JOBSON’S CHOICE – The Skids’ Frontman Discusses His Life, Music And Upcoming Warts ‘n’ All ‘Evening With…’ Acoustic Tour

If ever there’s a walking embodiment of punk’s have-a-go attitude, it’s Richard Jobson.

Exploding out of gang-ridden working class Fife in the late 1970s, The Skids frontman’s sheer exuberance and creative drive knew no bounds.

Merging raw energy, with abstract imagery and the sparkling guitar lines of co-songwriter Stuart Adamson, The Skids were among the most successful and prolific punk bands of their generation, producing four albums between 1977 and 1982.

But ‘Jobbo’ wasn’t done there, articulate and humorous, with a steely self-confidence, he’s gone on to become a poet, novelist, filmmaker, reviewer and latterly actor – with a part in the new Danny Boyle-backed Alan McGee biopic Creation Stories.

Having returned to music in earnest, reviving The Skids with a new album Burning Cities in 1917 – he’s about to bear his soul on an acoustic tour promoting this year’s unplugged album Peaceful Times.

Jobson, who published an autobiography in 2018, will tell the story of his life and lyrics, in between playing songs both self-penned and by artists who helped shape his career.

As he tells Matt Catchpole, it’s been a journey of staggering highs and amazing experiences, but with its fair share of failure and tragedy along the way.

Fast-talking, open and honest, he talks about his relationship with Adamson,  his genuine surprise at the success of The Skids and his horror at being accused of gobbing on a Nolan sister.

‘Out of our coffins’ – Jobson centre with the re-activated Skids

Please explain the concept behind tour ‘evening with’ Autumn tour

The Skids just released their first ever acoustic album, which was kind of a remodelling of all the songs and I think we surprised everybody by making a record that reinterpreted The Skids in a very positive way. We thought we’d go out and just see how it works to play it live with acoustic guitars. But there’s plenty to talk about with these songs. A lot of Skids fans often misinterpret what the lyrics are about. It’s a great opportunity to explain what they’re about. But also the recent Skids journey of getting out of our coffins and getting back out and playing has been a remarkable success. The first gig we did when we started playing again was in a little pub and the last one we did a few weeks ago was The Albert Hall! So, the journey from nothing to that has been extraordinary. Then, in amongst all of that is my own story, which has got many ups and downs, some of the experiences I’ve had in life, from making movies, to writing books, there’s so many people that I’ve worked with. And so many failures, I’m not just there to talk about the glory days, you’ve got to talk about all the times when it didn’t work.

And you’ve got the father and son team Bruce and James Watson from Big Country working with you

Yeah we went and tried it the other day in Forfar and it had a real connection with the audience. It was a very honest, candid, warts ‘n’ all kind of evening. We played most of the songs from the acoustic album and then we played a couple of Armory Show songs – we did Castles In Spain acoustically and it was great. We were slightly nervous about the whole project, but now we’re not because people seem to really enjoy the honesty and having a laugh, you know, I’m taking the piss out of myself, but also being very candid about what went right and what went wrong.

Circus Games – The Skids in full flight

And The Skids joint headline a home town double header with Big Country in Dunfermline in December – you must be looking forward to that?

Yeah, we did it last year and we’re doing it again this year. It’s just a nice event where the people in the home town obviously have an affection for both bands – even though Skids’ music and Big Country music are entirely different. I’m actually going out and doing The Armoury Show in October as well. I hadn’t listened to the album since we made it, so I bought myself a copy on Amazon {other outlets are available} and I was actually blown away by how good it was. The people who ask me about it are all these young musicians – and I hadn’t realised there was a kind of cult following. We calling it Armory Show, because that’s what it should’ve been in the first place not The Armoury Show – it was named after an exhibition in New York in 1913. I’ve written a little book to go along with it that’s the story of the exhibition and the story of my relationship with John McGeogh {Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Limited}, the legendary guitarist, who’s sadly no longer with us. I’ve got a bit of a legacy of guitar players who are no longer here.

The Armoury Show – Jobson’s post-Skids art-rock outfit released just one album ‘Waiting for the Floods’

Yes, more about that later…You decided to reactivate The Skids for the 30th anniversary I believe?

Yes, it was just for a bit of fun really. And then my friend Youth, the producer guy from Killing Joke, suggested we write some songs in the style of, or as a homage to, The Skids and I said: ‘That would be ridiculous!’ but he said: ‘Let me have a go’ and I let the band hear it and they said: ‘Oh my God. let’s have a go at this!’ And then there was no stopping us! Youth produced the album and we had a little gem on our hands. We didn’t think it was going to change the world, but it did feel relevant at least and it got us off the hook of just being a nostalgia, heritage trail band.

