26 October 2009
The Skids were fronted by a pair of towering talents. With his chiseled jaw line and stentorian voice, Richard Jobson was a natural front man, commanding the stage with the authority of an army officer leading his troops into battle. And Stuart Adamson was every bit his equal, buttressing Jobson's voice with muscular guitar riffs and soaring lead lines that called to mind amassed bagpipes sounding across the highlands of their native Scotland.
The band formed in Dunfermline, a working class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Edinburgh, where a career in music offered one of the few alternatives to the mines where Jobson's father had toiled. Like so many others, Adamson had been inspired by the punk revolution. Together with his friend William Simpson (bass), he set out to find a singer who could both hold a tune and look the part. They found their man in Jobson, a local punk they had seen about town sporting a full-length black leather trench coat and black and white hair. Tom Kellichan (drums) completed the original line up shortly thereafter.
The Skids played their first gig in August, 1977. The songs were mostly Adamson's at first but Jobson soon proved an adept wordsmith, mixing a schoolboy fascination with the glories of war with a burgeoning respect for the work of the symboliste poets from Mallarme and Rimbaud, to Duras and Plath. The results could be obscure and enigmatic, but were still somehow strangely inspired, urging Adamson to ever more heroic melodies and chord progressions. Early singles "Sweet Suburbia," "The Saints Are Coming," and "Into The Valley" made the charts in 1978 and early 1979, the latter going top ten, in advance of the debut album.
The punk-inspired sound of Scared To Dance was dated by the time it appeared, but Adamson and Jobson had already moved on, developing a new interest in synthesizers, drum machines, and the polished textures of the new dance music being played at the London clubs that Jobson frequented while in the nation's capital. For Days In Europa, they brought in Rusty Egan, formerly of The Rich Kids, and now part owner of the Blitz Club, to play drums, and Bill Nelson, the guitar wizard who made his name with Be Bop Deluxe, to produce. Adamson's guitar style owed an enormous debt to Nelson's fluid, coruscating fret work, and having his hero in the recording booth served to bring out the best in this hugely talented player and songwriter (it is not for nothing that U2's The Edge has cited him as a key influence on his own playing). Jobson, too, stepped up his game, spinning such gossamer lines as, "I sacrificed the methods of my dreams / On the latter, these new poets, stole the scene / Oh, I'm sure they feel I can't betray / Egyptian girls can only say" ("Peaceful Times").
The album was preceded by two singles, "Masquerade," the first to reveal their sleek new sound, and "Working For The Yankee Dollar," but Days In Europa, for all its obvious achievement, never managed the commercial breakthrough for which both the band and label had hoped, making it only to #32 in the UK. Part of the blame was laid on the album cover, which depicted a woman crowning an Olympian with a garland, the Germanic lettering and muscular bodies recalling the fascist stylings of Leni Riefenstahl, while others pointed to Jobson's incomprehensible lyrics, partly buried in Nelson's guitar heavy mix. Virgin decided that the album needed both a new cover and a new mix. The new cover featured an elegant couple in evening dress, caught in an embrace (the original cover still visible as a painting in the background), while the new mix was provided by Bruce Fairburn, a Canadian producer who had made his name with popular West Coast rock acts like Prism and Trooper. Fairburn gave the album a kind of glossy lustre, bringing forward Jobson's booming voice. The running order was changed, too, dropping "Pros and Cons" on British copies for the earlier single, "Masquerade."
The second version of Days In Europa has always seemed to offend the band's loyal fans, who felt Fairburn had turned their post punk darlings into an American style rock band, and later reissues on cd have returned to Nelson's mix, but I've always preferred Fairburn's. Perhaps this is because this is the way the album was first released in North America, and hence the way I first came to adore this particular slab of wax. But even so, there is something to be said for the more balanced and coherent soundscape of the second version, with Egan's terrific hi-hats sparkling brightly in the top end of the spectrum, and Nelson's battery of sequenced synthesizers swirling from high to low.
The rip of the second version of Days In Europa posted here is sourced from a British copy. It is identical to that which was released in North America except that "The Olympian" has been retained from the original running order. Long time fans of the band are encouraged to reconsider the Fairburn mix, while new listeners should seek out The Captain Oi! cd reissue, which includes the original mix and a clutch of associated singles and b-sides. Egyptian girls don't last for long.
-- Crash The Driver