This is the original unedited text version of the article which
appeared in Uncut and contains passages not in the final article. It
comes courtesy of the writer himself, Michael Bonner. Special thanks to
True Adventures of Primal Scream
From an early obsession with Love and The Byrds, they developed a taste
for the raw power of The Stooges and MC5. Then they embraced the
emerging dance culture of the Nineties, took a ton of drugs and recorded
one of the landmark albums of the decade. Now they're back with a
typically confrontational new record called 'Swastika Eyes'. They are
Primal Scream and this is their story. By Michael Bonner
And then he says this: "Aw, I don't wanna talk about that."
September, 1999. Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie is sitting in Scream HQ
- a compact, two room recording studio in north London. He's surrounded
by instruments, banks of equipment and Scream memorabilia. Newly-cropped
hair dyed raven-black, dressed in a matching black shirt and jeans, a
couple of days' stubble on his face, Gillespie is looking fit and, given
his legendary taste for all things narcotic, surprisingly healthy.
We have a problem, though - he's reluctant to discuss his band's extraordinary history.
"The past is the past, it's redundant," he says, asking me to turn off
the tape recorder. I point out that it's a great story - how Primal
Scream are the UK's longest-running post-punk group bar New Order;
mavericks, renegade pioneers. How, during their 15 years together, they
rose from fey young indie hopefuls to all-conquering heroes of acid
house with their Screamadelica album - surely the album of the Nineties
- then came close to destroying themselves, all-but burning out on
drugs and emotional turmoil. Yet they battled on, underwent a
Lazarus-like recovery in recent years to re-establish themselves at the
cutting edge of rock 'n' roll.
Bobby agrees that it's an amazing saga and over the next couple of days
and especially during a long interview on Primrose Hill on one of the
last days of summer, Gillespie gradually opens up about the real story
behind Primal Scream, the last great rock 'n' roll band of the 20th
What does he tell me?
Everything, really. And it's quite a ride.
GLASGOW in the early Eighties was in decline. It had made its name in
the 1800s as the shipbuilding capital of the world, but foreign
competition since the end of World War II combined with the rampant
capitalism of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government meant that the
once proud and bustling shipyards lining the banks of the river Clyde
were now nearly desolate - a vast, silent, decaying wilderness.
With its largely working-class population, Glasgow had always been
strongly left-wing, earning the nickname "Red Clydeside", and Springburn
- a suburb to the north of the city - had been an established Labour
seat since 1935. Bobby Gillespie was born there on June 22, 1962, the
son of a protestant SOGAT union official, a fiercely dedicated man with
strong socialist principals who had been involved with the anti-fascist
movement during the Seventies. As Gillespie recalls: "Other people I
knew had pictures of the Queen or the Pope on the wall, but my dad had
pictures of the Black Panthers." Gillespie's father also had a
deep-seated love for music, and his son's formative years were
soundtracked by The Beatles, the Stones, The Giltter Band, T-Rex, Slade,
Bowie, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves And The Vandellas - "Pop songs,
party music," he remembers. His father, too, gave him his outsider
inclinations - to stand against the establishment, to respect no one who
didn't earn it. To fight for what he believed in.
By 1973, the family had moved to Mount Florida, close to the Hampden
Park football stadium, and Bobby started attending Kings Park Secondary
School, where he met Alan McGee, a year above him, and Robert Young, a
few years his junior. It was a rough place. "It was just full of a lot
of hooligans," says Gillespie simply. "We saw the odd hatchet attack,"
McGee recalls. "We all witnessed a few people getting stabbed and stuff
Sharing a love of football, the three began hanging round together,
developing a bond of friendship which would survive the traumas of the
next 20 years, of which there would be plenty.
"Robert was this little kid who loved fighting," remembers McGee. "He
was the type of kid you had to watch, because even though he was small
he was really bolshy. I was more of an outsider at school than Bob - he
wasnae the guy who was doing the fighting, but he always had a gang of
boys round him.'
BY May, 1977, punk began to make its mark on Scotland, and on Gillespie
and McGee. Here was something new, intense and inspiring, that shared
their frustrations and contempt for authority. They were hooked.
"I remember the summer of 1977," Gillespie recalled in June, 1991. "Me
and my mate's friends had some spray paint and there was this bowling
alley with a huge white wall where we lived, and we sprayed 'God save
the Queen/The fascist regime/She made you a moron/A potential H-bomb'.
Just as we were finishing the cops came round the corner, chased us and
we ran like fuck. We went back the next night and wrote 'Sex Pistols' to
commemorate Jubilee year. We had red and blue spraypaint, but we were
using so much, it was so hot and we were standing so close to the wall,
we got a real buzz from it."
Alan McGee had taken the 15-year old Gillespie to see his first gig,
Thin Lizzy, in 1975, and by the end of the summer of 1977 the pair were
going to see anyone and everyone they could: The Clash, Joy Division, Dr
Feelgood, The Jam, The Buzzcocks.
"It's what Primal Scream grew out of," says Gillespie now. "Punk rock, a
love of high energy rock 'n' roll. It was the most exciting thing in our
lives. It's what we lived for. I'd look at the Pistols and The Clash and
wish I was involved in something like that. I didn't actually have any
ambitions to be a musician then - I was just happy to buy the records
and go to the gigs and have that as my world. It was what I believed
In 1978, Gillespie was working at a printing factory - "punching in at
nine, punching out at five, the most soul-destroying job ever" - and
immersing himself in the Glasgow nightlife. Practically the only outlet
to hear new punk records then was through a weekly show on Radio Clyde -
Street Sounds, presented by a DJ named Brian Ford, which aired every
Wednesday night. McGee remembers hearing on the show that a local band,
The Drains, were looking for a bassist, and he applied for the job. The
guitarist was the 15 year-old Andrew Innes. Impressed by Innes' talent,
McGee joined the band and brought Gillespie in as singer.
"We'd go round to Innes' house and get drunk," says Gillespie. "McGee
would have a bass and Innes would have a guitar - they'd be playing
Pistols songs and Clash songs, Jam songs, and I'd be rolling around on
the floor screaming 'No Fun' or 'White Riot'. Great fun, you know. Up
til then, I'd only ever seen people playing guitar on stage - like Mick
Jones, Paul Weller or The Banshees' John McKay - or on Top Of The Pops.
I never thought I could do that until Innes played 'Pretty Vacant'. I
thought, 'Fucking hell, man, this is incredible, I want a piece of
this.' But even then I didn't think I wanted to be a singer."
Gillespie had also begun to help out another local band, Altered Images,
whose guitarist, Caesar, was a friend of his. He was mostly just
roadying, but occasionally he'd step in to play drums when their regular
drummer, Michael "Titch" Anderson, went AWOL. Gillespie would later play
briefly with Caesar's next band, The Wake, first as bassist supporting
New Order in early 1981 as the latter toured their debut single,
"Ceremony", then on their first two singles and their 1983 debut album,
Harmony, on Manchester's Factory label, for which he also contributed
the lyrics for one song, "The Old Men".
BY 1980, punk had fallen apart, its impetus and fury long burned out.
Sid Vicious had been dead two years, while The Clash seemed to have
swapped their fiercely independent philosophy for stadium tours of
America with the likes of The Who. But the generation blown away by
punk's initial explosion were now inspired to form their own bands,
start their own record labels. One of the first was Alan Horne's
Glasgow-based Postcard label. Horne had discovered a local group called
The Machetes in the late Seventies. They were fronted by a charismatic
young singer called Edwyn Collins. The band, re-christened Orange Juice,
would provide the first single release for Postcard in 1980, a burst of
bright melodic pop called "Falling And Laughing". Drawing on his love of
The Velvet Underground's melancholic side and the pristine melodies of
The Byrds, Horne released only eight singles between 1980 and 1981, but
each one would exert considerable influence over indie music for the
next decade, acting as a stimulus for The Smiths and the wave of bands
who followed. Inevitably, Postcard and the attendant Glasgow scene -
bands like Josef K, Aztec Camera and the Fire Engines - were more sweet
inspiration for Gillespie, McGee and Innes (Innes' keyboard was even
used by Orange Juice on their second single, 1980's "Blue Boy"). Here
were local bands from Glasgow making great records on a label far
removed from media central, London.
But it was never going to be that simple. Instead, McGee and Innes
carried on drifting through bands for the next few years - "all of them
shite," McGee readily admits. There was a stint in a glam rock band, H20
in 1982, before they formed Newspeak with guitarist Neil Clark - who
would later join Lloyd Cole's backing band, The Commotions - before
Innes decided he'd had enough. He was getting nowhere. It was time to
move on, to get out of Scotland. It was time to go to London.
WITH Innes and McGee gone south, it became a frustrating time for Bobby
Gillespie. Punk had given way to new wave which had been followed by the
New Romantics. To a kid from Glasgow weaned on the visceral punch of
punk and its call-to-arms, the sleek posing and extravagant lifestyle -
jets, swimming pools, limos - of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Wham!
meant nothing at all. Then, in 1982, Gillespie found someone who shared
his outlook, someone who could perhaps inspire him as Innes and McGee
had done. He was Jim Beattie, another friend from school, and together
the pair starting jamming, kicking up a noise in Beattie's bedroom.
"This wasn't a real band that played real gigs," recalls Gillespie. "We
were completely dissonant. It wasn't music, it was just fucking smashing
stuff up and screaming. This was like two guys messing about. You know,
taking a metal box and using it as a drum, and turning up the guitar. We
were just making noise in Jim's bedroom and we called it Primal Scream.
It was in our heads, this band. It didn't really exist, but we did it
every night for something to do."
Whenever he could, Gillespie made trips to London to visit Innes and McGee.
"We'd spent the first three months squatting,' says McGee. 'We were with
these people who'd signed on for the army, but who were now dodging
being drafted, and they were all heroin addicts, shooting smack. It was
pretty fucking grim."
Innes and McGee now had a new band, the Laughing Apple, while McGee had
got himself a job as a British Rail stores clerk. Finding it difficult
to get a record company interested in putting out their records, McGee
and Innes formed their own labels - Autonomy and then Essential (funded
with money from Govan CND) - and released three Laughing Apple singes
between 1981 and 1982, with sleeves designed by Gillespie. McGee had
also set up a fanzine, Communication Blur, and a night dedicated to new
groups called Communication Club, which by 1983 had become The Living
Room, located above The Roebuck pub on Tottenham Court Road. There,
McGee was putting on The Membranes, Television Personalities, The
Jasmine Minks as well as the first gig by the nascent Primal Scream.
