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Primal Solution

Indie heroes of yore PRIMAL SCREAM are back, straining at the leash with a harder, greasier, rocking new single 'Ivy, Ivy, Ivy'. STUART MACONIE hears singer BOBBY GILLESPIE slander his indie roots and rave about their new, raw Les Paul driven sound. Pictures: CHRIS CLUNN.

"In March, The Jesus And Mary Chain journeyed to Belgium fora television appearance to promote their second single. According to manager McGee, the band destroyed the set, damaged the expensive audio-equipment and then deigned to be interviewed on a couch while drummer Bobby Gillespie and an unnamed girl 'were practlcally having sex, and everyone tried to ignore it'... Gillespie was a budding enfant terrible in his own right, quite able to satify a journalist's tape-recorder without mentioning the Reids, riots or feedback". From The Jesus And Mary Chain by John Robertson.
spacer "I was in this club watching some band and this guy comes up to me and says 'God, it's Bobby Gillespie. l've got all your records, you've got to let me buy you a drink'. "I was really thirsty so I said 'I'll have an orange and lemonade please' and he said 'No, what'lI you have?' I said 'Orange and lemonade, really'. in the end he said 'I can't do that, I want to tell my friends about this and I can't tell them that when I bought Bobby Gillespie a drink he had an orange and lemonade!"' It isn't stretching the point too far to call Bobby Gillespie a legend. Well, a bit of one anyway. Enfant terrible, eminence gris, lots of French phrases no one quite understands have been written about Mrs Gillespie's little boy. This, let us not forget, is the man who fell trom the stage at Wembley in an advanced stage of relaxation, to the amusement of several thousand people. This, the self same Gillespie who had to be told in the dressing room later that a gig had been abandoned due to a riot involving tear gas grenades. Bobby hadn't noticed.
spacer If Bobby Gillespie had done nothing else but play the drums (standing up; these things matter) with The Jesus And Mary Chain, immortality would have been assured. But what people forget is that Bobby was never more than 'on loan'; Primal Scream came first and his faith in that vision has nevr been dimmed through the protracted silences and the rock 'n' roll excess.

At their best, Primal Scream are one of the most exciting pop groups of their generation. Tempestuous, radiant, unique. Their influence, while subtle, has been profound. A workable blueprint for guitar orgy and pop heaven. Ask The Stone Roses. And the good news is; they're back.
spacer "I suppose the question everyone will want answering is where have we been all this time. There's nothing particularly complicated to say. We've just been writing songs and trying to get a new sound. We aren't particularly prolific. But the sound we've got now we're really pleased with it. We're going to blow people's heads off!"
spacer It's three years since Primal Scream released 'Crystal Crescen/Velocity Girl' and two since their debut album 'Sonic Flower Groove'. The former is the kind of single that comes along once in a while and effortlessly sets an age in motion. The latter is a majesticinstance of guitar bravura, a collection that viewed the crests of 60s achievement from an agnostic distance. I loved it. in fact I think I liked it rather more than Bobby Gillespie did.
spacer "I loved the songs. They're great songs. But not the approach. it was too pristine, too sanitised. They were great songs but they didn't translate into great records. In fact, 'Ivy' is the first recording we've made that I haven't been disappointed with."
spacer 'Ivy, Ivy, Ivy' is the new Primal Scream single available now on Creation records. Gillespie is aware that his line of reasoning is a rock cliche; 'this is our best record' translates as 'this is our new record' in most interviews. But when you hear 'Ivy' you may just understand Bobby's zeal.
spacer Gone are the plangent echoes of The Byrds, gone the bright shards of 12-string. 'Ivy' is a song from the dragstrip orthe drive-in. A song that kickstarts into life in a blue cloud of petrol and cruises around chewing gum for a few minutes.
spacer It isn't an ufler volte face, and is still compatible enough with the Primals longstanding pop vision not to alienate the old guard like me, but it is harder, greasier and less coy than before.
spacer I heard two different strands in it. Dirty biker hard rock and aglorious bubblgum teen melody The Four Seasons would have been pround of. Bobby becomes so excited I thought for amoment he might kiss me.
spacer That's exactly what we want! Great! I'm glad that's what you think. We want to play exciting white rock music but the trouble is that most rock groups can't write songs. They just plug into the fuzz pedal and blast away. I want Primal Scream to be about power and melody. 'Ivy' is a powerful rock song with a beautiful tune."
spacer And does this mean the glitter and chime of 'Sonic Flower Groove' has gone forever? Will you still perform those songs live?
spacer "No. Well we may still do 'Imperial' because we cant f---- about with it. But the new line up means a change in sound. In the old band everything used to revolve around that pretty 12 string sound. Now Robert, who used to play bass, is playing guitar. So we've got two Les Pauls making this amazing raw sound. I know it's another cliche but this is the most settled line up we've ever had.
spacer "You have to remember the bands who inspired us to pick up guitars in the first place were the Pistols and Public Image. There's more space in the sound now. We're looser, funkier, more fun."
spacer There is the danger though that you've thrown the baby out with the bathwater. A lot of folk (me included) thought you were just fine the way you were. "When people hear the album, they'll realise we're still a great band. Except now we've got more drive, more freedom. The album is quite strange and eclectic. Now Primal Scream can be anything from hard Les Paul rock to string quartets."

