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"Skindred is Not Just a Band for the Moment": Benji Webbe on Chart Battles and the Road to Wembley

Tuesday, 03 October 2023 Written by Emma Wilkes

On a Tuesday morning in August, Benji Webbe’s phone rang as he wandered through the inert surroundings of Membury services, just off the M4 in Berkshire. Skindred’s manager had some news, and the band’s vocalist quietly assumed something bad had happened. In reality, it was anything but that.

“The album’s at Number One on the British charts,” said the voice on the other end of the line.

“Say it again,” Benji answered. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

His manager laughed, and said it again.

“No fucking way,” was Benji’s response.

That album is ‘Smile’, Skindred’s newest collection of outrageously loud, characteristically sunny ragga-metal anthems, which they’d been travelling up and down the country to promote that week. Benji thought that if it managed to hit Number 15 on the charts, they’d have done pretty well. 

Instead, they found themselves in a classic tug of war at the summit. The record clung on to top spot for most of the midweek race, before being pipped at the last second by Irish singer-songwriter Cian Ducrot’s ‘Victory’. In spite of that, however, it was Skindred’s bid for chart victory that ended up becoming a more noteworthy story, even bringing them onto BBC Breakfast’s trademark red sofa. 

The alternative music community was cheering them on, for it’s moments like these that remind the wider world that, actually, rock music still matters in 2023. “It really brought us together in a way that I’ve never known,” Benji recalls, on the phone from his native Newport. “We were doing all we could do, travelling around in the back of that van, going to bed at two in the morning and getting up at five to go to the next gig. It really was a beautiful thing. It would have been great to get the number one, and as far as I’m concerned, we did get to number one. We were there for four days in the week!” 

At the time, it felt like the chart battle was the apex of Skindred’s phenomenal later-career resurgence. Few bands reach such dizzying heights more than 20 years into their career, with their members firmly in middle age. Criminally, they’re only just getting their first magazine covers, but that’s less of a testament to their popularity and talent as it is to the institutional racism of the music industry.

Radio presenter and podcaster Sophie K has often emphasised the point that as recently as the early 2010s, the idea magazines wouldn’t sell as well with a Black person on the cover still stubbornly persisted. “It is a big ‘fuck you’,” Benji acknowledges. “In 24 years of being a band, we’ve done really well, but Skindred is not just a band for the moment. It’s a band for forever.” 

While they’ve been grafting, they’ve always backed themselves, even when the wider industry hasn’t. “I would even be so bold to say that we make music that could become like Queen in time,” he continues. “I love Queen – people call me Dreddie Mercury and I love it. Queen wasn’t just a rock band – they used opera, folk, classical, they used everything that was around them on the radio to make the music they made. That’s the same with Skindred.”

In a sense, though, Skindred were ahead of their time. The dividing lines between musical subgenres have become fuzzier in the last decade or so, meaning blending styles has been all the rage, but with their eclectic fusion of metal and reggae, Skindred were doing it before anybody else. 

“As a kid, I came from a reggae sound system world, with the big speakers and the loud music and all that stuff,” Benji elaborates. “I believe the ethos of Skindred is we take this reggae song and use it in a very heavy metal fashion. That’s what we’ve been doing, all these years. I consider myself to be an emcee as much as a rock frontman. We want to take Skindred, the sound system, and make people dance and rock out and come together by any means necessary.” 

That endlessly fun, genre-obliterating approach helped them find an unlikely new audience among Generation Z, which led to their 2002 hit Nobody going viral on TikTok. There’s something vindicating about that, as well, given the producer of that song didn’t want to record it because he didn’t think itwould go anywhere. 

It has an added layer of significance for Benji, however. “The most incredible thing I’ve been hearing is kids who weren’t even born when the song was written, talking about mixed heritage and how it brings people together,” he says. “Their white friends and their Black friends are all listening to the song. It works because it brings different genres together, but not just that – it brings mixed heritage people together, which is amazing. I never even thought about doing that, but it’s doing it.” 

Skindred have spent a quarter of a century working their way up to bigger venues one Newport Helicopter at a time, and they’ve also built themselves a reputation as the party-starting stalwarts of the UK festival scene. They were brought in to replace Five Finger Death Punch as second-stage headliners at this year’s Download, arguably a slot they’ve outgrown judging by the colossal volume of people who came to see them. Come March, they’ll be running a victory lap at the OVO Arena Wembley.

“I never imagined us actually headlining Wembley, to be honest with you,” Benji reasons. “It’s a pretty big deal for a local band like Skindred.”

A local band?

“No matter if you’re the Beatles or Fleetwood Mac, you’re local somewhere and I will never forget that,” he explains.Benji still lives in Newport – it keeps him grounded, and even though he moved to Florida for five years, he couldn’t ignore the call of home. “Everywhere has its racism problems, but I remember as a Black kid growing up, I never felt intimidated,” he says. “There’s so many different nationalities, and that had a profound effect on me. I think the reason why Skindred plays the music it plays is because I was surrounded by all these different nationalities – Arabic, Irish, Italian, West Indian, African. That’s definitely where the vibe comes from.”

It's heartening to think that even though his band will be headlining Wembley in just a few months, he speaks of himself as the same guy from Newport he’s always been. Similarly, despite the trials of the music industry, Skindred’s essence – and their mission statement — has remained constant. “I just want to be that frontman,” Benji says. “I want [us to be] the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll band, lighting up people’s faces, warming their hearts, and encouraging them to live another day.”

Skindred Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri October 06 2023 - NORTHAMPTON Roadmender
Sat October 07 2023 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Fri October 13 2023 - CAMBRIDGE Junction 1
Sat October 14 2023 - NORWICH Epic Studios
Thu October 19 2023 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Fri October 20 2023 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE NX Newcastle
Sat October 21 2023 - GLASGOW Garage
Thu October 26 2023 - MARGATE Dreamland
Fri October 27 2023 - BRIGHTON Chalk
Sat October 28 2023 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Fri November 03 2023 - SHEFFIELD Leadmill
Sat November 04 2023 - LINCOLN Engine Shed
Fri November 10 2023 - CARDIFF Great Hall - Cardiff Uni
Sat November 11 2023 - SOUTHAMPTON O2 Guildhall Southampton
Fri November 17 2023 - BELFAST Limelight 1
Sat November 18 2023 - DUBLIN Academy
Thu March 14 2024 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy
Fri March 15 2024 - LONDON OVO Arena Wembley
Sat March 16 2024 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy Birmingham

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