A Fucking Nazi
Drugs, destrudion, breakdowns, politics, paranoia, more drugs: is there
anyone more rock'n'roll than Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie?
Your our last memory of Primal Scream is probably a strong one.
It was Sunday afternoon at last year's Glastonbury and the multitudes
were revelling in Brian Wilson's hippy vibes. The sun was shining and
all was at peace with the world. Enter Primal Scream. Bobby Gillespie's
gang had been at the festival since Friday, heading straight there after
recording their forthcoming album 'Riot City Blues' at Olympic Studios
in Barnes, London. On arriving, they hooked up with their pals Pete
Doherty and Kate Moss, then proceeded to get teeth-grindingly wrecked on
as much speed as they could find.
BBC viewers had a fbretaste of the trouble to come when they saw bassist
Gary Mani Mounfield and Bobby being interviewed live by Colin Murray and
Edith Bowman. On being asked what they thought of that night's
headliners Basement Jaxx, Bobby announced, "They're cocksuckers - no
offence to cocksuckers." There'd been even more uproar in the bands
enclosure. Inside was a poster with the slogan 'Make Poverty History',
which the entire festival's bands had signed. With indelible black
marker pen, Bobby crossed out the world 'Poverty' and wrote 'Israel'.
Taking to the stage, a foam-flecked Bobby informed the startled crowd
that they were "a bunch of fucking hippies", asked, "Did anyone come to
see Kylie? Fuck you", and, referring both to Mani and Ian Brown, the
headliner on the Other Stage, enqldred, "Would you like to hear The
Stone Roses? Well, you're 15 fucking years too late." The gig came to a
messy conclusion when Bobby and Mani refu::;ed to leave the stage. Their
version of John Lennon's 'Gimme Some Truth' ended only when the plug was
pulled and security bundled them into the winhFS. Some music fans later
wrote to NME to claim that, amid the mayhem, Bobby had also given a Nazi
salute. "Screw the nut, maie;' one told Bobby, "you're a 45-year-old dad
Bobby Gillespie is indeed the middle~aged father of two young boys (Wolf
and Lux), yet for 20 years he's also presented himself as the ultimate
rock'n'roll star. Musically, he's demanded comparison with the greats,
strewing interviews with references to classic rock'n'roll records,
comparing his band to the Sex Pistols and claiming to be as politically
4-Real as Public Enemy or MC5. Bobby's styled himself as bad as Iggy,
with a capacity for drugs that could leave Keith Richards gurning in
In short, despite being a) an unremarkable singer and b) a terrible
dancer, Bobby's showed himself right in the pantheon of rock'n'roll
greats, and it's worked. Primal Scream's third album, 1991's
'Screamadelica', saw the band transformed into starry-eyed musical
visionaries, blending soul and psychedelia with rock and dance to create
a Nlphoric classic. Their sixth, 1999's 'XTRMNTR' (or 'Exterminator' if
you insert the vowels), fused garage and krautrock to create a ferocious
wall of sound.
Yet the band have always had their knockers, who think that behind
Bobby's cool facade lies a middle-aged man relying on borrowed poses, a
well-thumbed record coJIection and the musical talents of Scream
collaborators like Kevin Shields and Andrew Weatherall. Those cynics
will have a field day when they hear 'Riot City Blues'. The experimental
edge of' 'XTRMNTR' and 2002's 'Evil Heat' has disappeared along with
Kevin Shields. Instead, there's Stones-style rock'n'raunch last deployed
on 1994 album 'Give Out But Don't Give Up'.
Lyrically, the anti-American politics of the 'Exterminator' period have
been binned in favour or rock'n'roll fantasies whose (somewhat
hilarious) titles say it all - 'Suicide Sally And Johnny Guitar',
'Boogie Disease', 'Hell's Comin' Down' and 'Nitty Gritty'. Yet the signs
are that 'Riot City Blues' and its rollicking lead single 'Country Girl'
could deliver Primal Scream their first big- hit since 1994's Top
Tenner 'Rocks'. It's a big, dumb, Saturday night record full of songs
seemingly precision. tooled to blow away festival crowds. Radio 1 DJ
Chris Moyles was raving about it weeks ago, a fact which pleases Bobby
immensely. "I'd love a hit record. You always want your records to be in
the charts, even 'Swastika Eyes"'.
