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Primal Scream Vs The Pop Group: Bobby Gillespie & Mark Stewart in conversation

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Leader of the influential band The Pop Group, Mark Stewart is making his return with new solo album The Politics Of Envy on 26 March, boasting a host of collaborations including cult filmmaker Kenneth Anger, punk pioneer Richard Hell, Factory Floor, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and more. Primal Scream‘s Bobby Gillespie appears on first single Autonomia, and the pair sat down to discuss the music and politics that have influenced their outlook as artists and their lives. In Part I, Gillespie and Stewart chat about their early days and shared heroes.

Mark Stewart: It’s strange that although we’re all from different towns, somehow when we were young we found similar influences like The ‘Dolls and MC5 we all on our own. What do you think?

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Bobby Gillespie: The thing that binds us is that we are all obsessive people who as teenagers were dissatisfied with what was on offer culturally, politically, socially. I’d say we were and are dreamers who dreamed our way out of the boredom, ugliness and violence of growing up where we did by seeking out occult bands, films and literature. We all felt there was something more to being alive but didn’t know what or where. When punk hit it was like a psychic hurricane. Through punk I finally met people I could truly relate to like Alan McGee and Andrew Innes. I had a job in a printing factory when I left school at 16. I was totally miserable. Terrified that this would be it for the rest of my life. I had just got into punk through singles by The ‘Pistols, Clash, Jam, Stranglers and Ramones which kept me alive, to be honest. It gave me a reason for living. Patti Smith‘s song Piss Factory had the opening line: “Sixteen and time to pay off/ I got a job, working in a piss factory inspecting pipe/ 40 hours, 36 dollars a week but it’s a paycheck jack/” I can never explain how much it blew my mind that music could describe my experience and reality in such a beautiful, poetic way. Tough, tender and sexy – all at the same time. Eventually, through punk, I found that I could be creative, which, coming from my background and minimum education was a complete revelation and a totally empowering feeling. I think the reason we found those bands and obsessed over them is because at heart we are romantics in search for a better world. All the great rock’n’rollers are.

Mark Stewart: Politics seems to be in our blood. I recall talking to you about your dad being an activist…

Bobby Gillespie: As far back as I can remember my dad was political. On our wall at home we had abstract paintings by a family friend alongside the famous Che poster and a photo of the Black Panther American athletes giving the power salute on the rostrum at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. I remember asking my dad what that photo was all about and he told me that black people didn’t have the same rights as white people in the USA; that they couldn’t eat in the same restaurants, go to the same schools, sit beside each other on the bus. As a 7 year-old kid I found that shocking. Shocking in the same way that I couldn’t go to the same school as my friends who were all Catholic. The politics of segregation are foisted on us all from an early age….

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Mark Stewart: That gloved salute had as big an effect on me as the moon landing. From sitting on the floor at my mum’s reading comics and playing with my Airfix toys, to seeing that event on the same day was a real rite of passage. I definitely started asking a load of difficult questions as a nipper after that…

Bobby Gillespie: At that point my dad was a trade union activist and in the early 60s he was a member of the International Socialists. He became politicised after being involved in a strike at the print factory where he worked. In the mid 70s he became General Secretary of the Society Of Graphical and Allied Trades union for the west Scotland. He was involved in working class politics all his adult life, he got involved to make the world a better place. He was born in the great depression in 1936 and saw firsthand the results of poverty caused by free market capitalism. He suffered malnutrition as a child and didn’t want to see anyone else suffer. My father was a huge influence on my brother and myself as far as our political outlook goes. He wanted to change the system for the better, and so do I.

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Mark Stewart: That’s kind of why I asked you to help me sing this protest song Autonomia about Carlo Giuliani a protester who died at a G8 demo in Genoa.

Bobby Gillespie: I’ve always admired your lyrics, song and album titles. I once saw The Pop Group described as “Teenage Rimbaud‘s”. When did you first realise you had a talent for the power of words?

Mark Stewart: I had a mate at school when I was 11, who was really into French poetry and we got into the Poète Maudit : de Nerval, Lautréamont and a bit later, Rainer Maria Rilke and Stéphane Mallarmé who is a massive inspiration to me at the moment.

Bobby Gillespie: We’ve both worked with Adrian Sherwood, when did you first meet him and can you describe your relationship?

Mark Stewart: I used to knock off school when I was a teenager and just hang around shopping centers and record shops all the time. Revolver records in Bristol would get the latest releases from Jamaica and I’d be in there trying to get the heaviest dubs by poeple like The Revolutionaries, Niney The Observer, Hugh Mundell, etc. It was Adrian who was driving the delivery van. I’ve got vivid memories of [producer] Prince Far I‘s wife making us all porridge.

