Richard Jobson, singer songwriter with the Skids, chats with Kevin Cooper about dispelling the urban myth surrounding their second studio album Days In Europa, working with Bruce Watson, the Skids latest album Burning Cities and their tour to celebrate the Skid’s 40th anniversary.

Richard Jobson is a Scottish filmmaker, director, writer, and producer who also works as a television presenter, but he is best known as the singer songwriter of the Skids.

Jobson’s singing style with the Skids was highly distinctive, and whilst he wrote most of the lyrics it was the late Stuart Adamson who wrote most of the music before leaving to form his own band, Big Country.

The first Skids album, Scared To Dance, featured the hit 1979 single Into the Valley, which was the group’s most successful single. That album also featured The Saints Are Coming, which in September 2006 Green Day and U2 recorded as a cover version of the song for charitable purposes. The fourth and final album by the Skids, Joy, was almost entirely written by Jobson and Russell Webb.

Both Jobson and Webb later formed The Armoury Show which saw them release six singles and an album before they disbanded in 1988. In 2013 Jobson was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Arts) from Edinburgh Napier University.

Whilst currently on tour with the Skids to celebrate their 40th anniversary, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Richard how are you today?

I’m very well thanks Kevin how are you?

If you could see me I have got a smile from ear to ear today, just like Jack Nicolson as The Joker in Batman.

(Laughter) oh yes, and why is that has someone slashed your face (laughter).

I have been a fan of yours for many years now and it is fantastic to finally get to speak to you.

That’s very kind of you, thank you and also thanks for your support over the years. I have to tell you that it has been great speaking to people recently because there seems to be a deep affection out there for the music from that era. It’s been really nice for me to listen to their recollections of it never mind mine.

Well I have one of my own to add to that list but it doesn’t relate to the Skids, mine relates to The Armoury Show.

Oh really, bloody hell.

I went along to Rock City here in Nottingham to see The Armoury Show live. You came bounding out onto the stage to find that the audience numbers were a little thin on the ground. You took a look around the place and said “shit, have I gate-crashed someone’s birthday party” and then proceeded to blow everyone away for two hours.

(Laughter) did I really (laughter). Well I have to say that it was great; everything was such a laugh during that period. What you have to remember is that on the last tour that the Skids ever did included places such as the Hammersmith Odeon and the Glasgow Apollo; massive venues all of which were sold out and after that the Skids split up. After that Big Country went on to become huge whilst no one had really heard of The Armoury Show. They had heard of who we were but they had never really heard the music. I honestly don’t think that many people were interested in us at the beginning which was quite a shock to us because we expected to pick up a lot of the people from the Skids, Magazine and The Banshees, but in reality we didn’t really pick up any of them.

So that really was a bit of a shock. But I have to say that my attitude towards playing live is even if there is only ten people there, they have paid good money to see me and so I make sure that I deliver the goods. And that is the same on the current tour. All of the dates so far have been extraordinarily attended but it doesn’t matter to me if the venues are sold out or there is only ten people there, it’s the same thing, I will still be dancing badly and I will still be talking crap. These are the two certainties that you get if you come along to see the Skids (laughter).

The current tour is the Skids fortieth anniversary tour. Are you enjoy being back out on the road?

I think so (laughter). Originally it was just meant to be a couple of dates but people keep asking us if we could add a couple more we which agreed to do but didn’t ever expect it to be a huge amount. Just how wrong could we be (laughter). We are now touring from May of this year to the end of January next year. It is an enormous tour and the interest shown in the band has been extraordinary. So from the outset we all agreed that in no way did we want to be just a part of the whole nostalgia or heritage feel thing. We wanted to do something a little bit more pertinent to the world around us. So on that basis we decided to start recording some new material and see how that went and to be totally honest with you it has gone brilliantly well. In my opinion it is probably the best Skids album that has ever been made and that is very exciting.

Is Rock City here in Nottingham a must play venue?

Yes it is, it is absolutely a must play venue. And let me tell you we are going to lift the roof off the place when we play there on Friday 1st September. In Spinal Tap terms it is going to be up there in the elevens (laughter).

Do you have a title as yet for the new studio album?

Yes we do and I can tell you that it is called Burning Cities.

Where did the title come from?

