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The understated influence of Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie

While Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie might not make everyone’s list of Britain’s most iconic musical sons, it remains a somewhat bleak truth that his influence is often criminally overlooked. The Scottish frontman formed the band almost 40 years ago, and since that moment, they’ve gone on to become one of the nation’s finest exports. That said, Gillespie’s journey isn’t your typical rock ‘n’ roll origin story.

Before Primal Scream became Gillespie’s full-time focus, he was the drummer for The Jesus and Mary Chain and played on their brilliant debut album, Psychocandy, in 1985. The band grew frustrated with Gillespie splitting his time between Mary Chain and Primal Scream, offering him an ultimatum between the two. The difficult decision turned out to be the perfect push for Gillespie to dedicate himself to Scream, and he didn’t look back.

Their 1987 debut, Sonic Flower Groove, arrived on major label Elevation and sold a sufficient amount of records – by independent standards, that is. However, it was a far cry from what the label expected after pouring time and money into the group. Primal Scream were abruptly dropped by Elevation after the album and they arrived back at square one, but Gillespie didn’t let it get him down.

Following the commercial problems that surrounded their debut album, Bobby Gillespie moved to Brighton to restructure the group and forge a definitive style, presence and sound for Primal Scream. However, it wasn’t plain sailing, despite a clear artistic vision, their eponymous sophomore album was even more commercially disastrous than their first effort. The project completely failed to chart, but Creation Records and Alan McGee didn’t give up on Primal Scream. The next album was the group’s last chance, and they couldn’t afford to miss, or Gillespie may have had to move back to behind the drumkit.

Screamadelica saw Primal Scream ditch their indie-rock roots and draw influence from the burgeoning house scene. They took a gamble, brought Andrew Weatherall in as a producer, and the result was one of the most cherished albums of the decade. The record won the inaugural Mercury Prize in 1992 and has sold over three million copies worldwide since. In the blink of an eye, Primal Scream’s fortunes changed dramatically, and they suddenly had the world in the palm of their hands — but where do you go from there?

Well, rather than following the same formula that changed their fortunes, Primal Scream refused to attempt to recreate Screamadelica. Instead, they moved on again with the 1994 blues-tinged effort Give Out But Don’t Give Up, before keeping their experimental instincts alive by moving into krautrock territory on 1997’s Vanishing Point.

Although there’s much more to Primal Scream than their 1991 magnum opus, it’ll always be the artistic expression that props up Bobby Gillespie’s legacy, simply because of its zeitgeist nature. Whenever that period of time is documented in film or TV, almost certainly you’ll find a cut from Screamadelica soundtracking a scene in what feels like the only natural way to capture the essence of the ’90s.

Bobby Gillespie is still influencing music today. (Credit: Nmartinezr)

The record is still influencing popular culture today. Just this month, Lorde revealed that her new track, ‘Solar Power’, was shaped by ‘Loaded’. Speaking to Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1, Lorde said: “I had never heard Primal Scream in my life. I’d been told to check them out. I wrote the song on the piano, and then we realised it sounds a lot like ‘Loaded’. It’s just one of those crazy things that they just were the spiritual forebears of the song.”

The New Zealand pop singer then stated she spoke to Gillespie about the similarities between the songs, and the singer was “so lovely about it”. “He was like, ‘You know, these things happen, you caught a vibe that we caught years ago,'” she noted. “And he gave us his blessing. So let the record state ‘Loaded’ is 100 per cent the original blueprint for this, but we arrived at it organically. And I’m glad we did.”

“It was one of the first to set off an explosion in our heads,” Daft Punk’s Guy Manuel said of Screamadelica’s influence to Melody Maker. Meanwhile, Mark Ronson noted: “‘Loaded’ is one of those ‘change your life’ type songs…It made me start listening to guitar music because Screamadelica proved that so-called indie bands were capable of so much more.”

The album captured a rare moment in time, and even if you weren’t born during the time it was released, Screamadelica transports you there in a bright splash of ’90s colour. It set a new blueprint and showed that rock ‘n’ roll could still be progressive by incorporating exciting new facets to the genre.

If you take a moment to look back at the all-time classic albums, the redeeming factor thank links them all together is the pioneering elements that attempt to reinvent the wheel. Screamadelica successfully did that in previously unthinkable ways. The record single-handedly made artists from all across the musical spectrum realise that anything was possible, and there’s a beauty in boldness.

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