A sonic blast, channeling the past to keep the future on its toes. They were there and they are still here.
Release Date: 12th May 2023
Label: Triple Wide/ Heavy Medication Records/Ghost Highway Recordings
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
Yes, you did read that right, Glasgow’s finest, The Primevals, are back in town. Not that the band, known to their afficionados as Les Primevaux, have ever rightly been away. Not, definitely not, to be confused with the Primitives, this band offer a far more basic approach to the roll that is rock, incorporating fumes from influences as diverse as the Sonics and Sun Ra, and you are always going to get a whole lot more bam-a-lam for your buck than any a more orthodox arrangement. Think the Govan Cramps or the MC5 from Cambuslang, with additional colour thrown in to confuse and confound. A righteously joyous din, then.
Maybe strangely, or not, their fanbase has been largely concentrated on the continent, hence this three way collab, involving their own imprint with labels based in Poland and Spain. Currently in their 40th anniversary year, they have honed their craft the hard way, espousing any progression or any new directions, sticking rigidly to their principles: what’s good for the garage, stays in the garage. Still with two of their original members, Michael Rooney sings and Tom Rafferty plays guitar, although he has had substantive time off for good behaviour. With a further four members to roughen out the sound, even if not original members, some too are returners, suggesting the capability of a loose revolving door collective capability. Rightly or wrongly, that build longevity into a band. For the record, today’s lineup adds John Honeyman, Martin Rodger and Ady Gillespie, all on further guitars, Gillespie of the bass variety, and Paul Bridges on drums. That’s a lot of guitars. (To be fair, Honeyman also tackles a lot of keyboards, with Rooney picking up the six-string slack when that happens, he also capable of the odd honk on a sax.)
Album number 12 then, guys? First out is The Drop, with a root note basement bass the first sound you’ll hear, followed by some swampy electric piano. Scuzzy guitars crank up and Rooney is off, preaching at the mike. Drums thump. A glorious polyphonic din that captures all the yardsticks, primitive chops from when r’n’b meant the Pretty Things and the Stones, not some ersatz lightweight soul derivative. A crooning moan his instrument, somewhere between a more breathless Jim Morrison and a more distracted Iggy Pop, Mooney is a commanding presence. Guitars wail as they should, and all is well with the world, a banshee of harmonica sealing that truth, to close the song. Ridin’ On The Sonic Pathway picks right up where the Drop left off, and occupies a slice of (Beef)hearty territory, vocally, some tinny organ adding lustre and, simultaneously stripping paint. The harmonica takes neither respite nor prisoners. Rather than ending, it falls apart in a beautiful chaos. Driftin’ Away is a more orthodox chug, notable for the bass that dances up from the floor. With a propulsive percussion leading, swathes of keyboard hold the backdrop steady. Rooney sings for his life, the whole sounding not a little like the Damned at their more melodic. If singles carried traction other than as advance advertising, or had any platform, this would be a shoo-in for Top of the Pops.
Baby Don’t Cry, even with a title like that, offers no loss of momentum, being another tight construction of garage electricity, with a first hearing of impassioned ooos from the rank and file of the band. Another cracking tune, the band have really hit their stride. High Street is more demonstrative, a Stranglers vibe kicking in here, probably courtesy the organ tone. However, within each of these mentions of UK punk pioneers, the overall vibe is more a US CBGBs variety and earlier, more about noise than fashion. (And, let’s face it, both the Damned and the Stranglers had a more astute grasp on musical heritage and history than did many of their peers.) Hang Loose is more of the same, if never quite the same, sufficient variety stemming out the narrow self-defined and self-governed template as to make more than enough difference. And that’s side one, done and dusted, six tracks, barely a minute shy of 20.
Side two, even if on the same side of a compact disc, starts a little different, with WTF, with a delicate wash of Coney Island fairground keyboads, prime time for the horror channel. Then some fuzz bass from the black lagoon rumbles out, before the clatter of drums. A slow song? No chance, it morphing swiftly into a knowing dumbass stomp, complete with hoodlum backing vocals and, then, o glory, a pounding cacophony of repeated piano chords and feedback, ahead the return of the Dr Phibes organ. What the very fuck indeed. Suckin’ On Nothing Sweet now is a slower swagger, again revisiting that Jimbo spectre, a little less smooth, a little more impassioned. The guitars drang their sturm, throwing out snarly lines and scratchy rhythms, that harmonica is back and, I guess, that might be your sole chance of a slow dance tonight. More cheesy keyboard introduces Grit And Grime, an organ-led chugga lugga, the band sounding like they have been playing this stuff forever. (Haven’t they?) A chanted chorus fills a brief middle eight, bookended by handclap drums and googly bass, and the closest thing yet to a guitar solo, presumable Rafferty.
A title like Rest In Power suggests a possible elegy, it seeming so to be, the lyric referencing a lost compadre, Kim. Uncertain, but could this be Kim Fowley? It’s another sturdy rocker with enough competing guitars to occupy your ears with pleasure, if none necessarily the wiser. Is that now a megaphone for Will Of The People, the lyric sounding a warning, a polemic? Or just commentary. Another song where the murky mix encapsulates the contradictory and competing shapes being thrown. Warranting a few listens, it is one that begs exactly that, such are the sonic twists and turns, guided by the same relentlessness of the rhythm section. Bridges and Gillespie are exultant on this, as it fades to a feedback close. Can you believe it, we are at the end already, with only Walking At Night to feed our souls? Another snarly croon about not knowing where the edge of reality begins to blur, the solution being to go out walking at night. Gillespie excels again, Honeyman’s keyboards another dreamy swoosh of adrenaline. The guitars add a vibrant scaffolding around them both and about Rooney’s narrative. A short and slow coda and we’re done.
If you didn’t know anyone made music like this anymore, you wouldn’t be alone. But they do and they probably won’t be stopping anytime soon. So, put down those old records, the Cramps, the Saints, MC5, the Gun Club, let alone the other references, get out and get lucky. They don’t tour often, but when they do, you know what to do. In the mean time, get this record.
Here’s some old to keep you going, from 2012, Gimme Some Action: