Bobby Gillespie - Archive Interview : From PEOM

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PEOM had a lot of good contributors like Dean Cavanagh, Ashley Heath of The Face, James Papa Demitri, Lee Green, Martin McIvor, Toni Tamborine, and photography by Grant Fleming. Around late 1994 when we were more of a music culture magazine then  an acid house fanzine, the latter issues were filled with well written articles and Paolo Hewitt Music journalist and writer was a regular contributor, and we were over the moon when he interviewed Bobby Gillespie for us. This gives you a great insight into Primal Screams front man.

Time always changes the odds. Here's what I mean. Back in 1968 everyone was eagerly awaiting Bob Dylan's follow up to his seminal LP, Blonde on Blonde. Dylan had been in seclusion for some time but now he was ready to re-enter the fray with John Wesley Harding. When it finally arrived the world groaned. It sounded so removed from his previous style that the album was critically panned and disappeared.

Twenty-eight years later most Dylan fans I know check for that album big time. Divorced from its era, it is now judged on its musical merits alone. Let's flash forward to Primal Scream. 

Every three years or so a record arrives to define its times. You think of Dexy's debut album, Public Enemy's "It Takes A Nation", The Stone Roses, The Jam, The Smiths, Oasis and of course The Screams "Screamadelica", which finally broke the division between an indie audience and the pleasures of contemporary dance music. Allied with a classic image that mixed the decadence of mid Stones with a strong socialist politic, The Primals caught the spirit of the times. (Indeed, when the Mercury Award went to The Primals for best album, the band partied so hard that night that they lost their winner’s cheque for £20,000.)

In 1994, anticipation was high as "Screamadelicas" follow up "Give Out but Don't Give Up" was announced as finally ready for transmission. When the kick off single "Rocks" hit the racks, it's loud use of a Motown beat allied with raucous guitars found little favour with the press. This is rock music they cried not "Screamadelica" music. One paper even called the band dance traitors. 

The album was panned. It is now The Screams biggest seller. "Give Out" has three main musical impulses entwined in its grooves. Memphis soul music, all time faves such as The Faces and The Stones and the lord funkmaster George Clinton. Consequently, the album was recorded in Memphis with legendary soul producer Tom Dowd. Back up musicians included The Memphis Horns and luminaries such as drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood. For a team of young musicians who have spent their lives entranced by musical mythology and greatness, to work with such people must have been a wet dream come true, like being able to pass the ball to Pele or write a book with Nick Cohn. It shows as well.

The title track is maybe one of The Scream's best ever moments, a slow burning funk duet between George Clinton and Denise Johnson which irresistibly gathers the groove before it catches fire to weave a strange dark magic. There are basically two out and out good time rockers. One of them "Rocks" has set most clubs alive when the DJ busts it. The other "Jailbird" is neither here nor there and should never come as a second, whilst the majority of the work is actually a serious collection of ballads, some of which betray their inspiration too easily, whilst others "Big Jet Plane", "Free" and "Sad and Blue" more than justify the album. Of the remaining tracks, the funk driven "Struttin" and the gospel tinged "Call On Me" register the hardest. The album was necessary. Undoubtedly, it has cleared the blood off the tracks. After this, the Scream can go anywhere they please.

The LP also makes clear The Screams long term plan, a desire to twist and change with every album. Play all their albums back to back and their musical diversity becomes apparent, a trait which is surely to be celebrated and not discouraged. Such a feat can only come about when all involved take music as seriously as The Scream do. It is undoubtedly the key to their survival and why they are one of the very few contemporary groups I can think of who actually look like a band, move as a band and act like a band. They are music lovers through and through.

Bobby can sit and tell you as much about Dion and Dylan as he can Miles Davis and Nas. It is why Duffy could come up to me when I was DJ'ing and had just bust a rap tune and ask me to play a Little Richard song straight after because it would have fitted in. And lookee here at the very same party Throb, the guitarist everyone thinks is trying to emulate Keith Richards stroke Slash, got on the dex and played Italian house tunes for an hour. Enough. I met Bobby one Friday night at The Screams office in London. I thought we could do a couple of enormous lines, drop a few pills, drink a few bottles and get rapping. Instead we went for a mile long jog, did some sit up's and then, over orange juice and Ryvita, spoke. Now, would you Adam and Scream it? I would.  

