Beautiful Future: Primal Scream

"How serious can we get..."

Right from their inception, Primal Scream were always about more than making a racket.

Even in their earliest, indie pop persona the band had an edge that contemporaries lacked. Hinting at a counter-cultural background that went beyond their record collections, it’s a trait which has continued through their career.

Currently adjusting to life post-Mani, Primal Scream recently hit the road for a flurry of live shows. Liberally peppering their set with new music, the band are steaming ahead with a renewed sense of purpose.

Set to play Festival No. 6 in Wales next month, ClashMusic got on the phone to lead singer Bobby Gillespie to chat about life within Primal Scream. Typically, it would almost immediately veer beyond the band’s stereo.

– – –

How are the band adjusting to Mani’s departure?
I mean, obviously when you’ve got as big a personality as Mani it’s quite hard for anybody to fill that but Debbie more than does it. But in a different way, her own way. She’s quite a big personality as well. I mean, she’s coming from a really amazing band – My Bloody Valentine – so it’s like we’re getting another star player from another star team. That’s the way I look at it, really. Life goes on. We’ve done six or seven gigs with Debs now – we did another one last night, a benefit for Palestinian children on Gaza in the West Bank. A benefit gig.

Is that a cause that remains close to your heart?
I think what’s happening over there is one of the biggest crimes in recent history and in our own small way we’re trying to – just by playing that benefit gig – we’re trying to lend our name to the cause, lend some support. I think I would recommend anybody – if they’re interested – to read up on it. I think if you read ‘World Orders Old And New’ by Noam Chomsky there’s some interesting stuff in there. It’s worthwhile reading up on if you’ve got any interest in it, you can make your own mind up. We pretty much believe in the resistance movement and the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence, yeah. I think they’re an oppressed people who’ve been decimated and murdered by the Israelis, day by day.

Those are strong views, Bobby.
It’s the systematic destruction of a people basically. I think that’s what’s going on there. They’re doing it over a period of sixty years and it’s been getting worse in the last ten, fifteen years. It’s getting worse and worse. The situation is abysmal and the whole world stands back and lets the Israelis get on with it. They’ve got huge support from the Americans as well. America puts billions of dollars into the Israeli war machine – which basically it is, it’s a military society. The Americans are heavily involved in this oppression as well – and the British. We’re complicit as well. I’m only a singer in a rock ‘n’ band, y’know? I’ve got my point of view. But yeah, we think it’s disgusting the way the Palestinian people are being treated.

Music and politics can be a dangerous mixture, where does this passion come from?
Well the thing is we’re artists.. We’re conscious people, man, right? And we always have been. We spent a large part of the past 20 years being fucking unconscious as well but we still read, we still pick up on stuff. We basically come from political backgrounds – my parents were political, Andrew’s parents were political. Andrew Innes’ great-grandfather was a conscientious objector in the First World War, he was one of the guys who formed the Independent Labour Party up in Glasgow which was a breakaway from the Labour party. His grandad comes from a Communist / Anarchist tradition. My dad was in the Trade Union movement. We come out of a left wing.. My dad’s a Marxist. So we’re coming out of that upbringing, it’s definitely the way we view the world. It’s going to come across in our music.

But what does those problems mean to you, as a British artist, right now?
To me, the Palestinian struggle is a liberation struggle. I think it’s a righteous one, as well. I really do think it is. If you actually read up on the history of the whole thing I don’t think it’s too hard to take a stand on it. If you’ve got any kind of fucking humanity or conscious morality. Anyway. Same way I feel about the way working class people are treated all over the world as well – at the moment we’re involved in a huge fucking class war. We have been for the last 300 years! It’s been getting worse in the last ten years. Neo-Liberalism and the free market ideologies are rampant and it’s amazed me with all this banking stuff coming out, these bastards have been doing this for years and getting away with it. I don’t know – the system doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. It benefits a very small percentage and it harms the fucking many. More people suffer than benefit from this system, I don’t think the system works. Anyway (laughs) that’s for another time and another place!

