Then there was Light
With Andrew weatherall, Kate Mss and Robert Plant sll on board, Primal Scream are back with a 21st Century Screamdelica and a resolution to let the music taake you higher than you've ever been before.
They won't say it so we will. There's no band in
Britain today that has the rich, kick-arse history of
rock'n'roll careering through their veins and attacking
their brains more than Primal Scream. It's there in every
single reference Gillespie's psychedelic lyrics, allusions
to cult films, books, musical heroes and politics even
the art on the sleeve of every album comes with its own
weight. So loot the knowledge as it's a firing head-trip
courtesy of Primal Scream and, if you care to notice it,
everything's for free.
Bobby Gillespie should know, he's had ten years
worth of interviews to grind the same axe in the hope of
waking and shaking the people out of their apathy.
Perched on a stool, strumming his guitar, it's as if the
Glaswegian pied piper is saying, well, the messages are
still there if you want them.
As a band, Primal Scream became a huge, human
sledgehammer that slammed hard into the dark
recesses of the last decade, finally purging their anger
with XTRMNTR. But today, when probed on the politics
of both the State and states of mind, Gillespie directs
conversation straight to the music. Because it's only
now that their personal, new euphoric headspace
demands that, armed with the first true British
rock'n'roll album of the century, they stick to the music
and get on tour. With Andrew Weatherall, Kevin Shields
(My Bloody Valentine) and Kate Moss all on board,
they're absolutely gagging for it. And when Led
Zeppelin's Robert Plant arrives at the studio, he's the
final ignition point to out the band's boiling energy'. Dig
out Led Zeppelin's Black Dog, turn it all the way up
and what you'll hear is Primal Scream's visions of what
it'll be like when they burst onto stage in this, the
summer that Mani predicts will be the third summer of
love. Hey, hey mama, said the way you move I gonna
make you sweat / gonna make you groove!
"Two years ago when we started this record, I was
pretty fucked up in my head," comments Gillespie, who
recently became a father, "a lot of the ideas came from
then. Then I guess things change, so right now I'm dead
happy... it's taken a while." Rewind to 93, when the
band and Britain was beginning its hedonistic fall-out
from Screamadelicaand the second summer of love
respectively. Unaware of what the next seven years
would bring, Primal Scream were sifting by the pool at
the Chateau-Marmont hotel, LA. "Arthur Lee was there,"
remembers Gillespie of the day he met the lead singer
arid songwriter of SOs psychedelic band, Love who,
along with The Byrds are one of his all-time biggest
influences. "I was wasted, everybody was pretty fucked
up. I don't think he was, but I said, 'Arthur, if I play
"Signed DC" will you sing?' I started playing the chords,
he sang two verses and a chorus then put his hand into
his pocket, pulled out a harmonica, played the break
then sang the rest, it was fucking insane!" One of the
most aching songs to have ever been written about drug
addiction, the band were shocked as Lee took the guitar
from Bobby and continued to give them an impromptu
show. Released the following year, the third Primal
Scream album, Give Out But Don't Give Up went down
as one of the albums most wrought with rumours of
heavy drug abuse in recent history. As America reeled
from the death of Kurt Cobain, Britain's celebrities
careered towards a front cover of Vanity Fair magazine
that cried "Cool Britannia" with all the semi-complicit
acknowledgement of cocaine abuse that implied, while
Primal Scream and, inevitably, Creation Records were
setting the stage to battle their own demons.
"If you look at Screamadelica as euphoric,"
comments bass player Mani, "Give Out But Don't Give
Up was a really bad period of drug abuse. Vanishing
Point is the paranoid come-down and XTRMNTR was
like, we're angry cos what the fuck have we been
doing?" An angry album, XTRMNTR ran on two trains
of thought. "We were trying to plant bombs in people's
minds and get them politicised again, cos that's what
Thatcher drummed out of people," says Mani.
"Superpower foreign policies are just so fascist,
destabilising governments and starting revolutions just
so that they can build McDonald's. Serbia and Sosnia
are both just aircraft carriers for the USA to launch
planes from. We never invited them to our party, what
are they doing? Why are they fucking it up?" Gillespie
treads another more cursory' path. "XTRMNTR, even
then, was more about nihilistic drug culture and
control, I have a theory about drug culture: if you made
the choice to become an addict, in effect you neutralise
yourself, so really it's like you become no threat to
anybody. Now see it isn't rebellious, it's counter-
productive if you want to do anything of any use. I'm
criticising self-inflicted narcosis, so that was the closest
the record came to being political, and even then, it
was just personal, you know?"
