Sunday 27 February 2011

Screamadelica - 20 years on

I think the music you discover in your mid-teens is of vital importance and it can really shape your musical taste for the rest of your life. 

Some of the albums I bought back in 1991 at the age of fifteen are still albums that I hold close to my heart and my turntable twenty years down the line. Thinking back to that time, I was like a musical sponge, soaking in all kinds of stuff. I religiously bought the NME and Melody Maker every Wednesday on the way to school and I would pour over them at lunchtime and when I got home. Tuning into the Radio 1 session at night and taping stuff off the radio.There was a real cassette culture going on back in 1991, with lots of people bringing in mix tapes to school to play in the common room and all of a sudden there seemed to be a load of bands to talk about, dress like and aspire to be like.

The reason for me reminiscing about 1991 (and all that) is that on March 19th I am travelling down to Manchester to catch Primal Scream playing their seminal album Screamadelica, originally released in 1991, from start to finish. Although according to reports from their two Brixton shows late last year, they do change the running order. 

Screamadelica is an album that still sounds incredibly fresh, ahead of its time and on occasions, like something from another planet.  Yet looking through my CD and record collection there are a whole host of albums from that year that I still enjoy playing, many of which could be deemed ‘classics’s or certainly ‘cult classics’.

Nevermind – Nirvana, Achtung Baby – U2, Loveless – My Bloody Valentine, Blue Lines – Massive Attack, Out of Time – REM , Woodface – Crowded House, Gish – Smashing Pumpkins, Bandwagonesque – Teenage Fanclub, Foxbase Alpha – St Etienne, Lesiure – Blur and Electronic – Electronic

I was introduced to Screamadelica through the single Movin’ On Up, with Bobby Gillespie looking cool as f**k and bopping about like a young Mick Jagger in the video. It was the first 7-inch single that I ever bought, along with Born of Frustration by James which must have been released on the same date, or certainly around that time. I bought Screamdelica expecting more of the same, loose rock’n’roll. Little did I know that I would be opening my mind to an extraordinary album that pushed musical boundaries to their limit. 

Before Screamadelica Primal Scream had produced moments of beauty, such as Velocity Girl, Gentle Tuesday and the ballad I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have (later remixed into Loaded) although they seemed a band that talked the talk more than they walked the walk, in terms of producing something that could live up to their own high expectations and dreams, yet with Bobby Gillespe’s taste and knowledge of music, he seemed destined to produce something momentous. 

Bobby Gillespie, 1991 (blissed out)

The summers of 89 and 90 saw a large percentage of the nation ‘turned on’ to ecstasy and with the Scream being well known to be willing participants in drug culture, it was only a matter of time before they discovered it. Ecstasy went hand in hand with dance culture and ‘Acid House’ which was exploding in clubs, warehouses and indeed in fields with giant word-of-mouth raves across the country. From interviews and books I have read it would appear that the Scream were initially very sceptical about ecstasy and Acid House, being the speed-freaks that they were. Curiosity killed the cat though and Primal Scream fell head on into Acid House and head over heels for Ecstasy.

Andrew Weatherall was a DJ and fanzine writer at that time. Back then the speed driven, leather trouser wearing Scream, were completely out of touch with what was going on, yet the instrumental outro to the Scream’s ballad I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have prompted Weatherall to remix it into Loaded. The result was phenomenal, with white label test pressings in clubs causing the crowds to go crazy. 

The creative trio of Bobby Gillespie, Andrew Innes and Robert ‘Throb’ Young set up a home made studio and set about creating a masterpiece, often writing and recording on the spot when they come in from clubs, still high on E.

Loaded was rush released as a single by Creation Records, reaching number 16 in the charts. Primal Scream had never gone top 80 before, never mind top 40! 

It was swiftly followed by the stunning Come Together with a blessed out Gillespe perfectly capturing the loved up rush of E that tens of thousands were experiencing across the UK.