PEOM -  Let’s talk about 1994. You played a lot of gigs didn't you? 

Bobby Gillespie  - Yeah but I think we played too many concerts. It worked out as something like a gig every three days this year.  

PEOM -  Should you have done that USA tour with Depeche Mode?

Bobby Gillespie -  No but there were a lot of reasons for that. At that point it looked like the record was going to do really well in America and that was an available tour, they gave us pretty good money for doing it and they treated us pretty well. 

PEOM - Have Primal Scream ever done well in America? 

Bobby Gillespie -  Nah, we've sold about 100,000 records or something. 

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PEOM - Is it important for you to do well there? 

Bobby Gillespie -  I'm not bothered really, as long as I can get enough money to keep me in records. If breaking America means touring there three times a year, I don't want to do it. I had ten weeks there and it was really depressing. On the other hand I was happy because I thought we became a better band. We're better players and I think we're going to become better songwriters. Like that Depeche thing. I never really enjoyed it but there was a benefit and the benefit was that we became a better band.  

PEOM -  How did you feel about the way the last album was received? @  Bobby Gillespie -  It doesnít matter what the critics say because people bought it. We got great audiences for that album. When Rob starts playing "Cry Myself Blind" people start going crazy and that says more than anything.   

PEOM -  Screamadelica was a very important album for many people, did you have an idea of that when you were making it?  

Bobby Gillespie  -  Nah, nah. We were just making our music. It was not really recorded as an album. It was songs we had recorded over a couple of years. I remember we recorded "Higher Than The Sun" and we released it as a single. We said this is coming out as a single, it's not going to be a hit but we're going to release it as a declaration of intent, like a manifesto thing. We released it, it wasn't a hit. "Don't Fight It Feel It" was the follow up. Denise sang it which threw a lot of people because they thought this is supposed to be that white guy singing, who's this black girl. Our attitude was Primal Scream can be anything. "Don't Fight It Feel It" was released in August 1991 and it was recorded in September/October 1990. We had said this is a single, the follow up to "Come Together", and creation went nah, you can't, it's too freaky, it's like a disco record. And we're going nah, this is where we're at, this is what we're listening too.  

PEOM - Was success a pressure?  

Bobby Gillespie -  Nah, it was the opposite. Suddenly, we had some money and we built ourselves a studio, an eight track. We recorded a lot of "Screamadelica" a lot of basic foundations for that record were recorded on that eight track in Hackney. We stayed in the studio and we kept writing. 

PEOM - Were you going to a lot of raves?  

Bobby Gillespie - Aye, that was a big influence. I remember going to an acid thing in Brighton in 1988 but I couldn't get into it. I had taken a lot of speed and couldn't get into the music although I liked the vibe.  

PEOM -  I was writing a lot about it at the time and the rest of the NME were indie and so there were a lot of fights going on. But I do remember McGhee coming up to me in Dingwalls in 89 and saying, you're right. Then he walked off.  

Bobby Gillespie -  Him and Jeff Barrett were missionaries. Barret and him were making me up tapes and sending them down. We were touring the country, playing these high energy MC5 rock 'n' roll songs. But it was house tapes in the van and soul tapes and taking these E's and speed.  

We'd play some gig up in Hull and we'd drive back to London, long haired, leathered up and dancing away. That was a great time for us because we opened up to a lot of music. I used to go to these Acid House clubs with long hair and I'd deliberately go in my leathers and it was good because people would look at you and think what the fuck is that? I used to sit in the club up on the railings, E'd up getting ideas for lyrics and songs and people would be saying, who the fuck is that guy? (Laughs). Really good times. 
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PEOM - Do you believe Scotland should really break away from England and set up shop itself?  

Bobby Gillespie - I'm an internationalist not a nationalist, I think the problem is when you live in a country that votes year after year 85% Labour and year after year you get a Tory government and year after year said Tory government takes the worst of itís policies out on you first , then it gets frustrating to live in a Socialist country with a Tory government.   

PEOM - Did your dad teach you much about politics?  

Bobby Gillespie - Yeah but through example?  

PEOM - So he didn't come to you and say read this book?  

