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20 + 20 Covers Project: Bobby Gillespie

With both Dazed and Primal Scream's Screamadelica album 20 years old, we caught up with the opinionated frontman for a trip down memory lane

Like Dazed, Primal Scream also achieved lift off in the early 90s, and have been plotting a wayward course between pop and the underground ever since. We talked to the indestructible Bobby Gillespie to swap survival tips...

Dazed & Confused: How did you come across Dazed?
Bobby Gillespie:
I first bought the magazine sometime in the mid 90s. I used to buy it and think, “We should be in this mag.” Through my friends Douglas Hart and Pam Hogg I met Alister Mackie – it was around the time of the album Give Out But Don’t Give Up. I used to live in Brighton and go to London with friends... Around the time of our album Vanishing Point I ran into Alistair in Soho and he asked me if I wanted to be on the cover of Dazed & Confused. 

Jeff and Rankin were apparently big fans of Primal Scream. Jefferson was supposed to do the interview, but he never did. A girl called Bidisha did the interview instead, who, when the interview was finished showed me nude photographs of herself, black and white prints, which was kind of strange. She’s a novelist now. This was at the back of the office, where Rankin used to do his shoots. We then went across the road over to the five-a-side football pitch in the council estate; Rankin took some photos through the metal grill. It took about ten minutes. I think that was the first time I was in the magazine. Then later at the time of XTMNTR they put us on the cover, shot by Martina Hoogland Ivanow.

D&C: You must have been thinking quite a lot about 20th anniversaries this year, with the Screamadelica anniversary...
Bobby Gillespie:
1991 was a good year for us. It felt good – no it felt better than good, it felt great. We felt we were making really important records; we released “Higher Than The Sun” as a single. Alan McGee at Creation records said we should release it as a single - it wouldn’t be a hit but that didn’t matter. And he was right. People looked at Primal Scream as a new band after that record. By the autumn of 91 we had released Screamadelica and people were going crazy. We played the Empire Ballroom, Leicester Square and it was hysteria.

D&C: Did you feel like you’d be in Primal Scream in 20 years time?
Bobby Gillespie
: Half way through 1991 I wasn’t sure if Primal Scream were going to last much longer. A lot of excessive behaviour, but that’s to be expected. It was pretty excessive in the years preceding that but it had just got darker. But anyway, we’re here.

D&C: So what is the secret of being in a band for so long?
Bobby Gillespie:
We believe in the power of a great band. We always wanted to do this long-term. There was no alternative for us when we started the band, coming from the background that we came from. It wasn’t something that we were gonna do lightly. It was a serious thing. We really wanted to get out the environment we were in but more than that we wanted to make fantastic records.

D&C: Politically we are living in a similar time now, at least on the surface – we have a Conservative Prime Minister, and are fighting wars abroad. Can you compare the times?
Bobby Gillespie:
I can’t – 20 years ago I was 20 years younger and didn’t have a family. I didn’t have much responsibility so my life was different. I was probably too busy having a good time to pay too much attention to the government, but I still didn’t trust authority.

D&C: You have always been unafraid of political comment. Do you feel that is lacking in today’s musicians.
Bobby Gillespie:
People like us and Ian Brown, we were of an age that got politicised because of the background that we came from – my dad was a trade unionist, so that was in my house, that kind of militancy. Under Margaret Thatcher’s government there was a wholesale attack on the industries. The union movement was big among working class people for a long time.

Through the 80s and the 90s working class people lost their jobs and kids ceased to take on the same job as their fathers, which has led to a process of depoliticisation and a shrinking of the unions. Now David Cameron’s government want to take us back to Victorian times, but there have been generations of unemployment, so people don’t have a political discussion at home. Perhaps that’s why bands don’t talk politics today.

D&C: Do you take heart from the student protests?
Bobby Gillespie:
I thought the student protests were great. It has been great to see people taking to the streets. I guess it is about being disobedient – about not trusting anything that you see on TV or read in the newspapers. Try and keep yourself as well informed as possible. It is just self-respect really. But I’m a rock’n’roller, I just wanna sing in a rock’n’roll band. If you really want to make a change you need to devote your life to it.

D&C: The band you have chosen as your cover star is Cat’s Eyes. How did you come across them?
Bobby Gillespie:
I know Faris from The Horrors, I’m friends with those guys. I was in Rough Trade and I saw the Cat’s Eyes EP and I just bought it. I read that he had made an album with a girl, Rachel Zeffira] who was classically trained that was inspired by girl groups; I love The Ronettes, the Shangri Las, the Shirelles – I love that music. I thought I’d check it out. On the B-side was this song called “The Best Person I Know”; I thought it was beautiful. I really loved it; I played it again and again. I called Faris and asked them to open for our tour. They played two gigs at Brixton Academy; I thought they were great live. Rachel’s voice live was incredible with great slide shows made by Douglas Hart of The Jesus and Mary Chain.

D&C: Do you like them because they take music as seriously as you?
Bobby Gillespie:
You’ve got to take it seriously – but at the same time you have to laugh at yourself because being in a band has got to be fun as well. It can’t just be completely seriously.

D&C: Could you laugh at yourself 20 years ago?
Bobby Gillespie:
I don’t know! You’d have to ask my friends. Maybe it’s just something that comes with age...

Photo Rankin
Text Tim Burrows
Styling Steven Westgrath
Clothes Bobby's own; hat by Lock & Co Hatters