Tales of Endless Bliss - The Primevals (Closer Records)
"Hipster beware! Time to be free; rock 'n' roll is primeval beat."
Lindsay Hutton, founder of the “Next Big Thing” fanzine and “The Legion of the Cramped” Cramps Fan Club, knows a thing or two about great rock 'n’ roll. His liner notes to the “On The Red Eye” anthology of early Primevals material succinctly summarised the appeal of the Glaswegian garage veterans: "Their Gun Club meets Radio Birdman take on Detroit rock 'n' soul preachin' blues was much more direct than practically anything that has ever come outta Glasgow.“
Formed by Michael Rooney in Glasgow, Scotland in 1983, The Primevals were the compete antithesis of everything that was fashionable at the time. Right up to the present day, the group has always been roundly ignored by mainstream media both in Glasgow and at a national level, aside from a handful of free thinking journalists who have championed them through thick and thin.
From the band's first inception, the Primevals were interested in the roots of rock 'n' roll, particularly in black music forms like blues, soul and jazz, but also country, rockabilly and 1960s white teenagers' reinvention of Black R&B in the form of desperate, deranged garage rock. Having been on intermittent hiatus for a number of years in the '90s, the Primevals really kicked back into action circa 2007 with the release of "There Is No Other Life and This Is It". Astonishingly, the band had become stronger in the intervening years, rooted in impressive song-writing and sympathetically presented by the sublime recording and production skills of Sandy Jones at Foundry Music Labs in Craigneuk, Lanarkshire.
“Tales of Endless Bliss” is the fourth Primevals album since their re-activation, the follow-up to 2012's excellent “Heavy War” (which moved The Barman to describe the group as "Scotland's coolest band") and their first without long-serving bass player John Honeyman. The album kicks off with the hallucinatory “Pink Cloud”; with hints of early 70s UK proto-punk, this could almost be a long-lost classic from the legendary Ladbroke Grove scene centred around The Deviants and Pink Fairies.
Second track “Just One More Shot” bursts from the speakers like Richard Hell and the Voidoids reincarnated as a heart-pounding Northern Soul band; from there on in, “Tales of Endless Bliss” is a non-stop riot of high energy garage-soul and R&B, with the guitars playing jazz-oriented horn lines as often as they chop and slash like Bob Quine and Ivan Julian. On the highly addictive chorus, Rooney declares: “I am finally landed, on a secure spot; I talked to myself and demanded- just one more shot”. It’s the first indication of a theme that defines the album and is repeatedly returned to in different forms; the importance of never giving up, of having faith in yourself and your fellow humans, and actively striving to overcome setbacks and personal failings.
“Tell It Now” follows in an intense adrenaline rush, an urgent, wide-eyed proclamation by a man stepping off the cliff of locked-down safety to impart his heart's truth. It's perhaps the most exciting song I've heard all year, although goodness knows there's stiff competition from almost every track on this compelling album. “Re-frame It” continues the lyrical theme of personal resilience while digging deep into classic garage rock, while “You’re Not Here Now” opens with an intriguing modal guitar figure that sounds inspired by African jazz.
“Started All Over Again” is another life-affirming punk soul number featuring John Entwistle style bass-playing and increasingly free and frazzled guitar reminiscent of Link Wray, teeing up the urgent, four-on-the-floor stomper “Let Your Ego Go”, which contains the pointed lyric “We’re all the same, searching for someone to blame”.
“Sucked The Life” takes things into trippy Gene Clark country, before we tumble into the gripping “Crisis-a-go-go”, the darkest track on the album, as Rooney unleashes some deliciously deranged alto sax that drinks from the same well as Albert Ayler. Closing the album is the irresistible, straight-ahead garage thumper “Hipster Beware”, lyrically an apparently simple reaffirmation of rock ‘n’ roll’s vital essence, which contains a profound truth about our connection to music. It’s the perfect ending to a joyous, exhilarating album.
Drummer Paul Bridges excels throughout; always playing with great taste and restraint, Bridges lays down heavy grooves with the power of Scott "Rock Action" Asheton in his Sonic's Rendezvous Band prime. Earl Palmer- the New Orleans session great who invented the rock 'n' roll backbeat when playing on early hits by Fats Domino and Little Richard and supplied the monumental drum track on Eddie Cochran's “Somethin' Else”- is also brought to mind, as is the great Hal Blaine. These are heavyweight comparisons, but make no mistake, Bridges is one of the greatest rock 'n' roll drummers around today, and he is on peerless form throughout "Tales of Endless Bliss".
There are two very significant developments, compared to the previous three Primevals albums; John Honeyman having sadly left the band, his replacement Ady Gillespie makes his recorded debut on this album. While Honeyman's bass-playing exhibited a similar muscularity and intelligent movement to Ron Asheton's playing on the Stooges' Raw Power album, Gillespie has his own style entirely, not immediately dissimilar to Honeyman, but revealing itself over repeated listens to have a strong on-the-one funk sensibility, recalling Bootsy Collins or Bernard Odum with his use of space and precision. Honeyman remains within the Primevals family, providing backing vocals on several tracks. Gillespie's uncluttered yet strongly anchored playing frees up guitarists Tom Rafferty and Martyn Rodger to express themselves and boy, do they pick up the ball and run with it.
This is the second new development on “Tales of Endless Bliss”; despite the songs being tight and well-structured, the guitars on this album are feral and unfettered, with the glorious scuzz and abandon of Crime, Rowland S. Howard or Sonic Youth. The dissonance of the first two Pretty Things' albums is apparent, along with hints of Blue Cheer, but overall the influence of Free Jazz is most apparent, with Rafferty citing Sonny Sharrock and James Blood Ulmer as influences. Rodger brings in personal influences including Syd Barrett, Glen Buxton and "a penchant for messiness".
It's a highly inventive, fresh and intoxicating brew; the Primevals are breaking new ground here, bringing back much-needed intelligence to rock 'n' roll, not in an overly-studied or pointedly intellectual way, but with a channeling and evocation of the wild primal energies that crackle through the work of Link Wray, the Stooges and Jerry Lee Lewis, the untamed fire spirits who exhibited a profound, carnal spirituality in their music.
The icing on the cake is provided by the convivial godfather of the Glasgow garage scene, Michael Rooney. It's time to celebrate the Primevals' singer and main songwriter, who has amassed a staggering back catalogue of great songs, not least in the last eight years of the band's lifetime. Rooney's singing has always carried the stamp of Captain Beefheart's vocal phrasing; with his voice having matured and deepened in recent years, the singer makes subtle but effective use of nuance and timing when employing his soulful baritone croon.
As well as writing the majority of the music on the album (Rafferty provided the music for “Let Your Ego Go” and “Hipster Beware”), Rooney has crowned these effervescent songs with empowering, hopeful lyrics for all of us who have ever experienced hardships and setbacks but strive for better times. Like Beefheart's exhilarating excursion into soul and R&B on “Clear Spot”, “Tales of Endless Bliss” retains everything great about the Primevals while expanding into new and fruitful pastures.
Astonishingly, the group has managed to trump every album in its flawless back catalogue and hit new peaks on this passionate, life-affirming and riotous new album. Still prophets without honour in their own land, but cherished by those with ears to hear from Rouen to Sydney, Rooney's very own magic band are a reminder that we do not have to go gentle into that good night; with music like this in our veins, we can face our devils and rage against the dying of the light.
Turn it up, let your ego go and dig that primeval beat.
CD/DL/Limited Edition 12" Vinyl LP with free CD