- TextPaul Moody
To celebrate the release of Primal Scream’s first singles retrospective, Maximum Rock’n’Roll, frontman Gillespie takes Another Man through the band’s most memorable moments and looks
It’s been a long, strange trip for Bobby Gillespie from his days as a punk rock-obsessed youth growing up in Mount Florida, south east Glasgow, to countercultural icon. Over the course of an unparalleled career, Primal Scream’s sonic adventures have seen them explore everything from jangly indie-rock to louche electro-pop, their forays into acid house, dub, gospel, country, funk and blues mirrored by a constantly changing stylistic and sartorial spirit. The release of the band’s first full singles retrospective, Maximum Rock’n’Roll: The Singles, provides an opportunity for pop’s most stylish provocateur to cast an eye back over 30 years of sonic subversion.
“When I was growing up, singles were an art statement,” Gillespie explains. “They were an aesthetic marker as to where a band were artistically. People like Bowie, The Clash, The Who and T. Rex were changing all the time. As a fan you wanted to know what they were going to wear and whether you could follow them to that new place.”
Here, then, is a reminder of five of Primal Scream’s most iconic moments, in both sound and vision.
“This was released in early 1990. Those were exciting times. It felt as if there were two waves of music happening at once. There was the acid house wave, and then there were guitar bands like The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and The Charlatans who were having hits. Loaded was a bridge between the two. I had an old bootleg VHS of [1966 Peter Fonda movie] The Wild Angels which had some great dialogue, and Andrew Innes brought his VHS player into the studio. We plugged it into the desk and Andy Weatherall took the song’s opening dialogue (“We want to get loaded / And we want to have a good time”) from there. It felt like times were changing. I was wearing leathers when we did Top of the Pops, but for the NME cover in July, I cut my hair and managed to get some really cool white jeans and a white shirt from Hysteric Glamour, with black Chelsea boots. It was very much a Keith Moon/John’s Children kind of look.”
“We’d recorded a version of Rocks at Ardent Studio in Memphis, but when I first heard George Drakoulias’ mix it fucking blew my mind. It screamed hit record. We’d first met him when me and Andrew Innes went out to LA to meet prospective managers, and we were staying at the Chateau Marmont. It was a great period. We hung out with George, met Arthur Lee and went to see New Order at the Hollywood Bowl. We gave George Rocks as an experiment and he fucking nailed it. In the video I’m wearing a silk shirt that belonged to a girlfriend at the time, which I also wore at Glastonbury in 92. The trousers were blue velvet, which I had made by a tailor in Brighton prior to the Screamadelica tour, and I’m also wearing Jodhpur ankle boots that I got from Robot on the Kings Road.”
“I remember being in Tokyo on tour and Andrew [Innes] called me up and said ‘Vanishing Point is on the TV’. So I went down to his room and we watched it. We liked the fact that the central character – Kowalski – was such a speed freak. We could relate to that guy! Andrew, Duffy and myself were listening to a lot of dub reggae and funk at the time; it was about creating an atmosphere rather than using a traditional verse chorus pop structure. The video was scripted by Irvine Welsh. We bought a 1971 Dodge Challenger for 12 grand for it. We had a lot of fun in that car, driving up and down the Westway at night. It was quite a dangerous piece of machinery. It always felt like it was going to burst into flames – you could smell the gasoline every time the engine started. Andrew bought the US pilot’s helmet in the video from a militaria store in Marylebone High Street. It was a kind of urban guerrilla look. I was very influenced by the look of Peter Tosh and the militant reggae scene in the 70s, how they took army fatigues and made them rock’n’roll. I was mixing that up with psychedelia.”
Country Girl (2006)
“Andrew was back playing a lot of guitar at this point. We felt we’d gone as far as we could with that particular sound after Evil Heat, and we were writing garage rock songs with trashy garage lyrics, which became the Riot City Blues album. I still really like Country Girl. It’s a beautiful, autobiographical song, one of our best. It’s still great to play live. I’m wearing a blue Nudie suit in the video, which we hired from an outfitters in Hollywood, where we shot the video. I was going for that Gram Parsons, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley look. The suit was a beauty, but it was a really heavy piece of material – it felt like wearing armour. The same year I got married, and I had my own version made for me by Alexander McQueen. It had roses and thistles entwined in the flare, because my wife’s name is England and I’m obviously from Scotland. So I got my own Nudie suit in the end!”
Where The Light Gets In (2016)
“When we were making the More Light album I discovered a track called Everything Is Embarrassing by Sky Ferreira. I became obsessed by it. The sadness, pain and vulnerability in her voice really got to me. I started finding out more about her, and it turned out she was a big fan of ours. We ended up recording five or six songs with her at our studio in London. I thought it would be great idea to do a duet with her on Where The Light Gets In. It’s us making a contemporary pop record. I’m wearing a silver shirt in the video. Funnily enough, I actually had a silver one made for the second Primal Scream album, and I was wearing a gold shirt in the video for Higher Than the Sun. I’ve always liked those glam rock shirts.”
Primal Scream’s Maximum Rock’n’Roll: The Singles is out now.