To be honest it is a title that I have toyed with for many moons now. I am a humongous fan of Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht, the German poet, playwright, and theatre director in the 20th century. Brecht wrote a play called In The Jungle Of Cities which I used when I was in The Armoury Show and I have always toyed with coming back to that title because the song wasn’t quite what I wanted it to be. It didn’t quite have the meaning that I wanted it to have. So this opportunity that has arisen has allowed me the space to seriously consider having another go at this and this time perhaps come up with the lyrics that I really wanted to come up with initially.

I also think that the title is a reflection of the world that we are in. There is always an underlying feeling of badness; you just don’t know what is coming next. It has got an apocalyptic kind of feel about it and I have to warn you that my lyrics are not full of optimism. Funnily enough there is one song that I have written with Youth which is in fact Youth’s homage to the Skids. He really wanted to do something much more upbeat and we co-wrote a song called Up On The Moors which is a positive thing about nature and getting away from cities.

And when do you expect the album to be released?

I am hoping that the album will finally be released sometime in July. It is being mixed at the moment and has been produced by Youth who has previously worked with Snow Patrol, The Verve, The Jesus And Mary Chain, Pink Floyd, and Paul McCartney, so as you can see he is pretty big (laughter). Youth has also written some of the songs on the album with me and I have to say they sound pretty good. They really are something to be proud of.

What is the theme of the album?

The songs are about this crazy world that we are all living in at this moment. Their titles will tell you everything, Burning Cities, Into The Void, Refugee, Kings Of The New World Order, A World On Fire; these are all songs about the madness of what is going on all around us. We have found the voice, let’s just hope that people want to hear it. I feel that on this tour we have got to be honest with our audience, the majority of whom are there to hear the Skids classics but we are playing one or two new songs here and there and I have to say that the response to them has been pretty positive so far. The album is lyrically a reflection on urban life not being quite as wonderful as we are all being led to believe.

I think that there is a recurring theme throughout the album of a sense of despair, anger and a sense of not knowing where we are headed. I think that is how we all pretty much feel at the moment. The album is overtly political in its ambition but the songs have got a dynamic quality that hopefully will make you think back to what the Skids were all about. An energy together with a melodic quality of a band that was full of energy. No one can ever take that away from us other than old age. And here we are and I feel like I have got the same energy as I had when I joined the Skids when I was sixteen so god knows what that means. I might be deluded (laughter).

Taking aside the fact that it is the Skids fortieth anniversary just what has been the catalyst in getting the band back together, writing, recording and touring?

I think that primarily it was when our agent Pete came back to us and told us that there were an awful lot of people interested in this, and that he thought that it could go much wider if we really wanted to do it. I immediately thought that not only would it be a celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Skids, but it could also be a celebration of the book ‘Into The Valley’ which is currently being written by journalist Tim Barr who I have to say doesn’t seem to have grasped the concept of deadlines (laughter). Having said that I was slightly worried that people in reality wouldn’t actually be that interested but then Pete came back to us with a suggested tour of forty dates.

So just what do you do about something like that, life is all about experiences, grabbing them and going along with it so we are doing it. The good thing is that I personally know that it will lead to something. I already feel that because of the response that we are having to it. It has already led to us recording a new album which means that we will have to tour again next year because by then people will be familiar with the new material. Which also means that we might do something else next year, so who knows? It has opened up an awful lot of doors that I thought were closed. People have opened up those doors for us with open arms and I personally think that is genuinely exciting.

From a personal point of view does it feel good to be back?

Yes it does, although I have been off doing lots of different things since the days of the Skids. You earlier kindly mentioned The Armoury Show which obviously didn’t last as long as I would have liked. After that I went on to working in the theatre, television and film and I still continue to do all of those things. I directed a play last year and I will be directing a movie next year. So whilst it feels great to be back with the band once again, all of these things haven’t gone away, I am just trying to find the right spots for them all, making sure that they all work for me. So why should I close the door on something when everyone else is trying to rip it open. That is what I realised because sometimes I feel like I don’t want to do a thing anymore but once I start doing it I enjoy it so much.

At the moment I am having such a blast and that includes the rehearsals. If I am enjoying the rehearsals this much then what is the live experience going to be like (laughter). If I am honest with you then I would have to say that I was never a great recording artist, I always thought of myself as being more of a live guy. I loved playing live so it has brought something back to me that I had kind of forgotten about and boy it is such a refreshingly rejuvenating thing. All of the other things that I do I am in charge of all of it which takes an awful lot of work, but with the Skids I’m not in charge of anything. I am just in charge of one bit. So there is less pressure on me in many ways. Bruce (Watson) is taking as much of the responsibility as I am and I have to say, for me, that has been great.