Did you feel any kind of responsibility to Stuart when you were making that album?

In the sense that I wanted to write good songs, yes. But Stuart left The Skids. We did our fourth album Joy without him. But I think it’s got the energy, some of the guitar lines might have the ghost of Stuart Adamson in there, but I think it actually feels quite contemporary. We took our energy and Youth gave it a modern sound.

You clearly enjoyed working with Youth do you think you’ll collaborate again?

I think so. He wants us to do a covers album of all our favourite songs, which is a really nice idea. And then maybe go back and do another album. There’s plenty to write about isn’t there?

Any of those covers that you can reveal?

Not yet – they might start emerging through the acoustic tour. I think songs that were pivotal for us – songs by Alex Harvey and David Bowie and some of our favourite, maybe obscure, punk songs – that meant a lot to us.

Melancholy Soldiers – the original Skids line-up

Did you always feel you had unfinished business with The Skids?

No, it just came out of the blue. Sometimes I’ve been a bit dismissive of the band in the past, but I thought why not just give it a go and see what happens. And it really worked, People in England and Ireland kept asking us to come and it culminated in us playing the Albert Hall, so pretty extraordinary.

Were you worried about how your voice would hold up?

Not really. I mean I wasn’t expecting us to be playing so many gigs, or doing big festivals like Isle of Wight or the Rebellion punk festival. But we approached it in a very humble way and we gave it everything we’ve got – all guns blazing – and it worked.

What inspired you to form a punk band in the first place – how aware were you of the scenes happening in the US and UK?

Well, I was certainly aware of a lot of American bands. I had an older brother who was pretty tuned in to cool music, so I was already an Iggy Pop fan. I was very aware of The Velvet Underground and MC5, Patti Smith – these were all people that were part of my life. So, when the Sex Pistols came along in ’76 it just made perfect sense. I was only 15 then, still at school, but it was just the kind of music and attitude that made sense to how we were feeling about our lives. And on John Peel you were suddenly hearing other bands like The Buzzcocks, The Banshees and it was amazing. I loved it so much and we formed The Skids very very quickly. And we were very lucky because all the English bands who came up to Scotland – there weren’t really any bands to support them – so we got all of those gigs. We supported everybody – you name it we played with them. And then all of those people were becoming friends of mine. To this day I’m still very close to the ones that are still with us. Paul Cook from the Pistols came up and sang with us at Rebellion the other night – we did a version of Pretty Vacant – and I shared an apartment with Steve Severin for 10 years or so.

How did you get on with fellow Scottish punk bands at the time?

I think there was a kind of rivalry, but at the same time there was a camaraderie, because it was dangerous to be a punk in Scotland at the very beginning, because people don’t like people who look different. And we certainly looked different! And we looked threatening ‘cos punk had quite an edge to it, it was quite aggressive looking. So people would be out to get us and so I think we tended to just stick together. Some bands were better than other bands, undoubtedly. But in all honesty, I’ve never been competitive in that way. My best friends are all guys and women who were in bands from that era and I never thought of them with jealousy, envy or any disrespect. I just see Viv Albertine {The Slits}, who I worked with, as a pal. Youth’s a pal. Steve Severin’s a friend. Paul Cook’s still one of my best friends.

Vanguard’s Crusade – Jobson at the mic

There definitely seems to have been a community aspect to punk, particularly in the early days

You’d find yourself in a hub, like a cinema that played obscure arthouse movies and you’d guarantee that Siouxsie would be there, Jah Wobble would be there, Rusty Egan {one time Skids drummer} might be there – I’m talking about The Gate cinema in Notting Hill. Similarly, in Scotland before I moved to London, you hung out in cinemas and bookshops, or music stores. They were the three things that were inextricably linked.

Were you surprised when punk suddenly invaded the mainstream and songs were getting into the charts?

It was surprising. The Radio 1 Dj’s were quite creaky then and had decided to turn their back on punk, if not ban the records. But The Skids were on Top of the Pops really quickly with Into The Valley and the next day our lives had changed. Suddenly we were getting played on daytime radio. We broke and broke pretty big. It all happened very very quickly. But it was not something we expected. I’m always surprised to see anybody in the audience, let alone a full house!

Who were you on TOTP with – any bizarre juxtapositions?