Kiss me, won’t you won’t you kiss me
Won’t you won’t you kiss me
Lift me right out of this world
Trip me, won’t you won’t you trip me
Won’t you won’t you trip me
Lift me ride me to the stars

I’m free you’re free
I want you to touch me
Come touch me
Now it’s all too much
All too much
All too much

Come together oh oh
Come together oh oh
Come together as one
Come together as one
Up and away
Come together oh yeah
Up and away

The single was remixed again by Weatherall, causing concern from Gillespie as like Loaded it removed all of his vocals. The Weatherall version sits perfectly on Screamadelica, yet true Scream enthusiasts will talk of the Farley single mix with a sense of awe. Primal Scream were a band embracing the times, energised by the reaction to their single and stimulated by the industrial quantities of MDMA they were digesting, all washed down with some LSD.

The astonishing Higher Than The Sun was the next single to be released. This time Gillespe was all over it;

My brightest star's my inner light let it guide me
Experience and innocence bleed inside me
Hallucinogens can open me or untie me
I drift in inner space, free of time
I find a higher state of grace, in my mind 

I'm beautiful, I wasn't born to follow
I live just for today, don't care about tomorrow
What i've got in my head you can't buy, steal or borrow
I believe in live and let live
I believe you get what you give 

I've glimpsed, I have tasted, fantastical places
My soul's an oasis, higher than the sun 

I'm higher than the sun 

The singles kept on coming, with Don’t Fight It, Feel It (another single with no Gillespie vocals) and Movin’ On Up coming out before the release of the album. For a full Primal Scream discography visit 

Lets move on to the album. Picking up my double vinyl edition of Primal Scream to play is a joy before the needle even hits the record, as you get to handle and gaze at the stunning artwork that adorns the cover. The red background with a psychedelic sun splahed across the middle. It has become iconic and rightly so. In the modern age, artwork doesn’t quite have the same level of importance as it once did. When was the last iconic album cover? However back in the early 90’s album bands and labels took great care with their album artwork.

We’ll go track by track, Gillespie has said on more than one occasion that great care was placed over the tracklisting in order for the album to flow like a trip...and it is a good one!

Movin’ On Up bursts into life, all warm acoustic guitars, honky tonk piano, soaring gospel vocals and Gillespie half-inching the lyrics to ‘Amazing Grace’ at times. It is a love song, yet it can also clearly be linked to the drug that was taking over a nation; 

I’m movin’ on up now, getting out of the darkness,
my light shines on, my light shines on, my light shines on

Gillespe also emplores that ‘I was lost, now I’m found, I believe in you, I’ve got no bounds’. This was an album with no boundaries, encompassing the Scream’s beloved rock’n’roll alongside dub, jazz and acid house. And Gillespie was flying, creatively and through the use of drugs, no bounds indeed.

Bobby Gillespie, November 2010, London

Slip Inside This House is a cover of the psychedelic garage band 13th Floor Elevators classic. Yet to call it a cover is to do it an injustice as Primal Scream completely transform the song, bringing it out of the lysergic tinged 60's slap band into 1991, the bass grooves, sitar, and acid house sounds with Gillespie allowed to express his love for West Coast American garage psychedelia. I used to think the hook 'trip inside this house, as you pass by' was actually 'trip inside this house and you can fly', maybe Gillespie does sing that at one point, it would be apt.

You think you can't you wish you could 
I know you can, I wish you would 

Trip inside this house as you pass by 
Trip inside this house as you pass by 

Don’t Fight It, Feel It
Good advice to anyone taking 'e' at the time. This is just pure acid house, squelchy synth sounds, the beats and high-hat action of an 808, and the lyrics are just perfect to soundtrack the time, with the old soul/James Brown lyric fitting in with the hedonistic lifestyle of 1991.

