By Lauren Edwards
I had an evening of 90s nostalgia last Friday night. The BBC were airing Glastonbury highlights, in lieu of any actual festivals going ahead this year, with standout performances from the likes of The Prodigy, Oasis, Radiohead, to name but a few.
However, as Skunk Anansie took to the stage with their trailblazing first performance, I was instantly transported back to my late teens, blasting out their rock masterpieces from my (5-disc shuffle) CD player. I remember how I pored over every lyric of every song (Hedonism was my favourite) as lead singer Skin projected her incredible voice, talking to the soul of my 19-year-old self with her impeccable vocals.
In fact, Skin was narrating the Glastonbury documentary that I was watching. Her soft spoken, high pitched hushed tones are a complete contrast to the incredible voice that she unleashes when singing.
It’s been a very difficult thing being a lead singer of a rock band looking like me and it still is. I have to say it’s been a fight and it will always be a fight. That fight drives you and makes you want to work harder.
The rock goddess that we know as Skin, is more formally known as Deborah Ann Dyer (OBE), and was born on 3rd August 1967 in Brixton. Her family moved to the UK from Jamaica as part of the Windrush Generation. Her mum worked as a nurse and her dad was an air steward for the RAF, which meant that Skin along with her three brothers, lived on various military air bases in her early childhood, before her dad left the air force and worked on an oil rig.
Everyone in my family can sing. They can all sing. They just didn’t work on it. I was the one who had the drive and ambition to do music and to be successful.
Skunk Anansie formed in 1994 during the height of Britpop. Their debut gig was to a few hundred people at The Splash Club, a cramped backroom in a dilapidated pub in London’s Kings Cross. A month later, on the 5th of April, the band returned to The Splash Club for a second gig. This was the same day that Kurt Cobain took his own life. A rep for a record label was in the crowd that night, he was also a big Nirvana fan and when he heard the news of Cobain, he wasn’t going to go out, but he was persuaded to go to Skunk Anansie’s gig and said that the band were so mad that he ‘had to sign them because if anything can make me feel better after this, they must be amazing.’
Skunk Anansie then released their politically charged debut single Little Baby Swastikka, which was around the same time that Oasis released Definitely Maybe, and Blur released Parklife. Between 1995 and 1999 they produced three best-selling albums and a string of hit singles. In 1999, Skin became the first female black artist to headline Glastonbury. After much success, sell out concerts and world tours, the band split in 2001 before reuniting in 2009.
Being a black frontperson and being a black, female bald-headed, gay frontperson, I didn’t have the same forgiveness or standard as everyone else.
In September 2020, Skin published her memoirs in her co-written book It Takes Blood and Guts, charting her musical journey along with her role as a social and cultural activist and champion of LGBTQ+ rights.
Skin is a true icon. As a proud gay black woman, she was the original leading force for diversity within the music business and is still an inspirational role model for many today. Skin lives between her mountain hideaway cottage in Ibiza and a two bedroomed condo in East London. She became engaged during lockdown to her girlfriend of 12 years, Rayne Baron, who is a writer and performer and is also known by her stage name Lady Fag.
There was a conversation about multiculturalism. That was what we called diversity, back in the day. I like to say that a lot of the discussion now are standing on our shoulders. Because we started that shit.