LIVE REVIEW: Primal Scream @ Cardiff Castle (22/07/22)

Primal Scream and friends celebrate thirty years since the release of their seminal album, Screamadelica.

When tickets first went on sale it was a no brainer. An all day event, kicking off at 2:30 pm, in Cardiff Bay, with Primal Scream performing tunes from on one the nineties landmark albums. Also on the bill, Happy Mondays, Peter Hook and the Light and Hot Chip DJing.  Loads of my mates would be going. It would be nostalgia heaven.

In the months between snapping up the tickets and the actual gig, things slowly started to unravel. Firstly the gig moved from Cardiff Bay to Cardiff Castle. Then it changed from a 2:30 start to a 6:30 start. Hot chip disappeared from the bill and Peter Hook and the light slowly morphed into a Peter Hook DJ set. This still left an event worth attending,  but there was frustration because there was no word from the promoter. No e mails were sent out and none were replied to. Posters did not change many websites still advertised the original arrangements. Social media was not happy.  People were demanding refunds.

Then a week before the gig Paul Ryder tragically passed away. He was the bass player with Happy Mondays and brother of Singer Shaun Ryder. Grief and condolence rightly flowed. But with only a week to go, people started to wonder if they would be playing.  Surely there was no time to find a new bass player and the band, not to mention Shaun, would be grieving.

Still no word from the promoter.

And as it turned out, with the exception of an e mail announcing the venue change two days before the gig, there was no other word about the changes. Not even any condolences.

The internet became increasingly disgruntled.  My response? It’s PRIMAL FUCKING SCREAM performing  SCREAMAFUCKINGDELICA. Who cares what else is happening. I had bought tickets to see Primal Scream.  I never liked Happy Mondays,  even in their prime, and whilst I like Joy Division I wasnt going to be upset about missing a Joy Division tribute act – even if it featured one of the original members.

The day came and, fortunately, the scorching heatwave was subsiding. The rain that would inevitably follow had yet to materialise. It was perfect weather for an outdoor gig.

There was a queue to get in stretching around the bloc which looked quite daunting, but this was the last of a string of several weeks of gigs in the castle. Security had their shit together and the queue almost jogged it’s way into the venue.

This was the first time I had been to a gig inside this medieval / Victorian fortress.  Initially built by the Normas to help pacify the Welsh it evolved over the years until eventually becoming a tourist attraction and, now, concert venue. As I walked through the gates it all made sense. With the keep looking down over all, it is a pretty impressive venue for a gig.

There was a large crowd but the failure to sell out, combined with alleged refunds being demanded, made for a great party atmosphere,  but no crush and quick service at the bar.

Hooky was still on the bill, but just doing a DJ set rather than with his band. The big video screens showed him looking through his CD collection for ‘Now that’s what I call the nineties’ and other predictable favourites. He didn’t have three turntables spinning, he wasn’t scratching or mixing, just playing fairly mainstream hits from the nineties. Not even remixes or white label dubplates. The set was like a reasonably good pub Jukebox would sound if some football lads were in picking the songs. They were good tunes to be fair, and he prompted lots of grins, but it was nothing groundbreaking and not really a spectator sport.

Eventually it was time for the Happy Mondays. I’ve never really been a fan. They just sounded like a cacophony to me. Almost as bad as Oasis. They did have one half decent song, but that was a cover version.

I’ve seen Shaun’s other band, Black Grape, in the last few years. Shaun didn’t seem to do much, he spent most of the gig sat down. I left early and bumped into Shaun outside the chip shop as he was getting into his limo, even though Black Grape were still on stage.

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much.

As they hit the stage Shaun dedicated the first song to his brother and a big cheer went up. Then off they went.

Perhaps it was my low expectations or maybe it was that I have been wrong all these years, but I actually quite enjoyed them. Considering I  was not a fan, I knew most of the set and I got caught up in the groove.