You’re playing Festival No. 6 soon, in Port Merion. Is that something you’re looking forward to?
I’m a free man, I’m not a number! There you go. Aye, I mean, I used to watch The Prisoner when I was a kid, when I was a teenager and stuff. I used to love it, y’know. They showed the repeats in the mid 80s on Channel 4, when Channel 4 just started. It’s fucking brilliant. So yeah, I’m looking forward to going there – always wanted to go there! The band are playing fucking great at the moment. It’s going great – I just can’t wait to play more gigs with this line up. I want to play more gigs and play more new songs in the set, I’m just excited about the new material y’know.

Is the new material going straight in the set?
We did that gig with the Roses and we started the set with ‘2012’ which is like a ten minute song. We started the set with a new song, ‘2012’, which is ten minutes long and it sounded great, y’know? Blending ‘Swastika Eyes’ into that, then ‘Moving On Up’ and then ‘Loaded’. It’s just seamless. It’s Primal Scream music.

Britain doesn’t seem to be producing bands like The Stone Roses, like Primal Scream any more. Is that something you’ve noticed?
I think a lot of the bands come from the upper classes. I think it’s a class thing – I was thinking about this recently. A lot of the new bands in the last ten years that I’ve noticed definitely come from a more privileged background than, say, Primal Scream, Happy Mondays or The Stone Roses. I think it kind of shows in their music and it shows in their lack of something to say. That’s the only reason I can think of why nobody has really got anything to say in music any more. Any contemporary young artist in Britain. Worldwide as well. You’ve got a lot of these American artists now and you can take one look at them and you just know… I don’t want to get into a class thing, right, but you can’t help but notice that if you’re going to call your band Summer Camp you’re not really coming out of a council estate. Y’know what I’m saying? I don’t think there’s too much pain or anger in a lot of that music. Maybe that’s why I don’t respond to it. I think it’s linked to that. I think if you come from privileged backgrounds they’re not going to be trying to tear the system down, or get angry. I’m not saying that people who are working class are any better than middle class people – there are loads of great middle class musicians who I love and writers and film makers. But I think it’s showing in music at the moment – don’t you think?

You definitely have a point.
Also as well it’s broader than that. I think culture as a whole has become de-politicised. We’ve become de-Industrialised, de-politicised and I think that effects things like pop music, art or writing. Everything’s relative. Everything effects everything. I think that’s why we’ve got an apolitical culture. It’s like science fiction at the moment. I think it’s like science fiction. It’s great for me as an artist to find something to write about. I mean, you could call it apathy but I just think there is a cultural malaise, y’know. I think a lot of people are living well and they’ve got nothing to complain about. It shows in the music – it’s kind of safe. You look at a lot of these.. I don’t want to name names, y’know, or get into slagging other artists off but when you look at a lot of those nu-folk artists in Britain they’re from ultra privileged backgrounds and there’s nothing to say. They speak to their own.. I don’t know, man – it’s not for me.

So what do you think of life in Britain today?
I think basically the system doesn’t work. I think free market capitalism is definitely hammering people at the bottom. Even if people didn’t realise they were just stealing jumpers or tracksuits or flatscreen TVs. It’s because people are poor. They don’t have work, they probably never will have work. They’re frustrated because they’re bombarded by images of this great life you can get if you work hard enough. A lot of people are on fucking housing benefits with two jobs and fucking work hard, they pay tax. My mum worked hard all her life, she had two fucking jobs. We were still pretty poor. The thing is I think if you had a more equitable, fairer kind of society where everybody had a good standard of living and everybody had a good job and made good money I don’t think people would riot. I think it’s pretty fucking simple. I think if you run a society the way this is being run people are going to get angry, they’ll want to vent their frustration somehow. I think the fucking system doesn’t work and it’s time to change it. That’s what I think. I mean, this is a pop interview, right? (laughs) How serious can we get…

I know! You’ve always been a party band at heart, Bobby…
I think that’s important. I think if you’re trying to ram your views… we always try and say what we’ve got to say in poetic terms. Using good images. It’s not like.. We’re not trying to be didactic, we’re trying to make art – trying to say what we’ve got to say about the world in poetic terms. At the same time, we want to make people dance and have a good time. That’s the thing. We’ve never been a miserable bunch – we’ve always been get up, get into it, get involved. Get your rocks off and have a good time. We play ecstatic rock ‘n’ roll – that’s what I’d call it. Psychedelic, ecstatic rock ‘n’ roll. That’s us.

– – –

Festival No. 6 runs between September 14th – 16th.

Join the Clash mailing list for up to the minute music, fashion and film news.