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Former Hipsway frontman is riding high again

Hipsway's former frontman Grahame Skinner has always been a bit of a cowboy.

COWBOY: Grahame Skinner proves that if the hat fits, wear it.
COWBOY: Grahame Skinner proves that if the hat fits, wear it.

He played with Postcard rodeo-punks Jazzateers in the 1980s, spent the 1990s in brooding-pop gunslingers Cowboy Mouth, and his new album, with The Skinner Group, is called Back On The Horse. Skinner's first new album in 18 years sees the Glasgow singer-songwriter back in the saddle, writing songs and playing live, with sidekicks Douglas MacIntyre (Jazzateers, The Leopards), Andy Alston (Del Amitri), Gordon Wilson (Love And Money, Cowboy Mouth) and Campbell Owens (The Leopards).

Next week, The Skinner Group will perform songs spanning Skinner's 30-year career, kicking off with a Back On The Horse set in full (think brawny soul-pop, scorched doo-wop and bruised rock 'n' roll), before sauntering into his back catalogue, revisiting Jazzateers, Cowboy Mouth and, of course, Hipsway - the Glasgow 1980s funk-pop outfit for which Skinner is best-remembered, thanks to singles like The Honey Thief (a Top 20 hit in the UK and US) and Ask The Lord.

Yet the gig and new album serve as a reminder that Skinner, and Hipsway, are indebted to Scotland's punk and indie lineage. "Yeah, we wouldn't have existed without that," he says. "Postcard, The Fire Engines - those people made me think I could be in a band. I was only in Jazzateers for a short time, but it's one of my favourite things I ever did."

It was during his tenure in the early-1980s post-punk rabble that Skinner met long-term sparring partner Douglas MacIntyre. "I learned lots, and it was quite exciting. It made me realise that you can act your way through things; that you can be a character. It launched me into the idea of being a slightly different person on stage than the person you're talking to now."

Skinner took that persona, and with it a pop star's moniker - Skin - and swaggered into Hipsway, flanked by Harry Travers, Pim Jones and Altered Images' Johnny McElhone (who would later form Texas). Did Hipsway have a different outlook to Jazzateers? Were they consciously more commercial or pop-orientated? "

We wanted to bring an element of soulfulness into pop music," Skinner recalls. "We all liked Postcard, but we also loved Al Green, and Talking Heads were a big influence, they were pretty soulful too."

Hipsway's biggest hit, The Honey Thief (1986), is a classic in the Scottish pop canon; so ubiquitous three decades on that it even has a Williams Brothers beer named in its honour. Did the band realise they had such a durable hit on their hands when they wrote it?

"We definitely thought The Honey Thief would be a single," says Skinner. "We didn't know if it would be successful, but we thought it was the most likely to be."

Beneath its crooning white-funk jam lies a very Glasgow tale. "The idea for The Honey Thief came one day when we were all at the Burrell Collection, and our drummer Harry saw that picture [Venus With Cupid, The Honey Thief] which gave him the idea for the lyric, and for the character of the song," he explains.

For all its transatlantic appeal, endurance and universality, there's a sense of Scottish melancholy ("the light of deep regret") within its gleaming chords. "Yeah definitely," nods Skinner. "I've only just figured out how to play it on the acoustic guitar, and you can play it almost like a folk song. It's weird."

If Skinner's back catalogue can spring such musical surprises, so too can his new songs. One track on Back On The Horse is entirely comprised of Burt Bacharach references (Bacharach, You Gave Me Love), while another, Hole In My Soul, features an Aidan Moffat-referencing monologue. "I've certainly not done a monologue before," says Skinner. "I actually wish I sang in a Scottish accent, but mine just doesn't sound very good to me," he adds with a laugh.

But wasn't that symptomatic of the 1980s, when most Scottish pop bands - Deacon Blue, Texas - looked across the Atlantic for inspiration? "Yeah, that's true, I think most of our influences were American, and I don't think we saw the Scottish accent as having much commercial value back then. It's a shame."

Yet Skinner's Americana-inflected vocals resonate with his ranch-punk aesthetic. "Yeah, there's always been a cowboy thing going on," he nods. "I've always felt Glasgow had some relationship to the Wild West - look at The Grand Ole Opry, or look at the artwork on my new album." (It has a photo of Bud Neill's famous Glasgow cartoon-cowboy Lobey Dosser.)

There's just one hitch, though. "The one time I actually went riding, it was a complete disaster," Skinner laments. "I'm not actually very good at being a cowboy." Let's just be thankful he's back on the horse.

The Skinner Group play Oran Mor on Friday, May 16. Back On The Horse is available now

www.grahameskinner.com

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