Gonna dance to the music all night long
Gettin' high, gettin' happy, gettin' gone
Gonna dance to the music all night long
Gettin' up , gettin' down, gonna get it on
I'm gonna live the life I love
I'm gonna love the life I live

There is a piano break at 3 minutes 25 seconds in that just lifts the song, before the closing refrain/mantra keeps the groove going for another few minutes.

Rama lama lama fa fa fa
Gonna get high 'til the day I die

Higher Than The Sun
Is this Primal Scream's masterpiece? This is a special, special song. I always find it remarkable that it is only 3 minutes and 38 seconds long, as there is so much going on musically, lyrically and with the production. Everything Bobby G and his partners and crime were aiming for seems to have come together in this song. I've written about it earlier in this blog and to be honest it is a song that I find indescribable, it is that good, so just press play and enjoy...

Inner Flight
The trip continues with a beautiful, gentle riff carrying us off somewhere nice. All of the song titles on Screamadelica fit with the music and this is no exception.

Come Together
This is just euphoric, immediately lifting the listener from the blissed out instrumental Inner Flight to a hands-in-the-air type moment where you just want to hug everyone around you. 

Come Together is 10 and a half minutes of ecstasy on vinyl. Weatherall remixes the original version, removing Gillespie's vocals completely and including an inspired sample, with someone preaching;

This is a beautiful day

It is a new day
We are together, we are unified
And all for the cause
Because together we got power
Apart we got power

Today on this program you will hear gospel,
And rhythm and blues, and jazz
All those are just labels
We know that music is music

Today on this program you will hear gospel,
And rhythm and blues, and jazz
All those are just labels
We know that music is music

The intro is stretched out to over 2 minutes with a hammond riff played continuously before the beat kicks in at just under 2 minutes 30 seconds and then comes the groove, all the time being underpinned by the hammond riff that kicked it all off. Weatherall's importance to Primal Scream, their sound and Screamadelica cannot be under stated. 

The band knew what they were striving for (track down the original demo of Higher Than The Sun for an example) but Weatherall helped them to another level. It was meant to be.

Denise Johnson also deserves credit for her soaring and soulful vocals throughout and when she comes in before 5 minutes urging everyone to 'Come together as one' it just sounds so right.

The original version of Come Together is one of my all time favourite songs, yet this Weatherall version is just perfect for Screamadelica and Gillespie's vision of the track listing soundtracking a trip of the rush of ecstasy.

House piano kicks in, a simple yet funky bass holding it all together, trumpets blast off, the sample kicks back in, Denise Johnson is still singing, there are bongo is a phenomenal song.

And so we come to Loaded. An indie club anthem, a rock/dance crossover...the song that kick started the change in musical taste and the change in drugs in Primal Scream.

It starts with the famous sample from the film Wild Angels;

Just what is it that you want to do?

We wanna be free
We wanna be free to do what we wanna do
And we wanna get loaded
And we wanna have a good time
That's what we're gonna do
No way baby lets go
We're gonna have a good time
We're gonna have a party

And this song is one big party with Weatherall working magic by using the guitar and trumpet riffs from the closing section of the Screams I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have into a monster groove.

Denise Johnson's huge gospel vocals come in immediately, urging 'I don't wanna  before the beat drops and things kick off. The bass is deep and funky, there is house piano, slide guitar and soaring trumpets over a 4/4 dance beat.

Weatherall's production and the way he builds the tune up, drops it, only to build it up again is like something he would do on the decks in a club. 

It is a sensational 7-minutes that transformed Primal Scream from a cult indie guitar band into the band Bobby Gillespie always believed they could be.

One song that I have never heard Primal Scream perform live before is the utterly gorgeous heart aching ballad Damaged. That will all change in Manchester. Damaged is hardly ever mentioned when people talk about Screamadelica, with the singles being celebrated with great acclaim. Yet this is just beautiful. 