"It was sometime in '83," admits McGee. "Bob says it wasn't their first
gig, but they were billed as Primal Scream. It was Bob and Beattie and a
tape machine, and they sounded like Public Image."
McGee put the band in the studio in 1983, for their first recording
session, one track called "The Orchard", which featured another Glasgow
friend, Judith Boyle, on violin and vocals. Beattie later claimed it was
so bad they burned the master tape.
BACK in Glasgow, Gillespie had met Stephen Pastel and Nick Low, who ran
a local night promoting new bands called The Candy Club.
"Me and Jim started going there, looking for like-minded musicians to
start the band up properly," remembers Gillespie, who would briefly put
on his own night, Splash One, named after a 13th Floor Elevators song,
in 1985. "We were getting into Love, Syd Barrett and stuff like that. So
Nick said that these two guys wanted to start a band and gave me a tape
and said 'You might like it.' It was fucking incredible. Four songs:
'Upside Down', 'Inside Me', 'In A Hole' and 'Taste The Floor'. I thought
it was a synthesiser duo like Suicide. It was just white noise with this
guy singing over the top, really weird echoed-out vocals. They were
called The Daisy Chain then."
The band would later mutate into The Jesus And Mary Chain, but for now
names weren't important: all that mattered was that Gillespie had
finally found his soulmates. He was transfixed. He got the number of
their bassist, Douglas Hart, and phoned them immediately.
"We were on the phone for three hours. We'd never met each other before,
but we had so much in common - music, films, books, just attitude. They
were the only other people in Glasgow who were into the kind of things
we were into, so finding them was incredible, it was the greatest
The Mary Chain were formed by William and Jim Reid, brothers from East
Kilbride. Fired by the anarchy of punk and the fierce, atonal noise of
the Velvets, plus copious quantities of amphetamine and acid, they soon
befriended Primal Scream and McGee.
McGee had set up Creation with a £1,000 bank loan in 1983, in
partnership with Joe Foster, former guitarist with the Television
Personalities, a Situationist punk band who'd been going since the late
Seventies. McGee had met Foster when he moved to London, along with
other band members Ed Ball and Dan Treacey. Treacey had created the
Whaam! label a few years previously to put out records by The TV
Personalities and Ball's side-project, The Times, and it inspired McGee
to start Creation, named after the Sixties psychedelic garage band. The
early releases almost exclusively comprised of material by McGee's
friends: Innes' Revolving Paint Dream, Foster's Slaughter Joe, The
Pastels, fanzine-writer The Legend! and even McGee's own band, Biff Bang
Pow! Then, in the summer of 1984, McGee signed the Mary Chain. Gillespie
wasn't far behind.
"They had a drummer at this point called Murray Dagleish," remembers
McGee. "He wanted to do cabaret, but they wanted to be rock 'n' roll
stars. He wanted £100 a night just for showing up, and they just wanted
to be famous. So he soon exited and I put Bobby in the band. We wanted
Maureen Tucker, but we got Bobby."
Gillespie's first gig with the Mary Chain was at the Glasgow Venue on
October 11, 1984, with the Primals supporting, and Gillespie playing in
both bands. It was the Scream's first official gig.
"The poster had a picture of Malcolm McDowell in If... holding a hand
grenade with the words 'Whose side are you on?' underneath," smiles
Bobby at the memory. "The Scream did a cover of Subway Sect's 'Nobody's
Scared' and then I played with the Mary Chain. Jim and William, full-on
noise. It was beautiful, extreme."
Gillespie could barely drum, but that wasn't the point.
"He just looked fucking brilliant, total rock 'n' roll," recalls Jeff
Barrett, who worked for Creation, briefly as tour manager for the Mary
Chain, then later as Primal Scream's press officer. "Tight leather keks,
blue and white ribbed T-shirt, Stirling Morrison haircut."
GILLESPIE joined the Mary Chain just as they were about to become the
most notorious band in Britain. Their debut single, "Upside Down", with
Dagleish on drums, was released by Creation in October, 1984 and
instantly put both band and label on the map. It was a disorientating
blast of feedback, a statement of anarchic intent, which became one of
the best-selling independent singles of the Eighties, with sales
totalling 35,000 copies. In a musical climate dominated by the Band Aid
generation, the Mary Chain went off like a bomb. Their gigs were like
small-scale wars. They rarely played for more than 25 minutes, each show
a relentless white noise assault, resulting in chaos at the very least,
but more often with riots. The feeding frenzy from major labels was
spectacular, with McGee casting himself in the role of Malcolm McLaren
next to the Mary Chain's Sex Pistols, eventually brokering a deal with
Warners subsidiary, blanco y negro.
The rest of the year saw the Mary Chain consolidate their reputation.
Gigs got cancelled by worried promoters, they were banned from Sheffield
and Birmingham, and a police presence usually accompanied them when they
did manage to play. The year climaxed with yet another riot, at London's
ICA, in December.
"It was an amazing time," smiles Gillespie. "Just to be part of that.
All of us had a real purity, we had a really romantic notion of rock 'n'
roll, and we meant it. It was 'Fuck the lot of them'. That's why we did
that stuff. It was the best time of my fucking life. Jim and William
always wanted to be rock 'n' roll stars, and they were. You see, it was
a desert for music then. Dire Straits, all that garbage. And us young
punks came flying through it. It was like being in The Velvet
Underground. I was honoured to be involved in that. I would have died
for that band."
DESPITE his Mary Chain commitments, Gillespie was determined to keep
Primal Scream going. He felt "part of a gang" with the Mary Chain, but
he knew that ultimately it was the Reid brothers' band and he'd never be
able to exercise the creative control he was beginning to enjoy with the
Scream. He and Beattie had recorded two tracks - "Intro" and
"Circumcision" for a cassette compilation, State Of Affairs, released in
1984 by Robert King, from Edinburgh punk band, The Scars. They
demonstrated Gillespie and Beattie's love of Public Image and Throbbing
Gristle, but by the time the compilation came out, they were starting to
swap atonal dementia for the blissful melodies of Love and The Byrds
which would dominate all the material up to their debut album, Sonic
Flower Groove, in 1987.
The first proper Primal Scream material was a seven-inch, "All Fall
Down" b/w "It Happens", in May, 1985 on Creation. The band's line-up had
now expanded to include Robert Young on bass, pinched from a band called
Black Easter, Tom McGurk on drums and Martin St John on percussion. The
release of the single, recorded in April that year, saw the Scream
receive their first press exposure. NME called it "peachy-sweet pop" ,
while Gillespie revealed his Grand Plan to make a pop record "that'll be
remembered in 20, 30 years time. People go out now and buy a Love album
or a 13th Floor Elevators album. They're still fresh. They're timeless
records. I'd like to try and make timeless records."
Gillespie stayed with the Mary Chain through 1985, touring the US and
recording their landmark debut LP, Psychocandy, released in November
1985. But with the Mary Chain developing into a major concern, the Reid
brothers gave Gillespie an ultimatum.
"Jim and William asked me to join in full time as a drummer in February
1986, but I couldn't do it," sighs Gillespie with a shrug. "I was really
upset, because they didn't want me to be in the Scream and the Chain at
the same time. They just wanted me in the Chain as a drummer, while I
knew there was something special about Primal Scream. I knew the songs
were good, I knew there was something developing."
GILLESPIE was now free to devote himself fully to Primal Scream.
Immediately, the band - now including Paul Harte, another friend from
school up in Glasgow, on guitar - began work on a follow-up to "All Fall
"Crystal Crescent", released in April 1986, was the first of several
records which failed to live up to the band's aspirations. With no-fi
production values, its rich, up-beat melodies fell flat, and Gillespie
wanted it scrapped. The B-side of "Crystal Crescent", "Velocity Girl",
appeared in May on the NME's celebrated C86 compilation tape, alongside
numerous so-called "shambling" or "anorak" bands: The Wedding Present,
The Mighty Lemon Drops, Half Man Half Biscuit and The Soup Dragons.
"It was a horrible fucking albatross," remembers Jeff Barrett. "It was
something that I don't think they felt allied to at all. They were never
part of that scene."
"We've got nothing in common with those bands," Gillespie told Melody
Maker. "Independent music is pretty inferior. They can't play their
instruments and they can't write songs. Independent music means anyone
can make a record and that's a bad thing. There have been more crap
records made in the last eight years than ever before."
Despite this, "Velocity Girl" made their name, saw them become the
figureheads of a new wave of lo-fi janglers, but most famously would
inspire The Stone Roses' "Made Of Stone".
THROUGH all this, Gillespie was growing increasingly frustrated with the
band as they toured through 1986, gearing up for the Sonic Flower Groove
album for Elevation - a spin-off label McGee had started for Warners on
the back of the Mary Chain's success.
"The band were shite," murmurs Bob, darkly. "Beattie was a good
guitarist, but it was never really a proper band. There was always
something missing, musically or in attitude. We wanted to make Forever
Changes, right? That was our ambition. And of course, we never did, so
we felt disappointed. We went to record it in Wales at Rockfield studios
with Stephen Street, but we weren't up to it. We did four weeks with
Steve Street and we only had two or three tracks done. We were fucked,
just a mess, immature."
They scrapped the sessions with Street, costing Elevation £40,000. At
McGee's behest they drafted in Andrew Innes to replace guitarist Stuart
May, who'd succeeded Paul Harte in December, 1986. They regrouped in
London with producer Mayo Thompson, of late Sixties/early Seventies
experimentalists Red Krayola, and engineer Pat Collier to salvage what
they could of the first album. But the spontaneity had gone, and the
album proved yet another set-back for Gillespie.
WHEN Sonic Flower Groove was released in October 1987, it got to 62 in
the chart. This was hardly impressive for a record that had cost £100,
000 to make. Warners weren't impressed, either. Elevation, and the bands
on its roster - The Weather Prophets, Edwyn Collins and the Scream - had
failed to match even a fraction of the acclaim or success of the Mary
Chain and Sonic Flower Groove itself was critically slammed. It was too
polished, too clean, too soft, and the attention of the press was being
diverted towards the petulant stampede of The Wonder Stuff and Pop Will
Eat Itself. They toured till the end of the year with a new drummer,
Gavin Skinner, but by the time they came off the road Warners had
It was a bad time for Primal Scream. They'd made an album they couldn't
stand, which failed to capture the spirit of their idols, and now the
band were falling apart. Beattie left, the victim of pressure, low
morale, too much touring and growing tension between him and Gillespie.
