Higher Than The Sun: The Story of Screamadelica Part 2

Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is an album that captured a moment in time when everything changed and anything went. From unlikely origins, it succeeded in uniting a nation under one euphoric groove and erected a bridge between indie pop and rave culture, part two of the story.
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Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is an album that captured a moment in time when everything changed and anything went. From unlikely origins, it succeeded in uniting a nation under one euphoric groove and erected a bridge between indie pop and rave culture, part two of the story.

Click here to read part one of  The Story of Screamadelica

The single, 'I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have,' was released in March 1990 and was a hit. Everything then changed for the band: they came off the Enterprise Allowance Scheme and onto a £70 a week wage. After scoring a hit, the track was repeatedly licensed for endless compilation albums which were popular at the time. It was all money for the band and label. More importantly, for the first time Primal Scream got their hands on a sampler, an opportunity that enabled their recording process to change significantly.

Innes says, “Whereas before we’d guitars, bass and drums, suddenly we get this thing, the sampler, and instead of being this ordinary band you could have James Brown’s drummer, you could have strings from an Indian record. Suddenly you could do all this stuff yourself. Maybe you’d get a floppy disk and someone would say, ‘Here’s a brass section’, and you put it in and load it up on your sampler and it would be a brass section, and you’d get the brass. Suddenly it’s gone from black and white to technocolour, all that’s letting you down is what’s in your head.”

Gillespie confirms that it was this technology that allowed Innes to make the type of record they’d always dreamt about: “Andrew (Innes) understood the possibilities in all that stuff very early, you see. He could listen to hip hop records and stuff, and the Public Enemy, and understand how they put it together. That was pretty unusual. Now, they all use computers and samplers but 20 years ago that was very unusual. Tt just opened everything up to us. We started to write and think in a totally different way.”

‘loaded’ was the first significant hit Creation had had and confidence coursed through the band, the label and their entourage. They then had a crack at making another track  ‘Come Together’, on which they assembled a gospel choir, was also a hit – not a smash hit but around the charts long enough for the band to become even more confident in the direction they were heading.

But this new direction was clearly alarming to some involved with the band, notably their most loyal fans. Gillespie takes up the story: “So, at the end of the year we played at Subterranea in London we were doing ecstasy before the gig - the whole band right, it was pretty far out. The DJ was Andy Weatherall, and we had loads of indie kids coming into the dressing room before the gig saying, ‘Please tell that man to stop playing his horrible records’. He was playing all these mad house and electro records, and these girls were going ‘Please please, can he not just play the Wonder Stuff?’ And we were going ‘Get to fuck’, right. I remember that very clearly. We weren’t that great because ecstasy was not the best drug to play rock ‘n’ roll on, but the main thing about that night was people coming into the dressing room saying ‘Please, please’ asking us to stop…”

“That included members of our own band as well,” laughs Innes.

By this time, the band knew they had to start turning these hit songs into an album if they wanted to capitalize on their success. So, they gradually moved up from Innes bedroom where the earliest demos were done on his four track, through to the shot down shack where they’d first worked with Weatherall, to their own set up and eventually the respectable town house studios in London’s leafier areas.

The relationship with Weatherall flourished; after Gillespie, Innes and bassist Throbert had recorded all the songs they could come up with on 24-track they’d give them to Weatherall to see what he would do. But the DJ/producer is quick to point out that the album is not, as some have suggested, entirely his work.

The less you’ve got on a record the bigger it sounds. That’s what you learn after years of making records, that less is actually more...

“I wasn’t involved in writing the songs for Screamadelica or anything like that,” he insists. “They gave me what they’d done and left me to it. Hugo Nicholson who I produced it with is a guy who deserves a lot more credit than he gets. He took my ideas and Primal Scream’s ideas and worked out how to do them together. Without Hugo it wouldn’t have sounded like it did either. The Scream had sporadic ideas floating around and we managed, with very un-technical language, to create this record because he [Nicholson] was an excellent translator.”

Innes, however, lays a lot of the credit at Weatherall’s door: “[He] would strip it down, because the less you’ve got on a record the bigger it sounds. That’s what you learn after years of making records, that less is actually more, and he’s got a great way of doing that.”

As Primal Scream progressed they invited more people that the record industry were keeping at arms length to give their input, including Jimmy Miller who had worked with The Rolling Stones on Exile on Main Street and Let it Bleed, and Alex Patterson, a former Killing Joke roadie who had emerged as one of the leading lights of acid house with his act The Orb.

Gillespie remembers: “The Orb did amazing mixes, but it was in sections, so different sections, break beats and loops, just different parts of the song, and it was all kind of cut up. Andrew (Innes) edited it all, he’s got amazing editing skills. He did the edit to make it what you hear. You know, the Orb mixed it beautifully, but he [Innes] made sections of the mix.”

Once all these different tracks were in place Innes was tasked with creating a running order, something he used My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields as a sounding board for. “I thought I’d run it like a weekend, like you’re going out. You put ‘Movin’ On Up’ on, and that’s your going out record on a Friday night. And then in the middle it’s the real trippy, psychedelic stuff, so that’s when your head’s full of stuff and you’re just in the middle of the dancefloor. And then ‘Shine Like Stars’ is like a proper comedown. I thought ‘I’ve got to run it like what we are’. So to me that was the only way to make any sense out of it.”

It was this understanding of the audience’s weekend schedule and state of mind that captured something about that people liked; 1991 was not a time when everyone was listening to one type of music. Or individual bands. Everything was on offer every night of the week. And if it wasn’t like that where you lived you could just pile into your car drive to the next town.