As you have said, there are quite a few facets to Richard Jobson; TV presenter, director, writer, producer, singer, and songwriter. If we still had the old style passports where you had to state your occupation, which one would you put?

(Laughter) well they are all from the same person, it’s just taking my ideas into different mediums. I honestly just think that I am a very privileged person who has been allowed to be creative since he was fifteen years old. And more to the point, no one has locked me up yet in an asylum. They have kept me out there amongst the public which is quite surprising to me (laughter). So in answer to your question I would have to describe myself as a lunatic, but a creative lunatic (laughter).

Was there ever a time when you thought that you couldn’t do this again without Stuart (Adamson)?

No, I don’t think so. However, rephrasing your question I would say that if Bruce (Watson) wasn’t around then I simply wouldn’t do it. I need Bruce and his extraordinary musical ability together with his understanding of the music. Bruce has a pretty key understanding as to how Stuart worked because he worked with him for such a long time. Bruce just gets it, he gets just how Stuart played, and he gets the feeling that Stuart tried to put into his guitar playing; he understands all of that. So what I am trying to say is that without Bruce none of this would have been possible. It would have just been a Skids tribute band; however with Bruce being on-board we are free to express ourselves in a way that is not that far off from the original source.

When you were writing the new material for the album did you miss Stuart’s input?

No I don’t think so. I always felt as though the ghost of Stuart was in the room with us. He is always there and is never far away. We have written a few songs which contain Bruce’s melodies which are exactly as Stuart would have played them so no, I feel that his spirit is always with us. His ghost is with us all of the time in a very positive way. I feel that in no way is he looking down on us sneering and asking ‘what the hell are you guys doing’. I believe that he thinks that what we have done is brilliant and he feels that it is great and that we should get on with it.

I have to say that I feel that you are looking and sounding as good as ever.

Thank you that is kind of you to say. I have to say that I am feeling fit but I’m not quite so sure about the sounding part, I think that you may be being far too kind there (laughter). I certainly have no problem with the fitness side of things, I’m feeling strong, capable and more than able to deal with what is coming my way, I think (laughter). However, there is a slight sense of trepidation because we are playing so many dates but there is also a feeling of ‘wow, can you believe that people even care’. That is the thing that has clearly shocked me in all of this. So if they care enough to buy a ticket, I can assure you that I care enough to make sure that I perform to the absolute best of my capabilities.

What you have to remember is that back in the day the Skids gigs were a very physical experience and there will be people coming along for that. There will also be people there who have never experienced it before, so I want them to leave the gig going ‘fuck me, they were good and they really went for it’. I have been to see bands from my era who still exist, who just walk on stage, play a couple of songs, think that’s enough then walk off again. To me that simply is not enough; it’s not enough, you need to deliver a damn sight more than that. I’m aware of that and want us to deliver more than that. Also I like communicating with people; I love that part of the job so get yourself ready for a long evening.

You have mentioned it a couple of times now so let me ask you, does it worry you that people perceive the Skids as a heritage or tribute band?

I honestly don’t think that they will after this. I hope that they don’t at the moment because they haven’t really got that much to compare The Skids to. What you have to remember is that the Skids haven’t been out on tour whereas all of these other bands have been touring for years, and we’ve not done that. We have only played a couple of ‘one offs’ in order to celebrate anniversaries and things like that. This is the first time that we have actually done this in the past thirty-five years so there is something unique about it. When it became a much bigger thing than it was supposed to be in the beginning we decided there and then that it had to be more pertinent to the real world.

That is why we decided to go away and record the new album. We needed to see if we were still capable of making an album that captured some of the insanities that were going on in the world around us. So we are doing everything that we can to deflect that. However, there will be people who think that and they are quite within their rights to think that way. However, let me assure you that we are trying our best to make it more than that which is the fair response to your question.

Do you have a favourite Skids song?

That’s a very interesting question. If I hadn’t started rehearsing the songs and touring with them then I would have most probably have said that it was Animation. However, since we have started playing an awful lot of Skids songs it has kind of moved on to the song Hurry On Boys at the moment and possibly A Woman In Winter which were both from our last album The Absolute Game. But prior to that I normally say that Animation is my favourite Skids song but rehearsing and touring has changed that. Having said that however, I will now totally contradict myself and say that they are my favourite songs at the moment, and I suppose it is because they are fresh and they have a different kind of energy.

