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The band was formed in 1967, comprising Brush Shiels on bass guitar, Noel (Nollaig) Bridgeman (currently with Van Morrison) on drums, Phil Lynott on vocals, and Bernard (Bernie) Cheevers on lead guitar. Cheevers was replaced by the 16-year-old Gary Moore in 1969, and the band recorded a Single, Misdemeanour Dream Felicity/New Places, Old Faces, for the Irish Song Records label (the only recording of Lynott with Skid Row). Later that year Shiels dropped Lynott from the line-up, converting Skid Row to a power trio by making Moore the lead vocalist. By way of compensation, he taught Lynott to play bass, and Lynott went on to international fame as founder, bassist and vocalist for Thin Lizzy. The band recorded a second single for Song, Saturday Morning Man/Mervyn Aldridge. These two singles, plus three tracks from a BBC recording, were issued on the Hux label as "Live and on Song"" in April 2006.
Skid Row played support to many of the great rock groups of the sixties, including Fleetwood Mac. Moore was influenced by the Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, who was in turn impressed by Moore's guitar playing and introduced him to the Columbia record company. The band released its first album "Skid", in October 1970. A second LP, entitled "34 Hours" - so entitled because it took them a mere 34 hours to record it - was released in 1971. Moore left the band in late 1971 (he was replaced by Paul Chapman, later of UFO) and later played with Thin Lizzy. The rest of their recorded material was released in 1990 and '91, about the time when Moore released his "Still Got the Blues" LP.
Although the group had little success outside Ireland and the UK (Skid reached no. 30 on the UK album charts), its influence on Irish rock music (and consequently on rock music in general) was considerable.
In 1987 Moore sold the name Skid Row to the American heavy metal band for $35,000. Shiels has said that he has always been unhappy at the group 'stealing their name', and said of manager Doc Magee, "he could be Doc Marten for all I know...but he's going to get a kick up the arse.".[Source: Wikipedia.org]
Several subsequent ‘name’ musicians emerged from pioneering sixties bands like The Yardbirds and Cream, and yet those acts have managed to find a venerated position in the twenty-first century world of digital remastering, CD box sets and biographies. Even Rory’s Gallagher’s career-starting band, Taste, have entered the world of remastered compilation-dom. Wherefore art thou, Skid Row?
Too often referred to as merely the musical kindergarten of Gary Moore and (briefly) Phil Lynott, Skid Row made music so idiosyncratic, contrary, eclectic and, at times, inspired, that it should remain, at the very least, a thing of great fascination to the student of ‘The Sixties’. That their records were invariably made in little more than a day – a bizarre, if admirably economical, ethos that Brush Shiels maintains to the present – should remain a thing of great instruction to those who insist on pottering about in studios for indefinite periods of time. If nothing else, a record involving Brush Shiels is just that – a ‘record’ of his work that day, a moment captured.
Emerging out of the beat group scene in Dublin, Brush formed Skid Row (initially named My Father’s Moustache, before common sense prevailed) in 1967, featuring himself on bass, Phil Lynott on vocals, Bernie Cheevers on guitar and Noel Bridgeman on drums. Around this time Brush ran his own club, The Ghetto, as a focal point for happenings with fellow progressive types of the day like Tara Telephone and Dr Strangely Strange. Belfast guitar prodigy Gary Moore replaced Cheevers in 1969 and in the summer the first Skid Row single ‘Misdemeanour Dream Felicity’/‘New Places, Old Faces’ was released on local label, Song. Having trouble with his voice, Phil was soon ‘let go’ - with Brush and Gary now taking the vocals. Another single, ‘Saturday Morning Man’/‘Mervyn Aldridge’, also surfaced on Song that year.
From psychedelic-influenced beginnings, the classic Skid Row sound developed as a combination of breezy country ballads, Cream-like heavy blues, angular King Crimson-ish high-volume prog rock and an overriding fascination in finding a Dave Brubeck / John Coltrane influenced, rock-based fusion entirely their own. The challenge of combining pummelling riffs with poignant lyrics and folksy melodies in weird timings with blisteringly fast solos was one that all involved enjoyed immensely.
A concert in Dublin with Fleetwood Mac led to a management contract with Mac manager Clifford Davis. By the end of 1969 Skid Row had been signed to CBS, and relocated to Britain. The first UK single, the country-flavoured ‘Sandie’s Gone (Parts 1 & 2)’, appeared in April 1970, with first album Skid released in October. The first of four studio sessions and two concerts for BBC radio, mostly under the patronage of DJ John Peel, was recorded in July 1970. (NB: An outrageously blistering BBC concert set plus the early singles will be released on UK label Hux later in 2005).
During 1970 they made their first visit to the USA, performing with many of the other exploding ‘British’ progressive rock bands of the time, and toured Europe with Canned Heat, playing live on German TV’s Beat Club along the way. 34 Hours – still running the stylistic gamut from country swing to free-form jamming in Hendrix fashion - was recorded early in 1971, its release trailered by the definitive Skid Row single ‘Night Of The Warm Witch’/‘Mr Deluxe’. A second tour of the US followed, supporting the The Allman Brothers Band, Frank Zappa and Iggy and The Stooges, although the financial strain and apparent laissez-faire approach of Davis’ management was becoming hard to bear.
An untitled third album, ironically their most accessible (revisiting some previously recorded material), was recorded in autumn 1971 just before Moore quit – telling the press that the band were just playing too fast and it was time he found his own thing. (Which, for all that, turned out to be, frankly, playing fast.) Eric Bell was drafted in to fulfill some UK Christmas dates, with future UFO guitarist Paul Chapman coming in as permanent replacement. The band re-recorded exactly the same tracks as the Moore version of the third album, but momentum flagged and neither was released at the time (the Moore version finally surfacing via Castle Communications in 1990).
Brush subsequently returned, broke, to Ireland, forming the short-lived Bell/Brush Band with Eric Bell and periodically reviving the Skid Row name to get work – before discovering the best way to make a living was simply to play songs with three chords, turn on the blarney and act the goat. At this activity – with a uniquely look-no-safety-net cabaret routine interspersing Elvis, Hank Williams, Thin Lizzy and Paddy Reilly covers with flashes of stunning prog-rock virtuosity if the moment is right - he has somehow risen to the position of national icon. Being persuaded, by future Boyzone/Westlife manager Louis Walsh, to release rollicking versions of Irish ballads ‘The Fields Of Athenry’ and ‘Dirty Old Town’ as a 12” single in 1988 sealed his fate. In a sense, the Irish nation has taken to its heart one of its greatest musicians with the unspoken understanding that he keeps his musical abilities to himself.
But perhaps now the time is right to park the tractor, take a breather from the lounge-bar scene and crank it up to 11 once again.
[Source: A History of Skid Row By Colin Harper
Adapted from Irish Folk, Trad & Blues: A Secret History, published by the Collins Press]