Steve Hill is an upbeat guy. Since the world turned upside down last year he’s thrown himself into livestreaming with Skam (the band he co-founded in 2011), alongside parenting responsibilities and his day job as a teacher. Still, at this point even he is starting to get a bit bored.
“It’s been alright,” the Skam singer/guitarist tells us, Cheshire Cat grin intact. “I mean… it’s pretty shit, in’t it? But we’re doing okay, keeping ourselves busy.”
Together with bassist/co-founder Matt Gilmore and drummer Neal Hill, he has also been able to finalise their new EP, Intra. A strapping six-tracker, it’s a refreshing follow-up to 2017’s conceptual colossus The Amazing Memoirs Of Geoffrey Goddard.
With one foot in the heavier end of the Foo Fighters and another in the classic arsenals of Iron Maiden, Thunder and AC/DC, it’s Skam’s biggest and best set of songs yet, stirred together with ruminations on human struggles
At gigs you’ll find them out front with fans.
Rock fans first and foremost – and raised on a cocktail of classic rock and their local late-90s/ early-00s scene – Skam would rather be partying with fans than holding court in green rooms.
“We didn’t wanna go to a gig and sit and drink lemon and honey before the show,” Gilmore says of their earlier shows, “it was about meeting people, talking to people, drinking a vast amount of beer, Steve smoking too many fags…”
“We’re very social animals that way,” Hill adds. “We still like to come out and see everybody.”
It all began in the rock haunts of Leicester.
Before Skam, the singer and bassist started out in ill-fated punk group The A.I.Ds. Music-loving misfits in school (“Matt was a full-on skinhead,” Hill says, “I wore black nail varnish”), they spent weekends at gigs and frequenting local rock club Alcatraz. Starting the band, which eventually morphed into Skam, was a no-brainer.
“We were awful,” Gilmore says with a grimace, “but at that point we weren’t thinking about much, it was just pure fun.”
Skam got their first breaks doing gigs with tribute bands.
Early momentum developed through support slots with bands playing familiar songs. Packed rooms across the country, geared up for a night of well-executed classics, proved an ideal place to cut their teeth and find lasting fans.
“Limehouse Lizzy, Dressed To Kill, ZZ Stop, there was a Bad Company one, a Whitesnake one…” Gilmore recalls. “It was one of the best things we did,” Hill says. “Instead of playing down Leicester under our own name, finding the same fifteen people were coming out, we were travelling out of town, playing Nottingham, London… It was cool.”
They performed for a witch in Alsager.
Skam’s earlier gigs took them to some unusual places, one of which was a pub that had an interesting landlady, locally dubbed ‘the Witch Of Alsager’.
“She was just a rocker, really,” Matt says, laughing. “We were sleeping in the pub, upstairs, after this show, and…” Hill chuckles. “This’ll sound terrible, but she looked like a witch – she wore this big black robe. We were smoking and she was cooking herbs [laughs]. I don’t mean we were doing hard-core drugs, but she got a pestle and mortar out, she was making a spell, then we were smoking catnip and all this kind of shit!”
They joined The Answer at a greasy spoon built under a stage.
“When we supported The Answer and The Union at Rock City in Nottingham, it was like a dream come true. That was our childhood venue of choice,” Hill reflects. “But literally built underneath the main stage was a greasy spoon cafe, for the bands!
"You’d go through the door, under the stage, and there’d be some tables set out with doilies on them. And there was a bloke smoking through a vent, going: ‘Alright, lads, you want a Sunday roast?’ You could hear the other band upstairs and the lights would shake.”
The songs are important, but Skam live for playing live.
“Things like doing interviews, releasing records, it’s all the conduit towards being able to play live,” Gilmore says. “So not being able to do it has been really strange.”
“We were moaning about only being able to pull a hundred people to a show,” Hill says. “Or we’d travel up to the north of Scotland and thirty people had come, and we’d be like: ‘This is shit.’ But actually I would give my left bollock to play a gig in front of thirty people now.”