1980

April – Larry Mazalan, who had been in the Skafish band since its origin, quits the project.  

May - Lee Gatlin becomes the new Skafish bassist.  The debut LP is released worldwide on May 7, 1980 at 4:30 PM Greenwich Mean Time.  The album lyrics are directly derived from the real-life saga of Skafish-persecution, alienation, rejection, self-loathing, self-mockery, revenge, and humor, with only “Guardian Angel” (foreshadowing the fixation on “angels”) and “Work Song” (about the steel mill life Skafish was raised in) being non-subjective.  The music is a multi-dimensional blend; groundbreaking screeching synthesizers, choir-like vocal arrangements, fractured jazz piano, punk/metal guitar, classic pop and show tune melody, orchestral layering, and alternating complex and simple musical lines. The entire sensibility is focused through the melodic voice of Skafish.

Skafish cover photo
Debut LP cover photo
Photo by Paul Natkin

Immediately, the LP receives a great deal of press.  Some acknowledge Skafish as a genius; many refer to the record as unique and interesting. Others, although to a lesser degree, refer to the work as quirky.  Most American radio stations refuse to even consider playing the record solely because of its cover.  Featuring a simple, high upper torso nude portrait photo of Skafish, the cover’s delicate, androgynous look made many people unsettled and uncomfortable.  The idea to resubmit the LP in a black jacket without a name or photo is considered, and then scrapped.  

 

Too far ahead of its time and unable to fit any existing market, the record has a difficult time finding an audience.  Musical innovation notwithstanding, the albums lyrics alone prove to be visionary, commenting on the alienation and the outsider’s perspective that would fuel much of the alternative movement of the 1990’s. The album’s eclecticism becomes its commercial Achilles heel.

Skafish Obsessions cover
"Obsessions" single cover
Photo by Bill Sosin
The 1st single from the debut LP “Obsessions of You” is released internationally on May 20, 1980 at 3:46 PM Greenwich Mean Time, with the previously unreleased “Sink or Swim” as the B-side.

 

“Obsessions of You” juxtaposes the base reality of blind obsession and the false idealism of such a situation through chorale like, almost classical vocal lines. 

 

“Sink or Swim” could be considered one of the strangest recordings in history.  With one of the fastest vocal lines ever, Skafish rattles off lyrics about babies being dropped in the water, on top of insidious synthetic bubble effects.  The music dangerously veers from section to section, featuring punk/atonal improvisation and a rapid-fire drum track.  The single attracts noteworthy media attention, especially in the British press.  Skafish's profile is considered so shocking, that the cover photo is used repeatedly in articles with titles such as "Meet the World's Ugliest Pop Star."

June - In The New Musical Express “Indies” Charts of June 28th, 1980, the debut LP reaches #2, and the first single from the album “Obsessions Of You” reaches #4.

July - On his way to Europe, Skafish headlines The Bottom Line in New York with Bush Tetras opening the show.

July through September  - The band tours Europe with The Police, XTC, UB-40, Squeeze, English Beat, and U-2, playing anywhere form 8,000 seat arenas to 45,000 seat stadiums on a daily basis.  The Skafish band also plays various headlining club dates in England.

July 26 – Skafish plays his first overseas show—an outdoor festival of 35,000 to 45,000 people at Milton Keynes, England.  When the Skafish band boards the stage, the audience cheers as the sexy and glamorous Barbie Goodrich waves to the audience, voicing the introduction to the 1st LP.  Moments later, the arrival of Skafish himself immediately sends shock waves through the festival crowd.  Within minutes, the audience begins heaving half-full beer cans at the stage, aimed specifically at Skafish.  By three songs into the set, the band was being hit repeatedly by cans, with Skafish and Goodrich dodging the barrage as they had done before, maneuvering and dancing on stage.  In the midst of the rain of splattering beer cans, the well-trained Skafish band continues to execute its complex music, attempting to ignore the assault.  But seven numbers into the set, Skafish takes a direct hit on the forehead, causing a bleeding gash which forces the Skafish set to be abruptly stopped.  Police members Sting and Stewart Copeland are both appreciative of Skafish’s art, with Sting being especially supportive, dismissing the canning by saying, “In a crowd of 35,000, you’re bound to get a few cunts.”

Lexip Castle
Dublin concert crowd
A few days later, Skafish is scheduled to play another outdoor concert  in Dublin, Ireland in front of approximately 35,000 people.  When Skafish’s musical equipment never arrives, the Skafish band is grounded backstage, looking-on as sporadic riots break out in the audience. 

