The Inside Story Of Primal Scream's Screamadelica

On the day Bobby and the boys had to release a statement outraged that the Conservative Party had used one of their songs, we go deep inside the making of their classic that defined an era and hasn't been bettered since...
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It was a Monday morning but it could have been a Tuesday morning as they hadn’t actually stopped for sun down or sunrise for a while. The only reason they knew it was Monday was because the newspapers their agent had been reading before they left his flat were Sunday newspapers. Bobby Gillespie and Andrew Innes headed out late Friday night and just done club – club – club – club –flat – flat – flat – club – club – club  - club ever since. Neither of them had been home for a while. But that wasn’t unusual – nowadays there were more than three ‘E’s in weekend.

When they were first recording the songs they’d crawled into sleeping bags under the mixing desk in the cheapest studio in London and just lay there speeding and chattering and getting up every now and then to try something out that might make a new song better. An idea. A sound. A moment. That studio was cold. Small. But it was home for a while and that was the way they liked it. It had been progress. Progress from the four-track in Innes’ bedroom. And the eight track in a shed. Then the cheapest 24Track in London - the archetypal Creation Records set up – cheap and good, an engineer who knew what he was doing and a set of keys for the boys. Music should never be made 9-5.

But now they were through that. The single, ‘loaded’ had been a hit, a big hit. Andrew Weatherall had produced them a club anthem, and with it followed a new sound, a new Primal Scream and a new audience. With that they’d gone up a level and moved to a studio in a house not a shed. Jam Studios was in an actual house in Crouch End, leafy North London. Every time he walked in Innes thought he was walking into a really posh looking villa; it reminded him of Abbey Road. White steps up from the street, a couple of pillars, big letter box, grand piano. Better desk. Bigger set up. More equipment to help them with the new music they were making. Only this morning it's different.

As they push the door open, heavy across the thick doormat and the junk mail, there’s no grand piano in the reception any more. In fact there’s no reception. The wiring’s been ripped from the walls and Bob and Innes look at each other and Innes shrugs like, maybe it's the decorators.

They pushed on through the house into the Studio. The mixing room. Just rooms now. Empty; dustballs on the carpet. Indents where the deck had stood, lighter carpet where the settee had been. Paperclips and tape cuts and the odd crumpled deck pencil. Apart from that, nothing. No furniture. No equipment. No 24 track tapes. Just litter.

“Someone’s stolen the studio.”

“Fuck that, someone’s stolen our album.”

And yes the two tracks they’d just finished ‘Shine Like Stars’ and ‘Inner Flight’ had indeed flown.

It was beyond sold out and the pilgrim fathers were not happy that I'd brought a "blasphemous riot band" to their shitty city.

To understand the impact an album has on a band and it’s audience you have to understand where that band was before things changed. By the late Eighties Primal Scream had a made an album that DJ Andrew Weatherall described as “the album everyone hated”. Their ally and sometime press officer Jeff Barret (an important influence on the personnel involved with Screamadelica) more diplomatically describes it as “very unpopular with the music press”. Bobby Gillespie can count the journalists on one hand who were still backing the band. The 1989 album ‘Primal Scream’ had little or no impact on anyone. The band were two or three years on from their early days as indie darlings, when their Byrds-influenced look and sound had helped define the Creation Records feel and given a template for how Sixties influenced Indie bands should be.

At that point, 1986/87, Primal Scream were skinny, cool. They had bob haircuts and a tambourine player. There was the odd pair of leather trousers on stage, masses of cute girls in their dressing rooms. They ran their own club in Glasgow and Bobby had a part-time role as stand-up snare drummer in the coolest new band in the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain. They’d recorded ‘Velocity Girl’, a thrashing ninety seconds of melodic punk pop about Edie Sedgewic, and if they didn’t fit in anywhere that didn’t unduly disappoint them. Their aim was always to get people to follow them in the same way they’d followed their heroes. They had always wanted to get better but that wasn’t going to happen by copying their contemporaries. This was a notion not lost on a post-punk Mancunian act called The Stone Roses who would later go on to major in the sound Primal Scream brought to Manchester with their brilliant eponymous LP.

But all that had passed, it was near the end of the decade and the band was playing the same sort of venues they’d always played. Their label boss, Creation head honcho Alan McGee, the visionary indie piper who wanted more than this limited scene had to offer, had instructed the band’s agent Mike Hinc just to rip up the map and book them into wherever would pay them enough to get them there. One night there’d be 300 in Derby, the next it would be fifteen people in Dudley. As far as the band were concerned if the masses weren’t going to buy their album they might as well get out there and play it live to the few who had. They were in their own groove, out of time with the rest of time, and those that believed in them were struggling against a lack of interest across the board. There was, however, one chink of light.

Jeff Barret had first met Alan McGee almost five years before when he was promoting the earliest Creation bands at his night club, Ziggy’s in Plymouth. The Jasmine Minks, Pastels, The Loft all appeared at the tiny club, at the time you could walk down a street in Plymouth and see sailors thrown through the doors of bars like the drunk guys in cowboy films. I can remember it well. It was an unlikely place for the bands from McGee’s club The Living Room and his label Creation to appear, so when Barret promoted The Jesus and Mary Chain McGee decided to head to the south-west to see what was going on.

