Their third album since Fife’s most explosive band reformed is a collection of covers mostly from the era that saw The Skids labelled as one of the most influential original Punk bands. Long time fan Gerry Mellon gives us the rundown on Songs From A Haunted Ballroom that pays tribute to the band’s that played their hometown venue, the great Kinema Ballroom in Dunfermline!
Now I’ll be the first to admit that albums made up of cover versions are not a particular favourite of mine to listen to. Admittedly every band has their favourite song or two that they like to play and many produce top quality versions of other people’s creations, but it’s usually one track on the album or a couple of songs at a gig. The Skids don’t do things like other bands though, do they! Their last album, Peaceful Times was a collection of acoustic versions of some of their older tracks and was a more than decent offering from them. So, it looks like this incarnation of the band are ready to push the limits just as much as the originals did. It seems to be working well for them if the reviews of their ‘comeback’ tour are anything to go by, a headline appearance at next year’s Rebellion Festival should be well worth catching. Their back catalogue and newer stuff, including some from the magnificent Burning Cities album, should make for a thrilling show. Anyway, after all the, well deserved, praise that I’ve heaped upon them I have to say, The Skids have released a covers album!! What’s more important though, is that it’s pretty good!!
The new album is called Songs from a Haunted Ballroom, a link to a track on the Yankee Dollar ep called Hymns from a Haunted Ballroom, and is an eclectic collection of songs that were popular when the band were originally performing. The Haunted Ballroom refers to the Kinema in Dunfermline, the main place in the town for touring (and local) bands to play. Perhaps this is the place where they heard some of these tracks for the first time. The pandemic will probably have played its part in the band releasing a covers album, getting together to work on new material must have been a nightmare for so many bands over the past couple of years. There may well have been a lot of looking back over good times and large doses of nostalgia for the band members, the main contributors on this release are Richard Jobson, of course and Bruce and Jamie Watson, father and son from Big Country. It’s produced by Watson and Liam Saunders and is comprised of 14 tracks. The last three tracks are originals from the band, the superb Into the Valley which announced them to the world back in 79 and had a whole generation of schoolkids (me included) trying to translate it!!! The excellent Saints are Coming released before Into the Valley, but was only really made famous by the U2 and Green Day version. The third song is Christmas in Fife and it seems to be a bit of a piss take of Christmas songs!
As I said the cover versions are fairly eclectic in styles, but they all come from the same era of Glam rock and Punk in the 70s. It kicks off with Young Savage, an early track from Ultravox in the pre–Midge Ure days, to be honest I’m not too familiar with the original, but Jobson does an excellent job with the vocals on this upbeat, hight tempo opener. Next up is the superb Complete Control from The Clash, they make a very good go of it indeed and I would love to hear a live version. It’s never going to be better than the original, but I doubt that’s what they were trying, more a case of them putting their own stamp on a punk rock classic. The Adverts Gary Gilmore’s Eyes is next, another early punk classic. For those new to the track, it tells the story of an American murderer who has donated his eyes to be used after he is executed. The lyrics are the guy in the hospital waking up after an operation and discovering he has received Gary Gilmore’s eyes! It caused a storm when the adverts appeared on Top of the Pops playing it back in the day! I remember it well and it was bloody fantastic!! This version sounds as if it’s being played at a tiny bit slower tempo, or it could just be the way that Jobson delivers the lyrics in a sometimes-staccato way, it still sounds great though.
Heart of the City comes next, the original is by Nik Lowe, it’s another track I’m not overly familiar with, but I’ll check it out soon. All of these tracks have outstanding guitar-work on them and this one is a real beauty, with rhythm and lead both pushing it on at an electric pace. Magazine’s The Light Pours Out of Me is up next and, surprise surprise, it’s another cracking track. You could actually believe that this one was a Skids original, it has the beautiful guitar build-ups and then an almost chant-like chorus, very reminiscent of early Skids numbers. An unusual selection comes up next with David Essex’s Rock On and the band put their own stamp on this glam rock-pop favourite. Essex’s version is slower and thinner and doesn’t have the menace that Jobson puts into this one; The Skids have roughened it up a bit with thrashing guitars and an aggressive vocal from Jobson. He goes on to tell how it was one gang’s favourite song back when he was going to the Kinema in Dunfermline, apparently once you heard the gang members start to sing this song it was time to scarper or as Iron Maiden would have it Run to the Hills!! I clearly remember and love the original and can honestly recommend this version to anyone.
Who remembers Mott the Hoople then? In the early 70s they were this weirdo hippy looking bunch who came out with some actually quite good music, All the Young Dudes would probably be their best-known number. Violence is their track that comes up next and the Skids put their own stamp on it to make it sound much punkier than the original, it’s a good track without being a real banger (as the kids would say!) The next track is from Garland Jeffreys (nope, I’ve never heard of him or it either!). 35mm Dreams is the name of it and it appears to be a homage to old movie stars from the b&w era. I’ve never heard the original and to be honest didn’t even seek it out, this track is goodish, but not a patch on the band’s other televisual homage TV Stars. When I hear Jobson singing about Greta Garbo and Bette Davis (among many more) my heart is screaming out Albert Tatlock!!! Track 9 comes from none other than the kings of UK punk, The Sex Pistols, and its Submission. Much like with the earlier Complete Control, trying to just copy the original would be pointless and who could copy our Johnny’s vocals anyway! Well we have Richard Jobson who has his own inimitable style and he performs this track with aplomb. The guitar is crisp and clean and sounds relentless in this excellent cover. Back in the New York groove is the next track and if you’re anything like me, hearing it will put a smile on your face. It was originally from a band called Hello (nope, me neither!), but has been covered by a few groups. It’s a track that used to get them on the dance floor in the 70s and has another Skids-esque chanting chorus, great fun. Next up is the stone-cold classic I Wanna Be Your Dog, by Iggy and the Stooges. It really is hard to believe that it was first released in 68, over 50 years ago. When you hear this cover, it sounds like it could have been written last week! Anyway, they make an excellent job of it with no frills just a great punchy punk rock song.
The final three tracks are, as previously mentioned, Skids originals that have been re-recorded. The two singles sound great, and the Christmas one is what it is! I think it’s fair to say that the guitar work, whilst being brilliant in its own right, can never reach the highs that Stuart Adamson brought to the sound and I can’t help but imagine what these covers would’ve been like if he was still around to have contributed. He is sorely missed, when you hear albums like Undercover by Big Country, you can see he was equally as impressed/enamoured by other bands music and adept at performing it. Funnily enough, that’s probably the last time I was as impressed with a covers album as I am with this one! It would be worth checking out the originals of these tracks to see just how good a job of interpreting them into a Skids sound the band has done. Well worth the price and hopefully the entrance fee if we ever get back to gigging again.
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Great review of an ever better album. Vinyl for the house CD for the car.