Yes, all of them were bizarre, It was like the weirdest programme in the world. We were on with Showaddywaddy, or Leo Sayer or Gilbert O’Sullivan and we were thinking ‘What the fuck is this?’ And according to The Nolans – I gobbed on them. But I can’t recall that. It’s hardly government changing politics is it? Gobbing on a Nolan (chuckles), but they say I did it, it’s in their book, but I have no recollection of doing such a terrible thing.

Do you think punk lost its way when that initial rush of individualism was replaced by a uniformity of leather jackets and spiky hair?

Fashion will always override everything. Punk started off as being very individual and then once the word spread people just copied. That was always gonna happen. Most of the creative people involved with punk didn’t look like that. The people at the creative edge always had their own very distinct look. But everything becomes a cliché in the end. Hey, that’s a title for an album!

Yes, it’s a great line! You came out of gang culture in Dunfermline – were you in trouble as a kid?

Yeah, I was quite feral, I was quite an aggressive young guy. And I guess that’s what appealed to Stuart when he first met me – he thought this guy could be a really great frontman because he’s fearless. But unfortunately, I brought trouble to most of our gigs. They always ended up in massive fights and stuff and I was at the heart of it in those early days. Hopefully I grew out of it, though I was recently being interviewed by someone who said: ‘It says on your interests that you like a bit of a row, you like rowing?’ I said: ‘I think you’ll find that’s rowing’ {as in boats} – that’s the standard of British journalism in Brexit land!

You sought out libraries and kind of self-educated – what do you think drove you to do this?

I was always a voracious reader from early childhood. My elder brother, introduced me to bizarre music from a young age like Frank Zappa and The Grateful Dead and stuff, but he also thought I’d like science fiction, so I was brought up on a diet of Brian Aldiss, John Wyndham, Isaac Asimov. So by the time I got to David Bowie it all made perfect sense. I loved stories that had that kind of otherness about them. I spent a lot of time on my own and so I read a lot and spent a long time in Dunfermline library. That’s where I started to write and form songs like The Saints Are Coming, Into the Valley, Working for the Yankee Dollar – they all came out of that library.

And The Saints Are Coming was written about the death of a friend of yours who’d been in the army?

Yes. The Saints Are Coming, Into the Valley, Melancholy Soldiers, were all about a strange thing that happened in our community, which was very working class – a lot of coal miners and people who worked on the docks. The choice you had was to follow that route or join the British army. And with de-industrialisation there were no jobs – so a lot of my friends ended up serving in Northern Ireland. I’m from an Irish Catholic background, so the chances of me ever being in the British army were zero. But my friends were all from Protestant backgrounds and they ended up joining up and the change was dramatic in how awful their lives became.

Much of your work has been inspired by the War Poets – what is it about their work that interests you?

I think it was because they were all so young. Certainly in the First World War the people in the trenches were children, a lot of them were like 18 and younger. When you’re that age you’re not normally attuned to horror and death, but they were thrown into it at The Somme, or Passchendaele, or whatever. Just awful, awful stuff.

Did it Come as a shock when Stuart left The Skids?

Not really, Stuart left the band a hundred times, but he just always came back – after I went and cajoled him to come back. The last time he left I just thought maybe he should go, because he was so unhappy. My journey in life was just quite exciting because I wanted to go and just have so many different experiences, whereas Stuart wanted to go back to Scotland. He wanted to be with his partner, who became his wife. He wanted to have children. He wanted to have a mortgage. He wanted to have a house. He saw himself in a more traditional way and I was this crazy little feral thing that just wanted to hang out. By that time I’d been living in Berlin for a while. Stuart was just like – why would you want to do that? In 1979 Berlin was a scary place, but to me it wasn’t. It was an amazingly exciting place.

‘I was just this crazy little feral thing’ – Jobson was 15 when he joined The Skids

How did you feel about carrying on without Stuart?

Stuart was an amazing musician – we had been doing some adventurous stuff with {third album} The Absolute Game – really quite interesting developments you know and I thought that was where we were headed, Because The Skids were always quite brave, you know, we don’t get much credit for that. We changed a lot, tried different things. I just think his head was somewhere else and I think that’s displayed quite clearly with the music he created with Big Country, which is much more traditional rock music and the lyrics are very romantic. Whereas The Skids lyrics were much more obscure.  And then I went off to do The Armoury Show, which was more of a clear representation of what I was about I think. A bit colder, a bit tougher, a bit more industrial. At the time they were writing In A Big Country and Fields of Fire and that was partly the zeitgeist of the times. But I wanted to do something that challenged me a little bit more.

