Updated! New photos from the 2008 NME tour, have another look, spot them.
Let’s do something different. I am not a Primal Scream expert so, instead of writing a monography to learn about a band, I leave it incomplete and let you fill it up with corrections and missing points.
Following the desert trilogy and 10 out of 13 articles about North America artists, I bring liveon35mm back to UK.
Primal Scream are perfect; they represent the quintessential British act, but also have a strong link to American music. They are Scottish, even if many people think they are from “MaDchester”, because of their musical link with the late 80s fervent dance scene lead by the Factory Label and the Hacienda.
Their leader, Bobby Gillespie, is indeed the same person who used to play drums for Jesus and Mary Chain. That’s why the band started in 1982 but published its debut only in 1987. His drumming in Psychocandy, Jesus and Mary Chain landmark debut, is key to their sound.
I always thought Gillespie has a kind of split personality; he looks in two minds to me.
He started with two bands and took few years to choose on which one putting full efforts.
Then, on that band, the Primal Scream, he managed to mould influences from two opposite music poles.
Out of a line-up which changed constantly, always including great musicians, I see Primal Scream as two different groups working under a single name.
Primal Scream version1 is an indie-rock-disco band, contemporary to the Manchester house scene. They use loops, electronica and sampling. Their songs are danced in discos. Together with New Order, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses, they pioneered, from different perspective, that wave of Brit music which brought up to today’s Kasabian and Klaxons.
Primal Scream version2 is a southern rock band that perfectly fits with the early seventies, post Brian Jones, Rolling Stones. A mixture of rock’n’roll, boogie and soul that shuffles over funk-ish rhythms.
If you are familiar with graphic representations, I see it as two harmonic (sinusoidal) waves, with different wavelengths. As two notes can do, sometime they are in resonance; some other they are out-phased or just ignoring each other.
On the Primal Scream career, which spans over two decades, there is one album where ambivalence found its perfect balance. Screamadelica (1991) is a landmark album for the 90s rock, the only that maintain equilibrium between the two versions of the band for the enthusiasm of fans and reviewers.
Opening with the slow rock boogie of Movin’ on up, the best tune Jagger/Richard forgot to write, it shifts through a quite psychedelic 13th Floor Elevator cover Slip Inside this House to arrive, gem after gem, to Loaded, in which samplings as disparate as Robert Johnson Terraplane blues and Peter Fonda Wild Angel b-movie theme blend together with DJs remixes.
A rock (master)piece that is their most representative to date, an album that put rock fans into discos and dance crowds into rock venues.
To follow up Screamadelica wasn’t the easiest thing, Gillespie did it his way.
As if he had to recover from of a serious hangover, he brought the band to Nashville, Arizona. From the CD cover, you understand Primal Scream version2 take power on Give Out But Don’t Give Up (1994). “Rock’n’Rolling Stones”, Funk (George Clinton is on it) and smell of America’s sound permeates the entire album. House rhythms are forgotten but, despite the high position on the charts and the success of the single Rocks, the dancing fans seem to forget, more than forgive, the band. Stopping their rock-dance fusion experiment after a great album was not a great move.
Time for a change of direction. Mani (Stone Roses) and Kevin Shield (My Bloody Valentine) are added to the line up to bring fresh ideas. Vanishing Point (1997) brings Primal Scream version1 back on the dancing floor, from a dub/darker perspective. Their fusion of indie-pop and dance music is for partying. Fans moved back, reviews were very good. I personally found this album too much dance oriented for my rock taste and I forgot Primal Scream for a while, lost into garage-blues rock, for the first half of this decade.
Since one day, flying over the North Pole on an endless 11 hours journey London to San Francisco, British Airways player put on some nice, old style, rock’n’roll. I though it was some seventies goldies. In fact it was 2006 Primal Scream City Riot Blues.
This album is their second attempt, a dozen years later, to bring USA Rock’n’Roll to Scotland.
Driven by the single Country Girl, the closer a song can get to the Stones’ before calling it plagiarism, it was successful. Fans of band’s version2, including me, are clearly less.
Reflecting on a sofa whether I was quickly getting too old and nostalgic, I bumped into Bobby Gillespie’s charisma playing that song on TV. I decided to photograph them live.
It was a mixed concert good enough to satisfy everyone. I don’t think people left the show either over-enthusiastic or deluded. Honest. Bobbie Gillespie stands holding the microphone pole. A bizarre figure which I cannot manage to like from top to bottom. It could be due to his controversial political quotes, to his ambiguity or just because I love some of his music as much as I hate other.
This never stopped me to appreciate Primal Scream achievement of being cyclical without being repetitive and clichéd.
It’s one of those plain nights, photography wise. Three songs, no flash. An egocentric rockstar, who stands in front of the microphone, hiding his mouth for most of the gig. How annoying is that? I can’t tell.
He doesn’t play any instrument but is clearly the focus of the band. He must be in the pictures, who wants a Primal Scream picture without Bobbie Gillespie in it?
I used two approaches.
Waiting for those few ephemeral moments when he leaves the mic to take as many pics/sec as my cameras copes. Boring and risky.
Going for the difficult way. Shooting the entire band.
In any kind of portraits you do, photographing groups is undeniably more difficult than singles. You need to be lucky that anyone in the frame doesn’t move, pull a face or someway ruins your image.
At a concert, where lights are changing constantly, musicians are moving faster than your shutter tolerance and your time is so limited, it is even harder.
The positive side, you are going to use a wideangle, therefore blur is minimized compared to close-ups.
If you include everything you see, the secret to have an interesting picture is remembering Roland Barthes’ punctum. (If you are a photographer and you haven’t read Camera Lucida that’s my suggested reading for your boring moments of the Christmas holidays)
Simplifying, it means that there must be a centre of interest in your image. Something that captures the attention of your viewer. Eyes go around the picture and need to stop at, and on, a certain point.
It doesn’t have to be a person. It can be Gillespie’s silhouette, a spotlight slicing the black background or the name of the band on the bass drum (which always works out nice in band’s pictures).
A good photo has a fulcrum that holds the whole.
A wideangle image which simply includes the entire stage, all the musicians, their stuff and the cables it is like that beautiful landscape you came across which transferred on a dull picture. Don’t blame your camera if the result is not as good as your sight.
Your mind can concentrate on something out of a whole because you have emotions. Your film (or a sensor) is just registering without any feeling. Photography is all about adding your emotions onto a film. Never forget it.