Skin were one of those bands who I knew would always give a good show, along with the likes of Liuttle Angels and Thunder. However, whilst Little Angels quite whilst at the top, and Thunder struggled on (and off) for many more years, Skin broke up eleven years ago, mush to the dismay of their many fans. It was a bizarre situation, as the band had had top ten albums and singles, yet admitted having to break up due to the fact they were broke. Once again, record company bullshit had claimed another victim, and many of us were saddened by the loss of a great band.
Fast forward eleven years, and Skin are back, albeit briefly. They have been named as a surprise (for some) act on the main stage at Donington (or Download as the kids call it today). Before taking the big stage, however, they have arranged three warm up shows in London and Wolverhampton. The venue for the London shows is the very prestigious 100 Club on Oxford street, a small venue that has seen some very big names over the years. It only holds about 300 people, and Skin have sold out 2 nights without any trouble at all. I get there nice and early, managing to get a preview of the band as they sound check in front of the usual friends, family and hangers on. I must say, they certainly sound very impressive for a band who have only played one gig in eleven years (last night). As a result, it’s with a happy heart I wander back to the incredibly small changing room with singer Nev Mac Donald and guitarist/songwriter Myke Gray for a chat. It’s been 12 years since I chatted to them on the “Experience Electric” tour, and it’s nice to note that Nev is as pleasant as ever, with Myke perfectly affable as well. Although I know they’ve been asked this all over the place, I ask them to fill me in on the reunion.
“We hadn’t even spoke to or seen each other for about 11 years,” explains Myke, “and the phone call came from Andy Copping, who is responsible for Download. He had promoted us when we were a touring band before, so a phone call came out of the blue. He said ‘ I’m doing a classic rock day with Whitesnake, Def Leppard etc, would you be interested in reforming for the day and playing on it?'I took the initial phone call and from there a lot of phone calls were made to various members of the band - it took about 3 weeks, I think. Once the decision was made to do it we put 100% into it, like everything we do, and so we’re here.”
It must have been hard to get everyone together, I comment. “: Dickie lives in America, Andy lives in Ireland,” Nev confirms, “so each of us has been preparing in our own way the best we can, listening to the stuff, relearning the lyrics in my case. Myke and I have had the chance to rehearse pretty much every weekend, over the last few months we've been honing everything really, trying to rediscover my voice.”
I tell Nev that based on the sound check he’s certainly got no worries in the voice department, and ask how the gig last night went. “Amazing,” he says with a massive smile. “The whole week has been pretty amazing for all of us, with the reunion proper and everyone flying in. We've had this short window of opportunity to rehearse songs and the guys have been phenomenal. If any four people could get it together in such a short space of time … just knowing the abilities of the guys in the band. At the back of the mind it was like ‘ We can do this', but when it actually happened it was like ‘ Wow'- like we hadn't been away really. Last night was just tremendous.” So the voice was okay then? “I couldn't hear myself singing!” he laughs “At least 4 or 5 songs I got to the chorus and I literally couldn't hear myself!” “There were times I actually thought you'd stopped singing,” chips in Myke. “I thought Great - Nev's letting them sing ”. “ It was pretty overwhelming, not just for us but for the fans that turned up as well,” continues Nev. “I spoke to one girl after the set and she was in tears - it was as much about them as about us.”
I ask Myke how the reunion has been for him personally. “It's been incredible that the four of us have got back together after 11 years. 11 years is a very long time, and it seemed like two weeks ago. It was that fluid. After playing the gig we realised it isn't just us, it's the audience as well. Whatever we have felt about the band, these people have felt it for just as long. You realise that the entity that is Skin isn't just the band members, it's actually, more importantly, the fans. It's a collection of energy and love. Whatever we have fires them up, and that comes back to us, charges us more, and that's when music and people really work.”
It seems that all this reunion stuff is going pretty well for the band, and the thing on many fans minds must be the chances of getting this sort of thing on a regular basis. The boys are understandably tentative on this point. “That's a question we've been asked a lot over the last month or so,” explains Nev, “and we really don't have an answer. We need to make Download the best we can, so that is our focus at the moment. What follows from that is really in the lap of the Gods, let's just see how it goes. I've been energised by getting into music again, especially with these guys.”
