GROW UP BUT DON'T GIVE UP
INTERVIEW by MICHAEL BONNER - PHOTOGRAPHS by ANDY WILLSHIM
Why be embarrassed by your dream? " Bobby Gillespie pauses and shakes
his head: "I hate those interviews when people go, 'Oh, we had such a
hard time making this record.' People have a hard enough time in their
own lives without some cunt maoning away, some multi-millionaire talking
about how hard their life is. That's what I love about our band, it's
fucking ecstatic! We've still got two songs left to mix on the new album
and I'm already thinking about the next one. I don't have any fears
about what we can do next, 'cos it's always exciting..."
speaking, there are two different. Bobby Gillespies you might encounter
in an interview. There is "Bad Bobby", prone to surliness and sarcasm,
dismissing certain subjects with a flash of something feral in the eyes.
And then there's "Good Bobby". Which is the Bobby Gillespie we get
today; warm, engaging company, happy to chat passionately and
intelligently for close to two hours.
Arguably, Gillespie is, these days, a mellower figure than you might
have met in the past. He has two young sons - Wolf, six, and Lux, four -
and he clearly seems to have taken the responsibilities of fatherhood
seriously, particularly in terms of limiting his taste for rock'n'roll
excess. One national newspaper even claimed Gillespie wrote a letter
last summer to his local council, protesting atthe noise from his local
pub, and it's not unusual to see him walking his kids round the parks of
north-east London at Ham on a Saturday morning. In 2008, Bobby
Gillespie, it appears, is more Sesame Street than "Desolation Row". But
he's still fanatical about the mythology of rock'n'roll, and in
particular the dream he's lived out now since 1981: Primal Scream.
Certainly, there's some dignity to be found in rock'n'roll, as people
settle down and grow old in a profession notoriously high on casualties.
The Stones and Nick Cave, for instance, have proved it's possible to
move into middle age and beyond with a certain grace and a curbing of
their recreational proclivities. Gillespie, now 46, appears to be
Meeting him today, for the fifth time in 10 years, he's still thin as a
whipping post; as he goes to shake my hand in a photo studio in Chalk
Farm, I suddenly worry I'm about to get paper cuts from him. The
disarmingly large, wolfish smile that frequently cracks across his face
shows up an elaborate network of spidery laughter lines, and there might
even be the a strand of grey in the mop of black hair that hangs down to
his shoulders. But his skin, once the yellowish hue of a fly-blown lung,
is conspicuously pinker, the sclera of his dark brown eyes clear and
bright. Although he might not be about to run a marathon any time soon,
he looks remarkably healthy. He's dressed well, too, in a brown,
knee-length Italian coat borrowed from a friend for the Uncutphotoshoot,
a black polka-dot shirt like the ones worn by Dylan in the '60s (and
favoured by Gillespie himselfin the early days of the Scream),jeans and
tapered alligator skin shoes.
Later, sitting in an airy office space in Primrose Hill, picking
sporadically at a tuna salad, Gillespie ponders the duality oflife as a
card-carrying rock'n'roll star on stage and a devoted father off.
"You've got to do everything you do to the best of your abilities. Be a
man, really," he laughs. "You've got to be great in a rock'n'roll band
and be a great dad. You've got to pull your weight and contribute."
Does it mean changing you lifestyle?
"Yeah, well, that's pretty fucking obvious, isn't it? You've gotto be
there for your children, and if you're fucked up on drugs and alcohol,
you're not present. You may be sitting there, but you're somewhere else,
a million miles away, so."
His peers agree. "I suppose Bob has
changed since having kids," says Paul
Weller. "We all do, don't we? You want to
see them grow up, so you have to calm
down a bit. You can't be a hellraiser all
your life, I think Bob realises that."
