Book review: Tenement Kid, by Bobby Gillespie

Ranging from his childhood in Sixties Springburn to breakthrough success with Primal Scream, Bobby Gillespie’s autobiography is written with both passion and eloquence, writes Fiona Shepherd

Bobby Gillespie

As frontman of righteous indie rockers Primal Scream, Bobby Gillespie has always talked a good game but that gift of the gab is backed up by a passion for his subject, be it music, style, youth culture, politics, class struggle or football. All feature in some detail in Tenement Kid.

Gillespie’s early life story – traced in this memoir up to the release of Primal Scream’s breakthrough album Screamadelica – is not especially remarkable but this son of a trade unionist and Collins employee has inherited his parents’ erudition as much as their left-wing politics and taste in music, so his diverse vignettes and cultural side-bars are eloquently argued.

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Like Mark E Smith before him, he writes fondly about football. His happy times on the Boys Brigade football team taught him the value of teamwork and organisation, while Jock Stein’s strategy in the 1967 European Cup influenced Primal Scream’s approach to playing live, where every gig should be “a commando raid on the soul”.

Tenement Kid, by Bobby Gillespie

Gillespie has now spent longer living away from than in his native Glasgow but the city is retroactively conjured, from his childhood days growing up in Sixties Springburn to his adolescence in Mount Florida, where aggression was a daily feature of life. Although Gillespie claims to be a lover, not a fighter, he revels in the chaos and was ripe for punk, providing an ecstatic description of the explosive effect of hearing The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen.

Like so many of his peers, he was an unwitting beneficiary of punk’s DIY democracy, falling into touring with Altered Images, The Wake and pop provocateurs the Jesus & Mary Chain, who were a rowdy riposte to the prevailing sound of Eighties Glasgow, dismissed witheringly as “Bowie Young Americans casualties dressed in awful clothes and dry, limp quiffs playing white-boy ‘funk’ that was as funky as Margaret and Dennis Thatcher attempting to dance the Funky Chicken: naff central.”

Gillespie’s tribal response was to make his own scene as part of the collective which ran legendary Glasgow club night Splash One. On leaving the Mary Chain, he concentrates on his other band, Primal Scream.

Their looser set-up eventually pays dividends when Gillespie relocates to Brighton, experiences an acid house epiphany, and commissions DJ Andrew Weatherall – a Scream believer when no one else would touch them – to remix album track I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. He reportedly took three attempts because he was too respectful of the original and had to be instructed to “stop fannying about – you’ve just got to f***ing destroy it.” The resulting track, Loaded, became Primal Scream’s debut hit and the gateway to the Screamadelica album, 30 years young and still a classic.

Tenement Kid, by Bobby Gillespie, White Rabbit/Orion, £20

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