Bobby Gillespie: When The Pop Group or Mark Stewart are discussed the critics always seem to mention people like Sun Ra, John Cage, King Tubby, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis and more, but I detect a pop influence on your new album…

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Mark Stewart: The Pop Group always wanted to be a pop group. We loved Phil Spector‘s walls of sound, the massed choirs of The Beach Boys and the spookiness of the Shangri-Las as much as Mutant Miles and co. On this album working with such amazing people such as you guys, Daddy G, Richard Hell, Keith Levene, Factory Floor and Youth amongst other greats I think we’re battering down a lot of doors and redefining the term pop. People are hungry for interesting sounds that they can connect with.

Bobby Gillespie: Who are your heroes?

Mark Stewart: I think we’ve got similar heroes, like Lou Reed, Iggy and on this new record The Politics Of Envy at last I’ve got to work with lots of mine like Kenneth Anger, Lee Perry, Richard Hell, etc. Obviously lots of mine are outside of music; I think protest movements across the globe from Burma to Bristol are the voice of hope.

Bobby Gillespie: Joe Meek or Phil Spector?

Mark Stewart: Adrian Sherwood! But yesterday I was standing next to some of Joe‘s recording gear, respect to the British godfather.

Mark Stewart: Both of us try to crash different genres, you with people like Andrew Weatherall and David Holmes, and me with Sherwood and co. Recently, I was talking to Iggy Pop and he was saying that growing up he saw no different between Garage and Motown for example. What do you think?

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Bobbie Gillespie: When I was a kid my mum always had the radio on in the morning as we were getting ready to go to school I’d hear Bowie, The Delphonices, T Rex, George McCray, Alice Cooper, The Stylistics, Bryan Ferry… it was all just great music to me. I didn’t know what genres were, the music just put me in a great mood. I bought Pretty Vacant and I Feel Love on the same day in the summer of 1977. They blew my mind equally and now I think about it, I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to merge them together with Primal Scream.

Mark Stewart: I think across the world people are re-writing the rulebook…

Bobbie Gillespie: We were in South America recently and had a gig in Chile. First thing we see as we hit the outskirts of the city centre is a burned out police bus left beside a barricaded with some kids in their late teens behind it. Across the road from that was a huge building festooned in revolutionary banners and anti-globalist slogans. This was the main university in Santiago. For the last five months the students have been having sit-ins against tuition fees. I went down to the uni later on that night to have a look, all the railings were barricaded with chairs and desks from the classrooms. We went into a library that was in a tent and our eyes started to sting & water. There had been a riot there that morning and the police had used tear gas. There were still students in the streets and a feeling of defiance and camaraderie hung in the air, kind of how I imagine Paris in 1968 would have been. We had been in Argentina the day before and witnessed the centre of Buenos Aries reduced to a standstill by a demonstration of workers and community groups against government cuts in public spending. It was so inspirational to witness this defiance and see people en masse stand up for themselves. I just wish that people in Britain would get up off their knees. These bastards in power have an ideological agenda that they want to see through to the finish. As William Burroughs said “They want to steal the ground beneath the feet of your unborn children, forever”.

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Mark Stewart: One of the overriding concepts of this album, that you have guested on, [The Politics Of Envy] is how catalytic alchemical flames spread from generation to generation. Recently a filmmaker was making a documentary about me and trying to interview lots of people who say they’ve been inspired by me from Nick Cave, Bjork, Massive attack (who also guest on the album), Trent Reznor through to LCD… But it was crucial for me to pay homage to some of my gods, Kenneth Anger, Richard Hell and Lee Perry. I see it as a circular flame that constantly feeds itself and I am repeatedly inspired by new hybrids and mutations. The world is in a hyper state of change and I must reflect and add to it.

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Bobby Gillespie: Your work has always been heavily political, when did you first become politicised? From the free poster that came with Y onwards you’ve always had great artwork – brutal & beautiful at the same time.

Mark Stewart: I’ve always cut up, juxtaposed and collaged words in the same way as I do with my graphics and art projects. I remember a journalist who wrote, with some cynicism, that of all the shops people looted, the only ones not being robbed had been the bookshops. Everyone has taken cellular and laptops, but no books. Somebody told me that the Afghan war was linked to the vast supplies of lithium there, which is needed for laptops and mobiles. I feel that if the world is being consumed by the politics of envy and the paradox of choice must be addressed. I can’t see how the word political should be separated from reality.

Bobby Gillespie: I think your new version of Jerusalem is extraordinary. I would say that you have reclaimed its Blakean revolutionary origins. Was that your intention all along?

Mark Stewart: Yes. The Pop Group were playing a massive campaign for nuclear disarmament rally in Trafalgar Square for 500,000 people and I was searching for a kind of British version of We Shall Overcome and I chose Jerusalem. It’s timeless.

Head to Markstewartmusic.com for more on the album and a free download.


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