Over a decade on, Mike Skin­ner’s Every­lad vi­gnettes still sparkle.

Q (UK) - - Contents - TOM DOYLE

We look back at the early-mil­len­nial ge­nius of lap­top lau­re­ate Mike Skin­ner.


Some­where around the turn of the mil­len­nium, the lap­top al­bum was born. The pro­lif­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal au­dio pro­duc­tion soft­ware – of­ten “cracked” and pi­rated for free on file-shar­ing sites – meant that mu­si­cians could cre­ate stu­dio-qual­ity tracks on a com­puter at home. The Streets’ Orig­i­nal Pi­rate Ma­te­rial was dif­fer­ent from most bed­room­recorded records, though. Not least be­cause it was an al­bum partly made in a wardrobe. To achieve his dry, in­ti­mate vo­cal sound, in his room in Brix­ton, Birm­ing­ham-born Mike Skin­ner recorded his rhymes in an empty wardrobe son­i­cally dead­ened with a du­vet and mat­tress. In­side it, Skin­ner cre­ated his own an­tiNar­nia, a very much non-fan­tasy world. In­stead it was a car­toon re­al­ity re­flec­tion of his day-to-day life: a heady, Kro­nen­bourg-fu­elled ex­is­tence in­volv­ing weed-deal­ing, PlayS­ta­tion marathons and chipfly­ing ar­gu­ments in ke­bab shops. What stood out about Orig­i­nal Pi­rate Ma­te­rial was the fresh­ness of its ar­ti­san take on UK garage, as her­alded by The Streets’ first sin­gle, 2001’ s Has It Come To This?, all jerky beats, glis­sando pi­ano, cut-up vo­cals and Skin­ner’s rap about jour­neys on the Tube, walk­ing through un­der­passes and kick­ing back at home weigh­ing out eighths deals of weed. But this wasn’t just geezer-ish brag­gado­cio and on The Streets’ de­but al­bum, it was Skin­ner’s hu­mour, ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of the ec­stasy-glow drug ex­pe­ri­ence (Weak Be­come He­roes) and brav­ery in re­veal­ing his fail­ings and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties (see re­morse­ful crap boyfriend groover It’s Too Late) that im­me­di­ately at­tracted a huge au­di­ence. Since its re­lease in 2002, the first-run vinyl copies of Orig­i­nal Pi­rate Ma­te­rial have been chang­ing hands for north of £ 100, prompt­ing its long-awaited re-re­lease along with that of its suc­ces­sor, 2004 loose con­cept al­bum A Grand Don’t Come For Free. In the lat­ter’s way­ward nar­ra­tive, Skin­ner loses his £ 1000 of sav­ings, be­fore – spoiler alert – re­cov­er­ing it in the most ridicu­lous way by the al­bum’s end. Held up against The Streets’ de­but, it was more am­bi­tious mu­si­cally, but darker in tone. Blinded By The Lights took its ti­tle from a line in Weak Be­come He­roes, but this was its para­noid flip­side, de­pict­ing Skin­ner alone in

a club, try­ing to find his mates and chas­ing the mem­o­ries of those first highs: pop­ping a sec­ond pill be­cause the first isn’t work­ing, caus­ing his heart to dan­ger­ously race. The hu­mour was still there in places, peak­ing with punky hit Fit But You Know It, but it was the heart­bro­ken, tear-in-the-beer break-up bal­lad Dry Your Eyes, a rare in­stance of lovelorn des­per­a­tion for bloke cul­ture, which typ­i­fied the tone and be­came The Streets’ big­gest hit, an in­stant Num­ber 1 on re­lease. More than a decade down the line, both of these al­bums have hardly aged, prob­a­bly be­cause they were so ground-break­ing at the time that the shadow of in­flu­ence they cast still looms over new Bri­tish urban styles. Per­haps in­evitably, Skin­ner’s third al­bum, 2006’ s The Hard­est Way To Make An Easy Liv­ing, doc­u­mented his post-fame dilem­mas, with diminishing re­turns. Since then, he’s con­tin­ued to record and per­form spo­rad­i­cally, cleaned up his act, suf­fered through M.E., and will re­turn to the stage this spring for his first shows in seven years. Skin­ner quickly sold them all out and it’s not hard to imag­ine that it will be the songs from these first two al­bums that the crowds are wait­ing for: the sound of the time when The Streets burned fiercely and brightly. Lis­ten To: Has It Come To This? | Weak Be­come He­roes | Fit But You Know It | Dry Your Eyes

On the road: The Streets’ Mike Skin­ner and his first two al­bums, 2002’ ’s Orig­i­nal Pi­rate Ma­te­rial (left) and 2004’ sA Grand Don’t Come For Free.

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