With the running order intact the next task was a title for the album and a sleeve design. The title came from a corruption of Funkadelic, inspired by a dawn brainstorm amongst friends. The sleeve came from Paul Cannel, an artist Jeff Barrett had used for the sleeves of Flowered Up and Manic Street Preachers on his own Heavenly label. The falling sun was a detail from a bigger painting Cannel had done.

Gillespie fondly recalls visiting the artist’s house in East London. “I would give him just a title, but I wouldn’t play him the song. I wanted it to be more abstract. So we gave him ‘Higher Than the Sun’ and ‘Don’t Fight It, Feel It’. He would take heroin and magic mushrooms, and would paint for however long it took him and then he’d call up and say ‘the painting’s ready’.

Cannel became a fixture at Creation where he rented attic space off the label to paint. Tragically, he committed suicide in 2005 but his work was commemorated and celebrated by Post Office when they produced a series of stamps based on classic British record sleeves in early 2010. The sun was used as a detail on an instore poster for indie record shops and McGee suggested it for the album cover at the same time as the band’s photographer and merchandiser Grant Fleming suggested it as a design for a t-shirt.

We weren’t that great because ecstasy was not the best drug to play rock ‘n’ roll on, but the main thing about that night was people coming into the dressing room saying ‘Please, please’ asking us to stop…”

Screamdelica was released in September 1991 to rapturous reviews and sales big enough to drive it into the Top-10 in the UK albums chart. It went on to win the first Mercury Music prize and opened up new territories for the band who were required to travel to the far east and the States where they were signed to Seymour Stein’s Sire label.

What happened next allowed them to be as creative and destructive as they liked. When I interviewed Gillespie in 2006 it was fifteen years since the release of the album and the idea of revisiting it hadn’t yet taken hold. At such a distance he was perhaps able to be most objective about where Screamdelica’s success took them.

“When we were touring Screamadelica in America we had to meet some record company VIPs. Just as we were sitting down to dinner with them the heroin arrived and we all went off to take it. When we got back it was so strong people were just collapsing face down into their food. This was not a good advert for Primal Scream. Certainly there was a lot of peer group pressure around Primal Scream - people with prodigious appetites, and that naturally makes for a very harrowing tale. You know, Andrew Innes is a chemist and so's his wife - they've got pharmaceutical degrees. He's an oddball boffin who'll experiment with anything you give him. When computers came out, he got one straight away and learnt how to work them.” It was this appetite for experimentation that had prospered in the making of Screamdelica.

Screamdelica is a huge album now. It has lasted twenty years and this month is being celebrated in the largest indoor venues the band has ever played. The band is playing two sets a night - their greatest hits followed by Screamadelica in full.

In terms of popularity, Screamdelica has suprassed the two albums Gillespie and Innes believed it was closest to: PIL’s Metal Bo’ and Can’s Tago Mago. Two decades on the halls are filling out with followers happy to flashback, and a younger generation which can experience an album they deem 'legendary' even if was made when they were just kids.

In the guests bar at their London Olympia gigs late last year, members of the Sex Pistols, Oasis, Chemical Brothers and Underworld, plus Damian Hirst, mingle with rock and roll industry types who probably haven’t been in the same room for some time. The room is full of the nodding heads and big grins of long-time-no-see recognition. The stage show is as bright and eye catching as the music is compelling. It's performed on a scale the band could never have imagined when they were touring the countries dives and indie pubs all those years ago.

Primal Scream are doing this because Screamadelica is an important album to them. When less passionate musicians would have split up, this album gave them the platform, confidence and experience they needed to go on and create new music for years to come. It’s the album that best represents the musical shift of the era; a screaming yellow asterisk that reminds a generation of how good a time was had at the close of the Eighties and dawn of the Nineties. It's a reminder of excitement and change. As Andrew Innes put it "I hated music in the Eighties and then suddenly it was exciting again." The last words, however, should to Gillespie: "We had always wanted it, anyone in a band who tells you anything else is lying. And then with Screamdelica, after seven years, it happened so quickly. It was just a case of How the hell did that happen?"

An extended version of this interview can be found in the Screamadelica 20th Anniversary Limited Collector's Edition which you can buy here

Screamadelica Tour Dates

Eden Sessions Eden Project, Cornwall, UK Thursday, 23rd June 2011 19:00
Glastonbury Worthy Farm, Pilton, UK Friday 24th June 2011 12:00
Optimus Alive! Oeiras, Portugal Thursday, 7th July 2011 12:00
T in the Park Balado, Scotland Saturday, 9th July 2011 12:00
Oxegen Punchestown, Co. Kildare, IE Sunday, 10th July 2011 12:00
Hultsfred Festival Hultsfreds Hembygdspark, Sweden Thursday, 14th July 2011 12:00
Benicassim Festival Valencia, Spain Saturday, 16 July 2011 12:00
MIT Festival Rome, Italy Friday, 22 July 2011 12:00
Lokerse Festival Belgium Friday, 29 July 2011 12:00
Camp Bestival Lulworth Castle, Dorset, UK Sunday, 31 July 2011 12:00
Vienna Arena Vienna, Austria Friday, 5 August 2011 21:00
OFF Festival Katovice, Poland Saturday, 6 August 2011 12:00
Vltavská Cultural Centre Prague, Czech Republic Sunday, 7 August 2011 18:00
Summersonic Tokyo, Japan Friday, 12 August 2011 12:00
Summersonic Osaka, Japan Saturday, 13 August 2011 12:00
Belsonic Belfast, Ireland Friday, 19 August 2011 18:00
V Festival Staffordshire, UK Saturday, 20 August 2011 12:00
V Festival Chelmsford, UK Sunday, 21 August 2011 12:00
Festningen Oslo, Norway Saturday, 27 August 2011 12:00

Bestival Isle of Wight, United Kingdom Saturday, 10 September 2011 12:00

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