Paradise Lost: Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and Jehnny Beth of Savage on the duo album Utopian Ashes

Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth describe their Utopian Ashes collaboration as a “statement record”. Photo by Sam Noël

BOBBY Gillespie’s great hero, Celtic manager Jock Stein, often remembered when he was a miner feeding rats in the dark long before he became the first UK manager to win the European Cup.

In the five years since Primal Scream’s last album, Chaosmosis, Gillespie dug deep into the lyrics to create some of his best works. The lyrics speak less of societal decadence and political revulsion in favor of a more confessional approach.

Drug problems are well behind him, but his band suffered losses in the loss of co-founder and guitarist Robert Young, who died in 2014.

“I put myself in dangerous situations, I went through years of black dog degradation,” Bobby says at the start of the visceral introduction to speech. You can trust me now.

It is one of the nine tracks that form Utopian ashes, a duet album with singer, actress and solo singer of Savages Jehnny Beth.

The couple have collaborated on the project together and separately in Paris and London since they found the seed of an idea in 2016. When the album was announced alongside a single and promo video for Remember we were lovers during the winter lockdown, it was a reminder to many that a popular song still has the power to stop you in your tracks, with Gillespie receiving a strong reaction from his friends – as well as a musical legend he first became a fan of as a working-class teenage punk rocker in Glasgow.

“A lot of women contacted me saying they were crying and it really affected them in their hearts, I thought ‘we did a good job here, we wrote music that affects people emotionally’,” says -he.

“Iggy Pop said some great things about it on his radio show as well, which meant a lot.”

Gillespie deployed three of his bandmates Primal Scream while Beth brought in longtime partner and musical collaborator Johnny Hostile on bass.

“Apart from the Rolling Stones, no other band can play with this kind of feeling,” suggests Gillespie of his band, including Andrew Innes, a friend since his teenage years whose melancholy slide guitar is as touching as ever, as are the slight bursts of piano from his other longtime Scream companion, Martin Duffy.

“This is one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with, co-written or sung with. I knew it had the potential to be a great song, a special song from the start and I was in it. very proud, said Gillespie.

“I worked hard on the lyrics to the verses. I worked for months to get one line just like, ‘We’re martyrs in a marriage / In a war we’re going to lose.’ I tried different lines. , it was not easy. “

The song embodies some familiar elements of the group he co-founded almost 40 years ago. The most obvious are the traces of downhill walks such as Damaged of Screamadelica, which turns 30 this year, and (I will) cry myself blind, a single that appeared on the follow-up Give but don’t give up.

But as Gillespie suggests, there is an “emotional brutality” that separates this from previous efforts.

Jehnny Beth adds, “When Bobby first started writing I knew it was one of the best work he ever did, that deeply touching kind of personal writing. I was glad it was what it was. he wanted to do, it was inspiring because he was inspired and that’s what’s great about the collaboration.

“I mean he was ‘possessed’, but that might not be the right word.”

Gillespie disagrees: “No, ‘possessed’ is good, it is true.”


Utopian Ashes was written and recorded before last year’s lockdown

Songs such as You can trust me now are a refreshing antidote to much of what airs on mainstream radio: this galloping but tender country-soul ballad finds Beth in tune with Gillespie and swapping verses.

“Backing vocals are something I’ve always paid attention to,” she said of the track, before Gillespie added, “That’s how I learned to sing, listening to Mick Jones on Clash records. “

Gillespie’s concern for a struggling but unfinished couple provided an “adult” concept for the entire work.

“It’s a statement record, no one else makes music like this… you come back with a record like this,” he adds.

Although known for the pioneering and experimental work on the likes of Screamadelica, Vanishing Point and XTRMNTRGillespie admits that there are none of the “electronic” or “full blast” sounds fans can expect.

In this revival of the Auld Alliance, Gillespie (59) joined forces with a French Catholic raised in art.

Born Camille Berthomier, Beth (36) merged her poetic sensibility with Gillespie’s more direct lyrical style.

“I had lyrics before Bobby came up with the theme,” she said.

“At first, I went by instinct, the lyrics I had written came from the chorus of Remember we were lovers which were inspired by a poem by Rilke and the idea of ​​looking at someone else and commenting on how you think they are from their body position. “

After looking at some “electronic soundscapes”, the songs were reduced to a simple acoustic guitar and began to sound like a “Neil Young song”.

The finished effort is far from lo-fi with its lush orchestration and Stax-style brass section.

Even still, one of Gillespie’s former group mates thought it was a lockdown record. Messages of support were sent to singer Mani, former Scream bassist – also of the Stone Roses – and Irish musician Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) who also enjoyed a stint in the group.

Kevin said, ‘It’s amazing you could’ve done this on lockdown.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was over before and we had plans to release it in 2020. He knew it was an analog record. “

Shields makes a fair point: the album sounds like it could have been recorded in 1971, making it a good choice for Jack White’s Third Man Records.

At home, Gillespie is known to sing We will hold on by George Jones and Tammy Wynette with his wife, stylist Katy England. Ballads like this, along with the country torchlight songs of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, accompanied by a gothic and dark renovation, provided a remarkable model for the work.

“The part I’m singing in the first verse, the guy kind of admits his failures and transgressions. He’s about a person asking for readmission into the human race because they’ve put themselves on the setting. and in the woods. ”he says.

“They come back to the campfire, they really ask for forgiveness… and another chance. Asking for another chance is mutually beneficial; it is the basis of civilization – empathy.”

Utopian Ashes releases July 2