PRI­MAL SCREAM

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The in­die-dance débauchés went to Mem­phis in 1993 on a soul pil­grim­age. The LP they made emerges in its true colours at last.

In 1994, PrI­mal Scream re­leased Give Out But Don’t Give Up, their brave but flawed at­tempt to chan­nel the spir­its of South­ern soul and rock. For years, its orig­i­nal mem­phis mix was but a leg­end. Now a reis­sue, and a BBc doc­u­men­tary, has brought it back from the dead, along with the ghosts and fa­bles – not to men­tion the at­tempted mur­der – at­tached to its cre­ation. “Ba­si­cally, we lost faith,” the band tell BoB mehr. Por­trait by Tom Shee­haN

“Our ini­tial re­ac­tion was, ‘A new al­bum? What I need is to go to bed for the next six months!’” An­drew Innes

T’S NOVEM­BER 1992, AND PRI­MAL SCREAM ARE gath­ered at Round­house Stu­dios in Cam­den Town, with Jimmy Miller, the pro­duc­tion ar­chi­tect of The Rolling Stones’ late-’60s/early-’70s golden era, at­tempt­ing to de­liver a wor­thy fol­low-up to 1991’s genre-melt­ing Screa­madel­ica LP. But given the dearth of ma­te­rial – the band have only one fin­ished song, and the chords to an­other – the ses­sion is pretty much doomed from the start. “We’d start jam­ming each night about one o’clock in the morn­ing, so we never saw any daylight,” says Scream gui­tarist An­drew Innes. “We were just play­ing the same two songs over and over. It turned re­ally neg­a­tive very quickly.” “The drum­mer was fall­ing asleep in the mid­dle of songs,” says singer Bobby Gille­spie. “We were do­ing Ever ybody Needs Some­body and af­ter the gui­tar solo I start singing and… there’s no drums. I look out from the vo­cal booth and he’s nod­ded out. ‘Wake up, ya fuck­ing cunt!’” Over a chicken salad lunch at a Mem­phis café, in a break from film­ing a BBC doc­u­men­tary that re­vis­its this myth­laden pe­riod in the group’s his­tory, Pri­mal Scream are strug­gling to de­scribe the mix­ture of ex­haus­tion and nar­cotic en­er­va­tion that fol­lowed their no­to­ri­ously de­bauched 15-month tour sup­port­ing the smash hit Screa­madel­ica. “We were burnt out phys­i­cally and cre­atively,” says Innes. Yet the band’s Cre­ation Records la­bel­boss, Alan McGee, had re­cently sold a 50 per cent stake to Sony Mu­sic, and was press­ing them to head back into the stu­dio. “Our ini­tial re­ac­tion was, ‘A new al­bum? What I need is to go to bed for the next six months!’” Gille­spie, Innes, gui­tarist Robert ‘Throb’ Young and key­board player Martin Duffy per­se­vered with the al­co­hol-im­paired Miller, then Screa­madel­ica col­lab­o­ra­tor Hugo Ni­col­son, to no avail. “We were in there for weeks, par­ty­ing the whole time,” con­cedes Gille­spie. An­other is­sue was the ma­te­rial. “Every time we wrote, out came a bal­lad, an­other sad song. Maybe ev­ery­body was feel­ing like that,” says Gille­spie, then gorg­ing on the R&B of O.V. Wright and James Carr, and the coun­try soul of Don­nie Fritts and Dan Penn. “Robert would play these riffs, these beau­ti­ful plain­tive melodies – like (I’m Gonna) Cry My­self Blind or Free. It was kinda ob­vi­ous that’s the record we needed to make.” But who could help re­alise such a record, and where? Joe McEwen, the band’s US A&R man at Sire Records, sug­gested Tom Dowd. A New York-born physics wun­derkind turned record pro­ducer, Dowd had been the creative cat­a­lyst dur­ing At­lantic Records’ glory years, ush­ered in the era of mul­ti­track record­ing, worked with gi­ants of every genre – Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin – and helped shape soul mu­sic with his work at Stax and Mus­cle Shoals. “Dowd was in­volved in mak­ing some of our favourite records, and we wanted to know how you made those records,” says Gille­spie. Alan McGee was less en­thu­si­as­tic. He didn’t re­ally know who the 67-year-old Dowd was, and tried to steer the band towards a more con­tem­po­rary choice, The Black Crowes’ pro­ducer Ge­orge Drak­ou­lias, who would ul­ti­mately fig­ure in the al­bum’s com­ple­tion. But Gille­spie was set on an­other path; one that re­turned to Ar­dent Stu­dios in Mem­phis, where on a brief visit in 1991, Pri­mal Scream had cut tracks for 1992’s Dixie-Narco EP. This time, though, Gille­spie wanted to go the whole hog. That meant us­ing drum­mer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood, the FAME/Mus­cle Shoals Sound rhythm sec­tion who’d backed ev­ery­one from Wil­son Pick­ett to Wil­lie Nel­son, Bobby Wo­mack to Bob Seger. “We were look­ing for a feel,” says Gille­spie. “Peo­ple in rock mu­sic, es­pe­cially in the ’90s, you couldn’t have found a drum­mer that could feel that shite. We had to go get the old guys.”

