Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream tells Ed Power about drugs, Kate Moss and his band’s storming return with a superb new album
BOBBY Gillespie is talking drugs. “It gets boring,” says the Primal Scream singer about his band’s reputation for chemical debauchery. “To a degree, we brought it on ourselves — it was an image we cultivated.”
What about that notorious anecdote in which a UK journalist witnessed the group discussing whether to “have Vietnamese, Chinese or Indian” — and was perturbed to discover they were discussing heroin?
“The whole drug thing ... OK, there were problems and such. The point is we never split up. We always kept making records. You can’t do that if you’re wasted all the time. If we were still a bunch of useless junkies we wouldn’t have put out the amount of music we have. I’m laughing as I say this but we are fully functioning creative artists. You can’t be wasted all the time and achieve what we have.”
In the super fickle world of British alternative rock, Primal Scream are a rare example of a band that has endured the decades. Celebrated for their groundbreaking fusion of rock and dance, in 1991 they released one of the most definitive British records of all time, the loose-limbed, starry-eyed Screamadelica. A genre-bending tour de force that was produced by the likes of Andrew Weatherall and the Orb, it yielded such anthems as ‘Higher than the Sun’ and ‘Loaded’.
Gillespie’s band have a fantastic new album, More Light, to promote. It is perhaps the best Primal Scream have put out since the 1990s. However, the singer has mellowed in recent years (possibly a side-effect of his decision to go teetotal) and is as happy reflecting on the past as living in the present. He admits his partying got out of hand following Screamadelica and that he went through a dark period.
“By the mid-90s I was burnt out. We had toured Give Out But Don’t Give Up in 1994 and, a few weeks in, I realised this wasn’t the kind of music I had any interest in playing. I wanted to sack various band members. I knew we needed to make changes in order to survive. We had to break with the past and find a new way of working.”
He and guitarist Andrew Innes recognised that a re-think was necessary. So they pulled Primal Scream off the road and went into the studio. They barely came out for the next five years.
“We decided we would be artists, rather than members of Guns’n’Roses, which is what certain people in the band wanted to be,” says Gillespie. “We were young men, we didn’t have family commitments. So we went into the studio and worked and worked and worked. We hit a purple patch, made some of our most important work.”
In the 2000s, however, things did not go as well for Primal Scream. At the turn of the decade, their label Creation went under. Primal Scream had just released XTRMNTR, a ferocious onslaught of dance-rock and arguably their outstanding long player. Without a record company to promote it, however, the album did not sell as much as expected.
Several years later, they received opprobrium for having Kate Moss — a friend of Gillespie’s — sing on their cover of ‘Some Velvet Morning’. Does Gillespie regret recruiting Moss? “Nah, Kate’s great,” he grins. “I saw her the other day and she is looking fantastic. I’ll never regret putting her on a record.”
Matters then reached a nadir in 2008 after their album Beautiful Future received a critical drubbing and the group’s relationship with Sony Records ended. Anyone who saw the band live in the mid 2000s will recall how bad the situation was – at a gig in Dublin’s Red Box then bassist Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield (also of the Stone Roses) actually became involved in a stand-off with several bandmates.
It has been a long climb back. An important part in Primal Scream’s rehabilitation, Gillespie feels, was the decision to tour Screamdelica in its entirety two years ago. Revisiting that classic LP had a restorative effect on group and fans alike.
“We were high up on the bill at festivals. The gigs were sold out. It gave us the confidence to do our new record. We knew we had something good in the pipeline, that we were going to return swinging.”
Recorded in Belfast and Los Angeles with producer David Holmes, and with cameos from Robert Plant and also Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, More Light is a classic Primal Scream record. There are blissed out dancy moments, alongside swivel-hipped Rolling Stones-esque singsongs. And there is the single ‘2013’, a tirade against Britain’s ruling elite and as political a song as you are likely to hear all year.
“We’ve got opinions,” says Gillespie. “And other bands don’t seem to have opinions. We aren’t political in the sense that we think you should vote for this party or that party. We are making a critique of society. As artists that is your job. As I sit here and say this it sounds arrogant. But it’s not. It’s my job.”
It has been suggested that ‘More Light’ refers to Gillespie’s private life and the experience of moving into a happier place after kicking drugs.
“Sometimes you name an LP and you’re not really sure where it comes from,” he says. “There is a lot of dark subject matter on the new one. It is quite a dark intense record. I thought, why not give it a title that is inviting. We’ve given lot of records dark names — Vanishing Point, Evil Heat. I wanted something more uplifting.” That particular goal was something Gillespie has achieved, both in title and sound.
*More Light is out now. Primal Scream headline Forbidden Fruit at Kilmainham, Dublin, Jun 2
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