The Skids and Big Country - how two of Scotland's finest bands are united by shared grief and a love of great music

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With The Skids and Big Country, two of Scotland’s greatest rock exports, set to visit Preston, MALCOLM WYATT tracked down Skids drummer Mike Baillie to discuss the bands’ shared history

Mike Baillie was a Skids fan from the start, and as a drummer with fellow Fife outfit Insect Bites, the perfect candidate to join the band when an opportunity arose in 1979.

Mike Baillie, drummer with The Skids, who are on a joint tour with 80s Scot-rock legends Big Country

Mike Baillie, drummer with The Skids, who are on a joint tour with 80s Scot-rock legends Big Country

The Skids formed two years earlier in their hometown, Dunfermline, lead singer Richard Jobson and guitarist Stuart Adamson joined by Bill Simpson (bass) and Tom Kellichan (drums).

Through their debut single being picked up by influential BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel and a prestigious hometown support with The Clash, their stock rose, soon signing with Virgin Records, making further impact through singles like ‘Sweet Surburbia’, ‘The Saints are Coming’ and ‘Into the Valley’.

Debut album Scared to Dance came out in early 1979, with further hits including ‘Masquerade’ and ‘Working for the Yankee Dollar’ and a second LP, Days in Europa. By then, Rusty Egan (Rich Kids, Visage) had taken over on drums, but tensions soon became apparent. And that’s when Mike entered the fray. He was already part of the extended network, a friend and fan of the band.

“I was rehearsing with another band in Dunfermline, and we were listening outside their rehearsal, thinking, ‘My God, what is all this about?’ We were buzzing.

The Skids in their late 70s heyday, with Stuart Adamson - who went on to success in Big Country - second from right

The Skids in their late 70s heyday, with Stuart Adamson - who went on to success in Big Country - second from right

“I was at the first gig, and a lot of early gigs. They then went off and became famous, and I played with a band called Matt Vinyl and the Decorators, an early punk band which kind of mutated into Insect Bites.

“Back in Dunfermline I just happened to be in the right pub at the right time. The manager told me word was Rusty and Stuart weren’t getting on, so I went right up to Richard and Stuart and said, ‘I hear you’re looking for a drummer. Here I am, give me a gig!’ Next day, I went back to the rehearsal room, played a bunch of songs with them. That was basically my audition. I just kind of followed them around for ages before I got the opportunity to take over.”

First was the Days of Europa tour, and soon he was in the studio for 1980’s The Absolute Game. But both Mike and Stuart left before 1981’s Joy, the latter on to worldwide success with new band Big Country.

As it turned out, Stuart’s death in December 2001, aged 43, brought the band back together again.

After a tribute show in 2002, they reformed in 2007 to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary at the T in the Park festival and back in Dunfermline. And a decade later came a new LP, ‘Burning Cities’.

Big names from the 80s and 90s in line up for Fylde festival

In the current line-up Mike and founder members Richard Jobson and Bill Simpson are joined by father and son guitarists Bruce and Jamie Watson, who feature in both bands on the night.

Bruce was there with Stuart from day one in Big Country. And there’s a great dynamic all round, right?

“Kindred spirits and all that, y’know. Bruce and Jamie put in a huge effort to put on two sets in one night, but can cope with that sort of pressure.” They have a fantastic

relationship, and it was in 2007 when Jamie stepped up to the plate and first played with us.”

Is it a case of old boys talking about shared memories when you’re

together?

“Aye! Our kids are all about Jamie’s age, so there’s a bit of ‘them and us’ when we travel. But it’s great and he’s an incredible talent, a skilful player.”

It still shocks me that Stuart’s no longer here. Did you stay in touch?

“I moved to Edinburgh and had family, but we bumped into each other a couple of times, last time around ‘95/’96 in the West End of Edinburgh. We had a really nice chat. We had a coffee and around half an hour together. I was working as a wine buyer. He was really disillusioned at that point in his career by the business.

“I joined a band in Edinburgh, having been in London when the band broke up. I played here and there, then ended up really cynical, also disillusioned. My family had come along at that point. I didn’t really miss it at first. During the ’90s I didn’t consider myself a musician anymore. My kit was in storage.”

What had changed by the new century?

“I got my son into playing, around 12. Stuart’s tribute sparked off his interest. I bought him a kit. That kind of sparked my interest again. Wanting to keep my chops up, knowing a network of musicians, I began to play a lot, and then 2007 came along.”

I get the impression there’s a fair bit ahead of you all from here.

“That’s it, and we’re very lucky to have the chance. It’s absolutely incredible. The initial response was very strange to describe. We had no idea. Before long there was a tour on the cards.”

You seem to inspire that renewed energy in your audience, too.

“It’s a bit like that analogy of a football manager and a 12th man on the pitch through a crowd reaction.”

“We’re all very well-rounded individuals nowadays, with plenty of life experience and all the rest of it. Thinking back, a nervous energy went into the performance.”

Now it seems you’re doing it for a love of the job, with no added pressure.

“Yeah, generally doing it because people respond so well to us. And we absolutely thrive on it. If your driver takes a wrong turn on the way to a hotel in the early hours, your sense of humour could easily evaporate. But even through the tough times, it’s still fun, living for the moment.”

The Skids and Big Country play Preston Guild Hall’s Grand Hall on Saturday, January 19 (doors 7pm, tickets £27, 01772 80 44 44, https://prestonguildhall.co.uk/shows/the-skids-big-country