Last month, September 23, marked the 25th year anniversary of Primal Scream’s incredible third album Screamadelica– a record which many fans and critics alike have cited as one of the most popular and significant of the era. Fusing club music with dashes of their rock and roll past, the Scottish outfit came out with a defining statement on the acid house movement in Britain. But just how did a band who began their lives as punks trade it all in for a shiny, euphoric new beginning?
As the eighties clicked over into the nineties, Primal Scream were no longer the indie darlings that they had once been championed as. Their self-titled sophomore effort had left a lot to be desired and the band had quickly become, “very unpopular with the music press,” according to associate Jeff Barret.
Lead singer Bobby Gillespie was a close friend with Alan McGee who owned Creation Records, a small label which Primal Scream were signed to. McGee’s label would later go on to find huge commercial success with Oasis, but the years preceding this were often glum. There was no real hits prior to Primal Scream and bands had to fight and scrape for every bit of exposure and money they could get through relentless touring.
“The relationship between Alan and Bobby was fundamental,” Irvine Welsh detailed in the Creation Records documentary Upside Down. “They were two old-school Glasgow punk rockers who were best mates and they had this whole joint vision: Bobby as the artist, Alan as the enabler.”
However, after two albums the band were struggling to gain any momentum with unfavourable reviews and constant band member changes heavily weighing them down. Having left his position as drummer in The Jesus and Mary Chain to focus solely on his own band, Gillespie was starting to feel the pressure.
Along with two childhood friends in guitarist Andrew Innes and bassist Robert Young, the trio began to attend nightclubs while out on the road. Neither were particularly enamoured with the burgeoning underground dance scene. McGee, on the other hand, was immediately enchanted. In fact, the label boss moved to the centre of Manchester, where bands like The Stone Roses were performing legendary gigs at the Hacienda, just so he could be a part of it all.
Around the middle of 1989, McGee invited Gillespie out and gave him his first taste of ecstasy and along with it a look at the thriving club movement.
“Gillespie got it,” McGee said. “By about June, he thought he’d invented acid house!”
“McGee was literally… a big bag… ‘Open your mouth, open your mouth…'” Gillespie remembered. “And we started getting into it.”
After Gillespie slipped into the decadent nightclub culture, all the members of Primal Scream soon followed him. It was here where the band’s future would change, often pinned down to a fateful meeting with influential London DJ Andrew Weatherall. Both fans of the other’s work, Innes implored him to make a remix from off the band’s latest album.
I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have was played frequently by Weatherall during his sets, so he was only too happy to oblige. Adding a drum loop and various samples, including some Peter Fonda dialogue from 1960s film The Wild Angels, and the track Loaded was created.
“Initially something of a dance/rock traitor excursion, Andrew Weatherall took I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have from their previous album and slipped it a couple of bad things,” Ian Wade wrote in his retrospective review for the BBC.
Loaded was the band’s first major hit. It landed comfortably in the UK’s top 20 singles chart and signalled the arrival of a new found sound and attitude for the band.
“We want to be free to do what we want to do. And we want to get loaded. And we want to have a good time,” Fonda said in the sample. It effectively spelled out Primal Scream’s new manifesto.
Come Together was then rush released just a few months later, in an attempt to capitalise on their success. It wasn’t as popular as the first single, but it certainly gave the band yet more evidence that they were moving in the right direction. An album was now clearly needed.
Initial demos were recorded across a lengthy gestation period in Innes’ bedroom, before the band moved to a rundown shack of a studio. Accompanied only by themselves, an engineer and a few sleeping bags, which they unfurled under the mixing desk whenever they needed to catch up on some sleep, they set about creating more songs.
Thanks to their two surprise chart successes, money started flowing into the label, and with that came greater possibilities. Not only in the sense of a better studio, which they began recording in while located in a posh suburb of London, but also new equipment with which to experiment.
Although previously caught up in the grind of earning money as a small-time touring band, their much-loved singles moved them onto a regular wage scheme. As such, they were able to now access a range of modern instruments, most importantly being an Akai S1000 sampler.
“That changed everything,” Innes recalled. “Whereas before we’d have guitars, bass and drums, suddenly we got a sampler and instead of being this ordinary band you could have James Brown’s drummer or you could have strings from an Indian record.”
“Now they all use computers and samplers,” Gillespie added. “But 20 odd years ago that was very unusual. It just opened everything up to us. We started to write and think in a totally different way.”
Once they’d finished recording their songs, they sent them to Weatherall, with whom they had quickly formed a close bond with in a short space of time.
“They gave me what they’d done and left me to it,” he said.
After Weatherall had added his numerous touches; producing samples, cutting back sections and devising loops, the album was then passed on down the line. Alex Patterson, also known as The Orb, was next to get his hands on it. He became a soundboard for the band, offering his advice and making slight tweaks were he saw fit.
“The Orb did amazing mixes,” Gillespie stated. “Then Andrew [Innes] edited it all together. He did the edit to make it what you hear today.”
The album was consciously put together to tell a story to which both the band and its listeners could relate. It was an album which resonated with the feelings and behaviours of people involved in the acid house scene at the time; ecstasy culture had well and truly arrived in Britain, and Innes devised the album to fit around this lifestyle.
“Welcome to club Scream- A- Delica,” Weatherall wrote in his tour diary for The Face in 1991. “This is not just another pop concert, but entertainment for the nineties. For one crazy nanosecond I even think that the word ‘rave’ isn’t such a shite way of describing an evening of young people’s hedonism.”
The fact that the evening spread across a whole weekend in the drug fuelled nights of the 90s was not lost on Primal Scream. Movin’ on Up was the first track on the album, kickstarting the Friday with a hefty dose of anticipation and a fair few rounds of pre-drinks. Then it steadily built towards the middle section where the psychedelic dance songs (Higher Than The Sun And Come Together) transported you right into the middle of a sweaty and packed dance floor. Then, finally, once Friday night and Saturday night had been sped through with reckless abandon, the inevitable blues of the Sunday comedown arrived with Shine Like Stars.
All that was left was to create the album art and get it out into the world, and local artist Paul Cannel was the man who Gillespie called on for this. The sliding sun was taken from a much bigger painting by the artist, but it seemed to encapsulate the album perfectly. Gillespie would tell him only some of the names of the songs that were featured on it, and it was then up to Cannel to paint whatever came to mind.
“He would take heroin and magic mushrooms. Then he would paint for however long it took him until he’d call and say ‘the painting is ready,’” Gillespie said of the process.
While Primal Scream seemed to lean heavily towards aping their musical heroes on previous albums, Screamadelica kept fragments of these influences and fused them together to create something new and exciting. Rock, blues, jazz, gospel and country all collided with house music to make an irresistible mix.
“The meeting of unashamed, celebratory club music from Weatherall and rock star fandom from Gillespie is what gives it its particular mood,” Pitchfork wrote in their review of the album.
It was a thorough re-evaluation of what a band could be at the turn of the decade, yet it addressed this idea without actually providing any definitive statements. With their electronic leanings being left behind for more sleazy rock and roll pursuits in their follow up, Screamadelica was a bright, brief flash in the mirror reflecting a moment in time.
Showing no concerns at trying to hide its dilated pupils or clenched jaw, it was all about having a good time and was at times proudly wasted. Even though it is 25 now and old enough to know better, you feel that, if given the chance, it could still make some of its younger counterparts look rather silly on a night out.
Image: Primal Scream