t believe me, listen again.”
And now….here’s my own inconsequential words on each song….
1. Into The Valley
One of my favourite singles of all time. Still puts a smile on my face every time those first few distinctive notes are played. Richard Jobson has stated that the indecipherable lyrics are about the recruitment of Scottish youths into the army and more specifically about a friend who had been killed on a tour of duty in Northern Ireland. I prefer to think that it is actually a tribute to High Valleyfield (aka The Valley), a former mining village just outside of Dunfermline whose residents have long endured a reputation for hard living.
2. Working For The Yankee Dollar
The band’s sixth single and their final Top 20 hit (not that anyone knew that at the time).
Days in Europa, the band’s second album had confused me a bit. It wasn’t remotely like the debut and while it contained a few were moments that I really liked, it wasn’t an easy listen. It wasn’t helped by the fact that its closing track was in fact the opening track played backwards with a highly serious semi-spoken Jobson vocal that made no sense, even when read from the sheet provided with the LP.
There was a bit of a backlash to the album, partly from the sound that producer Bill Nelson has delivered, but also from the fact that sleeve was alleged to have incorporated artwork associated with Nazism. Virgin Records quickly announced that the LP was going to be remixed and re-released within a new sleeve. The first signs of the remix was a totally different and beefier take on Working For The Yankee Dollar. I loved how much better it sounded, particularly the guitar work from Stuart Adamson, so much so that for about two weeks I thought it was the greatest record ever written. Bear in mind I was just 16-and-a-bit- years of age and my tastes, like my hormones, were all over the place. My tastes have evolved somewhat but I still think this is a great piece of work.
3. Sweet Suburbia
The debut single for Virgin Records in September 1978 and which, true to the punk ethos, was kept off the debut LP. As Peel reminds us, it only hit #70 when it was worthy of so much more. The lyrics of the final verse, from about 1:45 to 1:57 are priceless…
Birth and birth and birth and birth and birth
Live and live and live and live and live
Mate and mate and mate and mate and mate
Die and die and die and die and die
4. A Woman In Winter
There were only 18 months between Into The Valley and A Woman In Winter, and yet the latter sounds as if it is a band who are five or ten years down the road in their career such is the quantum leap in sound and ambition. The title of this song would also be the name of a movie directed by Richard Jobson in 2006 – footage from which would be used as the basis for the promo video for the Arab Strap single Speed-Date.
The prompt follow-up to Into The Valley was surprisingly not lifted from the debut LP as the band were already well on their way to the follow-up LP by which time they had lost a drummer. It’s maybe not quite their finest moment and it hasn’t dated too well, but it still has that great one-word shouty chorus to get the juices flowing.
6. The Saints Are Coming
It doesn’t matter that U2 and Green Day got their paws on this many years later with their versions raising monies for victims of Hurricane Katrina (the song was chosen partly for its lyric about storms and drowning and partly because the NFL team in New Orleans are The Saints).
This is a belter of a new wave anthem. An absolute belter. If the band had recorded this and then broke up without anything else seeing the light of day, it would be high up on the list of cult hits.
The re-mixing of Days In Europa LP also saw the release of the updated version of Animation which was regarded as one of the strongest songs to emerge from the process. To the surprise of many, including this fan, it stalled at #56so becoming the first flop single in a long while.
2. Out Of Town
Lifted from the third LP The Absolute Game, this really had the potential to be a great radio-friendly single but the band insisted on more experimental and less typical cuts being lifted as 45s.
3. T.V. Stars and 4. Of One Skin (live)
Track 3 on Side B is one of the greatest and funniest b-sides ever recorded. This wasit as captured at the Marquee in London on 1 November 1978. It is still played live in the current shows although many of the names have been updated to make it more contemporary. But the chorus remains “Albert Tatlock”. Overseas and younger readers can click here to find out more about our Albert….
It segues straight into another live track, this time from the Hammersmith Odeon show in London on 20 October 1980 as part of the tour to promote The Absolute Game.
Of One Skin was originally a b-side to The Saints Are Coming as well as bring on the debut LP Scared To Dance; it was a real joy that this was included on Fanfare and to be honest was one of the main reasons I bought it back in the day.
5. Charade and 6. Circus Games
Once again, the decision was taken to weld these two tracks with no gap between them.
I remember being disappointed by Charade on its release as it felt a bit of a con to follow up a 45 entitled Masquerade with one that had a similar sounding word. It’s still my least favourite single of theirs and probably wouldn’t have made the cut in a standard ICA.
Circus Games was the lead single off The Absolute Game and the last time the band would crack the UK Top 40 singles chart in July 1980.
I don’t know why, but this song caused quite an emotional reaction within my then 17-year old self. Maybe it was the use of the kids choir on backing vocals; maybe it was that the lyric seemed to convey a really sad and epic tale although I couldn’t quite work out what it was meant to be about; or maybe it was just that the guitar playing, which seemed to come from a totally different place than any of my other heroes of the day, just got into my brain and caused a reaction I wasn’t expecting. One of their most enduring songs and a perfect way to end the ICA. Except….
3. Test-Tube Babies
The three-track debut on No Bad Records, recorded in October 1977 and released in February 1978; and as John Peel reminds us above, attributed to Richard Jolson on vocals; this is a different version of Charles than that which would appear on Scared To Dance a few months later.
Here’s to the next 1500 postings, hopefully.