The playing is slow and soulful and Gillespie sings his heart out;

Sweet summer days when I was feeling so fine
Just you and me girl was a beautiful time oh yeah
Said I felt so happy, my, my, my
I was through with doubt and pain
All the love I felt hadn't been in vain
Got damaged, I got damaged
I got damaged, I lost myself in you

Weatherall's production is all over Screamadelica, other than this stunning ballad. It is a cracker.

I’m Comin’ Down
This is also gorgeous, another slow number that has 1991 all over it.

Highs and pills won't heal my ills
But they make me feel better for a little while
I'm coming down
I can't face the dawn
I'm coming down
I feel too far gone

At 3 minutes 30 seconds the song just goes off into space, there are echoes of Gillespie's jazz heroes like Coltrane and Davis in the trumpet/clarinet solo. 

I still love the cheeky wee sample/dialogue at the end - 'Yep I know that feeling.'

Higher Than The Sun – a dub symphony in two parts
If Bobby G was inspired by some of his heroes on other tracks, on this one he gets to work with one of them as PiL's Jah Wobble supplies the bass on the dub symphony of Higher Than The Sun.

The reintroduction of this song is extremely clever and it again fits in with the old DJ trick of mixing in a tune he played earlier in his set.

The second part of the symphony has Wobble's bass to the fore and it keeps things grounded, allowing all kinds of things to go on elsewhere. The short break just before 5 minutes just lifts the song even higher (than the sun), before Wobble brings it all back down with his bass.

Shine Like Stars
And so we come to the end, with the almost childlike trippy nursery rhyme Shine Like Stars. Yet again Gillespie's lyrics capture the hedonism of 1991;

I watch you dance you look so happy

Lost in the moment of abandon you're set free
To me you're precious may you always
Shine like stars
Shine like stars
Shine like stars 

There we have it, Screamadelica, 20 years on, still remarkably fresh. I've been writing this blog over the weekend and I must have listened to the album 5 times, yet I could easily go back to the start and listen to it all over again.

There is so much going on, so much care and love has gone into it. The band knew they were on  to something, they had a great team working with them, from Alan McGee and Creation Records, through to the undeniable talents of Andy Weatherall. Yet the band and the trio of Gillespie, Innes and Young always believed in themselves and Primal Scream as a band, an idea.

With Screamadelica they realised what they were capable of and thankfully they went on to make a number of other stunning albums through the 90's.

Roll on Manchester and 19th March.

Friday 18 February 2011

Dot JR at BBC Introducing

So it is Friday night and I am sitting in having a few beers catching up on some music.

I've been meaning to check out Dot JR for a month or so, ever since the excellent Popcop reported that he had signed a major label record deal.

Dot JR popped into the BBC studio last weekend to record some tracks for Ally McCrae's Introducing show, so this was a great opportunity to check him out. Should you wish to do the same you can listen to and watch a couple of tracks at;

'Blood' live on BBC Introducing

'Moonlight (Running Around)' live on BBC Introducing

Quite how much of it is actually live is debatable, but the videos certainly give you an indication of what Dot JR is about and what he is capable of. I'll not comment on the white jeans though...

What these songs do give you an indication of is the refreshing fact that there is a Scottish act embracing modern pop and the kind of sounds that sit at home on Radio 1 these days. I have to admit that the majority of times that I turn on Radio 1 these days, I immediately turn it off due to the 'noise' that comes out of the radio.

Now I am 35, but I can still appreciate and indeed love, good pop music. What I would say is that after listening to the two Dot JR songs a few times is that neither of them embed themselves in my memory. I couldn't sing a lyric or hum a riff.

So is it pop? Well listening more closely, in terms of production and structure, then yeah. It's modern pop rather than good old fashioned pop.

It's not for me I am afraid, but that is not detracting from Dot JR's talent or ambition. Music is a matter of taste that can often lead to enjoyable debates.

Dot JR is a young guy who clearly has something. 'Blood', to my ears, sounds like it may be ripe for the American market rather than the UK. It is early days, time will tell, all I can say for now is that this young guy has a great opportunity and if he comes up with the goods it will be fantastic for Scottish music.