Two years on and the latest album has just the
slightest touch of the past's destructive embers finally
settling, while conversely the band are on a new
celebratory, (13th Floor) elevatory trip. Somehow
everything from 60s garage bands like the Seeds, Moby
Grape to anarchic, electronic bands like Throbbing
Gristle, DAS to Can, Faust, punk, Jerry' Lee Lewis and
country and western are all wired into this new album,
Yet it all makes sense and works, no more so than on
the first single, "Miss Lucifer". "That's the electronic
rock'n'roll," says Gillespie, who moves onto a haphazard
attempt at explaining the whole album. "It's more
sarcastic, more hateful, but it's more funny as well,
more up, maybe not as angry, something else... sexier I
think." Man your turn. "We've moved away from the
politics, we got that out in the last album. This, I think,
is just a celebration of life, I dunno that might sound a
bit cheesy and blast, but we're just enjoying what we do
so much now." Okay, one track at a time, From the
ashes of "Bomb the Pentagpn" comes "Rise" produced
by Kevin Shields, who was given the musical brief of
The Plastic Ono Band meets P.I.L. Following the media
furore caused by the original title and its chilling
message of prophecy that was yanked into the spotlight
as September 11 unfurled, Bobby says, "There's a song
called 'Rise', there's no song called 'Bomb the
Pentagon', that's the best way to put it." Euphoric,
electronic and kaleidoscopic, Bobby chants image heavy
lyrics like a howling shaman over Mani's driving bass.
The track explodes like a flashing psychedelic cannon-
ball straight through the back of your head before finally
disintegrating into a chaotic dirge.
"Deep Hit of the Sun" is ragged and industrial with
a freight-train heart-beat pumping throughout. Guitars
wail like sirens singing backwards (Mani: "Backwards
shit, all sorts of trickery, whatever you can throw at it,
it's all there.") courtesy of studio trickster Andrew Innes.
It's taken over a decade, and only Primal Scream know
how close the band came to jacking it all in in the mid-
90s. But uplifting and flush as this song is, a line can
now finally be drawn between the joys of Screamadelica
to the present day. Significant in this is the return of
Andrew Weatherall as producer on three of the album
tnacks, one of which is "A Scanner Darkly". Named after
a book by Philip K Dick (author of Do Androids Dream
of Electric Sheep), it's the disturbing story of protagonist,
Bob Arctor, who can't distinguish between his job and
his junkie lifestyle. Delusions, schizophrenia and
hallucinations all mix into the fold. Gillespie becomes
elated while describing the track as Captain Beefheart
over Throbbing Gristle with Robert Plant on harmonica.
But a few telling lines from the book speak even louder;
"he felt, in his head, loud voices singing: terrible music,
as if the reality around him had gone sour."
"We all fucking love... no, worship Led Zeppelin!"
says Bobby an hour before Plant arrives at their north
London studio. Gillespie's getting animated, laughing
and clapping as he anticipates the lead singer of one of
the world's biggest rock bands guesting on their album.
"Robert Plant, what an amazing rock'n'roller, amazing
singer. The Zep fucking invented rock'n'roll behaviour!
Maybe even better than the Stones, sexier maybe... hey
d'you know what, they're not better than the Stones, but
fuck me, they're as good as." As Robert Plant arrives in
the studio, a warm gust of blonde hair; jokes and smiles,
Primal Scream are visibly beside themselves. Plant
listens to the track once, takes a harmonica from Throb,
the lead guitarist, and goes into the next room to record
his material within minutes of arriving. "There are
Howling Wolf-style blues on this track, and we know
Robert's a big fan so when he passed by the studio a
couple of weeks ago, we asked if he'd like to play," says
Bobby, who's jumping around as Plant shows a real feel
for the dirty, sexy qualities of the track right from the
get-go. Another take and Plant adds some long, skitzy
notes and then that's it. But not before discussing the
fame and misfortunes of other rock stars. "You can't live
for disaster," states Plant. Gillespie Iooks up from his
guitar and laughs, "well, we tried". Quick as a flash,
Plant floors the band, "My God, I should know, I was in
Led Zeppelin for christsakes, I never slept for years!" And
with that he walks back into the studio for one final go.
