Primal Scream Biography

The line-up that achieved so much success in 1991 comprised Bobby Gillespie (22 June 1964, Glasgow, Scotland; vocals), Andrew Innes (guitar), Robert Young (guitar), Henry Olsen (bass), Philip ‘Toby’ Tomanov (drums), Martin Duffy (organ, ex-Felt) and backing vocalist Denise Johnson (b. 31 August 1966, Manchester, Lancashire, England), but Primal Scream had been a fluctuating affair since the early 80s. Gillespie was the centrifugal force throughout, recording several low-key tracks with guitarist Jim Beattie while still serving as stand-up drummer in the nascent Jesus And Mary Chain. The line-up of Gillespie, Beattie, Young (their bass player at this point), Tom McGurk (drums) and Martin St. John (percussion) released ‘All Fall Down’ on Creation Records in May 1985. Further line-up changes ensued before the band achieved notoriety via the New Musical Express’ alternative C86 cassette compilation, which featured a former b-side, ‘Velocity Girl’, an 80-second romp through the richer pastures of 60s guitar pop. Guitarist Innes was brought in to play on 1987’s poorly received Sonic Flower Groove, a collection of melodic pop songs which was released on the short-lived Elevation label.

Beattie left in 1988 as the band began to veer towards rock territory, releasing a self-titled album and revealing a penchant for leather trousers, wild guitars and idol-worshipping. The latter characteristic, at least, was to be a significant feature in their subsequent form, as Gillespie, encouraged by Innes, developed an interest in the burgeoning dance music scene. Come the start of the 90s, Primal Scream had been reinvented, with the aid of name remixers such as Andrew Weatherall, into a groove machine. The ‘Loaded’ single was the first proof of the band’s transformation, stealing from rock’s heritage (Robert Johnson’s ‘Terraplane Blues’) and cult biker movies (Peter Fonda’s Wild Angels) yet invading Britain’s dancefloors to become a Top 20 hit in the UK charts in April 1990, and inspiring a legion of other indie/dance crossovers. Their iconoclastic ideals persisted, no more so than on the road, where Primal Scream’s hedonistic indulgences were well publicized. The following year’s Screamadelica emphasized the band’s cultural diversities and reaped rich critical acclaim and massive sales. It was followed by the Dixie-Narco EP, recorded in Memphis, which reached number 11 in the UK charts in early 1992. In September the same year, Screamadelica won the inaugural Mercury Music Prize. The band, beset by further personnel change, relocated to America to work on the follow-up. This finally emerged in March 1994, produced by veteran Atlantic Records soul man Tom Dowd, and revealing a stylistic debt to the Rolling Stones rather than the dance scene. Dowd was assisted by contributions from George Clinton and Black Crowes producer George Drakoulias. Though the critical reception was frosty, Gillespie had once again reinvented himself and his band, and was able to enjoy his first UK Top 10 single when ‘Rocks’ reached number 7.

In November 1996, following months of speculation after the announcement that the Stone Roses were no more, bass player Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield confirmed that he had joined the band. The new line-up recorded Vanishing Point, a timely return to the rhythms of Screamadelica; less like the Rolling Stones, more like Primal Scream, but with a far darker edge than the blissed out sentiments of the earlier album. ‘Kowalski’, named after the central character in Richard Sarafian’s cult road movie which gave the album its name, shot into the UK Top 10. Drummer Paul Mulreany left the band in August 1997 after weeks of speculation about their future. He was later replaced by Darrin Mooney. The band also enlisted Adrian Sherwood to record Echodek, a dub version of Vanishing Point.

In January 1999, the band contributed ‘Insect Royalty’ to the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s The Acid House, while Gillespie worked on tracks by the Chemical Brothers and Death In Vegas. The band’s new single, ‘Swastika Eyes (War Pigs)’, was released in November. The track served as a fitting introduction to the dark-hued eclecticism of Xtrmntr, an angry, uncommercial album that served as a welcome antidote to the increasingly bland products of the UK’s music industry. The 2002 follow-up Evil Heat, featuring contributions from semi-permanent Primal Scream stalwart Kevin Shields, was a truly great return to form. Always teetering on the brink, always dangerous, Primal Scream retain the ability to shock and delight, a reputation confirmed by 2006’sRiot City Blues.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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