“The reality is when Skin existed as a band it was great, and we had great times and we went all over the world, but in terms of a financial existence as human beings, it wasn't great.” says Myke, and I get the feeling that he chooses his words very precisely these days. “We lived on a hundred and fifty pounds a week. At the time you don't know any different. Subsequently we've all gone on to have successful lives, we all have families, and so providing families is always the priority. The reality is I need X thousands of pounds a month just to exist with everything that goes on. We've established that in our lives. What this has shown us is that at the right occasion, the right environment we can come together and do something special. We can plan our lives and go ‘ you know what, we can sacrifice ten days here, two weeks here', and still have our normal lives. Nev is the most inspirational musician I've ever worked with, so whenever Nev wants me to play music I will play music.” Blimey, there’s certainly a lot of love in the room, and I make a mental vow to leave sharpish if either one tries to snog the other!
With all the changes in music promotion and manufacturing that have taken place since the band called it a day, it seems to me that Skin as a band are more viable today than they were 11 years ago. Myke’s not so sure. “Possibly …” he says, sitting on the fence like a pro. “At the time of the existence of Skin we started out as a band who wore it's influences on it's sleeve and that's how the band was formed. When Skin existed as an entity we suffered at the hands of the press, who didn't think that we fitted in certain genres. At the time we tried to fit into genres just to get acceptance from magazines, and that was possibly not the right thing to do. Now, Classic rock exists as an entity in it's own world, and bands like Thunder and Def Leppard continue to play to thousands of people regardless of whether Kerrang! writes about them or not. The internet means that people have a creative outlet and can let their fans know when they're playing, without the huge expense of advertising. We sold out these two shows without a single advert. It was all down to news and our fans word of mouth.”
At the risk of starting another back patting session, I tell the boys that I always liked the lyrics in Skin’s songs. “Myke was, um, is the songwriter for Skin,” says Nev. “When I first met him the drive and commitment of this one individual was just immense. I was hanging onto his shirt tails for the first couple of months after we met.”
“That's a very nice thing to say,” Myke says with modesty, “but the reality is that one of the inspirations behind writing the stuff was knowing that this phenomenal singer and human being was going to deliver it. It pushes you as a writer. Subsequently I've written many songs after and none of them had the same degree of emotional intensity because none of them had the catalyst that made me want to perform or write.” It’s suddenly feeling a bit hot, so I pinch one of the bands bottles of booze and decide to go the whole hog and ask how they first got together, bracing myself for the inevitable outpouring of respectful man love.
“Myke was in Jagged Edge and I was in a band called Kooga,” says Nev, a wistful look on his face. “After a period of time we became aware of each other, but the first real time we met was at a place called The San Moritz. It was a famous place and everyone who played at the Marquee would go there and get shit faced basically and just enjoy the vibe. They used to have a little set up at the back of the place - drums, bass, guitar - going on. The way I remember is Myke was up there playing and we'd just been to see Virginia Wolf, Jason Bonham's band, and we'd all come back to the San Moritz. I got up and started playing with Myke, a Zeppelin song ‘ Rock & Roll'. Before we got to the famous drum solo at the end, Jason comes haring over, basically kicks the drummer off the stool, says ‘ If someone's gonna play my Dad's riff it's fuckin gonna be me! 'So he went bang and we went straight into ‘ Whole Lotta Love' so it was me on vocals, Myke on guitar and Jason Bonham on drums! From that moment on we were aware of each other, and things didn't work out so well for me so when I got a call we met up and that was pretty much the start of the whole thing.”
“I had asked Nev to be the singer in Jagged Edge previously,” Myke adds. “You know how you're loyal to a band you've put so much into so the timing wasn't right, and I'd even done some recordings with Kooga, so it nearly happened twice before.”
