Over a couple of weekends in February I've been privileged to see one of my absolute fave live bands put on two cracking gigs in two great venues. I'm talking of course of the mighty Skids, improbably but wonderfully reborn and reinvigorated for the 21st century. My friends in Borrowed Time had supported Richard Jobson and co. on half a dozen dates of this tour and so, when I was asked if I wanted to go down to Southampton in the van with the BT boys, I couldn't say no. ( Well, I say "boys" but the lovely Helen was driving the van and running the merch stall too. What a star! )
The Brook in Southampton was a cool venue - an old pub converted into an events space, deceptively large inside with a strangely hipster-friendly bar upstairs. I helped Borrowed Time load their gear into the venue and then we had the pleasure of watching Dunfermline's legendary Skids doing their soundcheck ( see photo above ). After a bit of instrumental noodling and setting levels on the mixing desk, Jobbo came onto the stage, gave my mate Glenn a quick salute, and then they were straight down to business.They played a spine-tingling version of the epic Arena and then a jaw-dropping cover of Bowie's "Heroes" - it was a special moment, a real privilege to see and hear ahead of the actual gig. Below are Cliff and Glenn from Borrowed Time, being heroes, just for one day...
After a quick trip to a local American-themed fast food joint for a tasty veggie burger and cheesy chips ( this is life on the road, folks! ) I had a very brief chat with Skids guitarist Jamie Watson and then headed back to The Brook to see Borrowed Time kick off the evening. ( Literally. Rob was doing high kicks all over his limited space on the cramped stage. )
The BT boys were on fine form - in fact, this was possibly the best gig I've seen them play. The almost constant gigging has paid off and they are now tighter and more professional than ever. They went down a storm with the Southampton audience who clamoured for signed CDs after the gig which must have made the band feel like they'd finally hit the big time. It was a lot of fun, especially for me and Helen who were down the front as the only representatives of the band's home fanbase, and could see how engaged the Soton punks were with the set. Glenn even dedicated the song Oceans to me. Which was nice.
And then it was time for the main event. The traditional back-masked burbling of Peaceful Times heralded the appearance of The Skids who hit the stage running with the powerful punch of Animation, followed by the stop-start lunacy that is Of One Skin. The crowd went absolutely nuts for this one which really set the tone for the evening.
The audience was a seething mass of excitement ( no, really! ) as the band pummelled us with such titanic, singalong classics as Hurry On Boys, Working For The Yankee Dollar and The Saints Are Coming, while also dropping in a couple of crowd-pleasing songs from their comeback album, Kings Of The New World Order and One Last Chance. Jobbo was his usual ebullient, entertaining self, telling his tall tales of 1970s celebrity encounters ( TOTP, DLT. Pan's People,
Highlights of the set were a majestic version of A Woman In Winter ( my all-time fave Skids song ), a bruising, set-closing Out Of Town and the obligatory shout-along of TV Stars - Albert Tatlock!
TBH I could have done without the pointless cover version medley of Pretty Vacant and What Do I Get? ( which at least had some relevance when I saw them last, a couple of days after Pete Shelley died ) but the Southampton crowd loved that cheesy slice of Punk karaoke. And it was more than compensated for by two showings for the rollercoaster melancholy ( is there such a thing? ) of The Saints Are Coming, half way through the set and then again as an extra encore, Jobbo leading the crowd a capella -style through its mighty chorus.
This was a cracking gig - maybe my fave Skids performance and certainly the one to beat this year for any other band. It was loud, it was sweaty, I got covered in beer and pushed around... and I loved it! All too soon it came to an end, we hung around and chatted for a while ( briefly with Skids bass player, the legendary Bill Simpson ), loaded the gear back into the van, and then set off back to the Shire. It had been a truly wonderful day - thanks to Borrowed Time!
And a week later we did it all again, this time in my favourite venue the Gloucester Guildhall! ( As much as I love it, the Guildhall has gone down in my estimation over the last couple of years for relying heavily on dodgy tribute bands. Hopefully this Skids gig was evidence that there's still room for "proper" bands. ) This was intended as the final night of the tour, which made it very special, but another date had been added in Colchester which slightly undermined the Gloucester gig - and meant a lot more driving for the Skids tour mini-bus! Anyway, the buzz of anticipation was loud as I reached the Guildhall and located the BT boys, working their way through the backstage "rider". And this excitement had also brought many "old" faces from the local scene out for the night: the mighty Mark B ( my former comrade in the Death Planet Commandos), Andy K ( Demob / Noise Agents ), Baz ( Noise Agents / Borrowed Time ), those Bristol girls Nicky & Lindsey, Tony The Nose, Jamie & Sarah, Ben R ( Chinese Burn legend! ) and many more. It was great to see so many lovely people turn out for The Skids... and Borrowed Time...
There had been a few nerves in the BT camp ahead of this gig - the pressure was on as it was their first home town gig in some while and many contemporaries were there to see them - but I'm glad to say that ( apart from a couple of bum notes ) the boys smashed it! Songs like Bad Stranger, Under The Radar and The Day We Broke The World went down a treat with the Skids fans, and singer Rob was in fine, cocky form - throwing his disgusting socks into the audience and throwing some Yoga shapes on stage, while baiting fans from the Forest Of Dean: "Is there anyone in from the Forest tonight? Yeah? Thank God, I thought it was the drains." And they still made it out alive!
So, a triumphant last night of the tour for the guys. Glenn has said to me on more than one occasion "How did we get here? Who thought we'd end up supporting The Skids in our 50s?" It just shows that talent and hard work pay off even if you're living on borrowed time...
And then it was Skids time! Fife's finest came out to a rapturous welcome from the usually reserved Gloucester audience and went straight into Animation and Of One Skin. Yeah... the set was almost identical to the week before ( as well as a lot of Jobbo's patter ) which was fine because, hey it's The Skids!, but it did make things a bit predictable... here come the new songs, here's the Leo Sayer reference, here's the point where Jobbo introduces the band and calls guitarist Jamie "Ed Sheeran" and so on. It's a minor grumble because the band's performance was out of this world and the Guildhall did them proud with excellent sound and lighting, as ever.
One of the highlights of the gig was spotting fellow blogger David of David Rose's Gig Diaries fame in the crowd. I've been following David's excellent blog for a few years now and it was a pleasure to meet him at last. We managed to chat a bit during the mayhem and hopefully we'll catch up at other gigs further down the road.
( This photo above captures Bruce and Jamie Watson just before one of their Thin Lizzy-like double guitar showdowns. Which are awesome! )
After playing solid gold hits like Circus Games, Masquerade and ( of course! ) Into The Valley the
band played a glorious Scared To Dance, as the 23rd of February was 40 years to the day that the album was released. They then went one further and floored us all by dropping the set-listed Happy To Be With You and pulling out their cover of "Heroes" - which was just sublime. A wonderful moment in a wonderful night. And after a final, bruising reprise of Of One Skin, in which I got crushed against the stage barrier by the rabid crowd and unfortunately lost track of David, The Skids were gone.
I said a few words to some of the lovely people there who were similarly knocked out by the bands' performances and then headed for home, tired but happy. What a gig! In fact, what a pair of gigs!