Bobby Gillespie: the soundtrack of my life

Bobby Gillespie looking sulky
(Image credit: Sarah Piantadosi)

Having just finished writing his autobiography, Tenement Kid, Bobby Gillespie has spent the past few months considering the formative musical moments that shaped the man and the musician that he became. 

“As a kid, stuff’s always going in,” says the Primal Scream vocalist. “It may not seem to have any significance, but you’re always hearing it: when you’re out on your bike, playing football with your pals, climbing walls or pretending you’re in World War II. Music was a huge part of the ambience of life, and I guess that some of it sunk in.”


The first music I remember hearing

My parents’ records. My dad used to play Ray Charles’s Greatest Hits Volume 2, and my mum Hank Williams’ Moanin’ The Blues. They also had The Supremes’ Greatest Hits and Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. So all those plus pop radio: The Move, The Troggs, the 1910 Fruitgum Company. It all comes out in Primal Scream at various points. When you’re young you take this stuff on board as if by osmosis.

The first song I performed live

Sixteen by The Buzzcocks at the Bungalow Bar, Paisley in 1981. Jim Beattie and myself played one song. We’d a drum machine, Jim played bass and I played guitar. And there was no one there. Literally.

The best record I made

Give Out But Don’t Give Up (The Original Memphis Recordings), produced by Tom Dowd. The songwriting, musicianship, production… and the intention behind us going to Memphis to record with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section and Memphis Horns. I’m very proud of that record.

The worst record I made

Crystal Crescent. The second single. I asked [label boss] Alan McGee not to release it. In my head it was like we recorded it too fast, didn’t take time to produce or arrange it, and just got this rush of energy – which is probably why some people liked it. But I knew it wasn’t right; too stuttering, too fast. Luckily everybody fell in love with its B-side [Velocity Girl] and forgot about it. 

The guitar hero

Keith Levene of Public Image Limited and John McKay of Siouxsie And The Banshees who, between them, reinvented rock guitar playing

The singer

There are so many. It’s a very wide-ranging question. I love Keith Hudson. He’s not what people would normally call a singer, but I love his voice: strident, hard, dense, obscure, abstract. I love soulful rock singers like Paul Rodgers, Gillan. And Phil Lynott, a hard rock singer who could sing you into bed. Peter Tosh: militant, righteous. OV Wright, Bobby Blue Bland. Male voices, men who’ve lived, suffered, been wronged; hard lives, real blues.

The greatest album of all time

Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy. It’s half hard rock (Jailbreak, Warriors, Emerald) and half ballads (Running Back, Fight Or Fall, Romeo And The Lonely Girl). Then you’ve got The Cowboy Song which is half ballad, half rocker. It’s a great mix of stuff. Phil Lynott tried to replicate that on every Lizzy album after and it was really hard, because it’d come so naturally. Phil brought a poetic, romantic sensibility to rock. That’s why people loved and still love him. That record hit me at just the right time. I was fifteen and The Boys Are Back In Town was fucking everywhere.

The most underrated band ever

Foxygen were a really brilliant band who played one of the best gigs I’ve seen this century. They had an album called …And Star Power that was fucking brilliant. They made about four albums and then disappeared.

The best live band I've seen

I always wanted to see the Sensational Alex Harvey Band play, but was too young. Then when I was eighteen I saw him on the Mafia Stole My Guitar tour. He played a gig at the Glasgow Apollo and there was no one there. Four years earlier he’d done three nights at the Apollo for Christmas, sold out, and here he was, in his home town, playing one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen, to a near-empty hall.

The band I wish I'd seen

MC5. My godhead band. Their music represents everything for me: rock, pop, drugs, sex, they’re the prefect looking band. Again, they’re too good for the straights to ever get them. If you don’t dig the MC5, you don’t dig rock’n’oll.

The song I wish I'd written

Warren Zevon’s Hasten Down The Wind. It’s about the true pain of two people knowing their relationship is ending but not knowing how to end it. It’s not a song of certainties, it’s two people trapped in a quicksand of dying love; an observation of human frailty, pain, need and longing, and a fantastic love song.

My Saturday Night Party Song

Sister Anne by MC5. Up against the wall, motherfucker.

The song I want played at my funeral

There’s a couple, but if I say them, somebody might nick them. Okay, the first is a make-’em-cry song: I Feel Like Going Home by Charlie Rich. The other one, for after, is a make-’em-laugh song, but I’m not going to tell you what that is. Get them laughing as well as crying, duality’s always good.

Bobby Gillespie's Tenement Kid is out now.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.