If Vincent Price had dropped out, tuned in, bought a drum kit and then eschewed a barber, he might, just might, have turned into Bobby Gillespie, the Glaswegian’s lugubrious, feline face looking at and through the lens of every camera pointed his way with a sanguinarian inscrutability, best understood only by fans of his internationally acclaimed band.
For it is his band. “My education came from rock’n’roll, punk rock and the music press,” Gillespie has stated in the past and, if appearances were anything to go by, Primal Scream was a band that promised sedition, both physically and lyrically. But however you want to perceive them, they remain the band of choice for punters who like to convene under hot lights for a personal, peaceful kind of rock rebellion.
With this two-volume collection of the band’s singles from the past 25 years, ‘Maximum Rock ’N’ Roll: The Singles’, you can appreciate why early on they were seen as ‘capturing the mood of the nation’. And that’s the salient point when discussing this retrospective.
At the heart of the Primals and responsible for its winning formula sits the cogitating, ambitious Gillespie, a man who wears the guarded expression of someone who knows a thing or two about the music business. As the exhortation of ‘Come Together’ confirms, the band was all about creating a vibe, a groove that intoxicated, as The Orb’s mix of ‘Higher Than The Sun’ also attests.
The Primal Scream sound has always comprised myriad golden age influences to which its success can be attributed. Kicking off in the ’80s with ‘Velocity Girl’, ‘Gentle Tuesday’ and ‘Imperial’ you discover jangling musings similar to that of The Smiths, but then comes the punk muscle of ‘Ivy Ivy Ivy‘, and when ‘Loaded’ duly arrives (from the dawn of the ’90s) Andrew Weatherall’s now all-too-familiar warehouse clarion blasts see the band making a leap. As an instrumental, even the shoegazing crowd liked it. As a musical collage, it pleased almost everyone. With priceless mass appeal acquired – and with tracks like ‘Kill All Hippies’ (2000) and ‘Country Girl’ (2006) – the band has lasted to this day while others have lost their way and foundered.
The shift in style, from rock to anthemic dance fusion (‘Movin’ On Up‘, ‘Rocks‘) was a canny one, the band proving that just when you thought the buying public was unmovably bored it could yet be roused to some serious splashing of disposable income.
“[When] acid house happened,” said Gillespie, “we heard the way Paul Oakenfold turned the Happy Mondays’ ‘Wrote For Luck‘ into this incredible groove, and we thought: maybe we could try that.”
In the end, the dabbling in styles and methodologies worked and, as a band, the Primals proved to be fleet of foot. Perhaps, after all, that’s the key to the whole game.
“We’re always writing, working and recording,” says Gillespie. “And at the back of our minds, we’re always thinking about that blockbuster hit which will change people’s lives. What else can you hope for?”
‘Maximum Rock ’N’ Roll: The Singles’ is out on 24 May via Sony