He stayed in Glasgow, forming a new band, Spirea X, named after a track
on the "Crystal Crescent" 12 inch, along with Judith Boyle who'd played
on "The Orchard" back in 1984. Meanwhile, a disillusioned Gillespie,
Innes and Young retreated to Brighton.
THE escape to the south coast, to a new environment, brought Gillespie,
Innes and Young fresh inspiration. Young swapped to guitar, and the band
began to work on material far harder than anything off Sonic Flower
"That's when I really started enjoying being in Primal Scream," smiles
Gillespie. "I loved The Byrds and Love and stuff, but we'd taken that
thing as far as we could, and now we wanted to play high energy rock 'n'
roll. It was just the three of us left and we just wanted to get up on
stage, play Les Pauls through Marshalls and fucking destroy."
They played one gig in May, at Dingwalls in London, which climaxed with
a cover of The Ramones' "Swallow My Pride", but that was it until
February, 1989 when Gillespie unveiled a new line-up, with the central
trio augmented by drummer Philip "Toby" Tomanov and bassist Henry Olsen,
who had both played with Nico's backing band, The Faction.
Gone were the fey melodies, replaced by roaring, amphetamine-charged
guitar riffs. It was The Stooges' "1969" relocated to 1989; all
long-hair, leather trousers and lacerating energy.
"We had found rock 'n' roll," beams Gillespie. "We were fucking heavy
and we were great."
Signed back to Creation, the band's first release in nearly two years
was a single, "Ivy Ivy Ivy" in June, 1989, followed by an LP, Primal
Scream, in September. The reviews, as with Sonic Flower Groove, were
less than complimentary. Steve Lamacq in the NME called it "confused and
lacking in cohesion", picturing Gillespie "standing in the middle of the
recording studio so dazzled by the pressures of what he's achieved so
far (and not achieved) so far that he can't even find the exit
door let alone the key to making A Good Record."
They began to tour, using Kim Fowley's 'California Hayride' (with the
lyric "We're rough, we're tough and we've had enough!") as their intro
tape. The tour, and the revitalised Scream, met a similar fate to the
album. While they'd set out to recapture the feral energy of The MC5 and
The Stooges, much of their audience were left confused.
"Word was that the Scream had rocked out," says Barrett. "People were
literally saying it to each other: "Have you heard? The Scream have
rocked out .' It was like something dirty had happened. All these
fucking sad anoraks, these fanzine writers, got really upset. People
weren't having it. They didn't get it."
The band, however, determinedly soldiered on round the country.
"The drug of choice at this point was speed," recalls McGee. "I mean
real amounts of speed - and the vitriol in the band was
absolutely amazing. Bobby Gillespie is probably one of the closest
people in the world to me, but I would get in the van and I would get
such a major caning. It'd be like; 'This guy hates my guts. What is his
problem?' But it was just speed psychosis, they were all basically
speeding off their tits."
THEN everything changed. As 1989 wore on, England found itself in the
midst of a major cultural upheaval. Two years previously, a group of
friends, including Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling, had gone to
celebrate Oakenfold's 28th birthday party on Ibiza. Out there, they
discovered DJs playing a new style of music - house - and a new drug,
Ecstasy. Returning to the UK, they vowed to recreate Ibiza's hedonistic
vibe, and by the end of 1987 had begun their own clubs - Oakenfold's The
Project in Streatham and Rampling's Klub Sch-oom (which simply became
Shoom, after the rushing sensation you get from E) at Southwark Fitness
Centre. Within a year, England was "in the grip of E", as one Sun
headline put it: the most significant cultural revolution since punk.
McGee and Barrett (who was now working for Creation) became involved
early on, regularly visiting Shoom and Oakenfold's latest club, Future.
"We were all bang on it," says McGee. "We were all just E heads. I was
phoning Bobby up at four in the morning saying 'This is amazing! Shaun
Ryder on stage in gold lame punching the air!' Gillespie's going 'Sounds
amazing, McGee - what are the drugs like?' And I was going 'Fucking
awesome - you've got to get some of this!' So we took them along to
their first club."
"The first acid house thing I went to was in Brighton in 1988," says
Gillespie. "I took loads of speed and this girl told us there was this
party in a warehouse and we just went down there. We couldn't really
make head nor tail of the music or the people, it was still early days,
but it was a strange, weird little underground thing. I always remember
being quite fascinated by it but not quite getting it."
"We spent ages trying to get the band involved," claims Barrett. "They
were kind of sceptical at the time, it wasn't where there heads were at,
or they just didn't get it at first. But they were aware something was
happening because they'd seen a change in me and Alan. Then they started
dipping their toes in, and it took them all of about five minutes to
realise what joys could be had with Ecstasy. Then I met Weatherall
through Richard Norris [former NME journalist, who would later become
one half of The Grid], which became really important in the scheme of
ANDREW Weatherall was a former bricklayer from Slough who had been
involved in a football fanzine, Boys Own, with Terry Farley since 1987.
Along with Farley, Weatherall began DJing, becoming one of the most
important figures in the nascent house scene.
"Me and Andrew got on really well," explains Barrett. "Then he came
round my office one day in the summer of 1989 and I gave him a copy of
the Primal Scream LP, and he rang me the next day and went, 'Fucking
hell, them ballads on that record are fucking beautiful,' and he put
'I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have' on his playlist in the magazine.
He could understand where the band's heads were at."
'Me and Bobby met Weatherall in a field at a Shoom party outside
Brighton, that was the first meeting,' remembers McGee. 'He had long
curly hair and a New Order T-shirt on. It was one of those great nights.
We'd driven round Brighton for hours looking for this place, walked
miles through this field, and when we got there we found Flowered Up,
The KLF, Richard Norris, Weatherall and Youth in a tent. These were our
people. Nobody shut doors in those days, there was no closed shop in
dance music. At the end of the rave, at 11 in the morning, Weatherall
came over and introduced himself."
The band had been converted to dance music and the attendant lifestyle.
"As much as they were into the club thing, they were also really into
putting on rock 'n' roll shows," confirms McGee. "They were doing Es on
the way back from gigs in Norwich, having parties on the tour bus, but
they were being The New York Dolls on stage. It was a weird time."
Spotting a causal link between rock 'n' roll and acid house hedonism,
Barrett and the NME's then live editor, Helen Mead - herself fully
immersed in club culture - persuaded Weatherall to write a live review
of the Scream at Exeter Arts Centre under the pseudonym Audrey
Witherspoon. Invoking The spirit of the Clash, while quoting The Tams
("Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy") and Candi Staton ("Young Hearts Run
Free"), Weatherall climbed aboard the Scream's rock 'n' rollercoaster,
cutting through the usual music press snobbery to conclude
matter-of-factly "200 very young people had a bleeding good night out".
It was the start of a relationship which would take the band into the
next, and most exciting phase of their career: Screamadelica.
"IF the first Primal Scream album was acid," says Gillespie, "and the
second one was speed, then the third phase was E."
As the Eighties ended, a new spirit of optimism was sweeping England,
spearheaded by the Ecstasy revolution. E let you shed inhibitions,
anything became possible. It even became possible for a balls-out rock
'n' roll band like the Scream to shed their skin and start again.
"We were going out all the time," remembers Gillespie. "Warehouse
parties in Brighton, the Zap Club, whatever was going on on the beach.
We just met all these people and got into it through taking E."
"Innes had never been shy of drugs," reveals Barrett. "He was a speed
king, a 24 hour guy. But what E did was open everybody up to experiment.
I think they've always experimented, always gone against the grain, to
negotiable effect, but this time it was like a blank piece of paper."
It was Innes who put the idea of a remix to Weatherall - "over a few
drinks one night in the upstairs bar at Spectrum," as the DJ recalls.
Until then, Weatherall's only experience of remixing was the Happy
Mondays' "Madchester Rave On" EP in September 1989, alongside Paul
Oakenfold. Weatherall didn't have a clue what he was doing, but he had
the enthusiasm and attitude to give it a go. Taking the piano motif
(provided by new recruit, former member of Felt, Martin Duffy), horn
stabs and bassline from the slow-burning soul ballad "I'm Losing More
Than I'll Ever Have" (from the second LP), Weatherall added a drum loop
from an Italian bootleg mix of Edie Brickell's "What I Am", Gillespie
singing a line from Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" and a sample
from the Peter Fonda B-movie Wild Angels. "Loaded", brought rock's past
into the digital era. It seemed destined for classic status from the
start, when Weatherall gave it its first public airing at the Subterania
club in London's Ladbroke Grove, that December.
"I got a call from Andrew Innes at about four in the morning," Gillespie
told The Guardian in September 1991. "He was saying 'I think we've got a
hit record on our hands. We played it here and people went nuts!'."
It was one of the most hotly-anticipated releases over the next few
months as it was greedily consumed in the clubs, Creation receiving
7,500 advanced orders before its release in February, 1990. It became
the hit record Gillespie and the band had been searching for.
Ironically, their success hadn't come from the indie market, where their
traditional fanbase lay, but from a whole different sector. Not everyone
had embraced them so readily, though. Martin Price, from Manchester's
techno ravers 808 State, launched a vitriolic attack on them in Melody
Maker: "If I were a friend of theirs and totally into indie, and saw
them betraying their whole fucking past, I'd be sick."
Gillespie responded quickly, telling the Maker's Caren Myers: "That guy
[Price] speaks as though he invented dance music or black music. He's
white, he comes from Manchester, he's no James Brown. 808 State are
basically a white rock band ripping off Kraftwerk."
"Loaded" charted at number 16, Primal Scream ceased to be what Bobby
himself saw as "a really unfashionable rock band," and the group were
remade/remodelled as Sunshine Supermen, fronted by "the last great rock
'n' roll star", as the NME described Gillespie that March.
