From Glaswegian Scout Hall Jams To Working 'On Equal Terms' With Your Heroes

14 February 2018 | 12:36 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

"We could get outta Glasgow and have an adventure, and try and make some beautiful music and be rock’n’roll stars."

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If you've read a few Bobby Gillespie interviews in your time, you'll already know that music journalists need to prepare to be greeted by either 'good' Bobby or 'bad' Bobby (or even both in the one sitting). Sometimes he's jovial and up for chatting about absolutely anything at all, but other times he can come across as a bit prickly. Gillespie is super-intelligent, articulate and can be quite intimidating. One thing's for sure: he doesn't suffer fools gladly. And his charming, thick Glaswegian brogue can also be tricky to transcribe 'cause he's a fast-talker.

Gillespie is at his home in London at the time of our chat. We seem to recall he lived in Brighton for a spell. Is that the case? "I did, yeah, yeah, yeah. A long time ago, late-'80s, early-'90s," he enthuses (phew! It seems we've scored 'good' Bobby today).

A quick Google reveals some incredible photos of Gillespie with Nick Cave - both looking effortlessly suave as if they're fighting it out for the title of Most Debonair Music Icon - and so we wonder whether they ever both resided in Brighton at the same time. "No, I'd left Brighton by the time Nick got there, I think. So I think maybe he got there in the late-'90s, early-2000s. I'm not sure when he went there, but I was up in London by that point."

Gillespie currently resides in North London ("kinda Stoke Newington, somewhere around there") and admits, "It's a nice area... I love this area. I just think it's the best. I like north of the river." He laughs heartily, unexpectedly and so loudly that it kind of gives you a fright.

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The last time this scribe resided in the UK, Brixton was the borough of choice and when this info is shared with Gillespie, he responds, "Yeah, south of the river - it's another world. Ha! I just never got into South London. I like north of the river." Similarly to what happens in Melbourne, Londoners often seem shy to cross the Yarra River, favouring Northside or Southside. "Yeah, I think it is [similar], you know. I dunno why that is, but it's just as soon as you cross that bridge... It's amazing what a stretch of water does to the imagination." Why does it sometimes seem so hard to cross even though there are bridges? "I know, I know, I know," he agrees. "It's just a psychic thing, what a river does to your sense of protection."

When asked when and where the last Primal Scream show was, Gillespie makes a sound like an exhaling horse. "The last gig, right, was, hold on, um, the very last gig was in Ibiza, which was fucking - we had a great time. That was great. And then a couple of weeks later we did five songs at a boat party in Milan, because the guy who hosted the party - Riccardo Tisci, who was a designer with Givenchy - he asked us to play. And I'm friends with Riccardo, 'cause my wife works with Riccardo, so we did it and it was fun! I mean, yeah! It was fun. And the Vogue lady was a big Primal Scream fan and it was kinda crazy, but it was ok. It was good, you know, and Sky Ferreira got up and we did a verse, because she was playing as well, and we did this song that we recorded together called Where The Light Gets In. And then it was kinda shambolic, but it was dead-exciting as well, you know. So, yeah! And it was kinda fucked up, but it was good."

Primal Scream's Ibiza gig was at Ibiza Rocks Hotel, which Gillespie describes as "just a great gig", adding, "The band played great that night." On Ibiza Rocks Hotel, he elaborates, "I'd say it was like playing a council estate except there was sunshine. You know, it was tall - like, six stories high, seven stories high - and it was enclosed like a housing estate in England, you know, or Scotland but, yeah! With the sunshine. So we were playing in the middle of that and people were up in the balconies and shite. But the band played good, you know, it was a good gig. It was a great gig. It was a great gig, you know, it was great. We played Ibiza twice and they were both good gigs, yeah, it was good. Of course, yeah, everybody's fucking up for a good night out so that always helps, you know."

We've just gotta know whether Gillespie reckons performing live is the highest high possible. "Ah," he contemplates. Then that exhaling-horse noise returns to buy Gillespie some thinking time. "It's up there, yeah. I mean, yes, it's very godlike. You definitely feel - when you have a good night, you know, when the band are playing well and you don't put a foot wrong it feels like you're in a movie. And you definitely feel, like, free, you know, it's the free-est - maybe it's amongst the free-est feelings that you could ever feel. Yeah, kinda like you're flying. It's godlike, yeah. It can be incredible."

With that in mind, it must be difficult to return to the humdrum of daily life after a tour, we suggest. "Yeah, that's just why a lot of musicians become addicts, I think, because they're chasin' that high," Gillespie shares. "Then suddenly you're back in a wet basement flat in Brighton on a Tuesday morning and there's no one there, and you're on your own, and you've just been in America for a few weeks, or Australia for a few weeks, or Japan, and you're just havin' a great time with your mates, and suddenly you're wet, you know, you're in a cold, damp basement flat in Brighton on a Tuesday morning and you're just - you don't know what to do with yourself, you know. And obviously you're younger so you don't have a family or anything, so you don't really have any responsibilities. So, um, it's a hard one that - you've gotta try to come to terms with it. Yeah, it's a tough one."

