“My Life As A Primal Screamer” Interview with John Martin

Primal Scream

A few weeks ago I posted a video of Primal Scream’s gig at the ULU in 1987, since then I caught up with John Martin (or Martin St John as he was known then) to talk about his days with the band.

He’s currently writing a book about his years with Primal Scream between 1984 and 1987 which contains “a few shockers”!

Let’s start at the beginning, how did you meet first meet Bobby and the guys in Primal Scream?

I first met Bob G through a mate of mine The Doug who used to bump in to him going to his printers job at the time. Doug told me about this guy who was “Getting in to all that psychedelic pish like you’re getting in to” ha! I then met up with Bob G and we hit it off hanging out in late 1983. Through Bob G I met the rest of the gang – Jim Beattie first who’s room became the major hangout in those early days from late 1983 to July 1985 when I moved to Silverfoilcity in Byres Rd, The West End…

What were those days like going to the Splash One?

A real buzz! It mostly centred around the Silverfoilcity flat where I lived. We created the posters – made up the cassette mixtapes from there and quite a few of the bands stayed overnight (it will all be revealed in da book). I wasn’t part of the committee of people chipping in money and contacting the bands, I helped out with the rest (choosing playlist and artwork ideas) especially the Cloak n Dagger poster sessions all over the city centre. It was a great mixture of bands who played there from Sonic Youth, Wire, 23 Skidoo to all the Creation type bands Primal Scream, The Weather Prophets, The Pastels, The Shop Assistants. It was all go, we also wanted Julian Cope and The The too but couldn’t fit them in…

Splash1 poster

What records and bands were you listening to then?

At that time the 1960s garage punk disease had gripped our psyche. Big turntable faves were Love, The Chocolate Watchband, The Seeds, 13th Floor Elevators, Pebbles compilations plus discovering Big Star, Tim Buckley, Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood who were all major influences on us. Alex Chilton, Arthur Lee and Gene Clark were massive influences on the band especially Sister Lovers, Roadmaster and Forever Changes, those records were never off the hi-fi.

How did you come to play tambourine in Primal Scream?

Bob G and Beattie had just started this band up Primal Scream and by the time we met up the music was heading down the jingle jangle road through the heavy blasting of 1960s punked up psyche getting a grip on our fried minds. They invited me along to the rehearsals and since I wasn’t a musician but a music lover, we mentioned tambourine and maraccas as all our major fave bands had them upfront in their LPs plus there was always someone looking cool with a tambourine in those early pictures like The Velvets, Gene Clark or Sky Saxon bashing away on da back sleeve! I suppose i looked the part that also fitted in with their vision of how a band should look, ie. a gang on the same wavelength, looking cool dressing up like the early pics of The Byrds and The Seeds…

Primal Scream 1984 - 1987

What are you memories of the early Primal’s gigs?

I still have one photograph of the 1st gig I did with the Primals of me with a big grin bashing away on the tambourine. That sums it up for me, I found my natural home and when Beattie asked me if I wanted to join permanently after the the gig I was in garage pop heaven. That first gig in October 1984 was a blast – Primals/JAMC/Biff Bang Pow/Meat Whiplash – we did a great cover of Subway Sect’s ‘Nobody’s Scared’ which I don’t remember ever playing live again… Our next gig was in Gigi’s (soon to be Splash 1 HQ in June ’85) where we shared a bill with The Pastels and Buba & The Shop Assistants. Again another memorable night. I don’t know if this was the one where we played ‘Belsen Was A Gas’ as an encore cover?!? For our next gig we hit Edinburgh Waterloo Bar with The Pastels, again I recall us playing PIL’s ‘Albatross’ in our short set of about six songs.

Your last gig with the band surfaced on YouTube recently, how was it watching it after all these years?

That was a total mindsnapper viewing that last gig. I never knew anyone filmed it till now, wow! It was a strange feeling viewing the footage as I knew at the time it was to be my last gig. I felt physically sick at the time and actually puked up at the side of the stage before I went on I was that nervous. It took a while for the gig to kick in but by the end the guitars are blazing, I’m bashing the living daylights out of my tamby and the crowd are yelping like crazy, it was a good way to go-out on a high! Watchin it now I can feel da tension emanating from the tv screen as I’m avoiding any eye contact with the band onstage…

How did your time with the band come to an end?