IN OUR MEM­PHIS CAFÉ, BOBBY GILLE­SPIE IS MIDsen­tence when his eyes light up at the sight of David Hood. Still fit and vi­brant at 74, Hood has ar­rived to do an in­ter­view for the BBC film. “David!” shouts Gille­spie, spring­ing up from the ta­ble, “How are ya, man?!” It’s been more than two decades since they’ve seen one an­other. As Gille­spie and Innes sur­round him, Hood opens his jacket to re­veal a bright yel­low Screa­madel­ica T-shirt, a sou­venir from their time to­gether. Back in 1993, Hood had no idea who Pri­mal Scream were. “When I got the call, they were de­scribed as a young Scot­tish group, kinda like The Rolling Stones,” he re­calls. “We weren’t to­tally sure about work­ing with them, and I sorta had to talk Roger [Hawkins] into do­ing it. But we felt like it would be an ad­ven­ture.” That spring, Hood and Hawkins ar­rived in Lon­don for pre­pro­duc­tion – or, more ac­cu­rately, to in­te­grate them­selves into Pri­mal Scream. “We went to their lo­cal pub and it was like the bar scene from Star Wars. Peo­ple with tat­toos and pierc­ings, all kinds of crazy things,” says Hood. “Between their Glas­gow ac­cents and our Alabama ac­cents it was about three days be­fore any­body could un­der­stand a word any­one was say­ing.” For Pri­mal Scream, wood­shed­ding with mem­bers of the Mus­cle Shoals Swampers (as the stu­dio’s rhythm sec­tion was known) was an eye­open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “It was re­ally hard at first,” ad­mits An­drew Innes. “I thought, I can’t play with these guys. I felt I must not be very good. Even­tu­ally it clicked. Then it was, All right, that’s what we’re meant to sound like.” For Gille­spie, the re­hearsals made him self­con­scious as a singer and lyri­cist. “Some­times I’d mud­dle the words ’cos I didn’t want peo­ple to hear them,” he says. “But I no­ticed that Roger Hawkins is look­ing at me in­tensely when I’m singing. Af­ter four days or five days of this, dur­ing a break, I fi­nally went to Roger: ‘Hey man, why do you keep look­ing at me?’ He said, ‘’Cos I’m tr ying to feeeel what you’re sin­gin’, man.’ I was like, This guy’s played with some of the best peo­ple ever – Aretha, Wil­son Pick­ett – he’s prob­a­bly think­ing, ‘Who is this skinny punk who can’t sing?’” By the end of the two and a half weeks of re­hearsal, the band were ready to ship off to Mem­phis. “We put our­selves in the deep end go­ing over there and work­ing with Tom, Roger and David,” says Martin Duffy. “We had to raise our game. It was a turn­ing point of ma­tur­ing and believ­ing in our­selves as mu­si­cians. Look­ing back now, it kinda made the band in a lot of ways.”

AF­TER LAND­ING IN MEM­PHIS AT THE END OF May 1993, Pri­mal Scream re­ceived some bad news: Tom Dowd would be de­layed, as he’d had to un­dergo a small but ur­gent surgery. Rather than sit twid­dling their thumbs at Ar­dent, the band drove south to North Alabama, hook­ing up with Hawkins and Hood on their home turf. “We stuck out a bit in Mus­cle Shoals, because we walked ev­ery­where,” says Gille­spie. “I think David Hood had a word with the lo­cal cops. ‘If you see some guys go­ing about with long hair and you can’t un­der­stand what they’re say­ing, don’t worry, they’re our friends.’” The com­bined Scream/Swampers band con­tin­ued re­hears­ing to­gether, writ­ing new songs in­clud­ing the stand­out bal­lad Sad And Blue. On their re­turn to Mem­phis, they were met by Ar­dent en­gi­neer Jeff Pow­ell. He’d worked with the Scream in ’91, and was struck by the tight bond ➢