In the wake of "Loaded" ("the ultimate rock-dance fusion," according to
Weatherall), and the Terry Farley mix which followed, a deluge of indie
bands suddenly jumped on the Scream's bandwagon. Suddenly, everyone
wanted to make an indie/dance crossover record - That Petrol Emotion,
James, The Soup Dragons, My Bloody Valentine, even The Wonder Stuff -
while within months of "Loaded" entering the charts, a new wave of bands
were emerging, inspired by Scream's rock/dance fusion, bands like
Flowered Up, World Of Twist, The Mock Turtles, Blur and The Charlatans.
Interviewed by in Melody Maker around the release of "Loaded", Gillespie
was quick to distance himself from the indie/rock scene.
"I see 'Loaded' as a dub record. It's closer to the sort of radical
reconstruction that Jamaican producers like Joe Gibbs used to do with
reggae songs in '73 or '74. Hopefully, people will realise that it has a
different angle to something that the Mondays or the Roses might do."
The Mondays and the Roses up in Manchester had effectively initiated the
indie/dance crossover in late 1989 and were certainly the only bands who
fully understood where the Scream were coming from. Both bands were
heavily involved in dance culture, but their music didn't fully reflect
it: the Roses were still writing highly traditional songs (ironically
based around the 12-string Rickenbacker sound of Sonic Flower Groove),
while the Mondays used Paul Oakenfold and Steve Osborne to provide drum
loops and sequencers to bring their lumbering funk rock in line with
emergent musical trends. Only the Scream's records unreservedly embraced
the music of the time.
FOR the rest of 1990 and into 1991, Primal Scream in conjunction with
Weatherall were literally flying. They were absorbing everything they
could from dance culture - "Going to clubs, staying out all night, then
going back into the studio," remembers Gillespie. They were grooving on
uppers, slowly beginning to lay the foundations for the Screamadelica
LP. The first track they recorded was "Come Together", released in
August, 1990 - a beautiful psychedelic mix of gospel melodies, an
infectious shuffling house beat, a sample of Nastassja Kinski from
'Paris, Texas' and a guitar riff lifted from Elvis Presley's "Suspicious
Minds", with Gillespie entreating everyone to "Kiss me/Won't you, won't
you kiss me/Won't you won't you kiss me/Lead me right out of this world"
- the ultimate expression of acid house's Second Summer of Love
There were two versions of "Come Together", one with Gillespie's vocals,
mixed by Terry Farley, and an instrumental mix by Weatherall and his new
engineering partner, Hugo Nicholson, which contained a sample of the
Reverend Jesse Jackson: "You will hear gospel and rhythm and blues and
jazz, all those are just labels, we know that music is music." It was a
notion which would inform the Scream's output over the next 12 months.
Taking their explorations into chemical hedonism further, they released
"Higher Than The Sun" in June 1991, produced by ambient house duo The
Orb (who included Alex Paterson, former Killing Joke roadie) and
featuring former Public Image bassist, Jah Wobble. The punk connection
was reinforced by Gillespie who grandly described it as "the most
important record since 'Anarchy In The UK'."
It was a dramatic statement of intent, Gillespie singing "I live just
for today, I don't care about tomorrow/What I've got in my head you
can't buy, steal or borrow'" against a truly blissed-out melody. More
than that, it captured the transcendental relationship between drugs and
music. Speaking to Simon Reynolds in Melody Maker, Gillespie claimed: "I
think it's good to get lost from time to time. Everybody does it at some
point... It's good to let yourself go and not be under control... It's
been good for me, letting myself go, getting lost - in sex and drugs.
You can only open yourself up to experience."
With the arc of singles up to Screamadelica -
"Loaded", "Come Together", "Higher Than The Sun" and the shimmering
house groove of "Don't Fight It Feel It" in August (which Gillespie saw
as "a modern Northern Soul song") - the band distilled the essence of
club culture: getting loaded, and having a good time.
IT was a good period. The band were mostly at Jam Studios in London's
Finsbury Park, with producers Weatherall, Nicholson, The Orb, and
Beggars Banquet producer Jimmy Miller, recording the album of their
lives. It was a party, the biggest they'd ever had.
"There was a lot of mad shit going on at weekends," laughs Weatherall.
"There were a lot of late arrivals. I turned up a week late because
someone had force fed me Ecstasy in Rimini."
"I remember Duffy when we were doing 'Inner Flight'," recalls Gillespie.
"He was tripping on acid. I remember him jumping on the mixing desk
going 'Bob, Bob, I'm pissing in the sky!'. It was beautiful."
They'd met up with Paul Cannell, an artist who'd previously done the
artwork for Flowered Up's "Phobia" single, and who would design the
"I went to the studios quite a few times," he says. "I've been to a few
parties of theirs and at one point it was pure sex, drugs and rock 'n'
roll. That was all it was. It was kind of horrible, but I was totally up
for it myself. I didn't care."
"The guy who ran the studio disappeared with the desk and a lot of
tapes," smiles Gillespie. "I was quite happy, because we'd done a
version of 'Shine Like Stars' [LP closing track] and I didn't like it.
But it was the greatest time. There were a lot of great ideas, too. We
deconstructed the band. Instead of having two guitars, bass, drums,
vocal, anything went. Synth, tabla, drum machine, instrumentals, gospel
singers, sitars. The band was freed. Getting these people in - Andy,
Hugo, everyone - to mess with our music, take it somewhere else, was
incredible. We just wanted to make fucking music and collaborate with
THE party didn't stop.
"We're a pretty sleazy group," admitted Gillespie in Rage magazine that
June. "I think with the drug thing people think a lot of its hype but
it's not, it's just the way it is. We don't glorify drugs and I don't
think its anything to be proud about, either."
In July, they went out on the road with Weatherall and The Orb Djing.
The line-up bolstered by former Hypnotone vocalist Denise Johnston (who
had sung on "Don't Fight It Feel It") and Nicholson on programming duty
- plus an ever-growing entourage, "a wild big party," as The Stud
Brothers' observed in Melody Maker, including Alex Nightingale, son of
radio DJ Annie Nightingale. Alex had met Bob while living in Brighton
and would become their booking agent, then manager.
"That tour was insane," laughs Gillespie now.
"I've got great memories of it. It was debauched, insane. We had a club
thing going, us, The Orb, Andy Weatherall. We'd hire a hall until two in
the morning, so we could come on at 10 at night, rock until about half
11, and then Weatherall and The Orb would take it from there until two
or three in the morning, so it was like a club and a gig intertwined. It
was just euphoric, everyone fucking flying, everyone just up there in a
fucking great communal atmosphere. That was the idea, we wanted to
combine a club with a great rock 'n' roll gig, combine the euphoria of
both to fucking go somewhere else."
The tour was a breathtaking trip around Planet Scream.
"They went and took on board everything they were experiencing and they
took it on the road,' says Jeff Barrett. "It was almost like the first
superclub tour. They took the whole thing: the DJs, the lights . . .
Everything about it was like a rave."
SCREAMADELICA arrived in September to ecstatic reviews. Finally, the
world agreed, here was Gillespie's timeless masterpiece. "Most bands
think in black and white, we think in Technicolour," Gillespie declared
with obvious pride. "A new language has been created here," enthused
Melody Maker's Steve Sutherland, going on to say the band had created
"the most revolutionary music in ages... Screamadelica is truly,
Behind Paul Cannell's striking sleeve design - an acid house-style sun
face frazzled and distorted - it took 30 years of pop music and blasted
it into the future. Their version of the 13th Floor Elevators' "Slip
Inside The House" (originally recorded for an American Roky Erikson
tribute album the previous summer) made the connection between acid rock
and acid house, while the symphonic splendour of "I'm Comin' Down"
evoked memories of The Beach Boys, and "Movin' On Up" equated
Stones-style hedonism with the narcotic indulgences of the early
Nineties. "Screamadelica will be recognised as a musical benchmark for
these times," decided the NME.
The album swept the end of the year polls, beating off strong opposition
from Massive Attack's Blue Lines, R.E.M.'s Out Of Time and Nirvana's
Nevermind. It was even voted Album Of The Decade So Far by one magazine
in 1996 and will likely win most Record Of The Nineties polls come this
December, the LP that best sums up the anything-goes eclecticism of the
last 10 years.
"We were really doing something new and special and exciting," says
Gillespie. "We felt proud of what we were doing. There's a lot of love
on that record, and I think that's why a lot of people like it. It's
only recently that I've realised this. Over the last couple of years,
I've had people come up to me saying how much they love Screamadelica,
how much it means to them, and that means a lot to me in turn."
In the meantime, the band were back on the road, starting the
psychedelic rock'n'roll disco madness off in Amsterdam.
"I'd never toured before, so I thought it was a great opportunity,"
remembers Hugo Nicholson. "But it was like a baptism of fire. The drugs
were there, but what I found unusual was that I'm a middle class, home
counties bloke surrounded by these Glaswegians that are on everything
they could lay their hands on - which wasn't really serious drugs, just
what everyone else was doing. I remember walking up some stairs and
someone was following me, and they stopped in mid-footstep, collapsed
and went flying back down the stairs!"
"In retrospect, I think that starting the tour in Amsterdam might have
been a mistake," admits Nightingale. "That was a fairly chaotic week.
The shows were incredible. Leicester Square was amazing, and Hammersmith
Palais wasn't bad either. I still hear stories about it, and I don't
know whether they're true - I heard the other day that Kylie Minogue
took her first E there, but I don't know."
"What can I say? Some men didn't come out the other side," recalls
Weatherall. "I remember certain members of the band disappearing for the
whole day, and literally walking on stage as the first chord was due to
be played. And Throb sitting backstage at the Hacienda, they're already
half an hour late, saying 'I want a pint of Jack Daniels and Coke,' and
someone saying to him 'What's the matter? Why are you doing this?' He
says: 'I'm in a fucking band, I can ask for stupid things - don't you
"We felt invincible," grins Gillespie today. "Nothing could stop us or
beat us or get in our way, everything was just freeform, no rules. I
thought we were the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world."
IN November, with Weatherall in tow, they recorded the "Dixie Narco" EP
for a January, 1992 release at Ardent Studios, in Memphis, where Big
Star had recorded their legendarily depressive third album, Sister
Lovers, a band favourite. They used "Movin' On Up" as the lead track,
but recorded a ravaged version of Dennis Wilson's "Carry Me Home" and a
strung-out, bluesy track, "Stone My Soul", along with a 10-minute dance
epic, "Screamadelica", which though it seemed out of place on the
finished EP, condensed the ideas of what was fast becoming a stone
"It was good to do something different from Screamadelica," says
Gillespie of "Carry Me Home" and "Stone My Soul". "We were just trying
to explore new music. We had Willie Nelson's pedal steel player on that,
and we met Jim Dickinson on that trip, all these great Memphis people
who were really kind and helpful to us."
