PICTURE the scene. It’s the late 1980s in downtown Manhattan and Primal Scream have just played a sold-out show. Outside the venue, the Scottish group are having a heated argument on the pavement.
“Let’s get Vietnamese.”
“What about Indian?”
When NME journalist James Brown, who’d just flown into the Big Apple to interview the band, suggested they get burgers instead, the band suddenly turned on him.
“It’s heroin we’re discussing, not food!”
Primal Scream didn’t invent the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but they lived it like no other band of their generation.
Fast forward to today, and Bobby Gillespie and his band might not be quite as rock ‘n’ roll now that wives and kids have entered the equation, but they remain fervent believers in the redemptive power of the music.
“We’re a pure rock ‘n’ roll band,” says snake-hipped frontman Gillespie. “We’re the real thing. It’s in our blood, we don’t think about it. It just drips from our fingers.”
Above all else, says guitarist Andrew Innes, the Scream are survivors.
“Aye, that’s what we are,” smiles the 48-year-old. “I still think this band has something to say. I still think we have some really good albums in us.”
On Saturday, Primal Scream celebrate the 20th anniversary of their seminal album, Screamadelica, by headlining Concert In The Gardens – and the band are promising fireworks.
“We’ve had an amazing year,” says Innes. “We started the Screamadelica anniversary tour in March and it’s taken us all over the world. Mexico, Brazil, Europe – we’ve been everywhere with it.
“Headlining the Edinburgh Hogmanay event, in the shadow of the Castle, that’s the cherry on the top of a massive cake,” he continues. “It’s going to be a special night, and we’re going to rock it.”
Screamadelica was released on September 23, 1991, and won the inaugural Mercury Music Prize in 1992. Featuring Movin’ On Up and Loaded, it is frequently acknowledged among the best releases of the 1990s and has since been voted the most popular Scottish album of all time.
But while Innes describes Screamadelica as being “both of its time and timeless”, the guitarist doubts that the record would have had quite so much impact if it was released today.
“I have to say that it probably wouldn’t have the same impact,” he says. “It was a reaction to the era of Tory government. It was great, that feeling you got when you went out to clubs and there was something special happening. Seeing all those kids at illegal venues, in raves and old warehouses, having a good time.
“The government at the time didn’t know a thing about it, and there was a definite feeling of ‘we can change the world’. It was probably a bit naïve and silly, but it was a great feeling at the time. Is it still like that? I don’t know. I’m far too old to be going to illegal raves now, but maybe it does still go on. It’s like it’s back in the 80s again anyway – unemployment and that philosophy of just looking out for yourself.”
Like his bandmate, Gillespie has clear memories of the environment in which Primal Scream spawned their masterpiece.
“Acid house was a bit druggy, which I liked. Underground and illicit,” he says. “It was almost like an illegal, dangerous, secret society. We didn’t go to massive raves. Instead, we’d go to a basement club beneath a kebab shop on Edgware Road for 20 people who’d been up dancing for three nights.
“We were outsiders but there was a camaraderie and the kids on the scene really took to us. We were more welcome there than in the indie world. I’d be wearing a black leather jacket and trousers and an MC5 T-shirt and they’d be dancing around in flower tops with love beads. Nobody gave a damn. A lot of people found themselves.”
Heady days though they were, Gillespie recalls that the scene fast became a commodity. “Clubs were held in venues the size of supermarkets. Going to Ministry Of Sound was like going to a rave in Sainsbury’s,” he says.
With their career going nowhere fast, the band met Andy Weatherall at a rave and the DJ was given a copy of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have, a track from their self-titled second album. Weatherall remixed the track, adding drum loops, samples and that now famous audio sample from the Peter Fonda film The Wild Angels. The track caught the moment of a youth culture explosion and the Scream were on their way to greatness.
“Every club went mental for it,” recalls Gillespie. “It stayed in the charts for 15 weeks and kept rising. It was blowing discos apart everywhere. Rock bands didn’t do that kind of thing.
“Rock ‘n’ roll had lost its way, it had turned into rock and that’s not very sexy or groovy. You can’t dance to it. We saw acid house as having the primal energy of early Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis through to The Rolling Stones and Motown.
“We were underground. It felt we were doing something different. We had to think symphonically.
“That,” he adds, “was the basis of Screamadelica.”
Concert In The Gardens, West Princes Street Gardens, Hogmanay, stages live from 9pm, £35-£43 (returns only), 0844-894 2011