If Gillespie is doing his level best to be a good father to his sons,
then it's a model he inherited from his own dad, Robert Sr, a SOGAT
official, who he describes as "a very moral guy, very fair. Hewas also
quite non-judgmental. Other kids I went to school with, their parents
were religious bigots and racists and violent, and my dad was a good
Gillespie was born in Springburn, to the north of Glasgow, on June
22,1962, around the time the suburb was selected as part ofthe
Comprehensive Development Area programme. On paper this was a
forward-thinking scheme designed to demolish the city's dilapidated
four-storey Victorian tenements and replace them with modern tower
blocks, and Gillespie recalls being aged eight or nine and having "four
or five streets full of empty houses to play in. We'd get up into the
attics and we'd go from one end of the street, just walking through the
attics. We'd smash the doors down. You know, like there'd been a war and
people had to escape an invading army? That's what it was like."
In the mid-70s, though, the CDA programme had reshaped Springburn as a
warren of high-rise housing estates, with a reputation as one of
Glasgow's most notorious districts. By the time he was 17, Gillespie had
"a lot offucking hatred because of where you were... if you went to the
school that I went to, we were factory fodder, dole , fodder, the scrap
Gillespie's solution was, while not exactly revolutionary, certainly a
tried and tested means of escaping the grim actualities of dole life. He
formed a rock'n'roll band, Primal Scream. And,just for good measure,
hejoined another one in 1984, The Jesus And Mary Chain, led by
schoolfriendsJim and William Reid, with whom he played drums.
The original motivation behind the Scream was, according to Gillespie
about "trying to write something that reflected how it felt to be alive
at that time. The music you might hear in the charts was a lie... how
could people be that happy? Everywhere I looked, everybody's fucking
miserable, fucked up on booze or glue."
At its most potent, the Scream's music is about messing with the tenets
of rock'n'roll classicism, through vivid experiments in dub, Krautrock,
House and avant rock through to the more unorthodox end of their
recorded output that Gillespie describes simply as "weirdo music".
"His enthusiasm for the beautiful treasures of American obscura is our
common ground," says Robert Plant, one of the band's many high-profile
collaborators [see panel], who played harmonica on their 2002 EvilHeat
album. "From Hasil Adkins through to Townes Van Zandt they dig deep,
mixing everything with their own spook and rhythm... a real beacon from
Mars. An eccentric British masterpiece."
What I've heard so far of Beautiful Future - their ninth studio album
and their first for B- Unique seems to find the Scream moving forward
once again. You can perhaps attribute this to the fairly withering
reviews dished out to their last album, RiotCity Blues, a perfect
example of the Scream in default mode and at their least engaging,
retreading familiar rock'n'roll riffs - Faces,Exile... era Stones, 13th
Floor Elevators - with, yes, a lot of energy, but little ofthe
imagination that underscores their most exciting work.
This time, though, there's the sinister electronic grooves of "I Love To
Hurt (You Love To Be Hurt)" - a duet with CCS' Lovefoxxx - and a
striking, string-laden Philly soul number called "Uptown". There's also
a song based around a cut-up of a guitar riff from Josh Homme, the process
behind which sounds so mind-bogglingly complicated that Gillespie has to
describe it to me twice.
But if Gillespie and the Scream have made a career out of shifting through musical genres, it's
safe to say that even a casual follower of the band's story will be aware of their
reputation for excess.
"All of my family in Scotland worked on the shipyards," says Linda
Thompson, who duets with Gillespie on a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Over
And Over" on BeautifulFuture. "That kind of Glaswegian working-class
person has a tremendous , soul and sense of humour, and Bobby's got all
that, and also that kind of madness a lot of us have; 'Shall I have one
drink or SOO? I'11just go with the 500.' A slight tendency to
over-indulge. I like that in a man!"
The trick, surely, is to find the right balance between work and play.
Gillespie and the Scream currently have a formidable attitude to work.
As Gillespie explains, "We do I2 to 5 or 6,five days a week", in the
Primrose Hill studio they've owned since 1996, with the line-up now
settled on bassist Mani, guitarists Andrew Innes and Barrie Coddigan,
keyboard player Martin Duffy and drummer Darrin Mooney. The Scream's
work ethic, as Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh observes, is like "being
on an oil rig. You work hard when you're on the rig, then you get two
weeks off. Coming from that background where you know you're not going
to get something for nothing, you have to graft to get anything back."
The drive to achieve and put in the hours is conspicuously strong in
Gillespie. While the gangly frame and occasionally comedic moments
onstage may not necessarily have marked him out as a star in the band's
earliest days, it's a role he has, over time, perfected admirably,
fuelled by a desire to immerse himselfin the mythology of rock'n'roll.