They took with them former Mary Chain bassist Douglas Hart, who had now
become a video and film maker and was recording the Scream for a planned
"I reckon that was the Primal Scream equivalent of the Stones' film,
Cocksucker Blues," laughs Weatherall now. "Hart was filming some mad
shit, that last day of recording in a little wooden house in downtown
Memphis. Eight blokes ripped to the tits, going bananas, pulling
furniture apart. There wasn't much to do in Memphis in winter time. But
it was pretty cool, because it was Ardent and a lot of good stuff had
gone on there. We got local musicians in to play, who were well
suspicious of us to start with. But we gave them massive neat grass
spliffs and started talking about records, and within half an hour they
were totally into it.
"We went to Gracelands, where they have these really WASPish girls
showing you around. Douglas had dreadlocks, and this girl caught sight
of him and said 'Gee, how do you get your hair like that?' And from the
back I heard Bob G go 'Cos he fucks Catholic virgins!'."
The tales of debauchery were becoming increasingly extreme. It looked as
if the band were metamorphosing into Primal Tap.
"They were more clued up than that," admits Weatherall. "It nearly got
to spoof levels, but stopped just in time. Having said that, in Memphis
we had a prooper Bobby Fleckman-style bloke turn up from the record
company going: 'I love you guys! Renal Dream! You guys are really great,
I've got all your records!'."
They returned to the UK, playing a handful of dates which culminated in
a memorable all-nighter at Brixton Academy in March with Weatherall,
Oakenfold and The Orb.
"That was the ketamine gig," shudders Gillespie, referring to a powerful
anaesthetic used mainly by vets on farm animals, but which unscrupulous
drug dealers were passing off as Ecstasy around that time. "That was
when like the whole of London, the entire hall, was on ketamine. Mark
Moore from S' Express came backstage and said 'I don't know what drugs
people have been taking, but it's like Vietnam out there. There's people
lying on the ground and people in slow motion, everybody's catatonic.'
It was a pretty strange night."
The European leg of the tour "was pretty insane,'" as Gillespie puts it.
'It was like a drug dealers convention in Paris. It was just enough to
make McGee think we had to get bodyguards, all these weirdos and strange
guys turning up..."
The band hit America for a four week tour. The band found it hard
repeating their UK success with American audiences.
"I thought we were fucking brilliant," sighs Gillespie. "Everything was
together, but they never really got it. They didn't know whether we were
acid house or disco or rock 'n' roll or punk rock or heavy metal. We
were just out there on our own."
Back in the UK, the band's behaviour was gradually slipping out of hand;
the Ecstasy bubble was beginning to burst.
"There was a whole summer of 1992 where we'd open up the studio at two
o'clock and shut it at six and nobody would have turned up," Innes told
Jockey Slut in October, 1997. "People used to turn up to score and leave
"E was becoming shit by '91, '92," says McGee. "It started to get cut
with horrible things. That's what turned us all into cokeheads."
"The band started to fall apart," admits Gillespie. "Up until then it
was great, then February, March time, it fell to pieces. Things were
THERE were still good times to be had. A rapturously-received set at
Glastonbury that summer was followed in September by the inaugural
Mercury Music Prize. Up against the Mary Chain, St Etienne, U2 and
Simply Red, the Scream emerged victorious.
"In truth, they weren't expecting it and they didn't give a fuck,"
laughs Jeff Barrett. "They're outsiders, you know, they only cared that
the people they were meeting in clubs liked it. It was a good do, they
were off their nuts. They sent a friend of theirs, the Archbishop, up
there to collect it. He's a top boy, a surrealist. He's like The Fast
Show without the supporting cast. He goes up there and makes his speech
and everyone thought 'Who the fuck is that?' It was just brilliant."
The ensuing party, held at a house their friend (and Oasis buddy) Tim
Abbott was sharing with absent former Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor
was "carnage", according to Gillespie, and in the morning, it became
apparent they'd lost the cheque, all £20,000 of it.
"Nightingale woke up and he was looking through his bag, his pockets,
walking into the hall, going crazy, repeating over and over 'The cheque,
the cheque, I've lost the fucking cheque...'," says Gillespie.
"It was all mad," laughs Martin Duffy. '"Supposedly, I went up on stage,
but I don't remember I was so pissed. There's a picture of me and Innes,
and I've got the cheque, and I think that was the last time it was seen.
I didn't bank it. I don't know what happened to it. I might have flushed
it down the toilet or given it to some bloke in the street. I haven't a
The Mercury Prize rounded off the Scream's most successful period so
far, and they wrapped the Screamadelica tour up in Australia and Japan
and with one final show at Sheffield Arena in November with The Orb in
aid of the 30,000 miners who'd lost their jobs during the Conservative
government's latest round of pit closures, which raised £36,000.
SCREAMADELICA had seen them embracing the limitless potential of the
future. Gillespie, one of the few chameleonic characters in pop since
David Bowie, was intent on moving the band forward to new directions.
"I really believe that every musician's gotta bring something new to
every recording session," opines Gillespie. "You can't just rely on
bringing the same old fucking idea that you've always had, otherwise
it's just stale. You go nowhere. Bring in a lot of new influences and
listen to new stuff and get ideas... Not necessarily copy, but it just
somehow gets inside you and informs your whole aesthetic."
The band holed themselves up in London's Roundhouse Studios to start
work on a follow-up. Their trip to Memphis had reawakened their rock 'n'
roll instincts. Only things weren't going too well. The Roundhouse was
renamed the Brownhouse, and life in Primal Scream was taking a turn for
"We were there in September, October 1992," says Gillespie. "Nothing
really came of it. It was just all night jams and people getting far
out, strung out and collapsing. As much as we tried to keep it together,
we had a lot of internal problems... All sorts of things happened to us
- near deaths, mental illness."
"We went from cocaine into a rather brown period," admits McGee. "There
were a few people who got too close to the edges of reality. There was a
crisis meeting around April, '93 and it was me and Alex Nightingale,
who'd sorted himself out by that point, with three of the band members
who were having a heavy time. We basically had to say: 'You're about to
lose the band, sort your fucking heads out.' I've always had this thing
with the Scream, because I've been there from day one, they actually do
take me seriously. Sometimes I don't believe they do, but I don't ever
have to be hard with them except maybe once every three or four years.
But that was one of the big conversations we had. Because they'd lost it
in the studio on the Brownhouse Sessions, as we called them - 47 grand's
worth of cover versions. So the bottom line is we had the meeting, and
went to Memphis in the summer."
There were problems for McGee, too. His own cocaine addiction had
reached a point where, according to a history of Creation in December
1996's edition of Esquire, "there was a running joke that the  LA
earthquake was 'just Alan snorting too hard'."
"We're all a bunch of hypocrites cos while we were dissing smack we were
all on coke. The truth of the matter is they both fuck you up," says
McGee now. The band and their long-term friend , their oldest supporter
and closest ally were beginning to fall out. Cracks were beginning to
"We had to get out of London," says Gillespie today of that period. "If
we'd made a record in London, New York or Los Angeles, there would have
been two, maybe three deaths in the band the way things were going. It
was like fucking Tonight's The Night. . ."
JUST before leaving for Memphis, the Scream brought Roger Hawkins and
David Hood, drummer and bassist respectively from the Muscle Shoals
rhythm section, to the UK. The duo were part of rock history - hell,
through their work with Dylan, Aretha Franklin, the Stones and Wilson
Pickett, they'd help make it. They'd also contacted Tom Dowd, engineer
of records by Aretha, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, The Drifters and Ray
Charles, and the man credited with creating the sound of Altantic soul.
To the Scream, sharing space with these living legends must have been a
dream come true.
"They were inspirational," says Gillespie now. "We thought, 'If we can
work with these guys, we can learn something new, something great'. And
we did learn a lot from Tommy Dowd, Roger and David, all three of them
were perfect gentlemen. We were a bit intimidated at first, but they
were so gracious."
Encouraged by the sessions in London's E-Zee Studios, the band decamped
to Alabama, to the Muscle Shoals studio on the banks of the Mississippi.
The album which began to take shape was Give Out But Don't Give Up - a
title Gillespie would later agree reflected the state of the band at the
time. They were shattered, damaged, fucked. Like the Stones, Aerosmith,
Bowie, Iggy, Lou Reed and a thousand others before them, the Scream had
flown too close to the sun, and now they were paying the price. There
was pressure, too, to follow Screamadelica... In 1992, Creation had
signed a £3.5 million deal with major label Sony, and the Scream were
effectively the biggest name on the label, the best hope to kick start
the deal with a bang.
"When you start a band, you want to make something special," says Duffy.
"We got praised to the heavens, and we didn't know quite what to do.
Maybe we just thought too hard and fucked up. Working with Tom Dowd was
great, we thought it would be good for the record, but it ended up
over-produced, too much time was spent on it, and it just went the wrong
way - maybe we weren't always in the best state of mind to control the
quality of it."
THE recording was drawing to a close. Despite the band's personal
problems, which they seemed to be overcoming, they'd had a ball working
with all these southern gentlemen. It was the end of July, and the band
have dispersed, some to New Orleans, Duffy and Throb to New York.
"I was at a party and there was a blow-up doll on the ceiling and I
tried to put a cactus inside it," says Duffy, as he begins to recount
the most bizarre and horrific experience in his life. "I was pissed, you
know, it was a laugh. Anyway, it burst and I fell down. Later, about 12
hours later, we're at the hotel in New York, the Gramercy, and there
were a couple of musicians with Doctor John, and I'm playing the piano
with them. Then suddenly Throb goes: 'You're bleeding.' We're looking at
this blood down my trousers, and I don't know where it's come from. I
don't know if I've been shot or stabbed. So we try to get to hospital,
but no cab will let us in cos I'm bleeding, losing a lot of blood.
Eventually we got one, and it was mad. There were these police going
'Who did it? What drugs are you on?' It was horrible. I was haemorraging
from my backside and lower spine. I don't think I fell on any glass - it
was a four inch knitting-needle type wound. The doctor said it was a
professional wounding. It happens to people when they get stabbed - they
don't feel it. When I got back to London, I went to a Harley Street
specialist who said it missed my kidney by half an inch. We've no idea
who did it or why," he shrugs.
