Wednesday 21 June 2017

Guest Post: The Skids "Joy" (1981)

Dear readers, well this is all terribly exciting! For the first time in our site’s nine year history we have a ‘guest reviewer’, the fabulous Kenny Brown, who has written about the excellent under-rated fourth and final Skids album from the early 1980s. If you have a burning desire to read about one of your favouritest albums in print – and it doesn’t have to be an AAA member – then why not drop us a line at the AAA twitter feed @alansarchives. In the meantime our thanks to Kenny for his excellent appraisal of an album I look forward to knowing better now that I’ve read his informative review!

The Skids “Joy” (1981)

Blood and Soil/A Challenge/Men Of Mercy/A Memory/Iona//In Fear Of Fire/Brothers/And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda/The Men Of The Fall/The Sound Of Retreat/Fields

“Joy" is the final studio album by Scottish band The Skids released in 1981. The song writing axis of Richard Jobson and Stuart Adamson had been ever present in a band which had changed rhythm sections on their three albums to date. Going into Highland Studios Inverness in May 81 to begin recording their fourth album the two plus Russell Webb (formally of Scottish band Zones) on bass, were joined for the session by former Slik and Zones drummer Kenny Hyslop. It was to be Adamson’s last session with the band, walking out leaving Jobson and Webb to complete the album.

When the band reconvened later that year it was as a two piece, augmented by many musicians including Mike Oldfield, Billy MacKenzie, Alan Rankine, Alan Darby and Virginia Astley.  The resulting album ‘Joy’ was an attempt to fuse Jobson’s poetic leanings with the use of folk instrumentation. Russell Webb took on the producer’s mantle and delivered a carefully crafted sound that juxtaposed the acoustic with the available technology of the day, largely using emulators for some traditional instruments. The drum sound rarely used traditional rock tropes preferring tom toms, bass and bodhran and electric guitars largely swapped for acoustic.

Context is important in exploring the album’s themes and musical approach. 1980/81 was a time when the Sound of Young Scotland was making itself felt across the land. Fresh angular rock/pop that took its influences from the Velvet Underground and the Modern Lovers seemed ever present. The Skids went against the grain and delivered a muscular acoustic roots album, unashamedly Celtic in its perspective and heightened by the use of Scottish diction in Jobson’s vocal approach.

The first song was ‘Blood and Soil’, one that the band had been playing live during the previous tours. The song has a largely standard structure of many Skids songs but is differentiated by its use of bass guitar to provide rhythm. Jobson sings “we can be taught blood and soil” and is augmented by a studio choir throughout. This is clearly a different Skids to that of “Days in Europa”.

‘A Challenge (The Wanderer)’ is next up with Jobson initially singing unaccompanied but as the song progresses, instrumentation is layered via flute, acoustic guitar and bodhran (an Irish frame drum). His voice is unashamedly Scottish is diction, giving it an authenticity that was refreshing in its difference from most Scottish bands at the time.

‘Men of Mercy’ is a short song accompanied by guitar, drums and choir segueing into ‘A Memory’.  Jobson sings longingly against a background of bodhran, guitar and piano with the regular refrain of “will ye no’ come back again”?  This builds up gradually into a crescendo of acoustic guitars, accompanying voices and finally an acoustic piano augments the music until we hear a solitary snare drum against the wind.

The final song of side 1 is ‘Iona’ (, which continues the Highland/Jacobite theme of the previous songs. Again instruments are layered over each verse and chorus and it is the most melodic and complete song on the album.  It was to be Stuart Adamson’s last appearance on a Skids song and is worthy of his legacy.

Side two starts with what seems a tape played backwards then a short sea shanty followed by Jobson singing ‘In Fear of Fire’. Soon Webb plays a propulsive bass guitar on the next song ‘Brothers’, which Jobson begins by singing “stood in a field and echoed a thunder”.  It’s rough and ready and with the addition of electric guitar, it might’ve made an earlier Skids record.

‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ is a folk song written by Eric Bogle about the failed Anzac incursion at Gallipoli during the Great War. Here Jobson sings plaintively and descriptively, the thoughts of a battle-scarred soldier returning from war, with a help from the accompanying studio choir. It is spine tingling in its simplicity and message.

Completing this suite of songs about war and brotherhood is ‘The Men of the Fall’. Here the full weight of the studio and musicians is felt as Webb builds on Jobson’s voice to accompany each verse with new sonic textures. It is a slow march that is both melancholic and haunting at the same time.

Completing side two is the first single culled from the album, ‘Fields’. This is ‘the Skids unplugged’ with a traditional song structure but using acoustic guitars, bass and traditional drums to carry the song through. Following an acoustic middle section of bodhran and flute the voice of Billy McKenzie soars above the guitars before Jobson and studio choir sing the final verse and chorus. Thus, the album is closed by a song about the land, perfectly book-ending Jobson’s journey celebrating the common man.

Released in November 1981, the album reportedly sold 3000 copies. On the back of such poor sales no touring resulted and the Skids were disbanded. Richard Jobson’s immediate future heralded an artistic period of publishing and touring his poetry ‘For Russell Webb’, he produced the English ambient classic ‘From Gardens Where We Feel Secure’ by Virginia Astley.

‘Joy’ was ultimately a polarising album, one that some felt did not belong in the Skids canon of work, largely due to the absence of Adamson.  It is however a finely produced album and has a narrative, but one that requires patience and listening to get the most from it.  This is a Hygge album for listening in the long nights of winter. I suggest you hunt down a copy, pour a large malt whisky, settle in front of a fire and listen in full to a unique recording.

Kenny Brown

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