“That was the gig that did it,” explains Barrett, a popular but under-credited figure from the British music scene who now runs the fishing and countryside website which can count the KLF’s Bill Drummond, Tracey Thorn, Esquire writer John Niven and Irvine Welsh amongst its contributors. “It was beyond sold out and the pilgrim fathers were not happy that I'd brought a "blasphemous riot band" to their shitty city. There were cops outside and outrage on the front page of the local rag. Alan came down to that show. He took one look at it and said to me, 'Barrett, what the fuck are you doing in Plymouth? Why don't you come and work for me?'. In August 1985 I moved to London to work full time at Creation Records, a job I had on and off for several years.”

Barret continues: “By 1989, I was spending almost every night in nightclubs having become firmly 'acid housed up'. This led to me becoming friendly with Andrew Weatherall who I had seen and heard DJ and absolutely loved. I knew him and his mates did the Boy's Own fanzine so when he came by my office I gave him the Primal Scream album - which everyone at the papers hated by the way, and eventually led to my sacking by Alan. Andrew took it away and called me the next morning to say 'how amazing are the ballads on that record?'. That sums the time up I think. It took one of the coolest underground club DJs to pick up on the ballads! He went on to put 'I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have' in the Uppers list in the next Boy's Own mag.”

“There was a lot of violence around in the Eighties at rock ‘n’roll gigs and then suddenly when you go to these clubs and everybody was really nice because everyone was on the E.”

Not long afterwards Barrett began suggesting to Bobby Gillespie that they should get Weatherall to remix a track for them. And they were also getting nudged – or should that be hit round the head – towards acid house by their label boss McGee who had moved to Manchester and was fully aware that what was going on in the Hacienda was suddenly more important than the old Johnny Thunders records Primal Scream were using for inspiration. With cash in his pocket from the success of the House of Love, who he’d moved from Creation to Phonogram, McGee was heartily embracing the new ecstasy culture.  “He was just stuffing them in our mouths and dragging us to clubs,” remembers Innes.

“I can remember seeing them at some of the early raves in Brighton,” recalls one former music business figure. “Everyone was off their heads and Primal Scream were there at the side and they didn’t look very comfortable at all.” By their own admission, the band was late to the party. Bands like Primal Scream didn’t go to discos because they weren’t rock and roll or punk in any way. But they could see the influence the scene was having on McGee and it didn’t take them long to start enjoying the new drug that everyone was on.

The band was living in Brighton at the time, which was an obvious destination for those London DJs who hankered for a taste of Ibiza in UK. At the end of the night at the Zap Club on the front, people would spill out of the venue and pile into the sea, hundreds and hundreds of them spashing in the surf and and dancing on the beach.

Describing his conversion, Innes says “It’s a real cliché but you bumped into some guy in a club with a fucking spiders web tattoo, and thought ‘Ah fuck’. You’re in for a ‘You’ve just spilled my pint, you cunt’. Instead, the guy grabbed me, cuddled me and gave us a kiss. And I thought ‘This is brilliant’, ‘cos you’re just waiting for the violence to start. And there were great looking girls and everyone was having a great time, and you’re an idiot if you don’t go ‘This is for me’.”

Gillespie agrees. “There was a lot of violence around in the Eighties at rock ‘n’roll gigs and then suddenly when you go to these clubs and everybody was really nice because everyone was on the E.”

Weatherall first met the band in Exeter where they were gigging. He arrived with two NME journalists, Jack Barron and Helen Mead, who were encouraging him to write an on-the-road review for the paper.  Although members of Primal Scream assumed they’d be getting some sort of smiley-badge wearing acid house commando they soon discovered a curly haired Marc Bolan lookalike with a mutual interest in Thin Lizzy. At a later date, they gave Weatherall the track McGee had earmarked as the next single and asked him to remix it.  At that point the young man from Windsor had done just one-production job for a former member of Blancmange.

“I wasn’t being asked to go into a studio because I’d read loads of drum machine manuals,” recalls Weatherall. “It was because I was in control of the dance floor every weekend in some of the best clubs in London: Phuture, Shoom, early days of Spectrum, Clink Street. Shoom didn’t hold more than 150 people, it wasn’t a massive thing at first, but it affected people so much. The Scream wanted a conduit into that world and that’s what I was.”

“They asked me to do ‘loaded’ at Bark Studios which was a small rough and ready studio in Walthamstow. I was a bit reticent and full of ‘the confidence of ignorance’ as Orson Welles once described it. “

Weatherall went away with “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have’ and came back twice having enhanced some of the beats. He was nervous about messing with a song he liked so much and the result of his tinkering wasn’t enough. Eventually, Andrew Innes instructed the DJ to “Just fucking destroy it.” When it reappeared the next time, Gillespie’s vocals had been removed and the end of the original song had been turned into the intro of the new one. Weatherall had, to all intents and purposes, created a totally different dub-influenced track. McGee was shocked that Gillespie’s vocals had gone but felt it was much more of a statement to put the remix out as the single than as the B-side he had intended it to be.

The band loved it and gave Weatherall the video of the film The Wild Angels to see what he could do with their favourite dialogue from it.  When DJing he would introduce his set with speeches from American civil rights leaders. He decided to do the same thing with the track, giving the song a statement of intent that would become synonymous with the feeling of hedonism ricocheting around the country. It immediately struck a chord with those embracing the new acid house blend of dance music and up tempo indie tracks.

“The first time I played it on acetate at Subterania everyone was doing the ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ ‘wooh wooh’ thing,” recalls Weatherall. “The crowd just loved it from the first play.”

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

Click Here for The Story of Screamadelica Part 2