You join us in a west London boozer with Bobby and Mani, who joined the
band in 1996 after The Stone Roses split. Bobby's dressed in what
(probably to wind us up) he claims is a genuine Nazi black leather
trenchcoat. He looks healthy. "He's looking fit as fuck, man!" barks
Mani "I'd bang him over this table now given half the chance."
Bobby attributes his healthiness to a quiet home life, regular swimming
and being "pretty happy. I've got to look after my boys so I can't get
fucked up or I'll just be in a mess." This moderation is a far cry from
the 'Give Out But Don't Give Up' era, when half the band were addicted
to heroin, or a nasty period of amphetamine psychosis at the beginning
of this decade, of which more later.
'Riot City Blues', Bobby says, is "definitely a rock'n'roll record.
Songs with big choruses, songs that'll sound amazing live." The lack of
electronics and politics is down to the fact that "you've got to keep
doing something new to excite you." Kevin Shields hasn't left. He never
joined. He's been like a permanent live member since '98 and hopefully
he'll play with us in the future. He wasn't , the right guy to mix this
record. We wanted to do it quickly so it sounded really fresh and
alive. Kev's hours are from lam to lOam, but I've got two kids, so I've
got to be up at quarter to seven!"
Still, this is a record that demands questions to be asked of it. Which
is exactly what NME is about to do... NME: How can a middle-aged father
of two sing something like 'Suicide Sally And Johnny Guitar's "She got
her wings giving head to a priest/The fucker choked on his rosary
beads", with a straight face? Bobby: "It's a laugh. Rock'n'roll should
be fun. If you listen to that song, it's fucking hilarious."
Have Primal Scream not gone a bit theatre?
Bobby: "There's an
element of theatre to everybody in rock'n'roll. Can you name one artist
without an element of theatre?"
Arctic Monkeys - and that's why people like them.
will when they"ve been around long enough and they're still wearing the
same hooded tops and singing about Sheffield. After three years that'll
be their act."
Do Primal Scream really still mean it?
Bobby; "We still play the
songs with as much conviction and passion. You can hear in this new
record that we still love music. It's not a band that's going through
the fucking motions."
What happened with your Glastonbury performance?
Mani: "We needed
throwing off, otherwise we'd still be there now! The thing was, everyone
was 'oh so nice' and 'oh, Brian Wilson' and we just went, 'You bunch of
fucking hippy bastards., A lot of people said, 'What a piece of shit'
but I've got the DVD - faultless. People must have been on worse drugs
than we were to be coming out with that. There's fuck all up with it!"
Bobby; "We never slagged off Kylie, either. We love Kylie! She asked us
to write a song for her once, but we were in such a bad state we
Did you give Kylie her first E, as is rumoured?
when we did the photo session with her [for the cover of old indie mag
Select] she was pretty straight. We definitely tried. So yeah, we never
slagged her. I was trying to wind up the crowd, but it never worked
because they were too dead."
Did you give a Nazi salute?
Bobby: "I don't know, you tell me! If
you look at the things we've done in the past, like benefits for Satpal
Ram [who was jailed for life after defending himself against a racist
attack in Birmingham], the Liverpool dockers, the Palestine refugee
know what my politics are. I'm no fuckin' Nazi."
But you did write 'Make Israel History' on the poster.
':Alright, aye. Yeah, I did. So, I support Palestine, OK? That's it."