that had de­vel­oped between the band and Hawkins and Hood. “They were al­most like old friends by the time they got to the stu­dio,” says Pow­ell. When Dowd fi­nally ar­rived, things got se­ri­ous. “I’ve never seen any­body have more con­trol of ev­ery­thing go­ing on in a ses­sion,” says Pow­ell. The an­i­mated Dowd loved to get on the stu­dio floor, wav­ing his arms and con­duct­ing the play­ers – whether it was Mem­phis Horns Wayne Jack­son and An­drew Love, or back­ing singers Su­san Mar­shall and Jackie John­son. “Dowd would have the bars of the song writ­ten out, mea­sure by mea­sure. He’d fol­low with his hand as the band played. Then he’d say, ‘All right, back in the fifth bar in the bridge, the sec­ond beat – what were you do­ing there?’ He was that into it, he was that de­tailed.” “Tom took charge and we were pre­pared to lis­ten,” con­firms Innes. “You can’t re­ally ar­gue if he says some­thing. It was good enough for John Coltrane… OK, that’s good enough for us.” Gille­spie in­sists they ap­proached the ses­sions pro­fes­sion­ally (“If we had been wrecks, Tom Dowd would’ve said, ‘See ya later!’”). Still, the Scream were mag­nets for a cer­tain kind of ac­tion. “The first per­son we met in Mem­phis – the driver from the car hire place – was wear­ing a High Times cap. We asked, ‘Can you sort us out?’ Which he did,” re­calls Innes. “We were trying get away from all the bad in­flu­ences in Lon­don and that’s the first guy we meet off the plane! But that’s our band.” Among the as­sort­ment of odd char­ac­ters hang­ing around the ses­sions was a wealthy for­mer debu­tante, known as the Quaalude Queen. Also pre­sent was a dealer who car­ried around a brief­case full of gear. The band nick­named him Face Ache, because he was sell­ing drugs to fi­nance an ex­pen­sive ad­dic­tion to plas­tic surgery. Throb would oc­ca­sion­ally dis­ap­pear to God-knows-where; Duffy was reg­u­larly booted from the lo­cal tav­ern, and Innes’s visit to Grace­land ended with him passed out on its front lawn. “But there was no fuck­ing about in the stu­dio,” in­sists Gille­spie. “We were so hon­oured to work with these guys. When I lis­ten to the orig­i­nal tracks, the Pri­mal Scream guys are right in there with the Mus­cle Shoals guys. We gave a good ac­count of our­selves.” Gille­spie ended up de­liv­er­ing some of his best vo­cal per­for­mances with Tom Dowd’s en­cour­age­ment. “Tom would get a chair and go out there with him, and kill the talk­back,” says Pow­ell. “Dowd said when you’re do­ing vo­cals that’s a pri­vate thing between the pro­ducer and the singer. He did a lot of coach­ing.” Gille­spie’s con­fi­dence only wa­vered at the end, when he en­listed Screa­madel­ica singer Denise John­son to han­dle lead vo­cals on Free. Through­out the sum­mer, the band worked hard to make what they felt would be a clas­sic rock’n’soul al­bum. Gille­spie, in par­tic­u­lar, burned with a pur­pose that took the seen-it-all ses­sion vet­er­ans by sur­prise. “One night we sat around my house and played Stax sin­gles ’til the sun came up,” re­calls Pow­ell. “Bobby was weep­ing, say­ing, ‘This! This is what we’re trying to do!’ It was this im­pas­sioned plea about how im­por­tant this mu­sic was to him. I thought, Wow, he ain’t play­ing around.”

