The Skids’ rise and fall revolved around Richard Jobson — singer, writer, creative dilettante. Emerging from Scotland as a promising punkish quartet playing literate and challenging rock music with anthemic proclivities, under Jobson’s leadership the Skids became more and more pretentious and less and less a band, finally evaporating into the mist after a miserable fourth LP, recorded as a duo. The first three albums, however, offer a precious body of inspiring and unique rock’n’roll with obvious Scottish blood. In hindsight, it’s easy to see what role guitarist Stuart Adamson (now a star in his own right with Big Country) played in defining the Skids’ sound.
Wide Open, a four-song 12-inch on red vinyl, contains two inspired successes in “The Saints Are Coming” and “Of One Skin,” both of which also appear on the similarly excellent Scared to Dance. Using loud guitar and semi-martial drumming for its basis, Jobson’s hearty singing sounds like an 18th century general leading his merry troops down from the hills into glorious battle. Two other standouts on the LP (“Into the Valley” and “Hope and Glory”) maintain the style but are different enough to keep things exciting. (The US release on Virgin substitutes two tracks and has an altered song order.)
Bill Nelson produced the Skids’ (with a new drummer and bassist) second album, Days in Europa, but the match-up proved problematic. In polishing and refining the band’s sound even a little, he smoothed off the vital edge. There’s less gusto in the grooves, although some songs (like “Working for the Yankee Dollar,” “Charade” and “Animation”) shine through regardless.
While the lineup remained stable for The Absolute Game, a new producer took over the helm. Mick Glossop did a good job presenting Jobson’s widening vision amidst semi-grandiose arrangements, but the blooming Jobson ego had led the band a long way from its early forthrightness. Parts of The Absolute Game are just arty pretense, but the inclusion of substantial, engaging material makes it a reasonable addition to the collection. Strength Through Joy, a bonus album of finished studio outtakes, came with early pressings — interesting, but not essential.
After a few more changes in the lineup, only Jobson and bassist-cum-multi-instrumentalist Russell Webb remained Skids. Joined by an all-star guest cast of ten, they made Joy, a failed concept album about Scotland. To call it bad is curt but realistic.
Fanfare, released after the sinking group finally (mercifully) ceased, is an excellent compilation of singles and album tracks that serves as the perfect introduction to the Skids’ magic. Six years later, the Dunfermline CD appeared, reprising Fanfare (though deleting one cut) and adding seven more, only one (“Scared to Dance”) of which is truly consequential.
After turning the Skids into a joke with his absurd pretensions, Richard Jobson — on his way to a career as a television host — effetely pursued poetry and preciousness, allying himself with assorted artsy types. Meanwhile, Stuart Adamson got on with Big Country, turning the Skids’ anthemic Scottishness into a salable guitar-rock commodity, furthering pan-ethnic experimentation in service of arena metal.
Released the same year as the Skids ended, Jobson’s first solo album, The Ballad of Etiquette, was a collaboration with Virginia Astley, John McGeoch and someone named Josephine. The LP, released on Bill Nelson’s Cocteau label, consists of the would-be poet’s recitations over lovely music, some of it adapted from pieces by Debussy and Britten. Piano, clarinet, flute, sax and guitar provide a much more enticing component than Jobson’s unpleasantly accented readings.
Alternating spoken passages and artless singing, and playing piano and guitar, Jobson (with such sitting-room associates as pianist Cecile Bruynoghe, reedman Steven Brown, Blaine Reininger, Astley and Durutti Columnist Vini Reilly) fills the two discs of The Right Man with the audio equivalent of an especially boring and pretentious Masterpiece Theatre. To be fair, the dramatic story (“Ten Thirty on a Summer Night”) that fills Side Four is engrossing, and the music is lovely, but beware of ex-punks reciting lines like “In Aragon I lost a love/The Pyrenees so high above/To England hailed away from Spain/I promise you I am happy to be here again.”
Issued as a record with an illustrated booklet containing exactly the same text, 16 Years of Alcohol is a spoken-word autobiographical memoir in seventeen parts, occasionally accompanied by glimmers of keyboard music. The writing is incisive and captivating, but the presentation is perplexing: it’s not something anyone would listen to twice, and who would bother reading this were it not included with an album?
Amid all this serious art, Jobson took some time to join with Russell Webb (ex-Skids), John McGeoch and John Doyle (both ex-Magazine) to form the short-lived Armoury Show, a band whose resemblance to Big Country didn’t escape notice. Waiting for the Floods is not a bad album, it’s just a shame Jobson had to take such a long way ’round to get back to where he started.