I decide to focus on Myke now, as his post Skin activities have been well documented. From the way he talks, the way he throws himself into everything he does, I venture that he seems to have an addictive personality. “ Not any more,” he says, choosing his words carefully once more. “Whatever I’ve done I’ve always given 110%. I think it’s pretty fair to say I’m quite a focussed individual - if I’m going to do anything I’m going to do it as well as I possibly can, hopefully better than anyone else. I’m a personal trainer and a life coach now, and when I was a musician I was always very frustrated because I always felt at the tine I was overly driven and I sensed it could alienate a lot of other people. There’s never any rest, the motto tends to be ‘Let’s get this done so we can do something else’. I don’t watch television, I’m not that sort of person, it’s always what can I do, how can I improve, or whatever. As a personal trainer my clients tend to be very focussed, driven human beings. They’ve encountered the same sort of things in their lives, they’ve alienated people because they thought they were the most driven and they’ve now met a personal trainer who wants to push them even harder. So, within my own entity I’ve actually found there’s thousand of people like me who are relentless in what they do. The loneliness that I once felt as a person… I actually realise there’s lots of us out there.” I mention that the last time I saw him he was in a band called Schism, who broke up shortly after. “At the point of Schism my cocaine addiction had escalated to five or ten grams a day, so it completely dominated my life,” he says seriously. “That particular entity was just an excuse to go out and be a user… all the songs were written under drugs, all the recording was done under drugs and it was a very dark, bleak time.” I ask how he managed to give up. “Stopped on the day,“ he says, simply. “May 1st five years ago. Like everything else, once there was enough leverage to stop, and until that point there wasn’t enough leverage, for me to go ‘No more’ and I stopped on the spot and haven’t touched it since.” Well, what more can you say except well done mate, so I do.
One thing that I always remember about Skin was that whenever I saw them it was bare chests all over the shop, and I ask if that’s still going to be the case, commenting that as a personal trainer Myke must still be pretty fit. “He has an immense chest…” laughs Nev. “I don’t think I’ve ever done a gig where I had my top on,” Myke says, smiling.
As it seems that all the members of Skin have made their own happy way in the world now, I ask if the whole band thing can now be seen as pure fun, without the monetary pressures of old. “Actually, ‘fun’ is not a word I associate with anything I do,” says Myke in total seriousness. “I don’t go looking for fun, that’s not part of my life. I never associated Skin with fun, even though I know a lot of people enjoy it, but it’s always been a very intense thing for me, and for the other band members. When you spend ten hours a day trying to write a lyric there’s not much fun there… I don’t think any member of the band would associate the word ‘fun’ with me.” This last comment makes Nev laugh, and he picks up the thread. “We’re a lot older, more mature now. What we bring to it now is we’re giving the songs some weight, some feel, really getting into the lyrics, getting the songs across. I think we’ve got a more mature attitude, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less energetic.”
This image of Myke Gray: Fun Killer is a little at odds with the record that was his biggest success, a little ditty called “You’re My Mate”, a worldwide success for slap headed party funsters Right Said Fred. Myke has been quoted as saying that that particular song bought his house, so I’d think that mention of it might at least raise a smile. It doesn’t. “ When I went into the world of being a session musician being paid three to four hundred pounds an hour to play a piece of shit, I wrote hundreds of songs. That particular entity, that song, was written to check the studio, because I’d built a studio for them. After that we wrote another 40 songs, and when they got signed to BMG records and they listened to all 40 songs they said ‘That one!’ and we said ‘Are you serious?’ As a result it went on to be in the German top 75 for 48 weeks, and number one in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa…” I say that I’d love to hear Skin do a punked up version of it, like they did with the Muppet Song, but the suggestion is shot down by Myke, even though Nev gets an interested twinkle in his eye. “On that particular thing I ended up going to court with those people so I’m not even allowed to talk about it,” he says, and that’s the end of that conversation.
Our time is up, and I must say it’s been a pleasure. Both guys have been forthcoming and friendly, with Nev happy to just be there it seems, and Myke coming across like an intense ball of energy, just waiting to be allowed to explode. As a parting shot I mention that when I have bene telling people I’m coming to see Skin, most of them thought I meant the singer of Skunk Anansie. Myke is not amused about the misconception. “ We had top ten albums and top twenty singles before that ever came about. I think it’s quite sweet that she’s named herself after us!” he says with a grin, and I promise to tell her if I see her. Nice guys, Skin, and it’s good to see them back and in such fine form. Hopefully we’ll see them again soon.
Interview & photos by Alan Holloway, alan "at" rockunited.com