The Skids’ Richard Jobson learns the hard way
“The only thing I have learned from the whole of the new wave is that I hate rock ‘n’ roll; and although I know that it looks as if i love the idea, I don’t want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star either. What I do want to be is a successful writer.”
The person behind their crushing words is, surprisingly, Richard Jobson, singer and lyricist with The Skids. What is so surprising about his statement is that The Skids are one of the few new wave bands who are still on their way up, and are still constantly changing, rather than doing one simple formula to death.
What is also unusual, is that these words come from a man who seems to have all the qualifications to become a star. He’s just 19, he has talent, looks, and the ability to adapt while still keeping his individuality.
“I suppose everybody outside of the band did try to put me into the role of leader / spokesman for a while,” he says, sprawling across his hotel bed.
“I am the most talkative, but it was getting to the stage where I had to decide whether I really wanted to end up like a Bob Geldof or a Jimmy Pursey and have everyone know who I am when I walk down the street. I decided that I didn’t want to end up a household name.
“Even the things that were going down I didn’t like that much. everywhere you saw Richard says this, Richard says that, followed by an ‘in-depth’ study of my character which always ended up making me look like some ignorant yob.
“I felt like an advert on the back of a cornflake packet – collect four tokens and send off for your free life size cardboard cut-out.”
As you can see, despite his obvious pride in the new Skids album, Richard’s dislike of the music business in all its aspects has only increased.
“It’s all so traditional,” explodes Richard. “The record companies and newspapers haven’t changed the system at all in the past twenty years! You still just hope to get over to America and then if you hit it off you’ve really made it – which means you become comfortable tax exiles.
“Bands are forever saying that they can break the system and they never do – they just become parodies of the people that they despise.
“I think the real meaning of the words ‘music business’ is compromise,” he continues. “there’s just no place for art in rock ‘n’ roll because everything is measured in terms of commercial gain, and art will always come bottom of that list.
“Sometimes I even think that the lyrics I write could be damaging to what The Skids are doing because the kids just aren’t interested, and if you don’t get commercial success, you’ve had it.”
I suggest at the moment they do seem to be getting their own way – experimenting and changing, yet without losing the commercial aspects of their sound.
“Not necessarily,” Richard argues.
We didn’t want ‘Charade’ released as a single
“Take ‘Charade’ for instance – we (the band) didn’t want that song to be put out as a single. it was the first one that was released without any kind of hype to help it along, like the way we had used white vinyl or a limited edition of two singles for the price of one, as we did on ‘Masquerade’,” he says bluntly.
“The band had wanted its follow-up to be either ‘Animation’ or a five minute version of ‘Working For The Yankee Dollar’. And as ‘Charade’ was by their standards a commercial failure, we could have been right,” he adds dryly.
Though Richard’s outlook seems distinctly pessimistic, ‘Days In Europe’ is one thing which he is more than happy with; and if he was talkative before, his urge to let words flow now is positively unstoppable!
“I’ve used the battle theme throughout,” he enthuses, “I had used it in the past but not very well so that it ended up very mixed up. I was still scared to do it directly – but everybody does know what is behind the general feel.”
The album in fact centres around the theme of a soldier and an athlete in those sensitive years immediately before World War 2. The cover is actually an adapted poster from the Olympics of 1936, held in Hitlerite Germany.
In the ensuing conversation up popped the question of Nazism, and the accusations that The Skids are merely glorifying it – one which they vigorously deny.
“Everybody had told me that it’s a dangerous climate to come up with an album like this, but I just said forget it. The climate means nothing to me. I just tried to project an image that was in my mind and as far as I’m concerned I did it.
“There’s just one song that is about an Aryan (the Nazi ideal of a super race), the title track, but even then there seemed to be so much pressure on me that I changed it to Ariean. It may not seem a great change but it was still a compromise, and though I made the decision I think now that it was a mistake.