Through various things that had been simmering away in da background such as petty bickering/new girlfriends/members being sacked/our wages spent on an aborted LP. Those were the major factors for me in coming to my own personal reason for splitting from the band at the time. It was like a slow drawn out horrible divorce, pretty traumatic for the first year after as being with the Primals had been such an important part of my life for those crucial three years from 1984-87. It was such an amazing time in my life but all over in a psychedelic flash!

What did you do after leaving Primal Scream?

I took up creating mixed media art. I had always created Trash Collage Books in my spare time and since I now had a lot of free time on my hand I threw myself in to mostly creating music related pieces, one was called Sucksess which consisted of spirals and use of painted 7inch singles and paint. I also created a POP piece outta my tambourines in homage to my time in the band, someone stole my customised white metal tambourine as a souvenir in an art gallery exhibition but they handed it back as it was a personal memento of mine.

I also took photos of Alex Chilton’s first gig in Glasgow and created a homage piece in regards to this. I also shot underground Super 8/S-VHS films and have just recently completed a screenplay called ‘Floor Punk’ which i hope to fund through Kickstarter in da future. I’ve also started writing my Primal Scream memoirs of that time in the band 1984-87 under the working title of MY LIFE AS A PRIMAL SCREAMER (The Tambourine Years 1984-87) which I hope to get published in da future…

John Martin

Did you follow their career afterwards and did you also follow Creation until the end?

I mostly followed Primal Scream over the years and kinda drifted away from the comings and goings of Creation Records. I always thought that Primal Scream would achieve success at some point (with me in them) as they had that winning ambitious vibe around them but i don’t think anyone could’ve guessed it was gonna come with Screamadelica.! Gotta admit it is one helluva LP and still stands up today. I actually went to Sheffield Arena in 1992 to see them along with The Orb as part of a miners benefit gig and they were on top form that night, superb sound and gig. Always remember Hooky coming on to play bass on ‘Atmosphere’ as the encore. Funny I was playing the ‘Vanishing Point’ CD the other night in work and that is also a particular fave. There’s been a few times where I’ve watched them live or on YouTube and thought “I can see a space there for that tambourine man on that stage ” but it wasn’t to be….

Did you ever envisage back in the early days that 30 years later there would be TV documentaries on that scene and that some of the bands would still be going?

Not really as it was such a small compact scene of a variety of bands in those 1984-87 years. It did spawn C86 and Splash 1 which has spawned all matter of videos/fanzines and media attention to this day. I see The Loft are doing some one-off gigs out & about and The June Brides also who were always a big draw in Glasgow. Of course not forgetting the Mary Chain who sound better live now than they did back then (according to the recent Barrowlands gig) when I was unconvinced of their live performances but in Psychocandy they released one corker of an LP that instantly transports you back to your 1985 time machine…

Primal Scream

You’re still a big music fan, what are you listening to these days?

Still obsessively live for The Cramps to this day but recently I loved the Sleaford Mods ‘Divide and Exit’ and Temples ‘Sun Structures’. I’ve also just recently ordered new albums from The Pop Group, Julian Cope and Public Service Broadcasting for a blast! Current fave raves on da turntable are Flamin Groovies ‘Shake Some Action’, Wayne County’s first punk LP, James Chance ‘Buy’, Manics ‘Futurology’, Plan B’s ‘Defamation of Strickland Banks’ CD and tonight I’m off to see Chic at The Academy, can’t bloody wait. Still love going to live gigs, seeing James Chance and Les Contortions last week was something else, great live performer and the tightest jazziest punkiest group you’ll ever set eyes on this year…

What made you decide to write a book now after all this time?

I actually started to write the book about 20 year ago but got to 30 pages and stopped. I’ve been putting lots of photos on Facebook and sometimes stories to go with them and people were saying “You should write a book, you were there living it up!” So now feels the right time with lots of years gone to reflect back on that particular crazy time…

Are there any tales of Rock & roll excess that you want to tell us about now?

I’ll leave the real juicy tales for the book, I don’t want to give too much away right now or n-one will buy the book, ha! There’s a few shockers that will be revealed in due course. I’m trying to mix up the stories so that it doesn’t bore the reader, recently I’ve read the Jah Wobble, Pauline Black and Viv Albertine biographies for inspiration and they’ve nailed it. Great confessional tales and all good writers to boot.