AF­TER FIVE WEEKS IN MEM­PHIS, PRI­MAL Scream took a break to let Pow­ell mix the al­bum. Innes and Gille­spie took a road trip to New Or­leans, while Young and Duffy re­turned to the UK. The plan was to re­con­vene at Ar­dent in a week’s time. When Gille­spie and Innes re­turned to the stu­dio, they re­ceived a con­fused, dis­tress­ing re­port. “We got word that our pi­ano player had been shot… or stabbed,” says Gille­spie. “No one knew what had hap­pened. We still don’t know what hap­pened to him.” On their way back, Duffy, Young and mem­bers of the Scream ret­inue stopped in New York City. At the end of a long night, a bar­man no­ticed that Duffy, slumped over a ta­ble, was bleed­ing pro­fusely from his side. “All I know is what the doc­tor in the UK later said – that it was a knife wound, he said it was a pro­fes­sional job,” says Duffy. “My whole lower spine was haem­or­rhaged, an­other cen­time­tre I would’ve been dead. It’s not like I fell on a bro­ken bot­tle. But I don’t re­mem­ber ex­actly how it hap­pened or who did it – that’s prob­a­bly a good thing.” Duffy was patched up and sent back to the UK to con­va­lesce. Young, some­what trau­ma­tised by the whole or­deal, ar­rived in Mem­phis in a dark mood. These were the cir­cum­stances un­der which Dowd and Pow­ell played the band the al­bum mixes for the first time. When the fi­nal notes rang out, the pro­ducer and en­gi­neer waited for a re­ac­tion. But the mem­bers of Pri­mal Scream sat stone-faced, say­ing noth­ing. “Maybe it was shock when we heard it,” says Gille­spie. “Because it was so dif­fer­ent than any­thing we’d done be­fore.” What hap­pened next, and why, re­mains an­other mys­tery. “It’s all fuzzy to me,” says Gille­spie, “but Innes reck­ons that we felt it was too slick. That we wanted it to be more punk – not punk like the Pis­tols, but a bit more edgy, more fucked up. But Tom Dowd does not do fucked up. So we fucked it up our­selves. The truth is we prob­a­bly just pan­icked.” The band made im­me­di­ate ef­forts to re­cut one song, Big Jet Plane, at Ar­dent. In Duffy’s ab­sence pi­anist/pro­ducer Jim Dick­in­son stepped in on Wurl­itzer. (“He was a hero of ours, so that was cool,” says Gille­spie.) Even af­ter a bit more tweak­ing in Mem­phis, the band were still un­sure. They took the tapes back to Eng­land and soon sent for Pow­ell to help them remix the record com­pletely. Work­ing at Ja­cobs Stu­dio in Sur­rey, things only grew more con­fused as the band con­tin­ued tin­ker­ing. “Once we started, we didn’t stop,” says Gille­spie. “Ba­si­cally, we lost faith.” At this point, Cre­ation’s Alan McGee stepped in, again sug­gest­ing they en­list Ge­orge Drak­ou­lias. The band shipped off three tracks – (I’m Gonna) Cry My­self Blind, Jail­bird and Rocks – to Los An­ge­les for him to re­work and remix. The pro­ducer de­liv­ered souped-up, glammed-out ver­sions of the songs. “Ge­orge was great, and he made Rocks into a hit, he made it more con­tem­po­rary,” says Gille­spie, who trav­elled with the band to LA to re­cut Call On Me with Drak­ou­lias. “Sud­denly, it was like, OK, this is good – but… it shifted the whole record.”

“The record we in­tended to make, we ac­tu­ally made it… it just never got re­leased.” Bobby Gille­spie

Cre­ation then sug­gested Par­lia­ment/P-Funk mae­stro Ge­orge Clin­ton – an­other Scream hero – get in­volved. Clin­ton was sent Funky Jam and Free, and es­sen­tially cre­ated a new track in Give Out But Don’t Give Up. The band then en­listed An­drew Weather­all, Bren­dan Lynch and Jimmy Miller for fur­ther remixes. “In the end the whole thing be­came more like Screa­madel­ica,” says Gille­spie. When the mu­tated 12-track Give Out But Don’t Give Up ar­rived in March 1994, re­views were mixed. Some crit­ics ac­cused the band of musical tourism. “Back in those days you couldn’t de­fend your­self. The mu­sic press just ripped you apart,” says Gille­spie. “They’d been prais­ing us to the skies, and then they thought, We’re go­ing to bring those fuck­ers down.” Though the al­bum was a com­mer­cial suc­cess – Rocks reached Num­ber 7 on the UK sin­gles charts; the al­bum peaked at Num­ber 2 – the al­ter­ations left al­most ev­ery­one un­sat­is­fied. “Tom Dowd was not su­per happy,” says Jeff Pow­ell. “He wrote Bobby a let­ter, and there was some hurt feel­ings there.” When he heard the record, David Hood was left scratch­ing his head. “I said, ‘Man this isn’t nearly as good as what we’d done in Mem­phis,’” says Hood. “They cut it all up and sam­pled it and ran it back­wards, did crazy things with it. I was re­ally sort of dis­ap­pointed with the re­sults.” Pri­mal Scream would move on, shift­ing musical styles nu­mer­ous times – but the dis­ap­point­ment over Give Out… lin­gered. “I felt a sense of fail­ure about that al­bum,” ad­mits Gille­spie. “For me, it was al­ways a bit of an open wound.”