Aren't you worried that it all adds up to you looking like all
anti~Semite? Bobby: "There's Israeli and Jewish people who support the
Palestinian cause as well. We did a lot of work for the Hoping
Foundation to raise money for children in the Palestinian refugee camps
and the lady who got us involved is Bella Freud, Lucian Freud's daughter
and Sigmund Freud's great granddaugi:lter. They had to flee Austria to
escape Nazi persecution, and she believes in the Palestinian cause. To
say we're anti-Semitic is a smear, so you'd better watch what you're
saying. Because you oppose one country's government's policies doesn't.
mean to say that you hate all the people from that country. I don't like
Bush or Putin or Tony Blair, but I don't hate American, Russian or
British people. Most people are just trying hard to get by."
Don't you support Hamas? Or Hezbollah, the Lebanese antiIsraeli
Bobby: "No, I support Celtic. I never Mid that,
that's a lie. I don't like seeing anyone being oppressed or humanity not
being respected. I believe in human rights. But I'm not here to talk
about the politics of the Middle East" This is NME and you're asking me
if I support Hamas! You don't ask fuckin' Ian Brown that, or the guy
from the Arctic Monkeys."
It's true, we don't. But then Primal Scream have always been a band who
aspired to more than just music - they wanted to mean something. This
time, however, the manifesto seems to be less, "Kill all hippies", more,
"What the hell, let's party". Primal Scream are equally a band of myths:
as keen to circulate outlandish stories about themselves as they are to
pepper old interviews with obscure rock facts. Bobby laughs: "I'm a
rock'n'roll fan! I love rock'n'rolI people. I love myth and even if
something's a lie I don't care. Besides, Primal Scream's myt.hs are all
true. You should know that!" Time to put some of them to the test...
Primal Scream are banned from Top Of The Pops because in 1995
they refused to do the show. The reason? It involved flying into Luton
Airport, which wasn't rock'n'roll enough. Bobby: "I read years ago
that The Yardbirds' Iast gig was at Luton Polytechnic. And me and Andrew
Innes, have always said, 'We can't go near Luton'. It would be terrible
if we crashed at Luton Airport or if the last gig was there. It's not
right, is it? It's not mythical. It's not legendary. We were on tour in
Dublin and then we were going to play Cork and they wanted us to fly
from Dublin to Luton, spend an day at Top Of The Pops, which involves
hanging about for nine hours, fly to Cork and miss the soundcheck and do
the gig. And we decided, 'You know what? Let's just get on the bus and
go to Cork.'
We thought it was a waste of a day. The record, '(I'm Gonna) Cry
Myself Blind' was at number 65, it's not like it was Number 10. I don't
think we were ever banned from Top Of The Pops. But the amount of times
we've had the phone call: 'You'll never work in this business again!' We
get it all the time. We don't care."
Bobby once found himself jamming with both Liam G and his
krautrock heroes Can. Bobby: "Me and Mani met [Can mainman and drummer]
Jaki Liebezeit and [Can guitarist] Michael Karoli at a dinner in Cologne
and gave them a CD which was 11997 single] 'Kowalski'. Three weeks later
they had a party in a club off Oxford Street and I went down. I met Jaki
and he said, 'I really love the music and especially the drums on track
one.' I said, 'Well you should - they're yours, we sampled them.' And
then the next day he came to oW' studio in Chalk Farm and he played the
drums on a couple of tracks. Then Liam turned up at teatime with Brian
Cannon, the guy who did the sleeves for The Verve and Oasis. Liam was
like, 'Who the fuck's this old guy?' - he didn't know who Jaki was and
Jaki didn't know who he was. But Brian Cannon was like, 'Fuck, it's Jaki
Liebezeit!' Anyway, things got more out of control and wilder and
Michael Karoli turned up. I was pretty fucking wasted and I said to him,
'Show us how you fucking play.' There's this style he plays with half.
open chords and he was showing me and I remember Liam saying, 'I don't
know who you are, mate, but if he says you're alright, you're alright.'
Anyway, eventually it became Jaki on drums, Michael on guitar, Andrew
Innes on guitar, me on vocals and Liam on keyboard, so we had a jam. I
remember us leaving the studio at 3am, walking up the road arm in arm.