Skafish and his group become disconcerted as concertgoers are injured as they are forced through security barriers at the front of the stage by the crush of the crowd.  Many of the bleeding and wounded are carelessly dragged backstage and placed in ambulances.  Squeeze refuses to let Skafish use their musical gear, fearing that Skafish would be canned off-stage again, and damage their equipment.  In the midst of the daylong chaos, Skafish loses contact with employees of I.R.S. Records, ultimately ending up being detained in the cold and rain for several hours.

London fan as Skafish profile
A fan dressed as the Skafish Profile
London, 1980
Returning to England, Skafish and his band live in a London flat for a few weeks before resuming their touring schedule. At this time, Skafish immediately receives a large burst of press, in practically every publication in the U.K., from such papers as New Musical Express, Sounds, New Music New, Sunday Mail, Music Week, Melody Maker, to Record Mirror. 

 

The perception of Skafish is reactive, extreme, mixed, and sensationalistic. During his time in England, Skafish receives intense tabloid-style media coverage.    While some proclaim him to be absolutely brilliant and innovative, others viciously make fun of him, still others write him off satirically, looking for clever, dry methods of dismissal.

By early August, feeling emotionally overwhelmed, Skafish contemplates the idea of flying home and leaving the tour.   Several days later, Skafish takes a cab to Heathrow airport to board a U.S. bound plane.  I.R.S. Records employee Carolanne catches up with Skafish at the airport and convinces him to stay in England, but the airline refuses to let him leave the terminal.  Based on the weirdness of Skafish’s appearance, the authorities fear that his luggage (already on the plane) might contain a terrorist bomb.  The British authorities physically force Skafish to board the New York bound flight.  Upon arriving in New York, Skafish is met by I.R.S. Records employees and after eating a hamburger, immediately boards a flight back to England.  The next day, Skafish travels to Belgium, and resumes his concert schedule.  Besides headlining the Music Machine in England, the rest of Skafish’s concert schedule takes him through several parts of France through the end of August.  The audience reactions throughout France are less violent and more receptive to the act.

For several consecutive weeks in August, Sounds Magazine runs a mocking cartoon of Skafish, portraying him in self-disguise as a mainstream pop star who is ultimately exposed as Skafish. 

In August, the second single from the debut Skafish LP, “Maybe One Time” and “No Liberation Here” is released in England.  It receives a number of reviews in the U.K. press.  “Maybe One Time” is a lamenting and vulnerable ballad, while “No Liberation Here” musically revolves around a heavy metal drone-like riff and pounding, almost burlesque drums.  The lyrics deal with shame, being ostracized, and sexual/social debasement.

August 28th - The act is filmed in Frejus, France in front of approximately 20,000 people for the “live” international concert film extravaganza “Urgh! A Music War.” The film features artists such as Joan Jett, the Go-Go’s, Devo, Klaus Nomi, and The Police.

A Skafish London performance
Performing in London

 

September - Headlining ‘The Venue” in London on September 2nd, Skafish receives highly favorable reviews for the performance. Two days later, Skafish plays his last European date of 1980 on September 4th at “The Cavern” in Liverpool, England.  The tough, stoic audience takes the show in without reacting.  New Order makes their 1st live appearance opening the show.


Fall - Skafish tours the U.S. east coast with the original Ultravox, The Stranglers and XTC.  Members of XTC list Skafish as their favorite artist in a promotional bio.  Kurt Loder writes a stellar concert review of Skafish in Rolling Stone Magazine, featuring a live photo of Skafish and Barbie Goodrich with the article, even though Skafish was technically only the opening act for The Stranglers.

In Chicago, the group Special Affect, featuring Al Jourgensen (who goes on to form Ministry,) and Frankie Nardiello, (who later sings for My Life With Thrill Kill Kult,) opens for Skafish.

December - Skafish flies to New York to mix the live recording of “Sign Of The Cross” at The Record Plant with British engineer/co-producer Tim Summerhayes for the upcoming film “Urgh! A Music War.” The track, which opens with a morbid mellotron choir, showcases one of the most dazzling and hard to execute drum performances in rock history.

Skafish has received extensive press internationally, including magazines such as Rolling Stone, without having ever granted a single interview.  On the dawn of a new decade, it was looking as if Skafish could be the next big thing.

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