Primal Scream is something of an ever-changing format. The iconic Scottish rock project, masterminded by Bobby Gillespie, has seen many members come and go since its formation in 1982. Mani, Jim Beattie, Barrie Cadogan and Toby Toman are just a handful of the well-respected musicians who have graced the studio and stage with Primal Scream and then departed for various reasons.
Another semi-permanent member that Primal Scream once boasted was Kevin Shields, the artistic driving force behind shoegaze legends, My Bloody Valentine. A master at the guitar and in the studio, Shields’ pedigree needs no real introduction.
In the late 1990s, Primal Scream found themselves having something of a rebirth which was aided by the introduction of Mani and the release of the fifth album Vanishing Point. Then, in February 1998, the band released the If They Move, Kill ‘Em EP, their first effort to feature Shields, which also saw him remix the title track.
Seemingly galvanised by the injection of creative energy that Shields brought, later in 1998, he joined them on tour and was a huge influence on the stylistic direction they would embark on for the next few years, seeing them into the new millennium.
The band hit their stride recording their follow up to Vanishing Point, which would become the 2000 record XTRMNTR. Mostly free of drugs, and with a stable lineup, the band now had a strong footing to follow a visceral musical direction. Some of the tracks on XTRMNTR rank amongst the most unrelenting in the entirety of the band’s back catalogue and a lot of this was undoubtedly due to Shields’ involvement.
By this point, Shields had become a semi-permanent member, appearing on tracks and assisting in production duties — and he wasn’t the only legend to prop up the band’s music, either. Notably, the record features some other stellar guests, including The Chemical Brothers and Bernard Sumner.
Another memorable facet of XTRMNTR is the heavily politicised lyrics, Gillespie later stating that the band were attempting to demonstrate “what it’s like to be in Britain in this day and age”. Gillespie and the band’s thoughts were made loud and clear, and the line from the bridge of debut single ‘Swastika Eyes’ is one that particularly sticks out in the memory. It reads: “I see your autosuggestion psychology / Elimination policy / A military-industrial / Illusion of democracy”. Gillespie also claimed that ‘Swastika Eyes’ was written with “American international terrorism” in mind, a theme that would become all the more pertinent and controversial over the next couple of years.
The in-your-face nature of the album was well-received by critics and fans alike, and it seemed that Primal Scream were here to stay, writing the perceived wrongs that nearly ended the band after 1994’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up. After XTRMNTR, the band then released Evil Heat in 2002. Hailed as the middle ground musically and thematically between 1991’s Screamadelica and XTRMNTR, it is one of the best-beloved entries in their discography. The album featured Robert Plant, Kate Moss, Jim Reid, and Shields again, who provided guitar textures for the track ‘City’.
Hitting their stride, in 2005, Primal Scream played a brilliant but controversial set at Glastonbury. Gillespie was alleged to have made gestures to the crowd using Nazi salutes during ‘Swastika Eyes’ and was abusive in a fairly innocuous, Iggy Pop style. The band were forced off after running over their set time, and Gillespie had already drawn the ire of the festival organisers after altering the ‘Make Poverty History’ poster to ‘Make Israel History’, which he said was in support of the Palestinian cause.
Although Gillespie and the band were on fire during the set, Shields’ inclusion is brilliant. Donning a bright red Mosrite, he augments the band’s sound with his textures and hard, punk-influenced playing, and it makes us wish that he’d have become a permanent member instead of always having one foot out the door.
Shields would depart in 2006, and the band chose Killing Joke founding member Youth as the producer for their next outing, Riot City Blues. Speculation arose about the band having a possible fallout with Shields, aided by the band claiming that they themselves were unsure of the situation. It was soon put to bed though, as Shields joined them on the tour for the album.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the last time Shields and Primal Scream would collaborate. The shoegazing wizard appeared on the lead single for 2013’s More Light, the inventively named ‘2013’. Politically driven and featuring some classic textures from Shields, it’s a shame that they haven’t worked together since.
Primal Scream is an ever-evolving format, and Kevin Shields is a hard man to pin down, so there’s no real surprise that the fruitful relationship between the two wound down. However, this isn’t to say this is definitive. Who knows what the future has in store? Maybe one day, Shields, Gillespie and Co. will reunite and provide us with some more sonic treats.
Watch the chaotic Primal Scream 2005 Glastonbury performance below.