Bobby Gillespie is a divisive figure, and one who has always been good for a headline. The Scotsman – member of British acts Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Wake – seems capable of pissing off everyone and anyone. In 2005, Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis asked Primal Scream to sign a Make Poverty History poster, which Gillespie complied with by writing ‘Make Israel History’. (He later clarified that he isn’t anti-Semitic, but supports the work of organisations like the Hoping Foundation, who look after Palestinian refugee children.)
In 2007 Gillespie earned the ire of the young and loud, when he protested to Islington Council about the live music at the Alma Pub in his suburb of Hackney. At the time his protest was apparently about the quality of music on offer, criticising the repetitiveness of what was blaring out into the wee hours.
Yet in recent years he’s toned it down. After years of well-documented obsession with and addiction to drugs and alcohol, the Scotsman is currently five years sober. And, funnily enough, he couldn’t be happier. “I feel great, yeah, really great,” Gillespie says. “I don’t have a problem with other people getting fucked up. By all means, do what you’ve gotta do. But it’s just not for me anymore.”
The press these days only come calling when they want to know about Gillespie’s music. Five years of sobriety happens to coincide nicely with Primal Scream’s first album in five years, More Light. It’s also the band’s tenth studio LP, and in many quarters is being greeted as their finest work since 1991’s Screamadelica.
There have been comparisons with last year’s Spiritualized album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, and some of these are understandable. Both bands have a history of making music to take drugs to – to paraphrase Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce – and they share an ability to shift aesthetics and shatter expectations track by track.
But More Light’s grooves have a direct quality in how they rush and bobble, recalling psychedelia and inviting the listener’s movement in a truly distinct way. Opening track ‘2013’ is the perfect example of this, with guitarist Andrew Innes’s considerable melodic swagger augmented by My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields.
“We needed some space rock,” Gillespie says, “and Kevin’s the man for that. Andrew was playing the lead, and we knew that we needed something warped to come in over the top of it. There’s no one better at that than Kevin. He came in, and just got to it. He was supposed to mix the album, actually. There’s a scoop for you,” Gillespie laughs. “No one else knows that. He was supposed to mix it, but he was too busy working on MBV.”
More Light saw the band reunite with DJ and producer David Holmes, who first worked with the band on XTRMNTR in 2000. Holmes is Steven Soderbergh’s composer of choice, having previously worked with the American director on Ocean’s Eleven as well as its sequels. The Northern Irishman also has a reputation as a hard taskmaster, which Gillespie says was to the benefit of Primal Scream.
“We went up to Belfast with some ideas, just to see what we could get of it,” Gillespie says. “He very much pushed us, and pushed a lot of our ideas too. Some of our ideas he threw out, and that’s great. We can handle it, that kind of directness. I’d love to work with David again.”
Gillespie is candid about the band’s reputation as a collective of creative chameleons. “People like to talk about how we vary things, but what it is, is that we’ve got style. And our style is to do it all over the place. If you actually listen to a song like ‘2013’, there are parts in it that go back to (1997 album) Vanishing Point, or even before.
“I don’t think it’s that big a deal, us changing styles,” he continues. “I’m definitely not saying we’re the same as The Beatles, but think about how they used to do things – they could do ‘Helter Skelter’, then do ‘Honey Pie’, then come out with ‘Yellow Submarine’.
“We can do loads of different styles, so we do. I think it’s strange to be making one type of music. That’d be really fucking dull. We just try to make interesting music, you know? If you were a painter you wouldn’t try to paint the same picture over and over. If you’re going to do that, you might as well work in a factory, because you’re never going to take the idea further. We’re working in a medium that has magical property, that’s what I think rock’n’roll is, and it can go further.”
Primal Scream was last in Australia to perform at last year’s Meredith Festival, as well as a string of sideshows. Gillespie has fond memories of that tour, saying that, “the show at The Enmore was great. That was one incredible night.”
Sobriety has made touring easier, with Gillespie admitting that he still has plenty of passion to inject into the live shows. “I had feelings before, but I was trying to block them for so long with drugs and alcohol. I’m happy with where I’m at now. I think I’m still quite manic – I think that you can only be any good as an artist if you are manic – but now it all gets left on stage.”
BY BENJAMIN COOPER
More Light out now through Ignition/Inertia.