It was lovely. And Liam giving me a big kiss!"
Five years ago Bobby had lost the plot so much that he was found
shouting at the Tannoy at Chalk Farm tube station. Bobby: "Well (long
pallse). I don't know where that came from. I never went mad. I was
laking too much speed and having a bad time in my personal life for a
while, I managed to extricate myself from one relationship and I got
into another relationship - with women, this is and there was a lot of
weird things happening. There was a lot of heavy personal stuff going
down and I had to leave the house I was living in." This house was
shared with Justine Frischmann, who in 2001 told NME, "Bobby couldn't
cope as a human being. He couldn't feed himself and he was too paranoid
to answer the door." However in 2002 Bobby refused to talk about her, an
edict which still stands today.
Bobby: "I moved in with Alan [McGee], down the road in St John's Wood
and he took me out of the scene and looked after me. I went to live in
his house in Wales. I think he might have sent Pete and Carl there as
well at some point. I went there for a few weeks and just tried to get
my head together. I sound like Syd Barrett, right'!" Bobby smiles,
unable to resist comparison with another legend: "And it worked. I
wasn't like a cabbage but I might have been if I'd kept going."
These days Bobby lives with Katy England, executive fashion editor of
Dazed & Confused. and right-hand woman to designer Alexander McQueen.
This has caused yet more suspicion among the doubters, who noted the
artwork by filshion designer Julie Verhoeven, the appearance of Bobby at
Paris fashion shows and - above all'Some Velvet Morning', the duet with
Kate Moss on 'Evil Heat'. They concluded that far from being a socialist
band of the people, Primal Scream had turned into a bunch of
"I don't really care how we're perceived as long as people dig the
music" Bobby says. "If you actually saw the people who are close to the
hand, you wouldn't say that. There's a lot of heavy guys, a lot of
unsavoury charaders." But you made a record with Kate Moss. Surely that
was a mistake? "Not at all," leers Mani. "Kate's a lovely girl. We liked
the song and we thought we'd check out what she's like in the studio. It
was a good chance to have a look at her hottom for a bit." Mani wiggles
his tongue lewdly. "Very nice. Sorry, Kate. I think it's a great song.
I'm arsed that people slag it. We don't give a shit. When we put stufr
out we know it's good for us, and if people don't want to get on board
then fuck 'em. Go and listen to Hard-Fi or summat."
"I know what you're getting at, but I don't think it makes any real
sense," adds Bobby. "We're a hardworking band. I go to the studio five
days a week. My girlfriend works in fashion and now and again there's
something she might want to go to so I go along - that's what you do.
It's a bit weird, it's like saying your girlfriend's black so you must
be black. Or your girlfriend's Jewish so you must be Jewish."
You went to Elton John's wedding.
"Yeah," says Bobby, looking slightly taken a back that we know. "But
that's a long story." Isn't it harmful for your reputation to get
involved in showbiz like that'? "I'm not involved in showbusiness,"
Bobby says, gelting worked up. "If that kind of scene was affecting us
you would hear it in the music and you would see it in the fucking
attitude} 've got unstage. When I'm onstage, I don't give a fuck. You
saw that at Glastonbury. Whatever happens, happens. You don't know what
you're going to get when you see Primal Scream. Showbiz is the last
thing we are. We don't give a fuck. And if we offend people we don't
care either. If you're showbusiness you're scared of offending people,
you don't get involved in the causes we get involved in. We ain't
showbiz. Showbiz is doing what you're told. Have we ever played the
game?" No. "Well then."
He's right. they haven't played the game. So what are primal Scream and
who is Bobby Gillespie? Ultimatley, he's aman who's dedicated himself to
rock'n'roll, an uber-music fan who deamt himself into the place occupied
by his heroes, and who despite 20 years of everything from ridicule to
drug addition has kept on keeping on. We salute him - obviously not a
Nazi one, though.
Originally appeared in NME 15 April 2006.
Copyright © NME.