INTERVIEWING Bobby Gillespie brings certain expectations. Since their debut, Sonic Flower Groove, was released in 1987, his band Primal Scream have been something of a byword for rock’n’roll excess.
Interviews over the years have been full of references to sex, drugs (and socialism), with Gillespie waxing lyrical about taking down governments and the hypocrisy of the ruling classes.
He is the son of Bob Gillespie, a union leader who once stood as a Labour candidate for Parliament, and says he learned a great deal about politics from his father.
At the same time, those monitoring Gillespie’s musings have taken great delight in pointing out flaws in his logic. In 1997, he wrote to his local north London council to complain about the noise coming from a nearby pub, for example. Another sticking point was Primal Scream’s song called Bomb The Pentagon, which they performed live for the first time in August 2001. A month later, on 11 September, the headquarters for the US Department of Defense was subject to a terrorist attack.
Primal Scream’s songs were banned from the radio for a time, while the track in question later appeared with a new title, Rise, on 2002 album Evil Heat.
Gillespie has said the main reason he changed the title of the song was because the original was not that good anyway.
Fast forward 11 years, to the eve of Primal Scream’s tenth album being released, and he has quietened somewhat. He is no fan of the prime minister or London Mayor Boris Johnson, and referred to the UK’s coalition government as “reactionary, neo-liberal quasi-fascists” after they used the band’s 1994 top-ten single Rocks at a Conservative Party conference. Perhaps surprisingly, given recent events, he does not once mention capitalism or the death of Margaret Thatcher. That is not to say Gillespie is not entertaining and engaging. If anything, he is more fun now the volatility has faded.
“Ah, it’s having kids,” he says, explaining his relative calmness. Gillespie and his wife Katy England have two sons, Wolf and Lux, aged 11 and “he was born in 2004, so what’s that? Eight or nine?”
He continues: “They make being in a band great. At first it was difficult. I had my first, and Andrew (Innes, the band’s guitarist) had his not long after. We were living a certain way when we were on tour, and all of that stuff has to go when you have a family, you can’t be that irresponsible and we had to sort that side of our lives out.
“I don’t feel that you can mix that kind of excess with raising a family. It was hard, we’d been living that way for so long, it was learned, natural behaviour, you just can’t stop. But we sorted it and it’s all for the best. It’s great having kids, I love them so much and they’ve changed everything for me.” If having children has calmed Gillespie and Innes, the Scream’s two longest-standing members, it has also improved their work ethic.
Knowing they could not be away from home for too long, writing and recording for what would become their tenth album, More Light, was condensed into a few short, prolific sessions in Belfast, at the studio of producer David Holmes, their own studio in London and in Los Angeles.
At first, they went to see Holmes, best known as a DJ and soundtrack composer, to see if he was the man for the job.
“We worked with him in the late nineties and he did some remixes when we made Xtrmntr,” he says, referring to the band’s 2000 album (it is pronounced as exterminator).
“He was playing us this obscure French funk, really weird stuff from the sixties, and then we made drum loops and things. Holmes was provoking us into writing songs, and we’d react to whatever he was playing. He has some great things too, six-string basses, rare keyboards he’s picked up along the way in LA while making soundtracks, things like that.
“If you give people new sounds and new instruments, they’ll write new songs. We quickly started writing after that. Not fully realised songs with lyrics and structure, but general vibes and atmospheres.”
When it was time to record, the band’s bass player, Gary Mounfield – that’s Mani to most – had left to rejoin The Stone Roses. Bass on the album was played by LA musician Jason Faulkner, former Paul Weller collaborator Marco Nelson and Andrew Innes, although they have now recruited Simone Butler as a full-time replacement.
“Mani leaving was never going to stop us making this record,” says Gillespie. “If anything it was more of an inconvenience, because we had to find someone and then teach them all the songs, but there’s no ill feeling to Mani, we love Mani. We’re happy for him, truthfully.
“He finally got what he always wanted, reforming the Roses, and how many people can say that? He’s very happy, The Stone Roses are brilliant and we made a great record. The whole thing is cool.”
They have indeed made a great record. It might be their best since Screamadelica. The fact the band spent the best part of 2011 and 2012 touring that album in its entirety as a 20th anniversary celebration might explain that.
More Light is not as dub-influenced or wildly experimental and unexpected as Screamadelica, but it has its moments. You could say it is a grown-up sequel to their expansive 1991 masterpiece.
“I enjoyed the Screamadelica shows so much,” says Gillespie. “We all did, we absolutely loved them. It was something else to see the reaction from people at the concerts, how well some of the songs went down. It was nice, you know? It was great to get that love and I’d be lying if I said otherwise.
“I think if anything, doing those shows gave us confidence to make More Light. We kind of knew we were on to something good in the studio, so it was great playing Screamadelica knowing that we had something so special up our sleeves.
“I just can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”