Plus I am so proud of the fact that we have managed to write songs that have got something about them rather than them just being derivative and parodies of what went before. They are certainly not that.

Now I hope that you will be able to confirm or dispel an urban myth surrounding the Skids second album Days In Europa which was released on 12th October 1979 and was subsequently hastily withdrawn from sale. Was the albums withdrawal from sale due to the rather Aryan looking artwork and type face used which many thought were reminiscent of the 1936 Olympics?

(Hysterical laughter) I think that you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned an urban myth. What happened with the cover was due to the fact that we released a second version of the album simply because Virgin Records didn’t like the Bill Nelson mix of the first album and they wanted it remixed. So they bought in a new engineer who remixed the album. At that point I said that I felt that we should offer our fan base a choice. They could either have the first one which was the Bill Nelson mix untouched in the original sleeve, or they could have the second one which is a different version of that album, together with a different sleeve. So that is where the whole myth surrounding the imagery that we used was born and continued to grow over the years.

So I can categorically say that the album was not taken off the shelves because of the imagery that we had used on the cover. That is absolute rubbish and is not the case at all. It is simply because we offered two totally different versions of the same album. It is just one of those urban myths that simply grows and grows (laughter). I have always found it funny that we had that sleeve and certain people thought that it was controversial which it isn’t controversial in the slightest. However, what makes me laugh is that the same people never say a word to Joy Division or New Order who took their names from pretty controversial arenas. No one ever seems to question them. The claim that we had to have the album withdrawn because of the sleeve is simply not true.

At what point in your career did you feel the most musically satisfied?

Wow where did that come from (laughter). I think that there has been a huge chasm from then to now really and I kind of felt that when we were recording Days In Europa I felt that the band had moved on. We had advanced really quickly from being a post-punk guitar band into something more interesting than that. I look really fondly back on the recording of that album as one of the peaks but then I have got to bridge that gap to now because I honestly don’t think that I have ever had so much fun as I am having today. Technology today suits the way that I like to work and think whereas before everything was really slow, laboured and would highlight my lack of musicianship. Whereas nowadays I am working with Youth and we finish a track in four hours. I love it, it is full of slight aberrations and stuff that really work.

The principal reason for the songs existence is down to the energy and he has captured the energy in a way that I cannot recall that previously being done with us. Maybe the very first time that we ever went into the recording studio and recorded our first independent record ourselves, we had so much energy that we had the whole thing done in an hour. We had recorded four tracks in less than an hour which then went on to become the Charles EP (laughter). Modern technology really does suit the way that I like to work and I love that. I love the fact that things can be done quickly. I really do not like working slowly, which is not my kind of thing at all. I simply find myself getting bored. So the advancement in modern technology allows you to make magic pretty quickly.

You were one of the first VJ’s (Video Jockey) on MTV. How was that, did you enjoy the experience?

To be honest I really didn’t take it that seriously. At the time I was doing a couple of shows; one was early in the morning, and the late night movie show that people seem to remember a lot because at that point in time there was no such thing as late night television; it all normally finished at eleven o’clock. Then this new thing happened and I was one of the early people to be doing that kind of show. I didn’t take that very seriously either (laughter). Then when I moved in to doing the MTV and VH1 stuff I didn’t really take that seriously either. Don’t get me wrong I took the music seriously but I never took a person talking to a camera seriously at all.

When I saw all of the stuff that was going on behind the scenes, it was such a load of bollocks so the only way that I got through that whole part of my life working at MTV was not to take it very seriously and that worked for me. Obviously other people were taking it very seriously and that is probably why they have still got a career in it but I never took it seriously and I survived because of that (laughter).

What would you say has musically been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s a difficult one really. There have been a few highlights along the way, for example when we came back for the thirtieth anniversary and played T In The Park, that was a pretty magical moment for us to be playing in front of fifty thousand people. Also watching U2 and Green Day doing a cover of The Saints Are Coming has to be a highpoint. And of course during the midst of it all the very first time that we went out on the road on our own as a band properly playing larger venues after the Into The Valley tour was a revelation to me that so many people were so interested in just what we were doing and the things that we had done previously. One of the wonderful things that we did on the tour that followed that is that we did a tour called Skids For Kids.

