Primal Scream coming to rock you
Hell raisers Primal Scream admit they’ve finally grown up as they dust off Screamadelica and head back on the road, says Eamon Sweeney
As the Beatles famously sang, it was 20 years ago today... Sonic Youth called their European tour documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Considering what actually happened in music that year, that title is completely on the money.
1991 truly was the year of the masterpiece. Nirvana's Nevermind, Massive Attack's Blue Lines and a triple whammy in the space of less than three months from Creation Records that included Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub, Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and the psychedelic party soundtrack to the times, Screamadelica by Primal Scream, all spectacularly turned modern music completely on its head.
"If you think the first Roses LP defined 1989, then Screamadelica grabbed 1991 by the ball bag, man," cackles the ever-affable ace bassist from Primal Scream and the Stone Roses, Gary 'Mani' Mounfield. "There are all these rites of passage LPs, whether it be Dark Side of the Moon or The Queen is Dead. Screamadelica is in that pantheon of great records that deserve to be owned and listened to."
To mark the album's 20th anniversary, the Scream Team have dusted off their most iconic hour and are bringing it out on the road. A glance at the brand new Screamadelica Live DVD or the two songs broadcast last Friday night from Glastonbury confirms that the object of this exercise is much, much more than a victory lap of the festival circuit, but a mind-boggling spectacle that does full justice to a truly seminal piece of work.
"We wanted to present a big show and make it psychedelic, but 21st-century psychedelic," explains frontman and sole founding member Bobby Gillespie.
"We've modernised it a little too," Mani adds. "Over nine months of hard graft and rehearsals have gone into this. People might have thought that a band with our reputation couldn't pull something like this off, but we have and it's been an absolute joy to do."
A band with "our reputation" obviously refers to their notorious track record for once being hedonists extraordinaire. One of numerous hell-raising tales relates how the band once arguing about whether they'd get Vietnamese, Chinese or Indian. Someone asked if they'd settle for a burger, only to be told, "It's heroin we're discussing, not food."
However, the Scream lifestyle of 2011 is radically different. "Now we're not concentrating on how to stand the fuck up for an hour and a half, but on what we're playing," Mani reveals. "There comes a point in time where you have to grow up a bit. Much as any musician doesn't want to grow up, but it had got to a certain point with Primal Scream where there was a voyeuristic side to it where people came along just to see how out of our brains we were. Trust me, we didn't fucking disappoint them, ever. It gets a bit undignified to be slobbering down your shirt in some nightclub and leering over 23-year-old women, and a modicum of decorum has to creep in."
It also arguably reached a point where it wasn't a case of living the dream anymore, but having to clean up their act to simply continue living.
"I started seeing mates of mine who were 10 years younger than me dying of liver disease from overdoing it," Mani says. "I ain't going out like that. My aim in life is to be a right cantankerous old fucker and I'm not chickening out early. We're all married and have kids, so a certain dynamic comes with that. You can't be constantly self-absorbed. You've got to share yourself a bit more and be up and at 'em."
One of the most infamous and oft-repeated stories from back in the day was when they supposedly refused to fly out from Dublin to do Tops of the Pops because "Luton was not rock'n'roll enough".
"That's a load of shite," Gillespie says. "The record was Cry Myself Blind and it was only at number fucking 57 or something in the charts. We stayed up all night partying after playing in Dublin and in the morning we were supposed to catch a plane to do Top of the Pops and then fly back to Cork. I was shot to bits, so I said, 'I'm not getting on that plane. I'm going to take a few sleeping tablets on the tour bus, wake up in Cork and do a good gig'. There were really heavy storms raging as well, so it all seemed like a complete lost cause and everyone in the band followed suit. So we got on the bus, took some temazepam, drove down to Cork and rocked the house."
The 'Luton not being rock'n'roll enough' line was PR spin from an understandably irate publicist. "The plugger in Creation was going absolutely crazy, phoning up going, 'You'll never work in this business again'. Well, I've heard that one more than once," says Gillespie. "He got really pissed off and embarrassed, so he went public with all this stuff about Luton not being rock'n'roll enough. We were just out of our minds. We didn't even know we were supposed to be flying to fucking Luton."
Their hedonistic reputation has frequently overshadowed the diversity and depth of their back catalogue, including everything from tender love songs to the thrilling turn of the millennium electro punk of XTRMNTR.
The son of SOGAT union official and Labour Party candidate Bob Gillespie, the singer remains extremely politicised.
"I'm going to use the term loosely, but as an artist you've got to be receptive to everything in the world," Gillespie says. "At the moment, the right-wing newspapers are gearing up to have a go at the unions because the civil servants are striking and I think it could get even worse than the miners' strike, which was Thatcher hammering the working class and trade union movement. I think these bastards are trying to finish it off and they want to take it back to the 19th century. We live in interesting times and you can't help but be affected.
"JG Ballard said nothing is real and nothing is unreal. We're living in a science fiction novel now and I've been thinking that since September 11. We had 24-hour slow motion action replays of the Twin Towers falling down; it was like a Warhol movie or something and the whole thing was trying to indoctrinate people to give their consent for the big nations to go to war and a lot of people got rich off it."
Gillespie continues for several minutes, referencing Chomksy, Blair and the anti-War movement, before suddenly halting and saying, "Anyway, back to rock'n'roll."
Mani unwittingly found himself in the papers earlier this year as speculation mounted that the Stone Roses would reform after Ian Brown and John Squire were spotted speaking at his mother's funeral.
"I could have done without the intrusion considering my headspace at the time, but it happens so you've got to roll with it and get on with it," Mani says. "I knew that somehow I'd have some part in bringing them back together, but I'd didn't know it would be my Mam, so thank you.
"We're going to bring her home to the family plot in Castledermot in a few weeks, so that's an excuse to get over to see the Lilywhites. It was kind of expected, as she'd been ill for 18 years, but the send-off was great. John and Ian were speaking as if they hadn't seen each other since yesterday and if only one good thing comes out of it, then I've reunited them. That's the ray of sunshine from the dark cloud."
By all accounts, Primal Scream had a stonking Glastonbury last Friday night. The unanimously positive reception was in stark contrast to the controversy that followed their 2005 appearance at Worthy Farm, when Gillespie repeatedly called the crowd "a bunch of fucking complacent hippies".
At one point he said, "D'ya want to hear the Stone Roses? Well, you should've been here 15 years ago you lazy bastards." Truth be told, as someone who witnessed them first hand at the Pyramid Stage that year, it was a blinding gig.
"I thought we were on fire, mate," Mani agrees. "We played like demons. There's a vitriolic nastiness to it and there's a look in our eyes that says, 'This is war'. That nice comfy applecart needs a good booting over once in a while."
"I've never been able to watch it until recently because I was so completely out of it, but I saw it on YouTube a few months ago and the performance was great," Gillespie says.
"It was real high energy evil rock'n'roll. We were on between Brian Wilson and Basement Jaxx and the set we played was total punk rock, which would never go down with that audience, but I'm proud of it now. Music has become so bland these days and everyone is just happy to play the game. I don't know, man. Fuck it, we're just us. Take it or leave it."
Primal Scream headline the Heineken Green Spheres Stage at Oxegen on Sunday. The 20th Anniversary Edition of Screamadelica and the Screamadelica Live DVD are both out now
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