Skindred’s Newport Helicopter gets ready for take off at The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

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Earlier this year Skindred played at the cavernous Southampton Guildhall on the tour to mark the release of their seventh album, Big Tings.

But now they’re back, and the UK’s finest exponents of ragga-metal are playing in the far more intimate environs of The Wedge.

And it’s not because the band’s appeal has become ‘more selective’ (Big Tings has been their highest charting album to date), it was a conscious choice by the band to get up close and personal with their fans.

Fast-talking frontman Benji Webbe is in ebullient mood when The Guide catches up with him. ‘I’m in a great place, bro. The record’s doing great, it’s still selling here, and in America I’m told we’re in the top 20 rock and something Billboard chart or whatever it is. It’s all good!’

Explaining the rationale behind the 25-date tour of smaller venues, he says: ‘I like the guildhalls and those sorts of places, but somewhere like The Wedge, I can smell the sweat, I can see your teeth and your eyes. Rock’n’roll is music for people to rock to, sometimes you get those big shows and those big festivals, but you can’t always bring what you want to bring those – I like to see people.

‘We had a good chat about doing a good old-fashioned punk rock-style tour, and there’s nowhere better than The Wedgewood Rooms.

‘You separate the men from the boys when you go in to a small club without the lights and the shindig, without the smoke and the mirrors. People can see you do what you do. This is an opportunity for us to do that, to get back to grassroots and have a good night!’

And while they haven’t been making a big deal of it, it’s 20 years since Skindred formed.

‘It’s going to be like a birthday party,’ adds Benji. ‘We’re going to play some old songs, some new songs –play some mash-ups, what the kids are doing these days,’ he laughs. ‘We’ll be doing some of that. It’ll be a fun night, I can’t wait.’

One thing you can guarantee will make an appearance though, is the Newport Helicopter – named in honour of their Welsh hometown – which has become a fixture at their gigs. On Benji’s command, the crowd whirl their shirts above their heads, creating quite a spectacle.

Benji explains its origins: ‘We played Reading and Leeds festival a few years back and I started asking: “Anyone from England? Anyone from Ireland? Anyone from Scotland? But because of my motormouth I then went on and started talking about something else – and I didn’t mention Wales, so I got in trouble!

‘When I got the opportunity to opportunity to name this thing we’d been doing with the T-shirts, I thought I’d repent and name it the Newport Helicopter – you can’t get more Welsh than that.

‘So I’m good with that and people enjoy doing it. I love watching it from the stage – I should sell tickets for people who want to watch it from the side of the stage!’

Big Tings is the band’s fourth album with esteemed rock producer James Loughrey.

‘Yeah, he’s got to go. I’m sick to death of working with him,’ Benji giggles. ‘I love him to death, but come on now, step aside, let someone else have a go!

‘James is a good guy. With James we basically wrote about 25 songs and gave them to him. He didn’t know who wrote what, he just had a pile of demos, and he picked the album. A lot of the songs were written by Mikey [Demus, guitarist] who’s never really had the chance to shine the way he did in the writing and recording situation.

‘It was up to James to pick the album and I think he got it right. We could have hashed out the same kind of [debut album] Babylon, roots-rock vibe, but we tried something different, and I think it worked. People say it’s more rock’n’roll, but hey rock’n’roll ain’t a bad thing!

The new album also features a couple of notable guests. Lead single Machine features Gary Stringer, the leather-lunged vocalist for Reef, and a solo from the former Motörhead guitarist, and fellow Welshman, Phil Campbell.

‘Phil approached me about a year or so ago, just after [legendary Motörhead frontman] Lemmy died. He told me he had been writing a solo album for the past 30 years, and would I sing on it? We got together and started writing a track, we went to his recording studio in south Wales, and after we’d finished the song, we’re sat there and I said to Phil: “What are we going to do about the money and that?” And Phil said, “What money? I’m not paying you money”.

Phil showed him a room full of clothes and told Benji he could take what he wanted.

‘He picked up a pair of shoes and said: “Look, they’re beautiful”, and they are, they’re cool as. He gave me the shoes and said, “You can have them for singing and we’ll split the royalties”. I’ve never been paid before in shoes!

‘And that was it. When I called Phil and asked him to do the track he was up for it, whenever we hang out we have such a good time.’

Skindred formed from the ashes of Benji’s previous band Dub War.

‘One thing that makes me laugh, Dub War were around for four-and-a-half years, and Skindred have now been around for 20, but it’s beautiful that people keep mentioning them. It proves we must have been doing something right at that time.

‘Skindred has been a long journey, but we’ve learned to enjoy where we are on the way to where we’re going, because if you never get where you’re going, at least you’ve had a good old time!

‘The Skindred thing has been a blessing – it’s given me the opportunity to see the world and meet people, no matter how small or big the place is, we go in with the same attitude, to give people the best hour of their lives.

‘I’m as excited to play The Wedgewood Rooms as I am to play Reading, Leeds and Glastonbury. This music thing is what we do.’


The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea

Sunday, November 11