Mike Skin­ner’s re­turn burns up the UK.

Q (UK) - - Contents -

Dry your eyes, mate: Mike Skin­ner is back and on great form af­ter a six-year hia­tus.

At the first of three sold-out shows at Lon­don’s O2 Academy Brix­ton, Mike Skin­ner can be heard be­fore he is seen, the first lines of Turn The Page bounc­ing across the stage just ahead of his tense black-clad frame. It’s an old trick in the mak­ing-an-en­trance play­book – the star grac­ing a fully-primed band and au­di­ence with their pres­ence – but it feels oddly un­der­stated, as if the hy­per-ver­bal force be­hind The Streets has just come back in from fetch­ing a beer from the kitchen, the con­ver­sa­tion he started 16 years ago with de­but al­bum Orig­i­nal Pi­rate Ma­te­rial, just car­ry­ing on, un­in­ter­rupted, un­bro­ken. Where were we?

It makes sense: Skin­ner has al­ways been a sto­ry­teller, and seven years af­ter he ended The Streets with fifth al­bum Com­put­ers And Blues amid sto­ries of burnout and ill­ness, fa­ther­hood and the de­sire to turn to film-mak­ing – he has picked up the nar­ra­tive thread again. These Brix­ton shows cap off a fevered, sold-out UK tour, Skin­ner the re­turn­ing pop star still mak­ing sense of the world. “Can you see me, Brix­ton?” he asks, shaved head and ethe­real pal­lor mak­ing him look as if he’s star­ring in an ex­per­i­men­tal Ham­let. “Can you hear me?” There’s a roar, and the front rows catch him as he falls into their arms.

His re­turn to The Streets’ han­dle isn’t with­out risk. The cul­tural land­scape has shifted tec­ton­i­cally since his ground­break­ing first two records: 2004’ s day-in-the-life A Grand Don’t Come For Free fea­tured mo­bile phones, but it was a Web 1.0 world, where re­turn­ing a rental DVD was still a thing. Mu­sic’s not where he left it, ei­ther: UK garage in­spired him (he sprays a bot­tle of cham­pagne over the au­di­ence, an ap­par­ent trib­ute to the scene’s luxe swag­ger), but since then grime, its once un­der­ground off­shoot, has set up a main­stream HQ and drill is the new ex­cit­ing moral panic in town. For a man whose songs so of­ten felt like a live-brain-feed from the sofa and cash point, chip shop and club – nostal­gia could be fa­tal. It would be stupid to claim that it is ab­sent tonight – the beer-chuck­ing ju­bi­la­tion greet­ing the rowdy bounce of Don’t Mug Your­self or Fit But You Know It sug­gests hun­dreds of wasted youths be­ing re­claimed. Yet de­spite its dis­tinc­tive time and place, Skin­ner’s mu­sic of­fered an Ord­nance Sur­vey map for young adult en­nui: small be­tray­als and morn­ing-af­ter dra­mas, lit­tle con­flicts and glitches mask­ing an ex­is­ten­tial dread so huge and form­less it’s im­pos­si­ble to see around it. That never goes out of style. The en­core sign­posts new di­rec­tions, push­ing for­wards, not look­ing back, as Skin­ner show­cases new ma­te­rial, some

The Streets, back on the streets (p10);

Blinded by the lights: The Streets’ Mike Skin­ner, O2 Academy Brix­ton, Lon­don, 25 April, 2018; (right) Skin­ner shows some skin, O2 Academy Birm­ing­ham, 19 April, 2018.

Let’s push things for­ward: (from left) Skin­ner with band and crew on the tour­bus; get­ting a lift in Birm­ing­ham; some cham­pers for the old-school UK garage heads.

(From top) Skin­ner meets and greets his pub­lic; his In­sta­gram post pro­claim­ing a new beer-drink­ing record for Brix­ton Academy.

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