The incident understandably sent the band into a state of shock.
Nightingale accompanied Duffy back to London, while Gillespie and Innes
headed to LA.
"Me and Innes were the only ones who made it out of Memphis," explains
Gillespie. "The rest of the band were in fucking pieces. They had to go
home, after what happened to Duffy. We went to LA to see New Order at
the Hollywood Bowl because they're one of our favourite bands, and McGee
holed us up at the Chateau Marmont. We had a great night. We met Arthur
Lee, and Evan Dando was there. Arthur was fucking incredible. I asked
him, 'If I play "Signed DC", will you sing it for me?' And he did, and
he started singing: 'Sometimes I feel so lonely/Comedown I'm scared to
face/I pierced my skin again, Lord/And no one cares for me,' and he
sings two verses, and then he fucking puts his hand in his pocket, pulls
out a harmonica and takes a solo. I'm sat there, I can't believe this,
and he's singing right in front of mine and Andrew's faces, playing all
these Love songs. Can you beat that? This is why I got into music, man.
And guess what? I think it was the villa where John Belushi died..."
Innes, the following month, would pay a visit to Gracelands, his first
since the "Dixie Narco" sessions. In true Scream fashion, he was
violently ill on the lawn and removed from the premises by security,
shouting: "First guy to do it since The King!"
THE band were back at Ardent by the end of August, while Dowd finished
his second mix of the album. The band were still not happy; it was
nothing to do with Dowd's work, simply they felt they'd "rehearsed the
life out of the songs," admits Gillespie.
"It should have been like the third Velvets album. After Screamadelica,
after everything we'd been through, the intention was to make a down
album which at the same time was kinda redemptive and uplifting. That's
why we were disappointed by it. I think 'Cry Myself Blind' is beautiful,
it's got that right feeling, it's so sad and slow. No band in Britain
can play like that, that slow and soulful. Maybe it's because we're
Celts, I dunno. We've got that sadness in us, that depth of emotion.
That's the thing about that album, if we'd captured that feeling all the
way through, the whole album would have been beautiful. We were too
insecure, and we were doing too many takes."
While at Chateau Marmont, Gillespie and Innes had met former Black
Crowes producer, George Drakoulias, and now they invited him to beef up
the harder tracks they felt lacked the required kick.
"They just came into the studio and they were ready to go," Drakoulias
recalled. "They live hard, drink fast and do what they have to do. They
don't really do anything lightly or slowly. Musically, they come from a
really good place, which is the soul era and rock 'n' roll from that
time, of that vibe. I think it's a very genuine place to be and they
approach it with a good amount of reverence and they're very
Drakoulias mixed "Rocks" and "Jailbird", which were to be the first two
singles released off the album in early 1994. As the year drew to a
close, they invited George Clinton to remix three tracks: "Funky Jam",
the LP title track "Give Out But Don't Give Up" and "Free". They
wouldn't meet until the following year, Gillespie and Clinton. The
motherships were connecting. In November, they met Paul Weller (and
future Oasis) producer Brendan Lynch, who would provide two more mixes
for the LP. Innes, meanwhile, stayed in LA with Drakoulias, supervising
the mixing, spending Christmas at the Chateau Marmont, reportedly in the
company of notorious Hollywood madam, Heidi Fleiss. Innes had come into
his own by now as the band's technical expert. He'd learned watching
Weatherall mix "Loaded" then Screamadelica, and over the next few years,
he would become their studio anchor.
THE band returned to England, the album at last near completion. It had
been the worst year of their lives, but they had survived, just.
"'We're like a walking battlefield," Gillespie told the NME in January.
Elsewhere - River Phoenix, the young actor, had died from a drug
overdose outside the Viper Room, a club in LA owned by his friend Johnny
Depp. Innes, himself sitting in the Viper Club sometime later, dismissed
him as a "lightweight". Perhaps it was meant in jest, but It was a heavy
statement and it sat uneasily - particularly as reports had filtered
back to the UK about the shape the band were in while recording Give
"There's a picture on the back of the LP sleeve," begins Gillespie
today. "It's this beautiful picture of Eddie Hazel, the Funkadelic
guitarist who had died that year, I guess through years of abuse, and I
put that on the back sleeve as a warning to our band, because he was a
young musician playing beautiful music. So it was a tribute to this
talented guy and a warning because our band... I could just see it
The first single from the album, a double-A side with the
Drakoulias-mixed "Rocks" and "Funky Jam", was released in February,
1994. A thundering, full-frontal guitar assault, it was met with
incomprehension. The NME famously branded them "dance traitors".
"Techno music, acid music, all that shit has roots," Gillespie told
Steve Sutherland in the NME in January. "It's all coming from Kraftwerk
and Giorgio Moroder. So what if the roots of your music are the Stones
or The Faces or T-Rex or Otis Redding, or whoever? A lot of people have
this crazy attitude that everything has got to sound newer than what
went before but that's bullshit. Music is just about expression."
AS "Rocks" reached Number 7 in the chart - their highest position to
date - Creation began plans for the band to visit America for their
biggest tour to date, including two months on the road with Depeche
Mode. First there were to be UK shows - their first in 18 months - which
would include an all-nighter at Brixton Academy with George Clinton and
the P-Funk Allstars in April.
But the band had run into problems yet again, this time due to the
choice of artwork for the Give Out... sleeve. Gillespie had chosen a
detail from a picture by William Eggleston called Troubled Waters. It
was a neon Confederate flag. As with Innes' River Phoenix comment, the
choice of image wasn't well received. The NME called it "sick and
grossly offensive... You cannot reclaim a flag that's as near as you can
get to as Ku Klux Klan emblem."
Gillespie was adamant this was not the case, claiming in the May issue
of ID, in an interview by fellow Maverick Scot, Trainspotting author
Irvine Welsh, that "You can't assume every white who lives south of the
Mason-Dixie line is a racist, that's unfair. America is a racist
country, so is Great Britain... We used the image because it's a
Gillespie had in fact met Eggleston during the band's first visit to
Memphis with Weatherall to record "Dixie Narco".
"He's white, his family are Southern aristocracy," admits Gillespie now.
"His family owns a plantation, you know what I mean? He's seen all that
shite and his work is not in anyway racist. Eggleston's a genius, a
total rock 'n' roll maverick, right? He kindly let us use the photograph
of the little black girl for the cover of 'Dixie Narco'. When we met
him, he was dressed in jodpurs, and he had these fucking Civil War
rifles with bayonets on them. He was absolutely smashed, sitting round
this piano singing Robert Burns songs. It was insane, sitting in this
GIVE Out But Don't Give Up was released in March, 1994. It wasn't
generally well received. It seemed as if, after the magic of
Screamadelica, where the band were in tune with a new, exciting and
revolutionary musical scene, that they'd blown it, had gone back to
being simply copyists. Just as Sonic Flower Groove had worn its Love and
Byrds influences just that bit too brazenly, and the Primal Scream LP
had ploughed too far down the MC5/Stooges furrow, so Give Out... was
just the Scream playing the Stones; Gillespie their satanic majesty.
"I think what happened was that we got an album that wasn't a
straightforward follow-up to Screamadelica," remembers Barrett. "It
wasn't a bad record, I think there are some great moments on it, but as
a press officer my take on it was, this is not the record people are
going to expect. I think I treated it as a very important record by a
very important group and went in there as soon as I fucking could and
played it to people with conviction then left them to make their own
minds up. By the time they'd decided whether or not they liked it, I'd
already got a cover feature published. And when you've got a cover with
Primal Scream you know it's gonna look good and be a good read, and you
know it's going to fucking sell records. By the time people got that
record they ain't necessarily going to agree with journalists, and that
was their biggest-selling record. 100,000 copies in the first three
Give Out . . . got mixed reviews. Of course, the band were never ones to
take the words of the press to their hearts, but all the same after the
nightmarish year they'd had, some of the negative remarks must have hit
"The songs are good," shrugs Gillespie ruefully now. "When we were
writing those songs, they were dead kinda sparse, and when we recorded
them we tarted them up with backing singers and brass. We'd had some
great moments - we did a take of the ballad, 'Big Jet Plane' with Roger
Hawkins on drums, Throb on slide, Innes on acoustic and Jim Dickinson on
piano cos Duffy had been stabbed. It was incredible... I think the
problem was we know how good it could have been and we were disappointed
because we felt we'd gone south and played with all these great
musicians and we'd fucked up. We never came back with the record we
wished we had of. Something like 'Stone My Soul' from 'Dixie Narco' was
in the right spirit, it had that broken Southern soul fucking sound to
AS the UK tour began, with one-time Style Counciler Steve Sidelnyk on
drums, they were introduced to fellow maverick Scot, Trainspotting
author Irvine Welsh, who interviewed the band for an issue of iD
magazine. Initially full of what he describes as "cynical notions: ie
Scream want to break into Yankee stadium rock; Scream feel that the club
scene's fucked and are staking a claim to be there waiting with open
arms when the disillusioned masses run crying, back into the arms of
good old rock 'n' roll", Welsh hit it off with the band.
The tour (which had seen the band joined as tour DJs by former
journalist and old punk, Kris Needs, and the Chemical Brothers, who had
remixed "Jailbird") finished with the Brixton all-nighter, the Scream
opening for Clinton and his P-Funk crew - "There was no way we were
gonna follow those mutherfuckers, no way!"
By the time they left for America to support Depeche Mode in May - just
as Oasis' debut single, "Supersonic", was released by Creation - they'd
been touring for six weeks. Time was beginning to take its toll on the
"That tour was a major mistake," recounts Alex Nightingale, by now their
manager. "Relations were strained when they went out on the road with
Depeche Mode. I've nothing against Depeche Mode, they're good people.
But we were pressured into it by the record company and told we would
play to X thousand people, whereas the reality is something different. I
think that's the closest we've come to the band splitting up."
"The decision was made that this was the time to do America, and this
was the record to do America with," says Jeff Barrett. "They'd had
Depeche Mode on the phone for years wanting Primal Scream's association
and the decision was made to do this tour, which was fucking bollocks.