By defauft, Primal Scream nearly came to symbolise a musical style Gillespie is virulently scathing about: indie pop. Maybe it was that fringe (still going strong, by the way) or perhaps that the sublime, ageless 'Velocity Girl' was the opening paragraph in that anorak manifesto 'C86'.
spacer Whatever, it led to Primal Scream being lumped in with the 'shamblers'; a group of youngsters who had fallen heavily for the Velvet Underground as portrayed by Orange Juice. Bobby Gillespie today takes the officially sanctioned 'cool' line on the subject. "We never had anything in common with all of those bands. We got a phone call asking us to be on an NME compilation and we said 'OK'. If you look at my record collection you'll see I have no time for that sort of stuff; lndependent music is pretty inferior. They can't play their instruments and they can't write songs.
spacer "I don't like putting other bands down, it just looks like sour grapes because they sell more than us. It isn't that. Prince sells more than we do and I've no complaints with that. But McGee tells me about these bands who are, apparently, popular and taken seriously by the press and l can't believe it. They're awful."
spacer Bobby resolutely refuses to name names but I don't think its hard to pick a band who typify'. In fact, it's a gift. Does he despair the current musical scene?
spacer "I think white rock musjc is in a slump. Most of the exciting things around seem to be happening in black dance music."
spacer Gosh, I've never heard this one before. Sorry, you were saying.
spacer "When white rock music is at it's best, it's the most exciting thing you can get. But at the moment there's too many extremely ordinary bands who are totally tuneless. People aren't going to gigs anymore, they're going to clubs."
spacer Wasn't there a temptation then introduce a dance element into Primal Scream?
spacer "Absolutely not. We're not that stupid. We couldn't do it if we tried; When white people make dance records they just turn the snare up."
spacer I can't agree with him here. Nowadays white and black dance music both use exactly the same computer generated beats. But no matter, Bobby does have an interesting theory about the accursed indie scene.
spacer "The dawn of independent music, it's meant anyone can make a record... and that's a bad thing. There have been more crap records in the last eight years than ever before." But you're an indie band. Don't you have any allegience to Creation?
spacer "I have a great loyalty to Alan McGee. He's afriend and he's the only person I trust completely."
spacer 'Ivy', if a new direction, still puts down musical roots in the golden days of the '60s. Bobby is understandably cagey sbout going into fine detail here.
spacer "In the past, my interviews have just read as lists of great bands from the '6Os. Everyone knows what my influences are. It's still a brilliant era; a time when rock music was incomparably powerful in young people's lives rather than TV or advertising."
spacer He's been taken to task for this supposed rivlalism in the past but he's indubitably right. Foral shIrts aside , pound for pound the '60s pop scene leaves today's looking about as vital and vibrant as lard. An era free of the current debilitating division between chart and left-field music. Have Primal Scream returned to save the world?
spacer "The live shows are going to blow people away. We've got the right attitude, a real 'F-you arrogance but at the same time we want to give people a reaiiy good time. There's not enough craziness and weird stuff around at the moment. Those Les Pauls are going to be screaming!" You have been warned.

Originally appeared in NME, 5 August 1989
Copyright © IPC Magazine Ltd.

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