Me and the muse: Bobby Gillespie on his inspirations

In the week that Primal Scream release their new album, Chaosmosis, their frontman looks back at the tracks and times that shaped him

Bobby Gillespie, 53, is lead singer of Primal Scream, whose 11th album, Chaosmosis, is out on 18 March; the first single, Where the Light Gets In, features US singer, model and actor Sky Ferreira. The group have been together in various formations since 1982, with Gillespie and guitarist Andrew Innes the constant core members. Their breakthrough album, Screamadelica (1991), won the first Mercury prize and remains a landmark for its blend of rave, rock, gospel and dub reggae.

There was music in the air when I was a kid. My dad ran a folk club [in Glasgow] in the 60s and booked people like Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly. He taped the folk singers who played there and we’d listen to these crackly recordings. My dad loved Ray Charles, and he had his greatest hits album on the Stateside label – Busted, Take these Chains from My Heart, The Cincinatti Kid. Classic songs.

My mum loved the Supremes and Elvis. I remember staring at the picture sleeve of Suspicious Minds – just the beauty of his face. My brother and me used to listen to A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash and laugh at the lyrics, and then we’d play the B-side, San Quentin, and sing along – “San Quentin may you rot and burn in hell”. That was definitely a formative influence.

I was a child of Top 40 pop radio – Sweet, Slade, Bolan, Bowie, Mott the Hoople. Great glam rock. The first single I bought was Hell Raiser by Sweet. I moved to a new school and this guy stood up for me in a fight. I went back to his house and he had Electric Warrior by T Rex. Big moment. Another kid brought [David Bowie’s] Aladdin Sane to school and said: “Listen to this.” It was Time [sings], “Time – he flexes like a whore/ Falls wanking to the floor/ His trick is you and me, boy.” Another big moment. Blew my mind.

Punk was year zero for me. My brother and I listened to the John Peel radio show because we heard he was going to play God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. No one else would play it, and he did. I’d read about them and sensed something was going on but that was the epiphany. I went to see the Clash play with Richard Hell at the Glasgow Apollo, and that was another one. I was possessed and I couldn’t express what it meant to anyone who understood until Alan McGee [Creation Records boss] came along. It seemed like we were on a mission from that moment.

I approach making music as a job. Me and Andrew go to the rehearsal studio five days a week, midday to six. Some days nothing happens and we watch YouTube, or I go for a walk and he messes around on the drum machine. Some days it all comes together and you’re in the zone.

A song can start from a fragment. It might start with a chorus or even a single line or a riff. Sometimes Andrew plays something and I write a whole song there and then. Other times a line comes to you on the bus or walking down the street. I think you need to have your consciousness switched on all the time, even when you’re relaxing.

We’ve always been open to bringing people on board to help create what we hear in our heads. With Country Girl, the riff was there and the song came out of that and was hanging around half finished for a while. Then Youth [producer Martin Glover] came in and he immediately said: “That’s great but it’s a song in search of a chorus.” That’s why it’s good to bring people in – like-minded souls like Youth, David Holmes, Andrew Weatherall, Kevin Shields.

Bobby Gillespie’s top inspirations

The Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen

It made me feel alive in a way I’ve never felt since. It was an energy hit that awakened something inside of you that you didn’t even know was there. It articulated my rage as a working-class kid on a council estate. It started me on the path, and I am eternally grateful to the Pistols for that.

Public Image Ltd – Metal Box

It’s just otherworldy but oddly it also described the damp, grey, repressive, depressive state of Britain in the late 1970s better than any other record. And that’s before you even get to the lyrics. It’s an incredibly important statement that shows how so-called non-musicians can create unearthly music. It echoes still.

Sly and the Family Stone – There’s a Riot Goin’ On/Miles Davis – On the Corner

I can’t separate these two records. We listened to them endlessly in 1986 when we were touring: one on each side of a cassette. Riot is just dark, urban, paranoid, insular funk – death-funk almost insofar as it’s not moving forward, it’s all about stasis. On the Corner has some of that but I find it oddly meditative, at least I did when I was speeding. [Laughs] It’s about cut-up and collage and the producer, Teo Macero, is a master of that approach. Unreal music, really.

Peter Tosh – Equal Rights

My favourite Wailer. Bob [Marley] was the poet, Bunny [Wailer] was the mystic, but Tosh was the radical. It’s militant music with no compromise, born out of struggle but filled with empathy for the oppressed. Tosh was a wounded boy who knew injustice and his music transforms that personal experience into something universal. And it says, fight back!

Curtis Mayfield – There’s no Place Like America Today

It could be any Curtis Mayfield record, really. When I hear his voice, it just lifts me up. His music puts me in the space to create. It’s quite rare, that mix of fragility and toughness. It’s there from day one with a song like It’s Alright by the Impressions, and it’s there on his late music too, this incredible ability to sweeten the message with beautiful melodies. He’s a complete inspiration as a songwriter, musician and arranger. Curtis lives!


Sean O'Hagan

The GuardianTramp

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