This time Percy's absolutely cracked it, and Andrew
Innes has got a grin wider than the Wafford Gap as he
records Plant blowing evil, deep down under delta blues
into the microphone. Once Plant's gone, Duffy, the
keyboard player, says that it took everything he had not
to get emotional. "It's moments like that," says Andrew
Innes later in the pub, that keep us together, that make
it all worthwhile."
Another guest to appear on a cover version of Lee
Hazlewood's duet with Nancy Sinatra, "Some Velvet
Morning" is Kate Moss who, after Denise Johnson, is
Primal Scream's second chanteuse. "It's a psycho-
sexual, psychedelic cowboy song," says Gillespie,
"hopefully we're going to get it mixed by Georgio
Moroder. Us, Kate Moss and Georgio Moroder, fucking
great!" Friends with Kate since she was 15, Gillespie
only discovered that she could sing a couple of years ago
when she was late in writing a ditty for a
"There was a guitar there so I said I'll write you a song.
She had these diamonds so I said alright I'll write a song
called "I Got the Diamond Blues" says Gillespie.
"She's got a good voice, good timing, and she's a good
dancer If you're a good dancer then you've got timing.
Singing's not about being in tune, it's about timing."
Then, as he scratches his mop of black hair, "and you
need to have the right attitude, you know?" A fact that
Gillespie himself has only just become truly accustomed
to. In the early days, he'd do take after take with his
vocals. "Since Vanishing Point I've done everything in
one take. [Before that] maybe I was a bit insecure about
how it sounded in my head to how it sounded on tape.
Live I was always pretty good so I just thought, you
know what you've just got to get it down as it is. So I
started just writing the lyrics and singing right away.
When I did that, I suddenly became really confident."
So, a belting seventh album in tow, the whole
band's in sync and, in their words, feeling better than
they have in years. Primal Scream are bursting to go on
tour. "When we record in the studio, I love it," says
Gillespie, "but really I'm always thinking, this is going to
sound great live." For the next minute, imagine yourself
as the sixth member of Primal Scream. "If it's a really
big gig," rushes Gillespie, "a really important gig,
backstage we're playing James Brown records then we'll
have the sax boys and the cornet boys playing along.
Then the guy goes 'right, you've gotta go onstage', and
you walk down the corridor, and you're just waiting to
go, and you can just hear the fucking crowd, and all of a
sudden someone says 'go on', and you run on, that's
fucking ama-azing that feeling, the best feeling in the
world! It's like slow motion, it's like being in a movie!"
Though it's not without some trepidation that they're
preparing to tour "We once went on tour for 22 weeks
when 'Get Your Rocks Off' came out," says Gillespie, "it
took me two years to recover." And so did the hotel
rooms. Buried in the history of Primal Scream is one
story with two versions. Photographer, author of Higher
than the Sun and living legend Grant Fleming claims
that it was England being knocked out of the World Cup.
Mani claims that they were in Japan, it was his birthday
and he'd rung his wife only to find that she was out.
Whatever the excuse, either way a whole mom was
demolished. The sofa, chairs, table and TV all went out
of the window. "The window was only so small,"
motions Mani, "I went fucking bananas, broke up the
couch bit by bit and threw it all out. Some guy came to
the door, there was a cleaner going past so I grabbed
the hoover off her, chased the guy down the corridor
with it, got my cock out and pissed all over 'em. Not like
me at all." A benefit gig was played to pay for the
damage. "Typical Primal Scream behaviour," comments
Fleming, "while other bands were playing gigs to benefit
charities they played a gig to save the promoters' arse".
None of the rock'n'roll attitude has faded. "We love it on
the road," says Mani with words that have more depth
than he's aware, "We half kill ourselves, but now we're
bullet proof" Separately, Gillespie adds to the sentiment,
"The band's better than it's ever been, personalities,
musicianship, attitude, nobody's fucked up either, which
is pretty important." Which leaves just one final
prophecy to be made about this next album, and it has
to come from the lyrics of one of Primal Scream's
dearest and biggest idols:
A movement is accomplished in six stages / And the
seventh brings return I The seven is the number of the
young light/ft forms when darkness is increased by one.
Syd Barrett Chapter 24, Pink Floyd.
Originally appeared in Dazed and Confused, June 2002.
Copyright © Dazed and Confused.