An Open Letter To Primal Scream
Dear Primal Scream,
We have known each other a long time, a very long time.
It’s so long now that it now feels like some sort of historical epoch since our paths crossed in the early days of Creation Records. Bobby was Jesus and Mary Chain’s waif like drummer boy and Innes was already the shadowy figure behind that fab and mysterious Revolving Paint Dream, which was one of my favourite early Creation singles.
We were all temporarily part of the same family- the Creation noisenik vision of the brave new world, where you were the cool kids with the classicist take on rock n roll, I was a fucked up noise warrior in the Membranes on a high decibel suicide mission.
I thought it was time to write to you because I have been playing your now single, 2013, over and over.
It’s utterly mesmerising. It could be the best thing you’ve ever done. That sax break is pure gold, some say Psychedelic Furs and I get the X Ray Spex buzz because I was mates with dear old Poly but it also sounds like you- a bit seventies, a bit krautrock death disco, a bit Low period Bowie. The nine minute version is some trip which you can really get lost in whilst it remains urgent for every second. The song comes armed with great incendiary lyrics that deal out the truth saying all the stuff that needed to be said!
It’s been a long and strange trip. The early Primal Scream singles were honey drips of pure psych pop that, it could be argued, inspired the Stone Roses to create that wonderful debut album. After that you went through so many phases I’ve lost track, it was like a rampage through the best record collection in the world but oddly, you somehow, managed to always sound like Primal Scream and that’s the toughest trick of them all!
We have had some adventures over the years, I can still clearly remember the Boardwalk gigs in Manchester with the 50 people who went to everything- the 50 people that Noel Gallagher always talks about when I see him- the 50 who went to every gig in town and knew there music stuff, Noel was one of them, the youngest. It was always the whole mob when Primal Scream were in town and it was on those nights the Stone Roses turned up as well- it was rare to see them at gigs- they were always working so hard on their music, just like now!
Those early Primal Scream gigs were great- the deceptively jangling band that could kick- you had that undertow of sullen, switchblade, violence hidden by the cascading melodies- the dream pop band.
Photographer Ian Tilton once told me that he took your photos for Sounds up in Scotland and a butterfly flew past and how you said how beautiful it looked and then one of the band clapped it between their hands and crushed it! We always thought that captured the two ends of your spectrum perfectly!
I remember seeing you playing Manchester International- you had your debut album out then and the gig was great but it wasn’t that full- it’s odd how small the so called indie scene was in those days- these days its Manchester Apollo or bust- in those days it was the diehards and the fanatics.
After the gig a friend of ours was hit full on by a taxi in Rusholme. He was stood right next to me crossing the road and his body was tossed into the air. I held his head off the floor after he had landed and there was blood everywhere and you appeared out of nowhere and we chatted in the middle of the chaos. He survived.
I remember playing football around that time with you up in Glasgow just before you moved down to Brighton. It was sort of like an indie England v Scotland,where the Scottish team had two nippy wingers- you on one side and Stephen Pastel on the other. I think we must have lost, we were not in a good state that day – I know all losing teams line up their excuses but I think the triple bad acid was not helping our concentration.
I remember those days when E arrived and I remember seeing you round those London clubs in your leathers surrounded by the baggies. We used to laugh about a review I had done of you saying that ballads were for saps- I was joking of course and was buzzing when your best ballad, I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have”, was tuned into Loaded and because an anthem for the times and your Sceamadelica album perfectly sound tracked the E period.
There was that time round then in 1990 when I interviewed you for Sounds in the park in Hackney, near the Creation offices and you were talking about Led Zeppelin and then threw up in the waste bin. It was front cover for the xmas issue- the other music papers had photos of bands dressed as Santas. I insisted that Sounds had to have a cover of you as you were and it looked great.
Screamadelica was the moment and with the amount of drugs going round and the craziness you should have tuned out there but you survived and turned into a rock band getting your ya ya’s out with songs like the great Rocks before you got the greatest free transfer in rock n roll and got Mani on board and did the glorious trilogy of comedown albums of Vanishing Point, XTRMNTR and Evil Heat that really captured the confused and dark fluxus of the nineties/early nowties.
And for me that’s the greatest thing about your band, you are a rock n roll band that does the off the wall better than anyone- you always yearned to be the Stones but you were always great at being a stripped down post punk unit and I loved those three albums.
Sometimes it seemed you had read the rock n roll textbook too closely but you managed to escape that trap and the new Primals are in bizarrely rude health.
Last time I saw you and Innes was that justice tonight gigs in London when you destroyed it live with Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. That version of brand new Cadillac was total war. It was more than a gig. It was a rebirth and the new single is a continuation of that reaffirmation…
2013 lays down the law. Like 1977 by the Clash it defines the year and makes the numbers iconic whilst staring into the car crash of capitalism whilst getting released on a major label- and I love that- it’s like a rock n roll Robin Hood stealing from the rich and then critique them.
Few rock bands have managed to keep that edge and that’s why I’ve sent you this letter…
Yours in rock n roll
Brother John Robb