Primal album still movin' on up
IT’S A STRANGE turn-up for the books. For many years, questions about Screamadelicawould come up in interviews and Primal Scream leader Bobby Gillespie would bat them away with ease or irritation.
That was old news, he’d say, old business. “I don’t want to be banging on about the good old days,” he told this newspaper in 2002 when questioned about his band’s seminal album. “As far as I’m concerned, these are the good days.”
Released in 1991, Screamadelicawas both a career-changing album for the band and an era-defining work. It was a record which saw a bunch of ramshackle, ragged, rowdy Scottish rockers find their spiritual home in the middle of a loved-up, raved-out dancefloor. An album which was higher than the sun, it became the key release in Primal Scream’s long, adventurous catalogue.
But the band never looked back and revisited its glories. There was never a hint of nostalgia from them about it. Instead, they moved on, experimented with other sounds and became a searing, uncompromising, often vital act. By the time Screamadelica’s 10th anniversary came along, only two songs from the album remained in the set.
So when live music promoter Chris York approached the band with the notion of doing some live shows where they would play Screamadelicain full, Gillespie and his cohorts were in two minds about it.
“Our initial response was to think ‘Would anyone be interested?’,” says Gillespie. “But York is a serious guy and he said the tickets would fly and all the people I respect in the business, like our manager and agent and Jeff Barrett at Heavenly, said we should do it because it could be a great thing.”
On the other hand, Gillespie was mindful of what the exercise might say about Primal Scream today. “I was a wee bit apprehensive because I thought it might be seen as an admission of defeat to be looking back and might be sending out the wrong signals that we’d stopped doing anything creative.”
While they were mulling it over, Gillespie went to the Royal Albert Hall in London to see Van Morrison play Astral Weeks live. “It was incredible,” he remembers. “He was up on that big stage looking like he had something to prove. It blew my mind because I could never have imagined how you’d play that record live, yet Van did it.”
A few months later, Gillespie saw Iggy and the Stooges do Raw Power in full. “It was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. It showed to me that you could do that and do it right, and those two gigs inspired me. Because both Iggy and Van had something to prove. Over the years, the reputation of those records just grew and grew. They might not have sold a lot of records at the time but, 40 or 50 years on, they’re embedded in the culture.”
As the band went to work on Screamadelicato prepare it for a tour, Gillespie found himself regarding the album in a whole new light. “I had a new respect for the record. Listening back to the multi-tracks, we were blown away by what we heard. When you make a record, you tour it and you start again with a new album and another tour. Twenty years is a long time and we made a lot of other records in that time.
“Only Higher than The Sunand Movin’ On Upfrom Screamadelicahave stayed in the live set since the 1990s. We even dropped Loadedfrom the set. We’d lost contact with the album so seeing the reaction from the audience to these songs is just mind-blowing.”
Gillespie points out that a lot of work went into making Screamadelicafit for purpose for this tour. “We wanted to do the record justice because we knew it meant a lot to a lot of people. I’ve seen shows where people play their so-called classic and it’s very rough and ready. We wanted to do something more than that, we wanted to bring the record into the 21st century.
“A lot of the songs on the album are quite gentle and slow and we had to really think about to do them because Primal Scream had become a high energy rock ’n’ roll band live over the last 20 years. How can you go from Get Your Rocks Offto Shine Like Stars? The way you do it is play it intensely and sincerely and with conviction. Play like you f***ing mean it even if it’s a gentle ballad.”
Going back to Screamadelicahas also set Gillespie thinking about how much has changed in rock music since that album was released. Primal Scream have spent much of the time since then making angry, passionate, energised records, but Gillespie feels they’re alone in that regard. Few other rock acts have ambitions to rage against the machine.
“I bumped into Paul Weller the other day and we went for a coffee and we were talking about this lack of ambition which seems prevalent in rock right now,” he says. “You read interviews with bands and it’s all about being rich and famous and being the biggest band in the world.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of artists out there any more. It seems to me that if you were a serious young person and you had something to say that you’d be looking at other disciplines. In music, everything seems lightweight and conformist and not very artistic. Everybody seems to be settling for the status quo.” He dates the decline to the end of the 1990s and the start of the noughties. “It happened around the time of the White Stripes and The Strokes, and no disrespect meant to either band. It seemed that a lot of people had given up trying to be experimental. I don’t want to put down either band but the people who came after them had a real lack of content.
“Rock music is no longer where creativity is and it’s no longer taken seriously by creative people. It’s been absorbed into the mainstream culture and has become too conformist and normal. There doesn’t appear to be many great minds at work in music right now.”
Primal Scream would still count themselves as the odd ones out in that regard and touring Screamadelicahas truly energised the band about what comes next. “It’s given us a new confidence because the shows have been so well received,” Gillespie explains. “I don’t think we’ve ever put as much effort into a tour before as this one and all the hard work has paid off because we got back what we put into it in buckets.
“We’re close to completing the new record too and no, it doesn’t sound anything like Screamadelica. We were never one of those bands or never wanted to be one of those bands who could just repeat ourselves like that. It has to be relevant to now. I’ve got something to say and we’re going to f***ing say it.”
Having followed up Screamadelicawith the confusing Southern rock homages of Give Out But Don’t Give Up, Primal Scream returned to business with this dark, intense, intriguing album of rock and dub in 1997. Kowalski, Starand Burning Wheelstill sound fantastic.
The band’s 2000 album was a gritty, powerful, highly political, heavyweight work with the band taking no prisoners. Featured temporary band member Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine.
From 2002 and loaded with Krautrock-inspired tunes like Autobahn 66(produced by Andy Weatherall who was back in the fold for this one) and spooky atmospheric belters like Deep Hit Of Morning Sun. The less said about Kate Moss on Some Velvet Morning,though, the better.
Primal Scream play Screamadelicaat Dublin’s O2 on December 29th