Bobby Gillespie -  Nah. He had a picture up on the wall of those guys giving the black power salute at the Olympics in 1968. I remember saying to him, "I like that picture. What are they doing?" And him telling me about the Black Panthers and why they were doing that but he did it in really good terms.  

I was about eight or nine and he was saying they're black guys who live in America but they can't go to the same school as a white guy , can't sit on the same bench as a white guy and that's why they're doing that. That is the way he'd do it, which was pretty cool. He'd never say , right you're going to be a socialist. He'd wait for you to ask questions and then explain it like that. 

PEOM -  I remember your Dad from red Wedge days and this labour guy saying that he had to go up and work with this guy who had love and hate tattooed on his knuckles.  

Bobby Gillespie - Actually, he hasn't but that's the rumour. It's a good rumour isn't it, It's "Night of The Hunter" gear.  

PEOM -  Robert Mitchum as your local MP. Cool, what was the first record that captured you?  

Bobby Gillespie -  That's a difficult one and I'll tell you why. I was playing The Four Tops last night and when I hear The Four Tops I always think of my Dad. He used to play that round the house. He didn't have many records but I remember "Ray Charles's Greatest Hits Volume Two", "Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Volume One", some Four Tops singles , a lot of Motown singles, a lot of Stones singles, that was the stuff I heard as a kid. 

PEOM - What was the first gig you went to?  

Bobby Gillespie- Thin Lizzy , The second one I went to was Dr Feelgood. The third one was The Clash. The fourth one was The Jam.  

PEOM - When did you first realise you could sing?  

Bobby Gillespie - Ehh..I don't know. I think I always wanted to be a singer but I didn't realise it. I always wanted to be a guitar player because I loved guitar players in bands. I became a singer through default. We were writing these songs and I wanted to play guitar and we kept asking these people to sing and they were terrible so I stepped in.  

PEOM - When Primal Scream started that was like an indie thing, right? 

Bobby Gillespie - No. When we started we were on Creation but we always had these aims. The aims were to make a record as good as "Darlin" (The Beach Boys) or by The Byrds or The Beatles but our ambitions outweighed our ability. We always wanted to be a big group , sell a lot of records , get on the telly and mean something to a lot of people. But we wanted to write beautiful songs. We were aware of song structures and what people were calling songs we didn't consider songs. They were like half songs or quarter songs. They were unmelodic or grey. We wanted to do something that was uplifting, something like our heroes. 

So when people called us an indie band, maybe we couldn't play very well but we wanted to get a big sound on the records. We didn't want them to sound like they had been made really cheaply. We wanted the records to sound as great as the records we loved. We always had that ambition whereas when people say indie band I always think pf people who are happy to sell ten records and they like things shoddy sounding. For me, it's inadequate music for inadequate people. It's always stiff and grey.  

PEOM - Tell me about the first song The Primals came up with?  

Bobby Gillespie - They were really highly melodic songs. Sort of Byrds, Beatles influence. That was like 1984 when we first started. Before that we were just smashing things up. Jim (original member) got this guitar and he would be hitting the guitar and I would get these two dustbin lids and be going (mimics beat) sort of "Going To A Go Go", beat.  

The reason I tell you that is because we wanted to do something musical but that was the most we could do at the time. Eventually, we started learning to write songs. It was like, God, we've written a song with a melody. We didn't know the names of the chords. We were pretty proud that we wrote melodic songs at the time. 

PEOM - Did you find out about people like Sam Cooke through listening to Rod and The Faces? 

bobby gillespie zani 1Bobby Gillespie - Aye, and a lot of the people I got into I got into through listening to Paul. Like Curtis Mayfield, The Chi-lites, Eddie Floyd and "Big Bard". People like The Clash and Lydon got us into reggae, people like Dr Alimantado. Same way with the Stones. You read Stones books and it's like Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters and you go and check it out and it's cool. I love that passing it on.  

PEOM - Do you hope the same thing happens when The Primals introduce someone like George Clinton into the picture?  

Bobby Gillespie - Aye, I hope so. I hope it would turn someone onto going out to by something like "Maggot Brain" or "Mothership Connection". 

PEOM - Is the most important thing to the group the ability to keep making records?  

Bobby Gillespie - Yes but more than that it's to keep making records that we think are good. That's the most important thing.

Bobby Gillespie was talking to Paolo Hewitt, music journalist and writer. 

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