Still Primal (After All These Years)
Ahead of their headline set at T in the Park, RJ Thomson speaks to Mani, the near-legendary bassist who has come to be a lynchpin of one of the greatest live bands around, Primal Scream
“Right, this is Scotland, so let's fuckin' have it."
This was the unforgettable opening line of what was quite possibly the best gig I've ever been to: Primal Scream at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh, touring their incendiary classic XTRMNTR.
The man who delivered that line, Mani (Gary Mounfield to his Mum), is one of the biggest personalities to come out of British music culture over the past quarter century. Mani emerged playing bass for the devotedly-followed Stone Roses in the Manchester of the late 80s, his driven, almost dub-style approach adding a distinct flavour to the band’s rich sound. When he moved to Primal Scream in the mid 90s his style shifted to a ferocious dance-like drive, inspiring pounding tracks like Kowalski, the road movie-sampling single from 1997’s Vanishing Point album, and many of the best elements of XTRMNTR.
Equal to his musical input, though, is the personal inspiration Mani has brought to Primal Scream. At that time the band were known to be close to splitting up, after 1994’s indifferently received Give Out But Don’t Give Up, and caught in a swirl of personal (mostly drug-related) problems. Mani’s energy and belief are frequently cited as having been some of the biggest motivators for the band at the time, and speaking to him on the phone this month, prior to the release of the band’s new album Beautiful Future and a headlining slot at T in the Park, it’s easy to see how effective he could be in this regard. There is a hint of brusqueness in his Mancunian accent and intense energy, but it’s just the flipside of a personality that ultimately comes across as focused, intelligent, and deeply positive. On their current state of mind, he asserts: “Primal Scream had a bit of a reputation for being a big bunch of stoners and caners. We don't want to be known for that, we want to be known as the best British rock 'n' roll band around at the moment – which I truly believe we are.”
Despite this confidence, there will be those who find fault with the band’s new album Beautiful Future (see our review this issue). But in the run up to T in the Park, many fans attending will be eager to know what they have to look forward to. I ask Mani how the brighter tones of their new songs will mix with the darker atmospher of their older stuff, and he has no doubts that they’ll accommodate.
“We always try to mix it up. You know, yesterday we were rehearsing and we dug up I'm Losing More Than I'll Ever Have – everything is up for being dragged out and given a polish, and doing again. We did it with Damaged on the last tour. Primal Scream have got an amazing catalogue of tunes to choose from – why not use them? When I first joined, I was saying 'let's get Jailbird dug up', and there was a reluctance to do it. But we love to do it now: these are great songs, so why not give them a bit of 2008 polish and see what they come out like? When you're playing live there's a whole extra dimension and energy to the songs. We're a great live band, let's not forget that.”
Indeed not. For anyone who has heard recordings or seen footage from the 1994 tour that followed Give Out But Don’t Give Up will know that Primal Scream are, more than most, a band of two sides. Several of the tracks that felt not-quite-right on record were, to put it mildly, blinding when played live. This year’s T party revellers will be hoping for a similarly energised effect, and Mani's sure they’ll nail it: “If you know what's good for you, be there, because we come to rock. We ain't going to let nobody down, least of all ourselves: we're on fire at the moment.”
Video: Primal Scream - Can't Go Back
Primal Scream play King Tut's Wah Wah Tent at T in the Park, Balado on 13 Jul. Beautiful Future is out on 21 Jul via B-Unique.http://www.primalscream.net