He speaks at length about bands he admires, from the Pistols to early
Banshees and Nick Cave, with whom he sees an affinity "I look at Nick
and he's as excited by the new Bad Seeds record as he probably was when
he started The Birthday Party. That's inspiring and beautiful. If you
can maintain that sense of wonder... If you're still excited by what you
do, you're inspired to keep making new music."
This feeling, perhaps, is key to Gillespie. When he says, "We love this
new record, wejust work. We want to keep doing it! .. with such force, I
halfexpect him to jump up and start pumping the air, like a cheerleader
in alligator lace-ups.
So where does this passion come from? And does he see it reflected in a
younger generation of bands?
"When we were growing up, it was punk. And you had the threat of war.
The British were at war with the IRA. all across Europe the same thing
was happening, and in the Middle East. I grew up at a time when people
were questioning the spectacle, fighting against it and trying to rip it
apart. And now maybe people don't question that, they've accepted it or
are dazzled by the whole celebrity culture. I don't really know what
bands are informed by, because they're 20 and I'm in my 40s.]ustin the
same way that if you'd grown up in the '30s or '40s, you might have been
more literate than if you grew up in the '70s, as there was no TV, and
you got information from books."
It's all the fault of Big Brother, then?
"In the '60s, Marshall McLuhan said that in the future, all wars would
be fought in the media. And it's true, because people are blinded by
garbage. You hear people talking about, 'Did you see Big Brother last
night?' The curse of the modern age is a complete lack of culture. I
don't watch TV, I hardly ever buy newspapers. But I've got to live in
the world, so you're in a room and someone's watching TV or you walk
into a newsagent and it's there in front of you."
So you don't read the celebrity mags, then?
"No, but our album EvilHeat did get one of the best reviews in Heat
magazine. A lot of people never gave it a good review, so I have a
special place in my heart for Heat..."
It's true that all Gillespie wants to do is be part of a band he loves,
playing what he describes as "high energy rock'n'roll". But, almost by
default, he has himselfbecome something of a celebrity lately, partly
due to his lengthy friendship with Kate Moss, who also works
occasionally with Gillespie's wife, fashion stylist Katy England.
I don't think of myself as a celebrity," he frowns. "I think I'm a
But all the tabloids ran pictures of your wedding...
"That's because Kate Moss would have been at my wedding." He shifts in
his seat "You'd only be in those papers 'cos they thought that if Kate
Moss is going to be there, then there's going to be A.B,C,D and E there.
"They're not that interested in me."
The national press, though, were certainly interested when they ran
stories about your apparent objection to your local pub's application
for a late license. "Do you know what? I never did [write to the
council]. My wife was pregnant with our second son and wrote a letter
saying, 'I don't mind it at the weekends, but I don't want it every day
of the week.' And I think she signed my name on it, and sent it to the
council. Then TheIndependentgot hold ofit. Whoever they had D]ing in
there, that was fucking shite music... Ifthey were playing rockabilly it
would be fine with me, but.....
And what about the Uniqlo modelling assignment last November, where you
and Katy appeared in an ad for the] apanese clothing label?
"I get asked to do things like that all the time. And I always said no.
Then that came in, through my wife, and we did it 'cos they paid for it.
Simple. It was ajob. But I don't think I'll be doing it again."
How much was it, Bobby?
"I'm not telling you! I don't think I'm cut out to be a model. I'm not
going to try and justify it, Ijust did it for the money. It's that
simple. It's a job."
So, I ask Bobby Gillespie, after 27 years of Primal Scream, what is
there left to do?
"I want to write a great love song." the 46year-old fatheroftwo smiles
warmly. "You know when you hear Gram and Emmylou singing 'Love Hurts'?
The feeling defeated and broken. I want to marry that with an ecstatic
feeling, and if you get that sadness and ecstasy together in the same
song, people are crying but they're also wanting to put their hands in
the air. One of these days..."
Beautiful Future is released through B. Unique in July
Originally Appeared in Uncut June 2008 Copyright © Uncut.