As well as fronting one of the UK’s key bands, Skin is a multi-talented artist, a fashion icon, a renowned DJ, a charity activist and an inspiring role model for different generations of fans.
Born and brought up in Brixton, south London, she defied expectations as a black woman vocalist by diving headlong into hardcore rock, rather than becoming a soul session singer. “I’m not up there trying to be a babe. I’m sexual but not in a girly, wimpy way. Our music has attitude, it’s in your face, so I have my own parameters,” she said.
In 1992 Skin gave up her career as an interior designer to write songs and devote herself to music. She played in bands on the North London indie scene before joining forces with bass player Cass and guitarist Ace to form Skunk Anansie. The group played their first gig at London’s Splash club in 1994 and within a year were voted Best New British Band by the readers of Kerrang Magazine. After the award ceremony, drummer Mark Richardson joined the band as their permanent drummer.
A multi-racial band with a sound that intertwined brooding, funky beats with edgy lyrics, driving riffs and fragile ballads, Skunk Anansie broke barriers from the start. By 1995 the group appeared with two of their songs, Feed and Selling Jesus, on the soundtrack of the Kathryn Bigelow film Strange Days. After hearing the song Selling Jesus, radio ‘shock jock’ Howard Stern predicted that the band would become huge. In 1996 they were voted Kerrang’s Best British Live Act and the following year they were nominated for Best Live Act and Best Group at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
In the 90s Skunk Anansie dominated the album charts with Paranoid and Sunburnt (1995), Stoosh (1995) and Post Orgasmic Chill (1996). They had a succession of hit singles including the devastating ballads Brazen (Weep), Hedonism (Just Because You Feel Good) and Weak, where with her rich, soulful voice Skin seemed to reach deep inside to draw out powerful emotion. There’s also her personal favourite Secretly.
In 2001, Skin launched her solo career, releasing and touring the albums Fleshwounds in 2003 and Fake Chemical State in 2006. Spawning the hit single Trashed, Fleshwounds was a pared-down, soulful album. Skin describes it as “very down-tempo”. Fake Chemical State saw her in a more upbeat, mischievous mood.
The band got back together, and in April 2009 played two shows at London Water Rats. That year they released the ‘greatest hits’ album Smashes & Trashes (which included three new tracks and a remix collection) and did a sell-out European tour. Fired up by their tour the band went into the studio in spring 2010 and recorded their fourth album Wonderlustre, a set that flows from soaring and elegiac to locked-down, sensual and funky. Released in September 2010, the album includes the declarative single My Ugly Boy and the gothic, slow-burning My Love Will Fall.
As well as fronting one of the UK’s key bands, Skin is a multi-talented artist involved in varied projects. She has played out at classic venues like Club Q in Zurich, with such DJs as Martin Buttrich, Clive Henry, Smokin Jo and Luciano. She has contributed guest vocals to numerous projects including Carmen Queasy for Maxim and Meat for Tony Iommi. Her 2008 song Tear Down These Houses featured on the soundtrack to Silvio Muccino’s film Parlami d’Amore.
So Skin remains a pivotal force in music – not just as a rock singer but also as a cultural icon. Continually pushing boundaries, she proves that one’s potential can be limitless. From the beginning she forged her own way. As she says: “A bit of anger can be very useful in the right place and time, it gives you sparks, gets you moving, feeds your passion, separates the girls from the toys!”