Bobby shines on
The main man from the psychedelic rock group is Movin' On Up and out of the darkness, writes Eamon Sweeney and he can't wait to get rockin' again
Published 25/10/2013 | 21:30
Bobby Gillespie has come a long way from being a roadie with Altered Images, playing bass in post-punk band The Wake and drumming with The Jesus And Mary Chain.
The whippet-thin Scot has become one of the longest standing and most distinctive lead singers in modern rock, fronting Primal Scream since 1982. Affectionately known in Scotland and beyond as the Scream Team, they almost single-handedly united rock and rave culture with their dazzling zeitgeist-defining album Screamadelica in 1991.
Gillespie also used to be renowned for a capacity for guzzling drugs that could make Keith Richards look like a lightweight, but that's all vodka under the bridge as Primal Scream have become focused on being a highly prolific and productive band in recent years.
"We blew it for a while," Gillespie readily admits. "We were really fucking hit and miss, but that was due to the drugs. We were doing too much of everything.
"Some nights were fucking amazing, but other nights were total rubbish. In the past, we were like a team that could have occasionally won the cup on a good day, but now we're like a team that can win the league because we're consistently good."
Primal Scream are enjoying a great 2013 on the back of their tenth studio album More Light, which was produced by Belfast DJ and soundtrack arranger extraordinaire David Holmes.
"David Holmes is fucking brilliant," Gillespie says. "We wrote a lot of the new album in his home studio in Belfast. We'd go over for five days at a time. Dave would throw tunes at us and we'd react to them and get inspired."
Even though Bobby's renegade collective of mischief-making misfits and sonic rebels won the inaugural Mercury Music Prize back in 1992 for their magnum opus Screamadelica, they failed to garner a richly deserved nomination for their latest album.
"It never really bothers me because we won it the first time," Gillespie says.
"We were nominated for Vanishing Point (1997) too. The funny thing is that I've never ever attended the function itself, even when we won it.
"I turned up late in '92 to pick up the guys and go partying. I walked in and I thought this isn't for me. We ended up losing the cheque for the prize money that same night. Our management had to call them up the next day and get them to write another one. Rock 'n' roll shouldn't really be about prizes. Having said that, I hope Laura Marling wins."
Gillespie's former band mate and collaborator Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine appeared to be slightly more bothered that his own album didn't make this year's shortlist alongside fellow Dún Laoghaire man Conor O'Brien and Villagers.
"We're banned by them because we're not on Amazon or iTunes," Shields claimed in a bizarre and brilliant recent interview that also insinuated that Britpop was "a government conspiracy."
"That's one of the qualifying criteria," Shields continued. "You have to have major distribution or be on iTunes or Amazon. The corporate-ness has got to such a point where we've essentially been told that we don't exist. So, technically, that (My Bloody Valentine) album doesn't exist."
"I loved his little rant," Gillespie says. "In 1992 when we won it, Alan McGee (former Creation Records boss) put forward Screamadelica instead of (My Bloody Valentine's) Loveless. I don't think it really matters, but I loved Kev's rant because it sounds just like the kind of thing he'd be saying at the back of the tour bus at three in the morning.
"He (Shields) doesn't do many interviews, but he's a guy with strong opinions and that's great. Most of the time in this bullshit music industry world no one has got any real opinions.
"It's going back to the days of Val Doonican. Everybody is an entertainer, but no one has anything to say, so it's great that Kev had an outburst and more power to him. It's fucking awful. It's like 1975 all over again."
Some will posit the theory that with music becoming so safe and sanitised, it will pave the way for another punk rock movement?
"That's bollocks," Gillespie replies. "It's not going to happen again. It's only people my age who say that. Four years ago, a mate of mine who runs a record company said he was hoping for another resurgence of young guitar bands. I said, 'Y'know what? It's fucking over.'
"I don't want it to happen again anyway. We've heard it. It's done. You want something new or exciting. I don't actually know if something new or exciting is necessarily going to come from music.
"It could be something to do with film. People can make films on their iPhones. It will be a new language and way of communicating ideas and putting their story across. Whenever it comes, it won't be fuckers like me who'll know what's going on. It will be youth-led and a completely different way of looking at the world."
Coincidentally, one interesting aspect about the age profile of any recent Primal Scream gig is that they continually seem to appeal to young audiences, rather than just 40-something rave veterans sporting faded Screamadelica t-shirts.
"You're right and it's absolutely great," Gillespie agrees. "I noticed that at the last Dublin show even though the stage was quite far away from the front row. It's amazing to have that energy. If we have the attention of young people, then we must be doing something right."
In the nineties and much of the first half of the noughties, the Scream Team road show often descended into a drug-addled circus. Was it doctor's orders, or growing up and having children, that forced them to clean up their act?
"Well, I'm the only guy who is clean in the band," Gillespie answers. "The other guys drink occasionally, but that's about it these days. I used to be an extremist. Mani was an extremist. Throb was an extremist. We had to change the culture and personnel around the band. There were some of the crew and a lot of hangers-on who were just always getting wrecked all the time. Personally, I just had to stop because I was deeply unhappy."
Mani of The Stone Roses joined Primal Scream after his band initially split in 1996, claiming that the only three acts in the world he'd ever consider playing bass for were Primal Scream, Beastie Boys and The Jesus And Mary Chain.
Gillespie hailed Mani joining Primal Scream as "the best free transfer in rock history", and that the legendary Mancunian bassist "saved our fucking lives".
Since Mani left the fold to return to The Stone Roses, Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine stepped in as a temporary replacement. Gillespie invited Bez of the Happy Mondays to join the band, although Bez quite wisely turned the offer down, confessing that he hadn't got the first clue how to play a bass guitar.
Eventually, the relatively unknown Simone Butler filled the bassist's shoes, but was Bobby ever worried the band's unique chemistry and appeal might have nosedived after Mani's departure?
"Not at all," Gillespie answers. "Mani is a big personality and he's a great musician, but we made the record we would've made anyway. People get fixated in their minds over a given personality or a certain sound.
"The thing is that Primal Scream has never been a fixed band at any stage in our history. We've always had a fluid line-up like Funkadelic. I'm not saying we're as good as Funkadelic or George Clinton, but we've always been a bit like a football team.
"If one good player goes to sign for another club, you get another good player. You just have to pick the right person."
They might not be Funkadelic, but they're certainly one of the most psychedelic rock 'n' roll bands in the world. Gillespie is very much looking forward to threading the boards of Galway, Cork and Dublin over the course of the Bank holiday weekend.
"It'll be like Rory Gallagher's Irish Tour film," he cackles. "I love that movie. I saw it in Glasgow when I was a kid on one of those afternoons when I just had to leave the house because I was so bored. It's amazing.
"Last time we played in Galway it was a great show. We played with Spiritualized, who are one of my favourite bands. Cork is great and it's been years since we played there. Back in 1994, I think. We had such a good time partying in Dublin on that tour we couldn't be bothered going to London to do Top of the Pops. We just slept on the bus and played a show for the people of Cork who'd paid good money to see us instead."
On the subject of their last Irish show at Forbidden Fruit, surely they must have been a little nervous about going onstage straight after Chic, who filled their set with evergreen disco hits and party anthems?
"Not at all," Gillespie laughs. "It reminded me of going on after Iggy Pop and The Stooges, Sonic Youth and The Jesus And Mary Chain at the Electric Picnic a few years back. What a great line-up that was. We'd play with anybody, man. We don't give a shit."
Primal Scream play Leisureland, Galway tomorrow; The Olympia, Dublin on Sunday and Cork Opera House on Monday.