Best of luck to him.

Sunday 13 February 2011

Conquering Animal Sound at Sneaky Petes

Last night I ventured through to Edinburgh to catch the final show of Conquering Animal Sound's (I'll refer to them as CAS for the rest of this blog) tour to promote their debut album 'Kammerspiel'.

With Miaoux Miaoux and Esperi supporting it was an outstanding line-up that the promoters This Is Music had collated and the Edinburgh music scene was out in force to catch it.

I tend to skip over any Rugby features in the sports section of The Times, so I was quite taken aback by the swarms of Scotland and Wales supporters that were wandering around shouting, pi$$ing in the streets and falling about. There were also the usual groups of stags that congregate in Edinburgh every weekend.

I picked my way through to get to Sneaky Petes just prior to 7pm and met up with Julian (Miaoux Miaoux). I got chatting to Chris who is effectively Esperi and discovered he is a lovely guy. I'd caught one of his shows in Glasgow last year when he played with a guy from Portugal called Noiserv and I had really enjoyed his songs. Esperi's latest single on Olive Grove Records was a cracker and he told me he had plans to record an album with a band, complete with string section and more. Considering the layers of sound that Chris can create on his own, then the album will be interesting to hear.

The venue filled quickly, with the promoters having cupcakes spelling CAS's name for the first folks through the door. Esperi's solo set can be very gentle and quiet at times and it is to his credit that his music captivated the packed venue to the extent where you could hear a pin drop. Top marks to the polite Edinburgh audience. The highlights of Esperi's set was a song I had seen/heard him play the last time I saw him, I did ask him the name of it afterwards but I can't remember! It may have involved the words cats and dogs, but maybe not! Anyway it showcased what he is all about, making something gorgeous out of practically nothing, playing a variety of instruments and looping and layering them into something sublime.


Miaoux Miaoux was up next and by this point Nick from Sneaky Petes was considering it a sell-out, he did shortly afterwards. Miaoux Miaoux picked up the beat from Esperi and he introduced two new songs into his set, including the future pop-dance smash 'Hey Sound' that Jamie from CAS described as 'song of the year'. 'Hrvatski' was brilliant and Julian's performance of 'Knitted' was the best I have seen to date;

it's too late for you, it's too late for me

Julian looked lost in the music, looping beats and synth riffs and then jamming along on his guitar at times, dancing with a smile on his face at others. With a number of further shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh planned over the next couple of months I would highly recommend checking him out.

So it was on to the headliners CAS, a duo consisting of James Scott and Anneke Kapman. Jamie also records under the guise of Japanese War Effort and also plays in Barn Owl

The duo quickly got into their stride. The rather gorgeous Anneke had two mics on stage to help with her layering vocals and harmonies, while Jamie was busy playing guitar and a bank of electronic equipment. At other times Anneke played what looked like a toy harp.

Their are elements of Bjork and Liz Fraser in Anneke's vocal style and delivery, but she is completely herself, commanding the attention of the crowd, looking confident and stylish. Jamie took the time to thank the crowd on several occasions and his warm persona transferred well to the stage.

CAS are alternative, yet accessible, leftfield yet with a pop edge. I said that Esperi seemed to create songs out of nothing and CAS are similar in a way. They started one song by sampling and looping their finger clicks yet before you new it a beautiful soundscape was being gently lifted towards our ears.

As I only bought the album after the show I didn't know the names of the songs, but after listening to it earlier today I would say that Flinch was my personal highlight from their quite stunning set. A simple 4/4 beat with the aforementioned toy harp and Anneke's dreamy vocals.

I will be you and you will be me

CAS were sublime last night, I went in not knowing what to expect and came away thoroughly impressed. I'm currently on my second listen of the album and I can already tell that it is one that I will return to and discover new sounds and delights time and time again.