Debut album from the contrary Scotsmen,
just don’t mention Joy Division
Boredom, dole, white noise, feedback, drugs, 20 minute sets, violence, and blasphemous song titles – not the stuff of X-factor and American Idol – but all part of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s universe back in the early ’80s as they edged their way into the music business.
Brothers Jim and William Reid spent years as teenagers watching telly, walking around the Glasgow suburb of East Kilbride talking about music, planning the perfect band in their heads while not actually doing anything much. They knew what they liked – The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, ’60s girl-band The Shangri-Las – but it wasn’t until their dad got a redundancy pay-off in the early 1980s that they actually decided to do something about it. They bought a portastudio, and by 1983 had actually started recording demos in an attempt to get gigs in Glasgow. No one was interested.
Cue fellow Scot Bobby Gillespie, who was in the middle of forming Primal Scream. By chance he heard the band’s first demo tape and was blown away. The men bonded over music and attitude, and crucially, The Jesus and Mary Chain got a London gig thanks to Gillespie knowing Alan McGee (they were school friends). They were duly signed to McGee’s Creation Records and first single Upside Down became a massive success on the indie chart.
By the time the band came to record Psychocandy they had been signed to Blanco y Negro (a WEA owned label) and had sacked original drummer Murray Dalglish with Gillespie stepping in to replace him. His limited drumming abilities (“I’m not a fucking drummer”) considered less important than passion and an understanding of the music.
Psychocandy brought to the mid-’80s an influential mix of leather-trousered rock (The Stooges), lo-fi attitude (Velvet Underground) and sixties production (Phil Spector). Although renowned for the noise and feedback element of their recordings, the pop sensibility of many of the songs are there for those who care to look. Just Like Honey, The Hardest Walk, Cut Dead are all superb indie-pop and the feedback-free acoustic radio sessions on disc two of this deluxe edition serve to underline the song-writing credentials of the Reid brothers. That said, they could also be pointlessly shouty when they wanted to be. See outtake Jesus Fuck as a good example.
This deluxe edition gathers together most of the essential elements of these early years. The first disc includes all the appropriate b-sides, while the CD 2 contains a mixture of unreleased radio sessions, demos and outtakes. A couple of these demos appeared on the 2008 box set The Power of Negative Thinking but most are previously unreleased. Given that these are the original portastudios demos they are predictably rough with drum machine backing, but nonetheless historically significant – the demos of Never Understand and Upside Down were what persuaded Alan McGee to give them a gig. McGee’s first independent single with the band (Upside Down) is also included with the Vegetable Man, the Syd Barrett penned b-side.
The DVD is a real highlight – hilarious and very entertaining. The early promo video of Never Understand has the boys standing and playing gloomily in slo-mo in a room, but by the time of the second single You Trip Me Up, success has obviously gone to their heads and they have jetted off – Duran Duran-style – to a beach somewhere. But rather than frolicking on yachts, The Jesus and Mary Chain just stand around on the beach looking as gloomy and bored as they did back in the dingy room from the first video!
There is a great feature on the infamous riot at North London Polytechnic – cut to lots of blokes slipping on beer as they try to throw ‘missiles’ on to an empty stage. Local news reporter: “Has your equipment been destroyed?” Bobby Gillespie: “Guitars are made of metal, they can never be destroyed!”
Final mention has to go to the unfortunate interviewer from Belgium TV channel VRT who talks to Jim Reid while Bobby Gillespie ‘makes out’ with a girl on the very same sofa. Jim tells him with a very straight face that “our direct competition is Culture Club” and when told that they are “streets ahead of Joy Division” he retorts “Joy Division were shit – don’t even talk to me about Joy Division”. Superb.
An excellent 32 page booklet, with some typically candid interviews from the main protagonists, finishes things off nicely. The packaging is identical to Edsel’s (excellent) Suede treatment, so you get an 8-panel digipack, with transparent CD trays showing off period photos and newspaper cuttings.
Psychocandy remains a defiantly great debut album – if you were not around at the time, or simply couldn’t see what the fuss was about then this deluxe edition does an exemplary job of putting the music into context and reminding us – via the DVD – how strange the band came across to even the most cynical and hardened of music journalists. But, hey, that’s part of their attraction.
Psychocandy and Darklands Deluxe Editions by The Jesus and Mary Chain are out on 19th September 2011