The origins of the Skids: Tattoo

Stuart Adamson and Bill Simpson formed the Skids in the summer of 1977, among the first punk groups in Scotland – far from the London hotbed. But they were formed from the ashes of covers band Tattoo whose story begins with the members still at school.

BILL:- “Stuart and I met at Beath High School in Cowdenbeath. Stuart was one of a bunch of guys I palled about with – and he was quite a cool guy in my mind even then, especially when I discovered he played guitar. I went along to see him at his parents house in Crossgates and I was amazed at how good a player he was at that age – this was around 1974 so he would only be about 15 or 16 – but even more amazing, he had a “flying V”, a proper rock guitar”

“The next thing I knew he was playing in a local band called Tattoo. The bass player left for some reason and Stuart came along to my parents house and asked me “do you want to play bass?” and I said “bass – what do you do?” – I’d never played an instrument before. Stuart said “don’t worry, I’ll show you the basics”. There was Stuart on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jock (Paddy) McMonagle on lead guitar, Ian (Eetchie) Law on drums and yours truly. We played stuff like Status Quo, Bowie, The Stones all that stuff, Elvis numbers, a few standards like That’ll be the Day etc, and that was great fun. Then we looked for gigs in other parts of Scotland, we were playing RAF bases – Kinloss, Lossiemouth -  Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion, Elgin Two Red Shoes Ballroom, Forres town hall etc- mainly up north touring and sometimes sleeping in an old transit van, how very rock & roll..

“This was early 1975 but then Jock McMonagle wanted to leave and join the police so the band sort of disintegrated. Thereafter Stuart myself and another school mate called Graeme Burt all went across to Amsterdam for what was supposed to be a few months working and to experience living abroad. Stuart spent most of his money in the casino on the Ferry across from Hull and lasted about a fortnight before his money ran out and he wanted to come home, he was homesick, but even at that time I think he’d been writing some songs, there’s a
few in his lyrics book that he kept, noted “Amsterdam 76”.

The band Tattoo

Stuart was at school at the time he started his first ever group called  ‘Tattoo’. They used to play a lot up north. He started the band up with Willie Simpson (who ended up being the Skids bass player).

Willie Simpson and Stuart used to go to Beath High School together and were  really good friends. The pair used to run a local disco at the Crossgate’s Institute on Friday nights and charge a fee of 25p a time. They used all the  money for buying more equipment for the group.

Stuart was 15 years at the time, Willie was 16 years and the other members  John and Ian were 17 or 18 years (they were old enough to go into the pub). They  ended up a having the best gear of any club band about the area, which was a  really big advantage for them (they spent most of their nights rehearsing four nights a week).

The band would just go through the same songs time and time again until they  began to play them off pat. Stuart used to sing and play rhythm guitar and John  used to play lead guitar, Ian and Willie had never played before they joined the group.

The band had another bass player for a while but they thought he was too much  into playing things they hated like ‘Tie a yellow rippon around the old oak tree’.  He thought that’s where the money was, but Stuart didn’t believe that  “Nae chance”. They wanted so much to be like ‘The Stones’ Roy Gallagher guitar orientated music so they got rid of him.

So one day Stuart said to Willie look I’ve got an old bass lying about the house and offered it to him, he eventually sold it to him for £4.  It took him two months to pay it off.  Stuart gave him a list of what all the notes were on the guitar neck and gave it to him.  Two weeks later he came back and said ‘I’ve got it’ so they were back with Tattoo.

The band began to use variants and 12 bar stuff.  If they played a song that would have five chords in it they’d be lucky.

The whole group had great fun!  They played gigs in all the local pubs and clubs and dance halls.  If they got £60 pounds for a gig they were talking big money.That was the business they usually got around £25 to £36 per gig.  In fact there was one night at a dance hall called ‘Two Red Shoes’ where they played for three and a half hours for £32.

The first weekend it ever happened, they’d been right around various agents trying to get gigs outside the Fife area. They eventually got a gig in Brechin.  Stuart recalls “it was a storming gig”, the place was packed and everything went right.

Their agent phoned up the hotel just as they were packing away their gear and said ‘I’ve got you two nights for you at Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion’ which is about 100 miles further north than Brechin and it was November at the time.  He said they’d get £60 per night plus digs thrown in on a Saturday night.

So the lads thought ‘that’ll do us’ so they arrived at the place where they were playing. Stuart said “Can you fix us up with a room for the night?” He said “No I’m sorry we haven’t got any rooms upstairs at all but you can leave your gear here if you like and sleep in the van”. So that’s what
they had to do.

The guys used to just go away in the same gear that they went on the stage with so that night they had all sweat drenched gear. They didn’t have sleeping bags so they had to use the covers that they wrapped the equipment in.  They had half an hour asleep and then three quarters of an hour awake crying with the cold, shivering and all, when they woke up at 5 ‘o’clock in the morning their van was about a quarter inch thick with frost.  Stuart recalls, ‘they were freezing and starving so they went to people’s doors and stole their milk and newspapers and we asked the people in the hotel for an extra £5 for their petrol money’.

The next gig they played was at Strathpeffer, in the Highlands. They recall the gig was on a Saturday night and went well.  They played in the same hall where ‘The Beatles’ once played on their first scottish tour as part of a backup group for some singer or other (the big hall held around 1500 people).

Stuart recalls “they had really grotty old rooms upstairs with a dog and flea invested beds, which was meant to be the group’s accommodation”.

He also recalls “there was this one night when we got all the beds in one room and we got £60 a night which was great’.  ‘They kept the bar open for the locals after hours, so we went down there buying a huge crate of beer, we all got very drunk that night and we had a big fight in one of the bedrooms and Willie fell on a pint tumbler and gashed his arm right to the bone, so we had to take him to the nearest hospital which was Ross Memorial Hospital in Dingwall at 3’o’clock in the morning”.

The next day Stuart realised Willie wasn’t able to play, but it didn’t really matter as there had only been about 800 people in the hall the night before.  They didn’t know this at the time that they would get the same money for a Sunday night. But it was just a dodge for the promoter and there was only about six people in the cavern of a place and no one was interested in what they were playing.  They just managed to take breaks during songs and went to the bar but they had good memories.

Stuart was 17 and at college when the group split up, John the Guitarist had been made redundant from the dockyard. So he eventually took
a job as a policeman in Edinburgh and he never had time for the group anymore.

One winter they forgot to put anti-freeze in the van during the winter and cracked the cylinder block so that was gone, so they just divided all the gear and split up the money.

Late Stuart and Willie and another one of their mates had a great idea. They were fed up at working in Fife and decided they would go away
abroad and look for work. Willie’s girlfriend was working in Amsterdam at the time, so that’s where they went.

They had big ideas of starting up a new life, but of course they were stunned when they first arrived coming from a small town like Dunfermline.

They stayed in Zeedick which is on the edge of the red light district.  They thought it was hell; they were completely stunned and couldn’t get a job so after a few weeks they all got fed up.

That’s where the punk idea came about, Stuart said “I’m going home”,  and on his return he began being a punk rocker collecting ‘The Dammed’ and ‘Sex Pistols’ records…