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Born To Do It: Skindred Frontman Benji Webbe's Top Tips For A Rocking Live Show

Tuesday, 27 November 2018 Written by Laura Johnson

“You’re either born to do it or you’re not, and I guess I was born to do it,” Benji Webbe says, a few hours before hitting the stage at Cardiff’s Tramshed with his band, Skindred. “The whole stage performance thing, I fell in love with it from a very early age—I loved putting on the clothes for the Christmas play in Junior School.” When he says early he means early, then. Start as you mean to go on.

If you’ve seen Skindred live, you remember it. It’s impossible to forget. Night after night Webbe makes it his business to whip the crowd into a sweaty frenzy. He favours an all-court attack to get the job done—he’s got the stage presence to match a mighty set of pipes and struts about the venue like he owns it. That’s because, for an hour and a half on that particular evening, he does.

With a scarf dangling from his mic stand in the finest tradition of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, he seamlessly makes changes to his outfit throughout the set, flipping from a diamante-crusted bomber jacket and red sunglasses to a silk shirt paired with an officer’s cap or leather gloves.

Skindred’s journey has taken them from playing to less than 100 people in a converted cinema in Merthyr Tydfil to festival main stages around the world, including Download and Reading and Leeds, and their enthusiasm has never waned.

When you consider the fact they’ve been dishing up their punishing fusion of reggae, metal and good times for two decades, and across seven albums, that’s no mean feat. We caught up with Webbe during their current UK tour to get his thoughts on how to put on a show—take notes.

Be confident in yourself

The front guy I am today I wasn’t 20 years ago, but I think age is beautiful thing. You grow into your character. You start to know yourself the longer you’re here. If someone wants to be a shoegazer and that’s their thing, rock on! When the Pope walks in the room you know he’s in the room because he’s got all those lavish clothes on—same with Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. I want to be louder than life up there.

Embrace your personal style

I want to feel comfortable within myself. I think that standing out from the crowd is what sets you apart anyway. When I get on stage I’ve got the chance to do that, whether it be dressing in an Evel Knievel suit or something different. I think if I went up there in a t-shirt and jeans I just wouldn’t feel good. I go to Asda and Tesco like it. I get the best looks ever but I don’t give a shit. I’m only here once and I’m not living for everyone else, I’m here for me. That’s my vibe. Can you imagine imagine Prince in a t-shirt and jeans down the shop buying crisps? That’s the way I look at it. I don’t pretend to do this. This is what I am.

Choose a good setlist and don’t be afraid to play the hits

What we like to say is we like to cover the misses! We do the ones that get a lot of traffic on the internet—that’s what people are listening to and that’s what they want to hear. So that’s how we put the set together. But then we’ll do little bits like mash ups, which is always fun as the crowd goes crazy. Chuck in a little AC/DC or the Prodigy or something and they fucking love it. It’s just to be endearing to the crowd and get them on side. To let them know you’re not just a band—you’re music fans yourself.

Maybe think up a move to rival the Newport helicopter...

We played Download Festival and when we went in the dressing room there was a thing on the wall and it said ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’ and I remember seeing someone talk about doing a helicopter in North Carolina, but it was just a small hip-hop band. They had a song that went something like ‘North Carolina come on and raise up, take your shirt off and wave it round your head like a helicopter’ and I thought ‘that’s fucking banging!’ I thought ‘I can’t do the wall of death’, which we were loving at the time, so I  just stole the helicopter from them.

The band never even knew either, I just told everyone to take off their shirts and everyone’s looking at me like ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ I said hold your shirts up and on four we’re gonna do the Newport helicopter. I don’t even know where that came from, it just came out of my mouth. The best thing about it is I own it now. People say to me they’ve seen Ed Sheeran doing the Newport helicopter and I’ve said ‘he can’t do it, that’s ours’. Only we can do that. He can wave his t-shirts around his head but he can’t have the helicopter.

Give it the beans!

Whether it’s one man and his dog, the bar staff and security, we give it all we got, every time. That’s the way we play. Would we want to play Wembley Stadium every night, 60,000 people? Yes, we would. But we play the game with the cards we’ve been dealt. Sometimes we’ll play huge festivals like Download, other times we’ll play little shitty inns somewhere, but we never ever go on there and think it’s different. With a festival you never know who’s there, who’s watching. So that’s why we always give it 110%. The Queen could be there and she could say, ‘I knight thee Benji Webbe.’

We always play with passion. We never go ‘ah, there’s not many people there’. Fuck that! I want to impress. When I was a kid in my sister’s bedroom with a brush singing Tina Turner songs, it was only me and I was fucking loving it.

Never underestimate the power of music

We’ve got a song in our set called Saying It Now and I talk about a friend of mine who died of cancer. Even though I hung around him for all those years I never told him I loved him. It was only when he was gone I realised how much I loved him. So we put that into a song and we played it at Bloodstock. It’s an acoustic song, just me and Mikey [Demus, guitar].

I’m singing the song and I look at the crowd and the crowd’s all looking at me because I explained about my friend having cancer. I could see two guys hugging each other, and they were crying. Then four more guys came, then six more guys, in the end it must have been about 200 people all in a big circle hugging each other and I think that was so fucking beautiful. Of the things I’ve seen that was something that touched me.

That same weekend something really special happened. A gentleman went to that festival with his wife and his two sons and in his mind he said to himself, ‘I’m going to go to this festival, have a great weekend and then on Monday I’m going to hang myself.’ He went to the festival and the words to that song made him change his mind.

We’ve met him since. He came and he said to us: ‘After watching your set I just felt like there was something in life to live for’. I thought that was pretty epic. And it’s not just one you know, I hear it all the time. People saying that Skindred got them through the darkest of times. That’s more than money, giving someone a lifeline. I always say to the people at the shows—this is not just another rock show, this is a celebration of life.

Skindred Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu November 29 2018 - HULL Asylum, Hull University
Fri November 30 2018 - LINCOLN Engine Shed
Mon December 03 2018 - TUNBRIDGE WELLS Forum
Wed December 05 2018 - MILTON KEYNES Craufurd Arms
Thu December 06 2018 - WORCESTER Marrs Bar
Fri December 07 2018 - BRIGHTON Brighton Concorde 2
Sat December 08 2018 - LONDON Underworld
Sun December 09 2018 - BRIGHTON Concorde 2
Thu December 13 2018 - FROME Cheese & Grain
Fri December 14 2018 - NORTHAMPTON Roadmender
Sat December 15 2018 - LIVERPOOL O2 Academy
Thu December 20 2018 - CAMBRIDGE Cambridge Junction
Fri December 21 2018 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Sat December 22 2018 - LEICESTER O2 Academy
Thu May 16 2019 - WREXHAM William Aston Hall

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