Robert 'Throb' Young, remembered

Robert ‘Throb’ Young was the quintessential, larger-than-life guitarist who put five star rock‘n’roll diesel in Primal Scream’s engine room even when they were heading higher than the sun. He was like a kid-in-a-candy-store rock giant, stalking the world’s stages with defiant 70s hair, slinging his guitar through his own alchemical mutations of riffs and lines he’d painstakingly learned off every great Stones, Faces or MC5 album, although he could caress Steve Cropper-style southern soul from his instrument like one of the greats.

After joining his Glasgow school friend Bobby Gillespie’s nascent Primal Scream on bass in the mid-80s, Throb switched to guitar and, by the band’s self-titled second album, was displaying the luminous raunch which would help transform the band into the world-changing outfit which created Screamadelica and went on to become the UK’s most incendiary high-energy rock ‘n’ roll band in subsequent years. He had the Stones tongue tattooed on his shoulder and knew every Keef and Woody lick. We both excitedly dropped nearly a grand in the Rolling Stones shop while in Tokyo (and I still have the Keef poster he gave me out of those spoils). He could infuriate the group by collapsing midset but made up for it by tearing a strip out of the heavens with the solo he uncorked when he got back on his feet. He was also one of the funniest men on the planet, an old school rock‘n’roll swashbuckler who could charm the punters anywhere from an e-stoked rave to Manchester’s most hardcore gay club.

It’s well known that Throb was often leading the charge when Primal Scream were at the peak of their excessive last-gang-in-town notoriety in the 1990s, but this should not be what he’s remembered for now he’s sadly passed away at the age of 49 at home in Hove, Sussex. Throb was in love with the rock‘n’roll world and those who sailed closest to the wind on its oceans, revelling in and even trying to relive the stories, myths and legends but loving the music more. NME once called him “the most terrifying man in Britain” but many more simply described him as the absolute personification of rock‘n’roll. Throb took to the hedonistic lifestyle with incorrigible abandon, and I’ve got plenty of memories from my years as the band’s tour DJ and occasional studio collaborator which would still make me smile if I didn’t think they may have contributed to his demise and eventual departure from the band he helped shape, in 2006.

I’m finding it unbelievably hard to even write about Throb for the simple reason I can’t believe he’s not here any more, but certain memories loom which hopefully illustrate the depth and beauty of this mighty, wayward soul. For instance, the day in 1994 when I turned up at a studio under the Westway to remix the Scream’s Jailbird as the follow-up to Rocks. I rang the bell and Throb answered, fresh from filming the video with Bobby and keyboardist Martin Duffy in tow.

He had decided to come and help with the mix. “I got you a present!” declared the rich Scottish brogue. Knowing my fondness for rabbits, Rob had acquired a fluffy brown cuddly bunny, which now occupied a studio seat in my place as producer Throbert Rabbit. We laid into the remix, going for a southern fried voodoo feel packed with diversions and I watched in mirthful amazement as Throb leapt around firing out ideas. At one point we visited the nearby Honest Jon’s record shop to find Aerosmith’s Toys in The Attic for inspiration, Throb picking up a knackered one-stringed guitar out of the garbage to hack out a demonic rock riff to be placed halfway through the track (which by now had acquired a police siren and Jerry Lee Lewis yelp from a live album).

Another favourite memory comes from when Primal Scream topped the bill at the 1994 Reading Festival (so scaring Ice Cube and his gangsta posse with their antics that they cowered in their backstage caravan). That night, in front of a seething crowd stretching back as far as the eye could see, the Scream were on fire, supercharged like the MC5 on the rockers while commanding pin-drop silence on the slowies. During a gorgeous soul ballad called Everybody Needs Somebody, which they’d recorded with legendary producer Tom Dowd in Memphis the previous year, the lights dropped to red and blue and, both in real life and on the video screens, all eyes fell on Throb as the song worked its luminescent magic. Hair obscuring his face, he stalked the stage with his black Les Paul slung in front of his belt buckle; in his element, living the dreams he’d had since he was a kid posing in his bedroom. When it was time for his solo he played it cool before sending out a euphoric six-string soul salvo which seemed to send a mass communal shiver through every spine in that huge crowd, like an enormous light had manifested over the whole field, waiting to be consummated by Throb’s opening chords on Movin’ On Up.

At that point, Throb seemed to have the whole spirit of rock ‘n’ roll’s past and present searing out of his guitar. When he melted away from the Scream as the 21st century progressed, there seemed like nothing anyone could do. I was always waiting for him to return, smiling that enormous full beam grin with the hearty cackle I’d heard so many times from DJing at his wedding to building a champagne terrace out of a French window on the fifth floor of Brighton’s Grand Hotel. His passing is made more sad by the news that he seemed to have beaten his demons and was demoing new songs with old band-mate Duffy in Hove. Throb must have fallen over again and this time didn’t get up. Sad and blue doesn’t begin to describe what I’m feeling but it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have known the guy I’ll always remember as indeed the ultimate personification of rock‘n’roll, up there next to his beloved Keef but now probably jamming with Brian Jones.

Old bandmates Bobby and Andrew Innes issued a statement declaring “We have lost our comrade and brother Robert Young. A beautiful and deeply soulful man. He was an irreplaceable talent, much admired amongst his peers. He was a true rock and roller. He walked the walk. He had ‘Heart & Soul’ tattooed on his arm and I’m sure on his heart too. In the words of Johnny Marr, ‘Throb with a gold top Les Paul – unbeatable.‘”

When I asked his former band-mate Mani, he said it all and summed up how I’m feeling right now; “Always game for a laugh, and always fell for my shit jokes. My world now has a massive hole in it. Crazy times with the crazy brotherhood of Scream will burn in my heart forever. Hope you find the peace you never found in life. Love you Throb. X.”

Kris Needs

Kris Needs is a British journalist and author, known for writings on music from the 1970s onwards. Previously secretary of the Mott The Hoople fan club, he became editor of ZigZag in 1977 and has written biographies of stars including Primal Scream, Joe Strummer and Keith Richards. He's also written for MOJO, Record Collector, Classic Rock, Prog, Electronic Sound, Vive Le Rock and Shindig!