Friday 23 December 2011

Bobby Gillespie is full of shit

Bobby Gillespie, traditionalist, revivalist and leader of one of Britain's premier Rolling Stones tribute bands, is this week moaning about rock music being "too conformist and normal". To make matters worse, he's using his showbiz pal Paul Weller as a reference. This is like Paul McCartney hiring Ronald McDonald as the spokesman for his latest vegetarian crusade.

That's right, the same Bobby Gillespie who's made a career out of plagiarism, relying on another band member to write Primal Scream's decent songs (Jim Beattie) or producers to make his songs sound less conformist and normal (Andrew Weatherall) or just covering a Stones song and passing it off as his own work by giving it a new title (Rocks).

"It seems to me that if you were a serious young person and you had something to say that you'd be looking at other disciplines." Sorry, Bobby, but you're little more than a grumpy old man who's out of touch. Claiming that bands who've come after The Strokes and The White Stripes have given up trying to be experimental is a strange stance.

Of course bands who are influenced by The Strokes and The White Stripes are going to be retro and looking at rock's past with reverence rather than disdain. The Strokes were a case study in style over substance from day one: their debut single The Modern Age ripped off David Watts by The Kinks. Which band was it that covered David Watts? That's right, your mate Paul Weller's band The Jam. But to consider the past 10 years of music only through the prism of The Strokes and The White Stripes bands is a straw man attack.

There are loads of fantastic rock bands out there. My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything is enjoying status as year zero for a lot of groups right now. Listen to Heaven's Gate or Exlovers, for example. Yeah, I know Isn't Anything is 23 years old. When you were a young man making records in the 80s, your key reference points were from 23 years before then.

OK, I'm sure you'll cite getting Kevin Shields in Primal Scream as a sign that you're way ahead of these young scamps who are influenced by MBV. Thing is, Bobby, that Shields' creativity was spent way before he joined your band. The baton had been handed over. You must know that most bands have a very limited time when they're at their best and making music simply because they have to.

You should listen to Weekend. I expect Shields would admire - envy, even - them. They take pop songs and give them a viking burial in gales of effects and distortion. No one else is making music like that. No one else can.

To disregard these exciting young bands and dismiss all music based on your very narrow listening is simply holding up the white flag and saying 'I surrender to pop music's unceasing novelty. Give me what I know, for it makes me comfortable and confirms my prejudices'.

Sure, the most exciting and creative music is mostly made by youngsters. I wouldn't say Primal Scream were ever that exciting or creative as they were always too in thrall to the past to shape the future; likewise, no one could accuse your mate Paul Weller of being much more than a revivalist. Even as a teenager in the late 70s, Weller was reheating the mid-60s mod sound. If he were really a modernist and his next record reflected a love of the latest underground dance sounds, his fans would be responsible for funeral pyres of Fred Perry t-shirts burning across England's suburbs.

You and Weller both rely on being normal and conformist to sustain careers and fan bases. If Primal Scream were American, they'd be seen as a third-rate Aerosmith and a second-class Black Crowes. For a long time it was really only the British weekly music press, a medium dependent on controversy and internecine scraps to fuel its weekly word count, that enjoyed your ill-informed diatribes. Now reduced to just the NME, the weekly music press doesn't need your pantomime villain theatrics. Which is just as well, as the few who might be most interested in reading about the next Primal Scream album will be subscribers of the cosy monthly heritage music magazines.

2011 has been interesting musically in many respects, not just for the cascade of thrilling guitar bands. Take the number of amazing records made by older folk, for instance. My favourite album of the year was No Time For Dreaming by Charles Bradley, a 61-year-old soul singer's debut record. At his London gig in the summer he stood on stage and thanked everyone from his heart for being there. It was no platitude, either: midway through the set, he walked through the audience and hugged everyone he could.

I'm not saying you should do that, Bobby, but if you had some of that humility, if you appreciated having fans instead of thinking of them as idiots you can master with some secondhand tunes and bullying rherotic, you'd be more likeable. And if you listened to some of the rock underground's latest sounds, you might find some much needed inspiration.

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