The Chronicle

Fewer cases of Covid by the seaside

Skunk Anansie’s Skin talks to ALEX GREEN about writing her memoir, her childhood and racism in the music industry


SEASIDE towns continue to experience lower rates of coronaviru­s, despite tourists flocking to the beaches over summer. During the height of the season there were concerns that people travelling to the seaside from elsewhere in the country would lead to a spike in cases, particular­ly among the local population.

However, new figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed that the rate of coronaviru­s deaths remains lower in seaside towns - those with a beach and visitor attraction­s - than it does in their inland counterpar­ts.

Up to September 18, there had been 57 coronaviru­s deaths for every 100,000 people living in small seaside towns, and 63 per 100,000 in larger seaside towns.

That compares to 84 deaths for every 100,000 people living in smaller non-coastal towns, and 102 per 100,000 in larger non-coastal towns.

The figure for other coastal towns - those without beachers or visitor attraction­s, that are focused on other activities such as being a port town or industrial town - vary by size.

Smaller coastal towns have the lowest rate of deaths of all, at 53 for every 100,000 residents, while larger coastal towns have seen 100 for every 100,000 people.

Small towns are defined as those with a population of between 5,000 and 20,000 people, while large towns are those that are home to more than 20,000 people.

The low rate of Covid-19 deaths in seaside towns comes despite an influx of visitors in the summer months - particular­ly in June and August.

Experiment­al figures, based on Facebook app (with location enabled) data, shows that on Saturdays between July 11 and 29 August, the population density in larger seaside towns increased by between 1.2% and 5.2% - with the busiest weekend falling on August 1.

There was a dip in visits to smaller seaside towns on July 11, but from July 18 onwards the population density also increased between 1.4% and 4.2%, with August 29 the busiest Saturday.

Those increases continued into autumn, with population density in large seaside towns still up by 1.5% on normal levels on September 26, and up by 3.4% in smaller seaside towns.

The low rate of deaths in seaside towns seems counterint­uitive, as age is one of the main risk factors of coronaviru­s - and these towns tend to have older population­s.

However, scientists believe that this may be because older people are less likely to find themselves in large groups.

Dr Konstantin Blyuss, a Reader in Mathematic­s at the University of Sussex, said: “With coastal towns having, on average, older population, who may not be doing so much commuting, combined with a smaller proportion of younger people, who are generally socialisin­g more, this all results in reducing levels of people mixing for extended periods of times in close proximity of each other.”

‘I’ VE had to learn to blow my own trumpet because – as a black female singer – no-one was going do it for me,” explains Skin down the phone from her home in Ibiza.

As the frontwoman of Skunk Anansie, Deborah Dyer – AKA Skin – offered an alternativ­e voice to the machismo of Brit rockers such as Oasis and Blur during the 90s.

“If I am modest I disappear,” she says.

“I don’t like to sit here and say, ‘I was the first black woman to headline Glastonbur­y’. That’s not my personalit­y. But one of the ways that racism works is that it erases what black people do... It erases our successes.”

Black, British and queer, Skin, now 53, was a rarity in the fairly homogeneou­s landscape of 90s pop and rock.

Her autobiogra­phy, fittingly titled It Takes Blood and Guts, charts a difficult but warm childhood in Brixton, south London, through to her years in Skunk Anansie.

The book also touches on Skin’s activist work, campaignin­g against apartheid and for LGBT rights, as well as glitzier turns like her stint as a judge on the Italian version of The X Factor.

Then there is her latest reinventio­n as a globe-trotting DJ and close relationsh­ip with the fashion world.

“I have three brothers so I was raised in a house of boys,” she recalls.

“There was a lot of man energy around. In Jamaican families, in Jamaican culture, if someone is hungry you feed them. If someone comes to your house then you put down an extra plate. That’s cultural. And my mum, a nurse, was like that. Lots of Jamaicans were like that. They showed their love by filling your belly.”

Skin’s memories of Brixton in the 70s and 80s are mixed, she says. The riots of 1981 and 1985 left an impact – spurring her on to activism.

“The negative things that were happening to people were literally happening outside my front door.

“You see a lot of things growing up that you just don’t think are very fair, so you want to change things.”

Today, the gentrifica­tion of the area is something that concerns her.

“The wonderful thing about Brixton is Brixton Market. But it has been under attack for years now. Eventually we are going to see it disappear because the new people moving in don’t really get it. They don’t really get the black food. They don’t really get that it is supposed to be a bit edgy and a bit messy.”

Skunk Anansie’s musical peak originally stretched from 1995’s Paranoid & Sunburnt to 1999’s Post Orgasmic Chill, before the band split for a decade.

Aided by journalist and friend Lucy O’Brien, Skin began her book before the pandemic, but it was finished during the first months of lockdown.

In September, she announced her engagement to her partner, performer and events organiser Rayne Baron.

“I spent the first four months of proper serious lockdown in New York with my wifey and we literally didn’t go anywhere.

“New York was really serious about it.”

Skin finally made it to London, before arriving in Ibiza about a fortnight before we speak. It’s a jet-set lifestyle, and much of the book explores Skin’s struggle to maintain connection with her family, friends and partners as she tours the world.

Has she got the balance right now?

“Yeah, totally,” she says without hesitation. WhatsApp groups change everything.”

The book offers a fascinatin­g look back at her years in the spotlight. The first act of Skunk Anansie’s career peaked with that slot on Glastonbur­y’s Pyramid Stage in 1999, alongside fellow headliners REM and Manic Street Preachers.

“Headlining Glastonbur­y for us was a double-edged sword because, if you imagine, we were one of the biggest bands in the UK at the time, and also in Europe,” says Skin.

“Our second album was triple platinum.

“We absolutely deserved to headline Glastonbur­y in terms of statistics, in terms of record sales, in terms of the size of the band.

“And yet, we had so many journalist­s that were anti-Skunk Anansie headlining Glastonbur­y.”

Their detractors dressed up their criticism, she says.

“But what they really meant was there is a black female lead singer and she shouldn’t be singing rock music anyway.

That was what was really behind it.

“You can say that now, but if we had said that at the time we would have been told we had a chip on our shoulder.”

Skin points out a catalogue of black artists or predominan­tly black groups who could have headlined over the years.

“Goldie could have done it at one point, Dizzee Rascal could have done it at one point, even Eternal could have done it at one point! It’s not that we aren’t there. It’s that we don’t get the dibs and we don’t get seen as someone who can fill a field.”

It Takes Blood and Guts by Skin and Lucy O’Brien is available now.

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 ??  ?? Skunk Anansie at the height of their fame in 1999
Skunk Anansie at the height of their fame in 1999
 ??  ?? Looking back: Skin today
Looking back: Skin today

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