JULY 2018: IT’S A SWEL­TER­ING AF­TER­NOON IN Mem­phis, and Jeff Pow­ell is fi­nally fin­ish­ing a job he started a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago. These days Pow­ell op­er­ates his own vinyl mas­ter­ing stu­dio, down the street from the old Sun Stu­dios, and he’s prep­ping the lac­quers of his orig­i­nal mixes of Give Out But Don’t Give Up. Turn­ing up the vol­ume on Big Jet Plane, he falls silent. “When I lis­tened to this stuff af­ter so many years, it was re­ally emo­tional,” he says as the track ends. “It brought tears to my eyes.” In late 2016, An­drew Innes was clean­ing out his cel­lar when he found a cou­ple of boxes of old cas­settes. “I saw one tape marked with the Ar­dent logo and won­dered if they were the orig­i­nal mixes from Mem­phis.” Af­ter digi­tis­ing the cas­sette and hear­ing the tracks, Innes con­firmed his hunch. “I lis­tened and thought, This sounds ter­rific. When you hear this ver­sion you think, why did we mess with it? What pos­sessed us?” Innes im­me­di­ately emailed the MP3s to Gille­spie. “I was blown away,” says the singer. “The ben­e­fit of time shows we made some great mu­sic in Mem­phis. The record we in­tended to make, we ac­tu­ally made it… it just never got re­leased.” The band de­cided to fi­nally rem­edy that sit­u­a­tion, and be­gan de­vel­op­ing a pack­age that would fea­ture the orig­i­nal un­re­leased ver­sion of the LP; nine Dowd-pro­duced tracks, with Pow­ell’s orig­i­nal mixes, plus a bonus disc of Ar­dent out­takes. Its re­lease should be a cause for cel­e­bra­tion, but it’s tinged by sad­ness, given the loss of Robert Young, who died in 2014 at the age of 49. “It’s a real shame Throb’s not about,” says Innes, “because when you hear the Mem­phis tapes, it’s prob­a­bly his musical peak, his tour de force.” “Robert’s not here, but he is here, you know?” says Gille­spie. “He’s al­ways gonna be here when you lis­ten to this record.” Many oth­ers in­volved in the record­ing have passed: Dowd died in 2002, Jim Dick­in­son in 2009, An­drew Love and Wayne Jack­son in 2012 and 2016 re­spec­tively. Back­ing vo­cal­ist Jackie John­son suf­fered a stroke some years ago and no longer sings; Roger Hawkins has re­tired from play­ing. “That was prob­a­bly the last re­ally good project I did with Tom Dowd,” re­flects David Hood. “And that’s one of the last things I did with Roger too. I sure miss play­ing with him. A lot of the peo­ple who worked on that project are gone. But I’m ex­cited we’re all get­ting a sec­ond chance with this record we did 25 years ago.” For a mo­ment, Gille­spie fills with pride – for the re­demp­tion at hand, and because Pri­mal Scream can fi­nally, le­git­i­mately claim their own piece of Mem­phis mu­sic his­tory. “I can’t think of an­other band of our gen­er­a­tion that could’ve gone down there and done what we did,” he says. “Tom and David and Roger – they saw some­thing in us that they recog­nised was true. We were sin­cere. There was no agenda ex­cept to make a fuck­ing good record. And fi­nally, peo­ple will get to hear that.”

Give Out But Don’t Give Up: The Orig­i­nal Mem­phis Record­ings is re­leased by Sony in Septem­ber. See list­ings for doc­u­men­tary broad­cast date.

Best foot for­ward: Scream in­spi­ra­tion and for­mer FAME/ Mus­cle Shoals client Wil­son Pick­ett, 1965.

Funky jam: with Give OutÉ remixer and mae­stro Ge­orge Clin­ton, on-stage Brix­ton Academy, April 1994.

South­ern gen­tle­men: An­drew Innes and Bobby Gille­spie, Madi­son Av­enue, Mem­phis, 2018.

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