“We’ve been mates for 10 years this month” said Robb when he called me from Thailand last month. “And we’ll be mates for many more years to come bro” I replied, not knowing this would be the last time I ever spoke to him.
We stayed on the phone for over an hour and spoke about us both becoming fathers (his daughter Elizabeth was born a few weeks before my son Teddy earlier this year) and he seemed really positive about life and this time he was gonna get well and get his life back on track. The reason why he was in Thailand was to cure his heroin addiction – several visits to rehab in the UK had not worked and this time he was determined to get clean and sorted and be able to look after his family and get back into playing music. ‘I’ll be back next month bro, but I think it’s too early for me to go on the road with you guys then’ he said. “No problem mate, take your time and get well I replied – but if you’re up for it we’ve started work on the next album and we’ve got some tracks that needs your killer fiddle on it!” “That would be great, can’t wait” he said. I am really sad he won’t be contributing to out 4th studio album.
You see, neither myself, his family or any of the members of the UVM had any idea that Robb was addicted to heroin – we might be a hard partying band, but smack is NEVER on the menu – in fact it’s a big NO!
I wrote a song called ‘Heroin (Put My Brothers In The Ground)’ and we’ve recorded this song twice – both times Robb contributed with his amazing fiddle to the recordings, but I am sad that he didn’t listen to the message of the song. If you’re reading this, please can you do me a favour and not even try heroin – it only leads to tragedy like this and it will fuck your life up as well as others around you. Please Brothers and Sisters – don’t go there!
I first met Robb when we played London’s Borderline in September 2004 – he was 18 years old and working as a glass collector at the venue and came over to me just as we came off stage telling me how much he loved the band. “You work here? I said – any chance of a drink, the promoter only gave us 2 drink vouchers each and I’m broke and thirsty” I said’. “Can you distract the barman and I’ll sneak up behind him and grab you a couple of beers” he said. Done deal – we repeated that a few times that night, swapped numbers and became mates. From then on he’d always be at our shows, sometimes doing a bit of roadie work for us in exchange for beers and even sitting in playing a bit of guitar. Many nights he crashed on our sofa and one hungover morning we wrote the song ‘Corpse In My Trunk’ – I was always impressed by the fact that even though he was so young his knowledge of everything from Blues, Balkan, Country and early Rock’n’Roll was amazing – he played like an old soul and was a total one-off!
Most people in the music world will not know Mr Skipper from his work with us, but from The Holloways, a band I watched going from playing pubs to sell out large venues and having several Top 40 UK hits, it always made me feel so proud that the kid who was collecting glasses had done so well for himself!
When our original violin player Barney Hollington decided he had enough in 2010, there was no doubt in my mind who to call. Robb accepted the offer to join us with the understanding that his own projects would come first which was fine by me – after The Holloways he had Robb Skipper & The Musical Differences and later Hares, but he always managed to squeeze in time for who he called his “Big Brothers and Sisters!” Hell, we even played quite a few shows together in Fast Lane Roogalator!
These words are really hard for me to write, when I named the last record ‘Love, Drink & Death’ I would never in a million years have thought a member of the band would be dead only three weeks after it’s release, anyway I know he was proud to be a part of this album and I am very happy to have shared the time I have with him.
My deepest heartfelt condolences go out to his beautiful wife Georgina and their baby daughter Elizabeth, his parents Sheila and John and his sister Ruth.
I know I will remember him for the love, laughs and the great music he gave us and not for the tragic accidental way he died and I hope you will too.
Rest in peace my friend, you always made me smile – see ya on the other side for more laughs!
The Urban Voodoo Machine
London, 5th October 2014
PS ~ Check this clip out Robb of singing and playing fiddle on The Clash’s ‘Bankrobber’ with Ronnie Wood on guitar! You really could not make this shit up – he might only lived 28 years, but hell did he pack in some action in that time!