“I’m not prepared to accept any criticism for encouraging Nazism because what I’ve done gives no glory to it – because I’m totally indifferent about the whole affair.”
Richard admits he didn’t research the subject – he just used what he’d read and heard and seen.
“The songs don’t really need research anyway as they’re not factual and just rely on general atmosphere for effect.
“People are forever complaining that they cannot understand my lyrics,” he continues, anticipating the next question.
“It’s because the songs don’t have a direct objective to find and work from, and they simply haven’t been taught to understand anything like that. It is exactly the same with writing, which is what I intend to end up doing with my life.”
Another criticism levelled at the album is that there is an unhealthy obsession with Death and Glory – something which Richard sees in a different light.
“It’s not so much death and glory as survival that I’m writing about – and that’s something which everyone in the world is fighting for. I just chose a soldier and an athlete as two vivid examples.
“The track ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est (Pro Patria Mori’) (it is fitting and honourable to die for one’s country) is a look at the apathy of a soldier.
“I took a fellow who was shell shocked in the trenches and had him seeing two ballet dances in the distance – to make the whole thing look romantic. At the time of the World Wars everything was made to look as if it was romantic to go and fight for the country. It was only when they had actually gone that the people realised the horror of it all.”
Live, The Skids’ show has become far more impressive. On this tour they’re using a back slide projection unit (the same one as used by Pink Floyd) on stages which are large enough and an improved lighting display.
Though the new numbers feature prominently in the show, they do on the whole take a couple of listens to really hit home – and though the show was very good, the fans were still reserved about the new material.
“I often feel that any hostility the crowd feel about a new sound, or old favourites being nudged out to make way for new numbers is directed at me, with a kind of ‘He’s the cause of this, everything was alright until he turned up’ kind of attitude,” says Alastair Moore, the new permanent addition to the Skids’ line-up.
He’s another lad from Fife, and he’s known the others since he was at school with them. The current line-up is brought up to strength by Rusty Egan, who has been guesting since original drummer Tom Kellichan left.
Though for the past few years Alastair has been training and performing as a classical musician, he does possess what seems to be a fundamental qualification for joining The Skids – a deep admiration for Bill Nelson!
“Bill is the greatest influence I’ve ever had,” claims Richard. “Not so much as a musician, because he’s a guitarist and I’m not – my little bit on stage is more of a pose than anything – but because he’s got so many more sides to him than immediately show through.
“It’s his intelligence I have been feeding off. He’s been slowly giving me his knowledge and I’ve been taking all I can get!
“He forms a great part of what I’m striving for right now. I’ve given up drinking and smoking and I’m trying to get myself both physically and mentally fit because,” he pauses, “I honestly want to be one better than everybody else.
“It’s not because I’ve found any kind of religion, unless you say it’s my own religion, and I know that sounds ridiculous, but if you’re intelligent but not one-dimensional you can command respect, and respect is the biggest thing in the world.
“I don’t want to respect fools and I never have done – but that’s what you often get by being in a rock an’ roll band. You get a bunch of fools respecting you for what – for jumping around for an hour while they call out to hear ‘Albert Tatlock’!
“Even that song,” he continues, still firing out words at machine gun pace, “was a humorous song – to show that you should never become too absorbed in anything so that it becomes an obsession – which is what people had thought had happened to me with the death line.
“I wrote a totally ridiculous lyric just to show that I wasn’t the abominable nutcase that they thought I was. Again it was a compromise to prove that just because people say I’m something, it doesn’t mean that they are right, and now I hate myself for doing it!
“But then,” he finishes, calming down, “I don’t think that anybody will reach a stage in the music business where they don’t have to compromise or to prove themselves the whole time. You’re just playing a role – an idol of some kind, a character that doesn’t really exist to hundreds of people.
“It’s just that when you let the dream take over the reality you can end up destroying yourself – and that’s something I’m never intending to let happen . . . “
Smash Hits, November 1979