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Primal Scream: Many Happy Returns To 'Screamadelica'

Friday, 23 September 2016 Written by Graeme Marsh

Until 1989, Primal Scream had hardly set the world alight. Formed in 1982, their debut album ‘Sonic Flower Groove’ (1987) was a collection of Byrdsian jangle pop that sold disappointingly and led to a divide that saw singer Bobby Gillespie, guitarist Andrew Innes and bassist Rob Young as the three remaining members from an initial five. The band’s eponymous follow up, released two years later, suffered the same fate. But something else happened that year that would change their fortunes forever.

In the late ‘80s, acid house exploded on to the UK clubbing scene through warehouse parties, with many springing up on London’s South Bank. With its cocktail of drugs, music and an open-hearted attitude, the hedonistic raves soon echoed the psychedelic era.

Terry Farley, Cymon Eckel, Steve Mayes and Andrew Weatherall (aka The Outsider) embraced the scene’s creative, DIY ethic. Their fanzine , Boy’s Own, was born out of the pre-house clubbing movement in 1986, but would become a cult outlet by documenting acid house with an anarchic, satirical eye.

Weatherall had enjoyed playing records his whole life, beginning with spinning his newest discs to an audience of mates. His love of sharing music developed over the years into something far bigger, leading to a stint as a DJ at Danny Rampling’s storied, Balearic-influenced Shoom club. Acid house continued to rise and Weatherall was at the centre of it all.

Meanwhile, Primal Scream’s manager, Alan McGee, had been soaking up the club scene and was among a number of people nudging them towards it. The band’s path would soon cross with Weatherall’s when Creation Records’ press officer Jeff Barrett - who would later set up Heavenly - passed a copy of the band’s flailing sophomore album to the DJ.

He liked it, writing about it in Boy's Own, and Innes subsequently suggested that he take a run at remixing one of its songs: I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. “It was in the chill-out lounge at a club called Spectrum with Alex Patterson [the Orb] DJing – I remember whale noises,” he told NME in 2011. “I wasn’t daunted by the idea, because I was so inexperienced. I didn’t realise how little I knew. I didn’t know how to programme drum machines – but I knew what worked on the dancefloor.”

His first attempt was, as he described it, too polite.  Innes subsequently told him to “just fucking destroy it”.  He did, incorporating samples from disparate sources to the tune of it becoming Loaded. “I had no idea how big the song would get,” he continued. “It was very slow and there was a north-south divide then – the BPMs in the south were slower than in the north and I just thought a 95bpm jiggly-shuffler would be a localised thing; very wrong.”

As had become a trait for Weatherall during his own DJ sets, the song was preceded by a sample. Peter Fonda’s voice, lifted from The Wild Angels, a tale centred around motorcycle counterculture, would give it a further stamp of individuality and later become iconic: “Just what is it that you want to do? We wanna be free. We wanna be free to do what we wanna do. And we wanna get loaded. And we wanna have a good time…”

The single became a big hit, reaching number 16 in the UK chart, a huge improvement on Primal Scream’s previous best: 86 for both Gentle Tuesday and Imperial in 1987. It heralded a new sound for the band, a new direction and even a new following as they tapped into the rave scene just as McGee had hoped.  

The song became a club anthem in the process and gave them a huge song with which to champion a new album, ‘Screamadelica’, which would be completed in 1991. “After Loaded, I just carried on in my bumbling, ignorant, up myself kind of way,” Weatherall told NME of his efforts on the rest of the LP. “Looking back, my arrogance makes me wince but I would never have had the confidence to do it if I didn’t have that kind of attitude.”

The band’s new approach wasn’t all about Weatherall, though. Jimmy Miller, best known for his work with the Rolling Stones, a touchstone band for Primal Scream, was unearthed and subsequently put a classic twist on the record’s opener, Movin’ On Up.

“I’d met him at New Music Seminar in New York in 1989,” McGee explained in his autobiography. “He had a bright red face and OK I thought, he’s a fucking alcoholic. Like I could care less. He played me a track he’d been working on with another band and it sounded exactly like it could have come from ‘Exile On Main Street’.

"I realised immediately that this is his sound and the next thought was, ‘I can apply this to Primal Scream’. They learned a lot from Jimmy Miller. He taught them how to get the groove that the Stones had. It was about using cowbells on the off-beats, hand claps and different percussion. Call and response with the vocals and the guitars.”

Between them, Weatherall and Miller had a hand in 10 of the 11 tracks on ‘Screamadelica’, including in Weatherall’s case the cover of the 13th Floor Elevators’ song Slip Inside This House, whose title took on new meaning in their new scene. The one other track on the album – Higher Than The Sun – saw the Orb take up the production baton.

With so many influential collaborators on the record, success was perhaps inevitable despite its dicey beginnings. The album soared into the UK top 10 and won the first Mercury Prize. While the songs remained the original work of the band, the impact from the other contributors elevated both ‘Screamadelica’ and Primal Scream to another level entirely.

Many Happy Returns.

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