While preparing for this interview, Primal Scream's back catalogue was pored over in great detail. But there was one song that required many repeat listens. "Go on. Which song?" Gillespie asks. Rocks. "Rocks! Oh, yeah, it's good. I love it! I love it. I mean, the idea was to write a hit rock'n'roll song, you know, like, that was the idea was like, 'Let's try and write a great rock'n'roll song... you know, like an anthem, a rock'n'roll anthem,' that was the idea." Well they certainly succeeded! "I think we did, yeah, hahaha" - that wild, loud guffaw again. "People like it," he continues on Rocks. "When we play it people go - you know, it's like fucking Jerry Lee Lewis or somethin'. When you start Rocks people go mental, like if Jerry Lee's playing Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, you know. It's got that Sid Vicious, rock'n'roll rhythm in it and that Sid Vicious rock'n'roll spirit and, yeah! It's definitely in that lineage, I think."

There's a bit of T Rex attitude in there as well. "Yeah, that's right," Gillespie allows. "Slade, T Rex - it's very glam rock. Everybody said it was [like] The Stones when it came out, but it's actually more glam, I think, you know. It's very glam rock. And that was the music from our childhood, was glam rock, you know. It wasn't The Beatles and shit, you know, we were too young for that. It was glam when we were kids and that was the first music that really excited us, you know... Marc Bolan and, yeah, Slade and Gary Glitter and, you know; we're huge Gary Glitter fans. Huge."

While we're winding back the clock, does Gillespie remember the first time he heard a song that stopped him in his tracks? "Erm, possibly not," he ponders, "but I do remember walking to school and it was a summer, primary school, and we lived ten minutes from the primary school - I could walk there in ten minutes or even less. And I was singing Deborah by T Rex and I felt really happy and, you know, it was summer and I felt really great. So maybe that." How old would he have been? "Ten or 11 or something, I don't know, but, you know, young. But I think that was maybe an early memory... We used to listen to records and the radio, and watch it on TV, but I didn't buy the records... But maybe that, you know. I don't really think I'd paid much attention to music before then, 'cause it was obviously in the air and on the radio and on TV but it was never really - I never paid any attention, I guess."

So back when Primal Scream first formed, we're curious to know what Gillespie's intentions were for the band. Were they ambitious? Did they hope to blow up and become successful on an international scale or did they just play music because they enjoyed it?

"It was experimental music," he observes. "We couldn't play instruments and we would - Jim [Beattie]'d play one chord on a guitar and I would get some dustbin lids, you know, trashcan lids and then would use them as the drums. I would beat out a rhythm on the drums, on the trashcan lids, and we'd both just scream. And we would do it in a scout hall, which was at the bottom of his garden; his mother had the key, she was the caretaker or something. So it was a brand new scout hall, and then we just went in when no one was there and just made noise and recorded it on a cassette recorder. And that was the beginning of Primal Scream.

"And so it was an outlet for, I guess, our frustrations and just how we were feeling as young teenagers, and we probably speak a lot to other people [laughs]. It's the only way we could communicate was by screamin'. So Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart as Van Morrison would describe it in a very nice, poetic way. And that's what it was: Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart - it was from the heart and we meant it. And it was not even verbal, it was screams. It was very primitive and that's why we called Primal Scream. And then, you know, a few years later we got into '60s music and we began writing songs and melody and chords and lyrics. So it was an expressive thing, and the first few songs we wrote I remember thinking there was something there; they were actual melodic kinda '60s-influenced pop songs we were writing and I kind of felt, 'Man, we could do something with this, we could have an adventure,' you know? 'We could get outta Glasgow and have an adventure, and try and make some beautiful music and be rock'n'roll stars.' It's that simple, really."

It sounds as if Gillespie manifested Primal Scream's reality. "Well we have had great adventures, you know?" he acknowledges. "We met most of our heroes and we've worked with a lot of them on equal terms, and it's good! For some punk-rockers from Mount Florida in Glasgow, you know, yeah! We committed to the ideas, you know. As much as we've always been good musicians in the band, it's also about ideas and concepts and, you know, puttin' things together that other people might not think would work together. But they would, you know?

"We had an album called Vanishing Point, we had a song called Star and, um, it was - the beginning of the lyric was, '​Every brother's a star/Every sister's a star... I sing this song for everyone who stands up for their rights...' It's kind of about my father, and trade unionists and activists all 'round the world and how brave they are and how, you know, people put their lives on the line. And, in terms of my father, his whole life was devoted to social change and social justice and so I kinda thought, you know, I wrote a song using that theme. And we had Augustus Pablo, the great Jamaican musician, playing melodica on it, but we also had [The] Memphis Horns! Wayne Jackson who, again, we love and he's actually played on Otis Redding's records, Arthur Conley's and Aretha Franklin's, you know, all those great soul records; he wrote the horn sections, The Memphis Horns. And Andrew Love. Wayne Jackson played trumpet and Andrew Love played sax."

This collaboration calls to mind David Bowie's Young Americans sessions and Gillespie concurs, "Right, that's what I'm saying is we managed to do all this stuff where we - we've done our own stuff, but we also did these good collaborations with these fantastic musicians, but we've made it sound like us, you know?"