They were like 'What the fuck is all this about?' It did them a lot of
damage, a real lot of damage. There was a lot of travelling, and they
were playing these huge amphitheatres to people eating picnics. It
wasn't Scream world at all. And it did them in to the point when they
really weren't even sure they wanted to make any music again."
"It wasn't debauched or decadent, as some people have made out," says
Gillespie today of the Depeche tour."It was dull, for me personally.
Those guys were really nice to us, they treated us well. But we were
just playing to middle class goth girls who loved Depeche Mode and it
was the wrong audience and venues for us. I like to play in cities, not
30 miles outside Boston or Washington or something. I want to play in
the heart of the city and pick up on the atmosphere. We make urban music
- it's rock 'n' roll, its not for the fucking meadows."
"It was monotonous," agrees Duffy. "It didn't do us any favours. Getting
out of the bus in an identical car park to the one you've left eight
hours ago, the same venue, doing the gig, getting pissed after, getting
on the bus... It was two months of that. After that, the record company
weren't very friendly."
The situation only got worse.
"We went on a 22 week world tour and that's just all wrong," sighs
Gillespie. "It's just too much like clocking in and clocking out of a
factory. It's just automatic and rock 'n' roll shouldn't be like that.
Every night should be different. That's the danger with rock 'n' roll,
you never know whether it's going to be good or bad. The most exciting
bands are like that. If it's just going to be the same every night,
what's the fucking point? That killed the band. A lot of things killed
the band at that point, but hey, you learn from your mistakes. We'll
never do it again."
THE band returned to England, more shows to promote the monster riff
groove of "Jailbird" in June, then Reading, where they were joined on
stage by Dave Gahan and ex-Clash guitarist, Mick Jones, who had become a
friend on the tour. It was a pitiful performance: appropriately, the
band wore black, almost like they were attending their own wake.
The band retired to Ibiza to try and write some new songs. That lasted
five days. They picked up touring again, in October, as the fragile
blues ballad, "Cry Myself Blind", was released. The band were invited to
do Top Of The Pops, for what was to be the lowest chart placed record to
get invited on the show (it reached just 49). The Scream were on tour in
Ireland, and Creation hired them a private plane. Typically, the band
didn't give a fuck, refused to take it, wanting instead to stay in
Ireland and play the gig. The show's producers banned them (apparently
for life, though they would lift it as the band performed the "Star"
single on the show in June, 1997).
"We stuck to our guns and I'd do the same again," says Duffy. "We
could've made Top Of The Pops but people had paid money to see us. It
was funny, cos our dressing room in Cork was the dole office in the town
hall. We'd just been told we were never gonna appear on the BBC again,
and we spent all night dishing out dole cards to ourselves..."
Gillespie himself suffered more misfortune. It was the small hours of
October 10, the day after the Advance Party's march in protest against
the Criminal Justice Bill, which in essence was an attempt to outlaw
rave culture. Gillespie was at a friend's house when two men appeared at
the window. Ten minutes later, the men - plainclothes policemen -
returned with six unformed officers. The police said they'd had a
complaint about noise. They demonstrated the volume of the stereo, then
asked the policemen to leave. An altercation followed, during which
Gillespie was pinned against a wall by a policeman who held a truncheon
against his face. The police intimidated everyone in the flat. A friend
was arrested, but the judge threw the case out of court the following
It was a horrific experience. Together with a group of friends with
similar views on the injustice of the CJB (including Andrew Weatherall,
The Drum Club's Lol Hammond and On-U-Sound's Bim Sherman) they made a
record, "Criminal Beats", under the name Retribution for Sabrettes, the
spin-off imprint from Weatherall's own Sabres Of Paradise label.
1995 and 1996 were quiet years, worryingly quiet, perhaps, by Scream
standards. Perhaps the band were in shock, knocked for six by the
hurricane that had blasted through the last six years - from acid house
to Memphis and all round the world.
"We were really down after that period," confirms Gillespie now, his
eyes sad. "I was really fucked for about a year after that Give Out...
stuff, we all were. I just went underground, I just stayed away from
everybody. I wasn't well. At one point, I thought we were never going to
make music again."
They only broke cover to record a version of "Understanding" for a Small
Faces tribute LP in June, 1995, with vocals by Sixties soul singer, PP
Arnold, and a track, "Trainspotting" (produced by Weatherall), for the
film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's cult novel. The following year, again,
saw scant signs of life. Duffy was the most visible, temporarily joining
the Charlatans for a month following the death of their keyboard player,
There was one Scream single that year, released for just a week in June
during football's European Cup. Billed as Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh
And On-U-Sound Present... it was called "The Big Man And The Scream Team
Meet The Barmy Army Uptown", and it was their "pro-Scottish football
record, but it turned into an anti Glasgow Rangers record, which is fine
by me," says Gillespie, a diehard Celtic fan. Gillespie himself had
nothing to do with the record. Against a typically spartan, On-U dub
production, it was full of obscenity-strewn vitriol: "In every hick town
in Caledonia/Across this pseudo nation/You can see the most fucked up
scum/That was shat into creation/Where a McEwans lager top equals/No
With typical audacity, the Scream
offered the song to the Scottish Football Association; instead they went
with Rod Stewart's "Purple Heather". It was banned from radio play,
caused an outcry - not just in the press, where Scotland's Daily Record
ran a story under the banner "Author Welsh Puts The Boot Into Scotland",
but more worryingly, Welsh and his girlfriend received death threats,
forcing the author to write a swift retraction.
The controversy wore on as Gillespie, Innes, Throb and Duffy appeared in
a Melody Maker feature by Ben Stud. The band behaved outrageously,
openly snorting coke with the journalist. The interview ranged from
sectarianism to humiliating anecdotes about Blur's Damon Albarn. The
band began swapping drug stories with Stud, Gillespie airing his views
on the Royal Family ("The fucking Queen Mother," he railed. "I hate her,
I'd like to see her dead, the gin-swilling, gamblin' old witch").
Contentious and curiously entertaining.
IF the antics of the band then seemed to suggest they weren't in good
shape, come October everything changed. After months of speculation
about the future of The Stone Roses, who had been teetering on the verge
of collapse after a disastrous headlining show at the Reading Festival
that summer, Hall Or Nothing - Roses' press company - issued a statement
from bassist Gary "Mani" Mounfield.
"After much speculation I've decided, along with Ian Brown, that it's
time to end the Roses saga. I will be joining Primal Scream, who are one
of only three other bands I would ever consider joining. I'm absolutely
delighted and am relishing the opportunity of playing with Bobby and
It seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Mani had arrived,
and with him a new lease of life for Primal Scream.
"I'd always been aware of the Scream," Mani says today over the first of
several large Jack Daniels' and coke in the pub round the corner from
Scream HQ. "Just from the fact we're all music lovers. We always was
listening and conscious of what was going on around us. There were a lot
of parallels between The Stone Roses and Primal Scream, quite similar
backgrounds musically and culturally. It's kismet that I ended up with
"I probably first met them in an Ecstasy haze, probably in the Hacienda.
I can remember when we went down to play at the Zap in Brighton in 88,
89, and someone had forgotten my bass amp and all my equipment, and
there were about 30 people at the gig - a large contingent of which were
the Scream mob. I think we did something like four songs and just went,
'Fuck it, we can't be arsed' and steamed off. Bob remembers that gig as
a blinder, full of attitude."
THE band - essentially, Gillespie, Innes, Young and Duffy - had already
begun working in their newly-purchased studio in north London on some
new material. Mostly it was Innes, "the main scientist," as Duffy calls
him, tinkering about. Prior to Mani joining the band, there was still an
air of uncertainty hanging over the Scream's future; for perhaps the
first time in their careers it seemed they were genuinely unsure of
"The time between finishing the Give Out... tour and starting Vanishing
Point was very dark," agrees Nightingale. "When we first started, I
remember Bob saying 'I'll give it six months'. Bob at that point was the
only one still living in Brighton, everyone else had moved up to London
by now, and to get the whole thing going we needed Bob around on a
day-to-day basis. So Bob rented a flat near the studio for six months
and said: 'If this doesn't work, it's all over.' The band were actually
great from then on. When you put them in a corner, they are like a rat.
A lot of people had written them off and eventually they started saying
'Fuck it, we'll come out fighting.' Then there was Mani - a godsend. The
best signing since Cantona."
"When Mani joined us, it seemed like a band again," says Gillespie. "I
think if Mani hadn't joined I would never have played live again. He was
like a nuclear fucking explosion. He saved our lives."
Bit by bit, Vanishing Point started coming together, with help from
Brendan Lynch. The band were shaping up, joined by all manner of new
friends. Over to Gillespie:
'"'Star' was one of the first tracks we did, and [reggae pioneer]
Augustus Pablo came in. He wanted me, Andrew and Duff to play live while
he played his melodica, that was an honour, you know, to have this guy
in our wee studio who'd played on all these fantastic records with Lee
Perry and King Tubby. We got the Memphis Horns on 'Star', too - Jamaica
meets Memphis in London with some crazy Scotsman at the controls. It was
so soulful. We had Jaki Liebezeit from Can jamming, and Glen Matlock
played bass on 'Medication', the whole track recorded live...
"Because we had our own studio now, we felt free. We weren't encumbered
by the kind of shit that had held us back before, we were in at 11 in
the morning til 11 at night, just really working and getting off on
having a good time, experimenting with sounds and rhythms. Best time
I've ever had making an album. We were trying to lay everything down
live, really fast and spontaneous. That was very liberating for us,
because before, on Give Out... we'd lost the soul of the record. This
time, it was just get the song, fucking pin it down, nail it as fast as
you can, get the atmosphere and let it be raw and alive."
IN April, 1997, Primal Scream released the first single from Vanishing
Point - "Kowalski". Described at the time by the band as "heavy metal
produced by Lee Perry", it was the most extreme record they'd made:
Mani's relentless, machine-gun bass and the distorted guitars careered
across warped, alien effects evoking an all-consuming sense of panic and
claustrophobia. Kowalski was the central character in Richard Sarafian's
1971 post-Easy Rider road movie, Vanishing Point. He was the archetypal
Scream icon: a fucked-up outsider, surviving against the odds. The film
followed the eponymous anti-hero, wired to the gills on Benzedrine, as
he accepted a bet to drive a beaten up Dodge Challenger 1,500 miles from
Colorado to California in 15 hours. It's pure Primal Scream. Another key
film reference on the album came with "If They Move... Kill 'Em", a
funky breakbeat track whose title was lifted from a line of dialogue in
Sam Peckinpah's classic 1969 western, The Wild Bunch. More outlaws
fighting to stay alive, or at least die with their pride intact.
