“I started watching people like the Pope - when he turns up you know he’s in the room!”: Skindred frontman Benji Webbe on how he became metal’s most flamboyant frontman

 Benji Webbe of Skindred.
Benji Webbe of Skindred.
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Benji Webbe’s flamboyant stagewear is almost as synonymous with Skindred as the Newport Helicopter, the singer always ensuring that he is the most stylishly outrageous man in the vicinity at the band’s live shows. But anyone who caught the group in their very early days will have noted that Webbe wasn’t always dressed to the nines. In fact, it took a friend advising him to lord it up a little for the singer to get in touch with his ostentatious side, as he told this writer in a chat for Classic Rock last year.

“I used to wear dark colours onstage, I wasn’t this flamboyant guy,” Webbe explained. “My friend came to a gig and he was like, ‘You were great but I couldn’t see you – you need to wear brighter colours!’ and I went, ‘really?’. ‘Get yourself a nice bright jacket!’. After that, it hit me, and I started watching people like the Pope, when he turns up you know he’s in the room.”

Talking about his sartorial inspirations (other than His Holiness), Webbe said he started watching Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, putting studs on his clothes and purchasing a feather boa, until a trip to Los Angeles really opened his eyes. “I was working with Robert Trujillo from Metallica, I went to Liberace’s place and I seen his clothes and I was floored,” he recounted. “I thought, ‘I’m taking the power of Liberace onto the stage with me!’ I started talking to theatrical people how I wanted a jacket with flames coming out of it and all this sort of stuff.”

His first major costume, he said, was the sequinned British flag jacket he wore at Download in 2011. “It was the first time I did the Newport Helicopter,” he said. “Proud isn’t the word I’m looking for, but I’m very happy with my heritage of being British and also having the West Indies in my life,” he stated, thinking back to the jacket. “I love Bowie like I love Marley, rebel music whether it’s from Kingston, Jamaica or St Kitts in the West Indies or Harlesden, it’s rebel music. That was where the music and the magic was born.

Webbe reckoned that if he went too far with an outfit, his bandmates would give him a tap on the shoulder. “I’m sure if the boys thought that I looked like a fucking idiot, they’d go, ‘Bro, over the top now, let’s dial it down’,” he laughed. “Also we’re all CEOs of a business called Skindred but they want me to experiment with this stuff, the lyrics are serious and the melodies are strong but the Pope dresses like a fucking crazy person and he’s got a serious message. You’ve got to be who you are called to be and I want to go onstage wearing a black sequinned suit. When I go to Asda, if I wanna wear my crazy shit, I wear it. Where I live, people used to look at me when I first started doing it, now they go, ‘Hey Benji’. It’s nothing, I’m doing the gardening in a sequinned full leather jacket.”