The Skels Reflect on 20 Years in the Celtic Punk Game

Photo Courtesy of The Skels

The Skels, the awesome New Jersey-born and bred Celtic punk outfit, will perform at the first ever Shamrocks and Shillelaghs Fest at Convention Hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey on Saturday afternoon. The event is co-produced by Convention Hall, The Asbury Park Boardwalk, The Anchor’s Bend, and The Pop Break. The band, which formed in 1995 has found success locally, and nationally, and continue to play pubs all over with the same excitement and energy they had as young pups in the punk scene (okay, they might be a little grayer now).

We recently caught up with Chris Skel, frontman of the band, to talk about their glorious 22 year run in the scene, performing with Dropkick Murphys, and the weirdest thing to ever happen to them at one of their shows.

Let’s start with the easy one, the lay up — what’s the story behind the band’s name?

“Skel” is an old NYC cop term for an undesirable person. I went to Fordham University in the Bronx during the late 80’s and one day shortly after I started my freshman year I suggested we go to a bar located on the opposite side of campus. A friend of mine (who was familiar with the area) said, “nah, there’s too many skels on that side.” I immediately determined the word’s meaning by context and also immediately thought to myself that “skel” would be a great name for a band. That was September of 1988 and it took until July 1995 to come about.

You’ve been doing this since 1995. Were The Skels always based in the Irish punk scene or was that something you evolved into?

When we started in 1995 we were riding on the coattails of a local Celtic rock band called The Barleycorns. There were around in the early 90’s and most of the Skels met each other from going to see them. I guess you can say we picked up where they left off and at first we played mostly Irish traditionals, Pogues covers, a few country tunes and an original or two. At the time, there was not really an “Irish punk” scene, but since The Pogues always had a punk sensibility about them, one might argue that we were Irish punk since we played Pogues songs. But yes, that sound evolved for us over the next few years as we wrote more originals.

What bands influenced The Skels’ sound the most?

The Skels were most influenced by The Pogues, The Dubliners, The Clash, Johnny Cash, etc. As a songwriter, I have always been influenced by Shane MacGowan, Tom Waits and Nick Cave. I am well-aware, however, that my songs are poor homages to those geniuses.

In the 22 years of the band’s existence what would you say is your proudest moment?

It’s impossible to say what our proudest moment was. But for me personally, the release of our first record, The Book of Skels in 1998 was pretty amazing. I never thought that would actually ever release anything and we were all so thrilled when it came out. We were even more thrilled when we ran out of our first pressing of 500 copies and had to order another 500!

Opening for the Dropkick Murphys at one of their St. Patrick’s Day show in Boston in 2005 was great as well and was undoubtedly, the biggest show of our career. In retrospect, however, if you love music and you love the band you’re in the way we do, every show, every practice and every time you hear the band on a jukebox, the radio or Pandora is a proud moment. And we are fortunate to have 22 years of all those proud moments.

What’s the wildest thing that’s happened during a Skels show?

The weirdest things that happened during a Skels show was probably when Lenny Lashley (Darkbuster, Street Dogs) came up on stage during a show at The Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge, MA and sprayed us with a fire extinguisher. That was weird.

March is obviously a huge month for the Irish — do you guys add a little something special to your shows during this month?

Actually, not really. We may play longer, but nothing too different.

For people who have never seen you perform and may be checking you guys out for the first time on March 18 — what can they expect from a Skels live show?

For those that have never seen us, expect a good time on March 18. And expect a hangover on March 19.

What do you guys have planned for the rest of 2017?

It remains to be seen what The Skels have in store for the rest of 2017.

The Skels perform with The Unforgettable Fire at the first ever Shamrocks and Shillelaghs Festival on Saturday afternoon in Convention Hall in Asbury Park, NJ. Click here for tickets.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites