Primevals and myself go back a long, long way (writes Andy Wood). Possibly more years than any of us would like to admit. Not in a I’ve ever really spoken to them kind of way, more I’ve really liked them since I was a teenager, following them mainly through the records and the occasional live show. We all have histories but Primevals probably have a more interesting story than most so I’ll give you a little bit of history.
They were formed in Glasgow in 1983 when frontman Michael Rooney was running a record stall in Candleriggs Market and were quickly signed to the hip French label New Rose which was home to the likes of Johnny Thunders, The Cramps and The Saints, mainstays of any person of taste’s record collections. They always seemed slightly out of place in the Scottish mid 80s music scene which veered between the post-Postcard jangly pop scene and the slick, stylized mainstream. Possibly the only Scottish band I felt they might share any affinity to at this time was the Jesus and Mary Chain though neither band sounded much like the other – it was more the shared idea of rock ‘n’ roll as something more edgy, gritty and life-affirming. Primevals recorded three albums for New Rose and toured the continent with seminal bands such as The Cramps and The Gun Club, recorded a number of Radio One sessions and even performed live on the short-lived BBC Scotland television show FSD.
It was on stage that the Primevals really came to life for me. I saw them on FSD and immediately caught them live on a Sunday night in Dundee and was blown away by the gutsy intensity of their show but also the beauty of the songs. On the other occasions I caught them live they never disappointed and a live album Neon Oven captured some of the brilliance of Primevals live. Sadly, or predictably, things petered out for the band in the early 90s and after the release of Dig in 1990 the band took a break, a rather lengthy break as it turns out.
This is all history as I said but what of the Primevals today?
Since 2007 they have released three albums and began to play more frequently. I have to confess that I didn’t really notice they were back until I heard tracks from Disinhibitor and Heavy War last year and was blown away all over again. I tracked down a copy of Heavy War in Monorail before Christmas and have been addicted to it ever since. It’s a truly astonishing record, still full of hints of the Primevals touchstone influences – Stooges, MC5, psych and garage punk – but sounds fresh and energized, as though they were a band utterly re-invigorated. They no longer sound like a band out of place either though this is less to do with a change in their music as to others coming around to their sound and approach and embracing it wholeheartedly. For a band with a heck of a past Primevals seem like they are incredibly focussed on the here and now and the future. Heavy War is very much an album documenting the times we live in now and the Primevals burn with as strong a spirit and soul as they ever did, possibly even more so.
Michael Rooney kindly answered some questions ahead of their forthcoming shows.
Can you tell me a little bit about the reformation of The Primevals? What was the motivation behind this?
Well, we never really reformed we have had a few breaks at times. When we started we quickly did the usual thing of records and gigs, after 3 records with New Rose, a live album and recorded a record Dig in Wales with Jack Endino in 1990 who worked with Nirvana etc. It did not do much for a variety of reasons. We ended up touring with Blue Cheer who were great in some ways, but, for us their audience was not connected to us. I went to London for a break – ended up nearly four years. Formed a band Bean Spasm and played about 5 gigs and a little recording. I moved back up in 94 and the Primevals plus other formed The Fatalistic and played random covers, very occasional gigs til about late 96. The other guys did stuff too. We did a few gigs as the Primevals again, not very often. Last Call brought out a 2 CD set On the Red Eye of the older New Rose material in 2005, then we recorded again for a new album which came out in 2007 There ss no other life.. and have released Disinhibitor in 2010 and Heavy War’ in late 2012. The motivation was just to get back to writing and recording our songs as we had a few and to simply play a little more live.
Why did you chose Heavy War as the title of your most recent album? Where you trying to a convey a certain tone or theme?
Well, Glasgow is the main point of the lyrics and some of the things that are going on reflected in the lyrics. Heavy War is internal personalised war, relationship war, first and third person war.
Heavy War is a fantastic album, it sounds so fresh and raw. How do you feel about it now?
It is a great record, we are happy with it. It has gone now. We are moving on again. The record really encapsulated some of the ideas and there is quite a lot of variation. The sound is full on.
Do you think your approach to making music has changed much over the years?
With the recording approach it is pretty much as live as possible now. We spent some time, especially in 1987 with the Live A Little record when it went a bit over produced and I think we were influenced by some things that are maybe a little regretful looking back, what can you do…. The songs are sketched, the band pick up, we put it down, that’s the ethos. We also have bit more of a laugh now.
The album was released on a French label and you played a series of dates in France last autumn. Do you find Europe more receptive to the Primevals than the U.K.?
Well, yes, we are still not a big band but we can play to a couple of hundred people for seven nights and have fun and France has always been very good to the Primevals. The vinyl is on Beast Records from Rennes and the CD on Twenty Stone Blatt Records from Scotland. As for the UK, Glasgow is better for us now. I think some people are hearing us for the first time plus I like some of the local bands who we are friends with now. Something we never had in the 80’s especially in Glasgow. We have played London a few times and Stockton on Tees in September this year.
Over the years you’ve recorded covers by a number of bands such as The Cramps, Captain Beefheart and The Byrds. Most recently, you’ve recorded an unreleased song by the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce. How do you approach these covers? How did you come to be involved with the Jeffrey Lee Pierce Sessions project?
Well it is funny we have released a fair bit of covers also by Suicide, The Fleshtones, Swamp Dogg and Albert Ayler and we play different stuff all the time just messing around – so it is always a feature. In a rehearsal last month I said into the mic to the band ‘last week I was Captain Beefheart, earlier in the year I was Lux Interior, some months previous I was Jeffrey Lee Pierce, tonight Matthew I am going to be Charlie Drake….’
The Jeffrey Lee thing is being put together by his old London buddy Cypress Grove and the third and last volume The Task Has Overwhelmed Us is out late summer. I just contacted him and he knew knew a bit about us. I told him we had played with the Gun Club and I had met JLP several times in London around 92-94. He asked me to record his final last song ‘Girl It’s Me’. These songs I should add for all three volumes are demos from JLP, ideas etc he had on a cassette that was found by Cypress Grove. Don’t know who is on this one but the first 2 volumes had lots of good people, hopefully volume 3 too.
What are your current favourite bands and records?
The records I buy and I buy a lot are mainly older soul, blues, garage type stuff – current bands let me see …I saw Pere Ubu last week and they were really great, I like Chain and the Gang , Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds but not a lot really.
How would you describe Primevals to someone who had never heard of the band before?
Hard to say.. what about – honest-solid-unified-collective – Glasgow – blues-focussed –stubborn – genuine – disinhibited – funky – psychedelized – humour – madness – rock n roll – dance – open – soul – they swing!
If you could put together your ideal show with no restrictions on time/mortality/location what form would that take and who would you invite to play?
Monk 56 / Coltrane 66 / Beefheart 72 / Stooges 69 / MC5 69 / Ramones 76 / c
Cramps 79 – that’ll do ok. Maybe Funkadelic 70 to warm them up! Location across the road from me at the Glasgow Green will do.
I believe that this year will be Primevals 30th birthday. When you first started out did you ever envisage the band surviving and musically thriving for such a time?
No – I dug out some old cassettes of ours to try and put them in order and there are hundreds of rehearsals/demos etc and I pulled out the first rehearsal tape from February 1983 and the first song is the Troggs ‘I Want You’ so I am just thinking it would be fun to do that again. I don’t really see it in terms of a number – we really came together to do one show and here we are.
Any plans to celebrate?
We always celebrate.
Here’s the video for ‘In A Violent Way’ from Heavy War
Primevals play at the 13th Note Glasgow on Friday 3rd May with The Creeping Ivies and Los Tentakills and at The Cool Cat Club in Beat Generator Live! Dundee with The Creeping Ivies, The Rag N Bone Man and Blank Lodge.