Half way through the second song Shaun called a halt to proceedings to give the band a row. Then after a brief conversation he apologised. “Sorry folks, turns out we are doing the seven inch version, rather than the twelve inch remix”. A theme that would crop up in the banter between socks for the rest of the show.

Bez was annoying because he pranced around the stage wearing shorts, with socks pulled half way up his legs. I wanted to run down the shop and buy trainer socks for him.

Half way through the set we went for a wander and found ourselves up against the barrier that separated the ordinary punters from the gold circle punters. For an extra few quid you could gain access to the area immediately in front of the stage. For a few quid more you could have a seat on a mound over looking the stage and have drinks with the band. If they hung around.

Eventually they do the twelve inch “twisting my melons’ version of ‘Step On’ (John Kongos, 1971) and I’m happy.  Even if it is a Friday.

When anyone asks me what my favourite period for music, I always respond, “now”. I would always prefer to watch an upcoming contemporary band rather than walk down memory lane. Nostalgia is not what it used to be. At the moment, vibrant bands on the scene include Dactyl Terra, Biggest Thing Since Powdered Milk, Regime, Barstool Preachers, Sporadics, Roghneck Riot, Bob Vylan, Lazy Eyes, King Buffalo – this list is massive. There is no need to get bogged down in the past.

It has to be said though, the nineties provided a rich stream of fantastic music; Headmix Collective, PAIN, AOS3, Tarantism, Tofu Love Frogs, Mandragora, Dub War and many more, provided the soundtrack to an amazing decade. There was one thing different about the nineties though. It was the only period I can think of when the mainstream and the charts featured decent music. Chart topping artists found their way into my record collection, such as; The Stone Roses (First album and Second Coming), Leftfield (Leftism) Prodigy (fat of the Band), Chemical Brothers (Exit Planet Dust), Propellerheads (Decksandrumsandrockandroll) and – Primal Scream’s Screamadelica.

It was a ground-breaking album, one of the first to mix rock and dance music, with Andrew Weatherall transforming their indie guitar sound into something dancefloor friendly. The band never sat still though. Not ones to rest on their laurels, they continued to reinvent themselves for forthcoming albums, each of them damn fine rock albums, they never even tried to recreate that Screamadelica sound. And I have always admired them for that.

Thirty years on and they are on tour to celebrate that landmark. The crowd seems to be full of people who remember the album first time around – which is understandable – but there don’t seem to be any youngsters in the crowd at all.

Frontman Bobby Gillespie struts onto stage wearing a red suit with a yellow sun on the front, in the style of the Screamadelica cover. Guitarist Andrew Innes is immaculately cool by not bowing to rock and roll stereotypes and wears a smart grey suit and porkpie hat, casually knocking out killer riffs.

The set is, to state the obvious, made up entirely by tunes from Screamadelica. The backdrop for the stage is impressively visual, colourful, and psychedelic. For some reason the video screens to the side of the stage are black and white. But the main focus is the music. The funky bits are funkier than the album and rock bits are rockier. Gilespie doesn’t smile much, but the crowd more than make up for it.

As the set comes to a close and they leave the stage, it is pretty obvious what will kick off the encore. The one tune from the album they haven’t played. The tune that transformed the band from an obscure indie rock band to one of the biggest bands on the planet. Loaded. The crowd goes wild, hands are thrust in the air and aching old bodies bounce.

To prove they were never one trick ponies, they follow up with ‘Swastika Eyes, ‘Jailbird’, ‘Country Girl’ and finish off with ‘Rocks’.

Despite all the moaning in advance, every one that made the effort enjoyed the night. The venue was pretty impressive, the stage show was very impressive, and bands delivered the goods. Everyone left with a huge grin on their face, including this miserable reviewer.

It was only the second-best gig I had been to this week, the first being King Buffalo in the Exchange. I will always prefer seeing contemporary underground bands in small venues, but if I had to pick a big band performing an old album in a large venue – Primal Scream performing Screamadelica in Cardiff Castle would be near the top of a very short list. And on the night, it ticked all the boxes. I smiled all the way home.