Did you have any sort of rivalry between the two bands?

No. Not at all. My ex-wife did his PR for god’s sake. Stuart Adamson and I never fell out. We went our separate ways but we were always very civil to one another. I don’t think I’ve ever said anything bad about him and I’m not aware of him saying anything bad about me. It’s just something that happens in life, you just move apart. You can fake it and pretend you’re still the people you were, or you can say this isn’t working anymore. I mean it was a shock when he left. I’d just lost my girlfriend – she’d committed suicide just before. So I was already in kind of a strange place myself, so the idea that I had to put up with him and his emotional disquiet didn’t really make sense to me at the time. So I just didn’t care, if you want the truth, I just didn’t care.

‘I had no idea he was having difficulties’ – Jobson on Stuart Adamson

How did you feel when you heard he had taken his own life?

It was a shock. I had no idea he was having difficulties. Our private lives never connected anymore so I’d no idea. I’d really turned my back on music at that point in time. If you’re successful to the level like Stuart was – they were practically a stadium band – and then, within a period of about 18 months, nobody cares anymore, you’re anonymous. That must be a hugely difficult thing to deal with. There you were selling out these big places and then suddenly you’re not doing that anymore. I think during that period people weren’t so loyal anymore. So, I think he may have suffered from that a little bit. That never affected me because I got out and moved on to other things like writing and making movies, so I’ve always kept myself alive in different places.

You recorded several spoken word albums, sometimes accompanied by Virginia Astley – how did The Skids’ fans take to that?

Well most of them quite badly (laughs) they thought it was pretentious gobbledygook. But I don’t really care, I was quite fearless as a young guy, so I just went out and did stuff I wanted to do. And now of course people have a different view of those albums – they hold them quite dear now. They were never made to make money – that wasn’t the point of them. I made them ‘cos they were in me and I wanted to have a go at it and that is kind of still with me to this day. I’ve just been in a movie – Danny Boyle’s making The Creation Records story and I’m playing Alan McGee’s father. And I really enjoyed it. I haven’t changed much really, I’m still willing to have a go at stuff.

Your book The Speed of Life – was described as a love letter to Bowie – how important was he to you?

He was a massive part of my life. He was the first person that made me feel it was okay to be different. I have epilepsy so just having that alone means you’re different. I just loved his courage, how he moved on and changed and became different characters – I loved all that. That’s embedded in my book, really. He knew about it before he died. Alan Edwards used to manage The Skids and he was still involved with David, so he told him all about it and David was quite intrigued, but sadly he never got to read it. I’d finished it just before he died, but I re-wrote the ending, so it actually gave me an ending, which I never expected. My new novel just came out, Into The Void. It’s the story of a private banker, who actually is not from here, but he wants to understand human sensation, why we crave sensation. I guess it’s a hymn to nihilism of some kind. It’s a got a small scent of sci-fI, but it’s essentially a neo-noir thriller set in Edinburgh.

From punk to model citizen – Jobson also had a successful career as a TV presenter

Lastly, if I can ask you as a Scot about Brexit – Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – are you worried about the future of the union now?

Oh it’s finished, the union’s finished. If Brexit happens in the way it’s going to happen with these ideological lunatics at the helm. I’ve just been in Scotland working and I would say 100 per cent of my friends did not vote for independence in the original referendum – but they would all now vote for it. They’re very intelligent people and they rationalised what it meant to leave the UK before. But one of the essential hooks for them was being a member of the European Union. No, the union’s finished. Offering up a very simple yes or no referendum to a very complicated question was idiotic in the first place. I’m a European, my father’s from a German family, my mother’s from an Irish family. I’ve lived in Berlin and Brussels longer than I’ve lived in the UK. I’m a proud European, so the idea that English nationalism is ripping us all out of the EU is absolutely a clear reason why the UK is finished. There will be a united Ireland now in our lifetime, which I never thought would happen.

So it’s kind of come full circle from your early days with the Skids – having a right-wing government in power and a very divided society

Yes exactly, And these people are frighteningly right wing. When you hear Dominic Raab {Foreign Secretary} and others speak, it’s quite scary stuff!

  • Songs and Stories – an evening with Richard Jobson & Bruce & Jamie Watson of Big Country – kicks off at The Stables, Milton Keynes on 1 September. Full dates and tickets here.
  • For more about Richard Jobson and The Skids visit his Twitter page.

About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch

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