The single (with a video, scripted by Irvine Welsh, which climaxed with
Kate Moss killing Gillespie), as confrontational as it was, hit number
three, their best chart position to this day. It was one hell of a
"Vanishing Point sounds like a junkyard breaking down," Gillespie told
this writer at the time. "It's punk rock for 1997, in terms of its
attitude and emotional directness. When we first formed the band, one of
our favourite LPs was PiL's Metal Box. I think the songs on Vanishing
Point are about life in Britain at the end of the Nineties in much the
same way as Metal Box caught the mood of the country at the end of the
Seventies - that damp, dark, alienated feeling. But Vanishing Point is
more internal, more psychological than Metal Box was."
For the first time since Screamadelica, the band were reflecting the
spirit of the age. But while the beatified grooves of Screamadelica had
reflected the loved-up hedonism of those Ecstasy years, Vanishing Point
was indicative of life on the brink of the millennium - strung out,
It was the stark comedown of the Screamadelica generation.
INEVITABLY, it wasn't all going to be this easy. The band had planned a
UK tour in July and August with their new line-up: the usual quartet,
plus Mani, drummer Paul Mulreany and a horn section comprising Duncan
Mackay and Ian Dixon. It was scheduled for July, only six dates
culminating with two shows at London's Victoria Park. They'd tried for
Hyde Park but couldn't get a licence.
In June, just as the band were about to release "Star" as a second
single from Vanishing Point, the dates were postponed and rumours began
circulating that people were leaving the band - first Duffy, then Mani,
finally Throb. Then the band's whole future was thrown into question.
"Primal Scream have been forced to reschedule their forthcoming shows
due to health reasons," ran a statement from Jeff Barrett's Heavenly
organisation. 'It's a health problem one of the band members has got.
It's not a drugs thing and it's not a nervous breakdown." Their press
officer at the time, Robin Turner, told the NME the cancellation "was
due to an unspecified member of the band having his haemorrhoids done,
and they didn't want their private parts dragged through the public
eye". The new set of dates finished with shows at Victoria Park on
September 5 and 6, with Asian Dub Foundation and that year's Mercury
Prize winners, Roni Size And Reprazent in support.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Mulreany left the band. It just wasn't
working out with him, so they decided to use a drum machine. Then, on
the opening night of the tour, August, 24, in their hometown, Glasgow,
an incident took place during the show in which a man jabbed at least 14
fellow audience members with a hypodermic needle.
It didn't get any better. A week later, on August 31, Diana, Princess of
Wales, was killed in a car crash. The funeral was scheduled for
Saturday, September 6, the date of the second Victoria Park show. The
promoters, Metropolis, issued a statement to say they were postponing
the dates again "as a mark of respect". The band, on the verge of
releasing another single, "Burning Wheel" with its accompanying Chemical
Brothers mix, reacted immediately. Furious at these constant set-backs,
the band issued a statement: "We have no respect whatsoever for Diana
Spencer or any member of the English Royal Family. We are totally
opposed to the monarchy. With regard the London shows, the police
refused to police the event, which meant the council would revoke the
licence. We wanted to play."
It was a fierce attack, particularly with an endless array of showbiz
darlings crawling out of the woodwork to release tribute singles, like
Elton John's reworking of "Candle In The Wind" and Chris De Burgh's
repulsive "There's A New Star Up In Heaven Tonight". The Scream were
bristling with punk intent. Here they were, fighting again, backs to the
wall. But the shows weren't working (Melody Maker's Victoria Segal: "It
could have been as terrifyingly intense as staring into the void;
unfortunately, all they manage here is vacancy"), the drum machine
lacked da funk, and without a decent rhythm section, they were up shit
creek without a drummer.
VANISHING Point was better received in July. "It's a total mindfuck.
Welcome back, lads," said Muzik. Melody Maker agreed: "Primal Scream
have once again proved themselves eminently worthy of their status as
rock 'n' roll's Last Gang In Town." Meanwhile, The Charlatans' Tim
Burgess, reviewing the LP for Uncut, called it "an album with a vision
and a purpose. The Scream continue to roll on as renegade pioneers."
Creatively, the band were unstoppable. They were back in the studio,
this time with Kevin Shields, whose pioneering avant-noise constructions
for My Bloody Valentine Gillespie had long admired.
"I'd never heard anything like Loveless [1991 MBV LP] before," says
Gillespie. "It came from the fucking soul of Kevin Shields. It was new
music. Far out. We came up with the idea of getting Kev to do a mix for
us, and we knew he liked our band. He came up to the studio and we had
him jamming and he plugged his guitar in and starts playing all this
amazing freeform shit. Incredible."
Shields transformed "If They Move... Kill 'Em" into pure freak-out jazz.
It was released in February 1998 around the Scream's Valentine's Day
all-nighter, bedecked in a Jamie Reid-style day-glo sleeve bearing an
image of a Stuka fighter plane, designed by former Scream guitarist,
Paul Harte, which won an award at the 1998 Music Week awards.
In March they did a benefit gig with Asian Dub Foundation in aid of
Satpal Ram (imprisoned, many say, for a crime he didn't commit), while
in May, 1998, they contributed to a benefit album for the sacked
Liverpool dockers. Extreme noise terrorism, freedom fighting - you name
it, Primal Scream have done it, with a fag in one hand a bottle of Jack
in the other.
TOWARDS the end of 1997, the band had ditched the drum machine and met
up with drummer Darrin Mooney, who joined the band in Hong Kong. By the
time the Scream came to play Brixton, then Creamfields in May, they had
regained their stride. It was a revelatory gig, Mani and Innes and Duffy
visibly riffing off each other. They were finally a band again.
As 1998 progressed, the band took full advantage of their
newly-discovered creative flow, unleashing Weatherall on a dark, electro
mix of the Vanishing Point track "Stuka", and enlisted On-U-Sound's
Adrian Sherwood for a dub "companion" album to Vanishing Point. Called
Echo Dek and released in October, Gillespie had first encountered
Sherwood back in Southern Studios in 1985 while recording Psychocandy
with The Jesus And Mary Chain. The Scream family was growing larger by
the day. Even Rod Stewart would find himself a fleeting affiliate,
covering "Rocks" - what else? - for his covers album, When We Were The
New Boys, in June.
The Scream closed the chapter on Vanishing Point in July '98, at Glasgow
Barrowlands, with The Jesus And Mary Chain in support. A homecoming,
indeed. Kevin Shields played noise guitar for a rapturous closing 20
minute version of "Loaded" and Gillespie knew he had, finally, found the
perfect band after 15 tumultuous years.
Standing in the middle of the stage, you could see his eyes gleam as the
huge booming drums of "Higher Than The Sun" kicked in and the
psychedelic breakbeat delirium of "Burning Wheel" spun into orbit.
BETWEEN 1998 and the last year of the millennium, the band found they
had to build on everything they'd learned during the recording of
Vanishing Point. They contributed a track, "Insect Royalty", in January,
1999 to The Acid House, another big screen adaptation of an Irvine Welsh
collection of short stories, while Gillespie found time to appear with
New Order's Bernard Sumner on the Chemical Brothers' track, "Out Of
Control", and a track on Death In Vegas' album, The Contino Sessions,
called "Soul Auctioneer". They began working again with Hugo Nicholson,
as well as with The Chemical Brothers, on "Swastika Eyes (War Pigs)" -
Primal Scream's 17th official single release to date - Gillespie and his
wild bunch have produced a predatory techno stormer, quite unlike
anything the Scream, or anyone else for that matter, have ever done.
"I thought it was a good image, swastikas," explains Gillespie. "I
thought it was a great insult you could use against an authoritarian
figure - 'You've got swastika eyes'. Whether it was a policeman or a
prison warder or the US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, it's just
an anti-Nazi song. What America are doing is setting up a new world
order based on international terrorism. It's white supremacism, fucking
There's more from the so-far untitled new album, due in January, 2000.
The distorted mutoid sleaze funk of "Exterminator" ("It's about living
in Britain right now, living in the cities, it's claustrophobic; a death
culture"), the Dr Octagon-meets-PiL, fractured hip hop of "Pills" ("A
real fucking comedown hangover song, where there's all these voices in
your head, just telling you how shit you feel") and a wiry, disjointed
take on "Five Years Ahead Of My Time", by Sixties American garage band
The Third Bardo.
"We never think about what we did last," Gillespie says. "We always just
go forward and do new stuff and the past is the past. You never know
what's going to happen next. This band now... It's like George Clinton
had Parliament and Funkadelic - he had a huge pool of musicians to call
on. They're interchangeable in the different groups and different songs.
I think we're getting to that stage. All over the world, there are great
people we can work with. It's an international thing. These people want
to work with us.
"It's fucking anarchy, man. We do things our way, fuck anybody else."
The boy from Springburn who'd started out banging dustbin lids in a
mate's bedroom, who'd gone on to release the single most important album
of the Nineties and then watched it all disappear in a puff of smoke,
has finally found the first great rock 'n' roll group of the 21st
"IT'S ever changing," says Gillespie, finally. "That's a good thing
about it. It all started with punk rock. That's the thing. Everything
came through punk. All the best people I've met in my life I've met
through punk - Alan McGee, Andrew Innes, Jim and William Reid, Andrew
Weatherall. It's a big punk thing. We're punk rockers."
"They're in a room with The Clash, Public Image, Can and The MC5,"
concludes Andrew Weatherall, and he should know. "The people who, if you
hand them a loaded gun, they point it downwards at their feet. They're
in with those bands, firing double-barreled shotguns into the floor just
to be stroppy. We need bands like that, they don't play the game, they
don't suck Satan's dick. That's the only chance the human race has of
survival - the people walking around shooting their own feet off. The
Scream are in that rebel room with loads of writers, artists, whatever.
Am I in that room too? Yes, of course! I'm playing the fucking tunes!"
Additional interviews: Stephen Dalton
"Swastika Eyes (War Pigs)" is released by Creation on November 1
Originally appeared in Uncut Magazine November 1999.
Copyright © IPC Magazine Ltd.