Skindred ruled British festivals in 2021. From the Download pilot to Bloodstock and beyond, the Welsh ragga-metallers were a resounding highlight (in a run of notably homegrown line-ups), building on a longstanding reputation for having more fun with mega crowds than anyone else.
Epic mosh pits, wheeling shirts in the air (aka ‘the Newport helicopter’), ‘waving like the queen’ – it takes a firebrand frontman to get thousands of rock fans immersed in such good-natured silliness. Staying in shape over lockdown was paramount to staging a high-octane comeback.
“I like to do a lot of cardio,” frontman Benji Webbe says, in chatty, very Welsh tones, as the band continue their UK tour. “I do an hour on the cross-trainer every day, then a bit of light weights. I’ve lost four stone and I’ve kept it off. I think that’s pretty good going.”
How does it feel to be back on the road again after so long away?
It’s been very emotional. I’ve seen people get older and stuff like that. Having had two years off, it took a toll on the world. Don't get me wrong, the shows have been absolutely amazing. But I’m going to these cities we’ve been to before, a lot of times we’ve made friends, and I’m finding out that [some of] these friends have passed on. It’s quite a heavy time.
Bands have had to be more careful on tour this year, to minimise covid risks. Has that impeded your enjoyment of the experience?
No. I mean, if everyone was told to stay still and wear masks, fair enough. But we’re on that stage partying like it’s 2019. Honestly, people are just hugging, kissing… it’s just a beautiful sight to behold from the stage.
Do you get nervous before shows?
No. I get anxious. But I get anxious about going to the post office. I get anxious about going to Asda. But I don’t get nervous, because I’m a fucking show-off. It’s funny, whether I’m in a pub with twelve people or a festival with eighty thousand, I get the same buzz. There’s humans there and I can show my skills!
How ‘Newport’ is the Newport helicopter? Is it just so named because that’s where you’re from?
Once I was on stage and I mentioned the English, Scottish and the Irish, but then I totally forgot the Welsh. And I went into the pub a few weeks later and everyone was turning their backs to me. So when I had the idea to do the helicopter thing, I thought: “If I can get all these people to take their shirts off and hold them up at the same time it’ll look great.” When I did it, it [the name] just came out of me. So calling it the Newport helicopter was like reprievement for forgetting the Welsh before.
It is quite something watching eighty thousand metal fans wheeling their T-shirts in the air, waving like the queen…
I know! It’s incredible. I love it! It just goes to show how soft people are really. Some of the Skindred fans look like they just came in for a casting call for Game Of Thrones, you know? But they’re the loveliest people in the world.
Can you remember the first festival you ever went to as a punter?
My brother was in a band called Beatroots, a noisy little reggae band from South Wales, and he took me to this festival [in Wales]. We got there and all of a sudden my mild-mannered brother was in this cool band! I stayed there all day smoking weed. I was only about fourteen.
And when the sun was going down the guys were out with all these beautiful women, getting drunk. I’d seen the manager slip off and he was given an envelope full of money. And I thought to myself: “You come here, you get all this love, and then you get paid!’ I was like: “I’m in! I wanna be part of that world.”
During lockdown you wrote a children’s book, The Wonderful Adventures Of Colin The Coolest Kitten.
When my children were little I used to tell them stories, but because I’m crap at reading I used to make ’em up there and then. I so happened to make up a story for my granddaughter, about Colin the kitten, and that was it, really.
Is there anything you’d still like to do, musically?
I’d really like to do something with a 52-piece orchestra, and maybe do an album with them.
What’s Christmas usually like in the Webbe household?
Me and my girlfriend shut the door, put the big ‘fuck off’ sign outside, so that people leave us alone, and have a self-indulged Christmas. I’ve got four children and fourteen grandchildren, that’s why I’ve got the ‘fuck off’ sign outside. It literally says ‘fuck off’? Yes, ‘fuck off’, that’s what it says.
But my family knows what I’m like – they know I like to spoil my lady on Christmas Day. I cook West Indian mutton and rice, and leave Julie to do the English roast – a leg of lamb, all the veg and stuff. Always too much. It looks like the table on A Christmas Carol.