A lot of the fans who were my age were not allowed to come into those venues that we played so that pissed me off because I would not have been allowed to go into those venues if I wasn’t the singer in the band. So I made the rest of the band play a gig in the afternoons called Skids For Kids. So all of these things mean something special in different ways. But if you were to push me for just the one maybe watching U2 and Green Day doing a cover of a song that you wrote when you were just sixteen years old is a pretty special moment. Especially as they played it live to the biggest television audience in the history of television. That’s pretty big.

Are there any musical ambitions left to achieve?

Yes there are as I have got the thirst back for it now. I am really so enjoying this experience that I am now thinking that I can do something again and I really want to do it now. Before this I would have thought that it was a closed book but why close it because it isn’t about money is it, because nobody makes any money out of recording unless you are Adel or Rihanna, so you are doing it for the shear love of it. I have actually surprised myself; I have still got the ideas, I have still got the energy and I make up for my lack of musicality in different ways. More importantly I feel like I have still got something to say, my lyrics are much more mature now obviously so why stop. As long as it is good, believe me if it was crap I would run a mile but it’s not crap I can assure you that, it’s just not crap.

Which single moment changed your life forever?

I think that first of all it was meeting Stuart Adamson at the beginning when I auditioned to sing in his new band. Then the changing moment in all of our lives was that performance of Into The Valley on Top Of The Pops when we just went for it. People were horrified; the older people thought that it was the biggest pile of shit that they had ever seen. However, the young people thought that it was truly amazing. I knew that from that moment on our lives had changed because basically the next day we were playing a gig and it was totally packed out. Not only that, but there were hundreds and hundreds of young people waiting to say hello to us because they really related to what we were about. In particular they related to me because I was the same age as them.

So I think that they were the pretty spectacular moments in the early days at least. There have been lots of things since but I’m not sure that they are relative to this conversation, things like the film stuff that I have done and the people that I have met. But I think that in musical terms those early things were pretty big things to happen to a young guy. What you have to remember is when I first met Stuart I was fifteen years old and when I first performed on Top Of The Pops I was sixteen and I was singing songs that were about stuff. I really do remember how our lives had changed the day after that performance on Top Of The Pops. Everything was different from then on in for both good and bad. There were a lot of bad things that came out of that but most of it was pretty good.

What was the first record that you bought?

Let me think, the first album that I bought was Transformer by Lou Reed which you have to admit is rather cool. However, the first single that I bought was something a bit naff (laughter) or at least was naff in comparison to Transformer. I was a big fan of Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel when I was a kid so I think Mr Soft might have been the first single that I ever bought.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

That was The Sensational Alex Harvey Band in Glasgow. They were supporting Mott The Hoople who were all dressed up in their glam rags and Alex was just this punk. It was an amazing experience and I just totally loved that band from that moment on. It was never about the music for me it was always about Alex’s’ performance as a front man. From the early days that was the band that changed everything for me. But then of course when Punk happened I saw everybody. I saw The Clash, The Sex Pistols, I saw them all and loved them all. But certainly when I was a really young kid the very first gig that I went to Mott The Hoople supported by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Alex blew them off the stage, thank fuck (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

Oh gosh that is a pretty personal one for me to answer. I was at a friend’s funeral recently and they played something that was profoundly moving but that’s not quite the same thing. That might be more relative to the emotion of the day. If you pushed me then I would think that it would most probably be Where Are We Now by David Bowie because it was about ghosts, a world that had gone, friends that had gone, and it was about Bowie himself walking through Berlin as a ghost looking at his own past. Then of course a year later he was dead himself so I think that song makes me fairly sad whenever I hear it. I really loved his work very much and I love Berlin of course because of him.

Bowie, certainly for me, was an enormous influence upon me and all of us who grew up of my generation. He was the guy who made it okay to be different. He was a great hero of mine. I love his earlier stuff more than his Let’s Dance period but then suddenly he got interesting again with Heathen, Reality and then with his more recent stuff. I thought that Black Star was simply amazing. So I would have to say that the track Where Are We Now really brings a tear to the eye every time that I hear it. In the real sense of a song that really connects with you in such a huge way, that song overwhelms me.

Richard on that note let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a personal highlight for me to finally get to speak to you. You take care and I will see you here in Nottingham.

Thanks for your interest Kevin, it is very kind of you. Thanks for being so patient and I will see you in Nottingham.