Primal Scream have had a busy few years, writing and arranging new songs while also touring their seminal 1991 album Screamadelica, but the work has paid off with More Light, a dark, richly layered album which is arguably their best work in years. If you want to hear it live, you’re in luck — the band will play in Leisureland, Galway, on October 26.
According to front man Bobby Gillespie, work started on the new album before the Screamadelica tour launched in 2011, and was arranged and recorded with producer David Holmes whenever time allowed.
“We started in November 2010 and we spent the year arranging, rehearsing with the band again, getting the live show together,” Gillespie recalled. “We’d do a couple of days a week, and me and Andrew [Innes] would do a couple of days a week, and we had a couple of days in Belfast to work with David Holmes, and go back to the studio in London. There was no real pattern to it. We’d just slowly work on songs and try to make it into something good. We spent a lot of time working on the Screamadelica tour the last two years on and off, so I was away quite a lot. The main thing is we made a good record.”
They certainly did. More Light, the band’s 10th studio album, has psychedelic overtones and a wide range of influences, from post punk to strings, but sounds unmistakably Primal Scream, no mean feat for a band with a tendency to reinvent itself.
Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and experimental jazz ensemble Sun Ra Arkestra both feature on the album, though their input owes as much to serendipity as to design.
“Robert’s a friends of ours,” Gillespie said of Plant. “I went into the studio early one morning. I was in the area an hour before I should have been, and I went for coffee. Robert and his girlfriend walked past the window. I ran out, and we had big hugs and I said hi and we got chatting. He was asking how the band was getting on, I said we had recorded a lot of songs for a new record. He said I’m here till Thursday and if you need me, get in touch. I went to the studio, and Andrew and me both looked at each other, and — ‘Elimination Blues’, there was something missing, a male voice. We had tried a girl’s voice and it didn’t work. I called Nicola Powell, who works for Robert, she’s a friend too, and said maybe Robert could come down to the studio. He called and said, what key is the song in and I’ll bring a harmonica [Plant had previously played harmonica on Primal Scream’s 2002 album Evil Heat]. We said you can bring a harmonica if you want, but we want you to sing this time. We took it to LA and it was good, because people play things by chance that are fantastic.”
Plant lends his trademark vocals to a plaintive refrain of ‘uh-huhs’ on ‘Elimination Blues’, while the Sun Ra Arkestra play on ‘River of Pain’, something which came about as the orchestra was stranded in the UK during the Iceland volcanic eruption in 2010.
“Thank God for the volcano,” Gillespie mused. “Sun Ra Arkestra, that was an amazing session. When Sun Ra died Marshall Allen took over, he’s in his eighties I think [he’s 89]. It was amazing, It was a great session. We filmed it. Douglas Hart filmed it, he was the bass player in the Jesus & Mary Chain, and he’s a great filmmaker. I haven’t seen it, but he’s brilliant.”
Gillespie gave up drink and drugs five years ago, and much has been made of the fact that this is the first album he has made while completely sober, a point which clearly irks him.
“We weren’t absolutely hammered in the studio,” he said. “We’re very disciplined guys, Andrew and me, from the nineties we went to the studio five days a week, we weren’t getting hammered all the time, because you wouldn’t get anything done. Maybe at the weekend. We’d obviously lost some days to the stuff. I’ve been completely clean for five years, so this is the first record I’ve made completely clean. It’s just boring to talk about, you just get on with your life. I think, I’m clean and I’ve made a good record as a result. You can hear the quality in this record compared to the last two. It was having a bad effect on my life and had been for years, but you don’t want to think about it. You just grow up and sort it out.”
Primal Scream will play several dates in California this month before coming to Ireland for four gigs, including Leisureland, and then it’s off to Japan in early November, followed by a whistle stop tour of Europe, before returning to the UK in December. It will be a hectic few months of touring.
“Really this is the start of a real tour where you’re playing different towns every night, and you’re in a tour bus,” he said. “Up to now it’s been festival gigs and playing with the Stone Roses. It’s been a bit disjointed, I don’t feel we’ve toured it yet. It’s going to be hard on my wife, who has her own successful career as well. I’m going to miss everybody. I know when I get back from these little jaunts I am going to be exhausted, but I know if I get to the start of December I’ll be fine. That will be the most concentrated part.
“It’s pleasurable as well,” he added. “It’s great to get out and play this stuff, that’s what we do.”
Primal Scream will play Leisureland on October 26. The event is a ‘Róisín Dubh presents...’ gig and tickets are available at www.roisindubh.net, the ticket desk at OMG, Shop Street, (formerly Zhivago), and the Róisín Dubh.