As the years pass, it’s natural to have doubts about what lies ahead. But seeing Richard Jobson and Bruce Watson work a stage, I’d like to think – as a rather prominent rock’n’roller once put it – we’ve all still got a lot o’ living to do.
OK, quoting Elvis may not be the best way to illustrate that, but as any Skids and Big Country gig these days inevitably pays tribute to Stuart Adamson – who outlasted The King by barely a year – you’ll understand if his surviving bandmates are determined to make the most of their days.
‘Jobbo’ himself was quick to acknowledge that sentiment at the Guild Hall, deciding that if he were to go that night, so be it. Or words to that effect. And both the Skids frontman and stalwart guitarist Bruce certainly act like they’re still in the prime of their lives. ‘Choose life, Choose Fife’, you could say.
Bruce was on board with Big Country from the start, giving two decades’ service before they initially called it a day, 18 months before the death of their co-founder.
But when they reconvened in tribute to Stu, he was there, and again five years on for a 25th anniversary tour. And this past decade he’s appeared many more times with a new-look outfit – sort of BC/AD, I guess – now also including his son, fellow guitarist Jamie.
Yet while father and bairn have put in plenty of shifts for a band that released the first of nine studio albums 36 years ago, they also feature for Stuart’s previous outfit – to a point where young Jamie has been with the Skids longer than Big Country now.
And in Preston, the Watsons put in the hard graft for both, inspiring Jobbo to up the ante when it was his time to join the party.
When I say ‘up the ante’, I doubt he ever put in less than 100 per cent with Dunfermline’s premier punk exponents. And just watching him is enough to bring you out in a sweat.
Time constraints on the night meant this – night one of the Skids’ latest tour – would in essence be more a greatest hits package for each band, but they played to their strengths, even if sound issues meant I failed to get the full force of those Watson guitars in the opening set.
At that stage, there was still plenty of room on the dancefloor, and where those guitars are the key to Big Country – not least on stand-out hits and tonight’s closing songs,‘Fields of Fire’ and ‘In a Big Country’ – at times it was as if it was all coming from just off stage.
What’s more, while this is a band who proved time and again in the past they were at ease with stadium rock, I felt you’d get far more from them in a more intimate setting.
That’s not taking anything away from Big Country today, and Bruce’s fellow co-founder Mark Brzezicki was on typically sparkling form, not least on classic album The Crossing’s atmospheric ‘The Storm’, while more recent additions Simon Hough (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Scott Whitley (bass) also impressed.
In fact, all four outfield players seemed to be having the time of their lives, and that proved infectious. From ‘1,000 Stars’, ‘Look Away’, ‘Steeltown’, ‘Lost Patrol’, ‘Harvest Home’, ‘Inwards’, ‘Chance’ and ‘Wonderland’ onwards, all contributions were greatly received, the audience also in fine voice while Hough honoured Stu’s memory with his own respectful interpretations of those numbers.
The floor was far busier by the time the Skids took to the stage, the Watsons and Jobbo joined by much-loved Skids stalwarts Mike Baillie (drums) and Bill Simpson (bass, and like his bandmates endorsing Glasgow’s ant-racist St Pauli supporters’ club initiative) plus recent addition Rory Cowieson (keyboards), all helping take the evening to a new level.
They started with ’Animation’, then quickly hit top gear with the first album’s ‘Of One Skin’, a two-speed wonder sounding every bit as fresh four decades after its inclusion on debut LP, Scared to Dance.
Jobson, in black Harrington, black t-shirt, black jeans, may have a fuller figure these days, but he’s no slouch, windmilling away and covering plenty of ground with those distinctive mazy dance moves.
‘Kings of the New World Order’ showed us they’re still more than capable of creating fresh statements, the frontman thanking us for coming out rather than sitting in on a winter’s night watching ‘Dancing on fucking ice’.
There was also Jobbo’s nod to the big names that helped keep his and Stu’s ‘The Saints Are Coming’ in the public eye, clearly proud of his work. And rightly so.
He then talked us through an afternoon stroll around Preston, belatedly answering questions posed on the streets, not least one regarding a rumour involving his virginity and a member of Pan’s People.
We got a further nod to the past with the anthemic ‘Working for the Yankee Dollar’ and ‘Hurry On Boys’, while the crowd were again in good voice for ‘A Woman in Winter’.
Inevitably, we got ‘TV Stars’, with added withering lines about Boris Johnson and Theresa May, that crowd favourite part of a winning medley, followed by a nostalgic run through the Sex Pistols’ ‘Pretty Vacant’ and the Buzzcocks’ ‘What Do I Get’, the latter a fitting tribute to old friend Pete Shelley, extended by an a capella run through ‘Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t‘ve)’.
There was a jibe about Jimmy Savile, Richard reliving the band’s uncomfortable Top of the Pops debut, while ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Into the Valley’ – my personal highlights – proved every bit as good as I’d hoped.
I’d have loved to hear ’Sweet Suburbia’ for old times’ sake, but The Absolute Game’s ‘Out of Town’ was a further tour de force.
By then, a venue curfew loomed though, with just enough time for Days in Europa’s ‘The Olympian’ and No Bad debut EP lead track ‘Charles’, another worthy tribute to its writer, a punk and new wave icon so integral to both outfits.
For this site’s recent interview with Skids drummer Mike Baillie and full details of the Skids’ 2019 tour, head here. This website also carries interviews with Bruce Watson (October 2014), Mark Brzezicki (September 2016) and Richard Jobson (May 2017).
Thanks to Michael Porter for the use of a few of his great photographs from Preston Guild Hall, with a Facebook link here, adding a respectful nod to Gary M. Hough, also busy with his camera on the night. You can check out his fine work via this link.