“We all have appointments with the past.” – W.G. Sebald
While watching Lost in France recently, my mind wandered back to an unforgettable pilgrimage to my ancestral homeland of Scotland in March 2000. The trip was for business and pleasure: to review Primal Scream live and go to Chemikal Underground’s fifth birthday party.
The bill at the latter featured Mogwai, Arab Strap, Aerogramme, Bis, Magoo, Suckle and the Delgados. The MC and DJ until 4am in the morning was the late, great John Peel.
It was a wonderful night, or at least what I remember of it. I’d flown over with two friends from Dublin at dawn, and we spent the day doing a stadium tour of Celtic Park, meeting then Mogwai guitarist John Cummings and drinking. When the plane touched down in Glasgow we were already in good spirits. So much so that the Strathclyde Police called me aside for questioning.
This was over a year before 9/11, so you didn’t need a passport to travel to the UK. The only ID I was able to present was a bank card. The police man gave me a wary and suspicious look.
“What brings you to Scotland, sir?” he asked. I told him I was going to see a few bands, including Primal Scream.
“Ah, Primal Scream!” he beamed, as I suddenly realised perhaps name-checking the most notorious drug-guzzling Scottish band of all time to a police officer in an airport might not be such a good idea after all.
“My son has all their CDs. Enjoy your stay.”
One port of call that evening was the infamous Nice n’ Sleazy’s pub just opposite the Garage on Glasgow’s Sauciehall Street. The pitchers of cocktails were so dirt cheap we unanimously decided to get one each. This seemed like a fantastic idea at the time, but we got so spectacularly pissed, we were barely able to cross the street.
On arrival at the venue, some poor girl tried to interview me for John Peel’s show on BBC Radio One. I proceeded to rant incoherently for what might have been at least fifteen minutes. I doubt any of it was fit to broadcast.
While memories of the night are fuzzy, to say the very least, I remember Mogwai being as magnificent as ever. They only played three songs – ‘Helps Both Ways’, the live premiere of the then unreleased ‘Year 2000 Replacement Kappa’ and the customary epic set closer ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’. I know this thanks to the extraordinary resource that is Setlist FM, not from memory. I wrote a feature about the night and Chemikal Underground for the long defunct Irish magazine D’Side. Fuck knows how I managed that. I don’t remember seeing Arab Strap and I think we may have missed them. This is a mystery I will never be able to solve. However, I do remember talking to Aidan and Malcolm from Arab Strap.
The club was great. I think John Peel finished with ‘Outer Space’ by the Prodigy, or at least I remember him playing it towards the end. It was a real privilege to see the great man in the flesh, spinning tunes and making everyone deliriously happy.
Of course, none of us had bothered our arse booking anywhere to stay. Fortunately, the lads got chatting to some girls from an Icelandic indie band who had just played King Tut’s. I have absolutely no idea what they were called, but they were very friendly and one of them seemed to have designs on one of us.
It wasn’t me by the way. I think my girlfriend at the time was visiting her family in London, which was just as well. I had a mobile for work, but she didn’t. It’s mad when you think about just how different 2000 was in this regard. I’m sure a barrage of drunken texts and calls to her that weekend would’ve stopped being amusing quite quickly.
Anyway, the girls invited us back to the tour bus and said we could kip there for a couple of hours. The bus was parked beside King Tut’s. I remember gazing out at its famous sign, which had been photographed in countless features about Oasis. In May 1993, Oasis played a last minute unannounced support show. Alan McGee was in attendance and immediately signed them to Creation Records. The rest is history.
The craic was good on the tour bus, but after a while I got my head down to sleep. I was woken up after an hour or two by an angry tour manager very loudly asking me who the fuck we were and what the fuck were we doing on his tour bus.
I told this obnoxious long-haired prick that the band had invited us to stay on the bus. “Well, we’re going to Leeds now, so you better leave,” he said, becoming ever so slightly less of a prick, but then he reverted back to type, demanding to search our bags to check if we had stolen anything.
I was getting incredibly pissed off with this fucker, so I asked him to give us a lift to Edinburgh. “No, we’re going to facking Leeds,” he roared.
Not wanting to go to facking Leeds, or spend any more time in the company of a deranged asshole, we all got off the bus and went for breakfast.
Things got even more out of hand in Edinburgh. We got the train about 9am. I’m pretty sure some cans were consumed on the journey. We passed through Falkirk, where Arab Strap hail from. I remember thinking it looked rather pretty, or at least compared to how Aidan Moffat portrayed it.
There was supposed to be a hotel booked for us in Edinburgh, as I was reviewing the Primal Scream gig for Hot Press. They were headlining Homelands that year, so there was a small budget from the promoter to pay for a room. Only problem was when we checked in they had no reservation for us.
Fortunately, it was all sorted by a few phone calls, so we finally got a room and had a well-needed wash and a rest. We got a cab to the Corn Exchange. It was Primal Scream’s first show in Edinburgh in eleven years, so tickets were gold dust. People were begging us for spares as soon as we got out of the taxi.
And guess what? We weren’t on the guest list. More phone calls. Anyone with any sense in Dublin was by now completely ignoring me. Eventually, I gently persuaded them that I was a bona fide journalist reviewing the show. They believed me, and gave us passes for the after show, too.
The gig was amazing. It was the Scream Team at the peak of their XTRMNTR powers with a sensational line up featuring Mani and Kevin Shields. Bobby Gillespie’s Mum danced with us on the guest balcony.
Bobby was in fantastic form at the after show party. I was introduced to Kevin Shields, who bought us all double vodka and Red Bulls. We chatted about Dublin and he told me he used to work in Dunne’s Stores in Stillorgan. He said didn’t particularly like that job, but he then got another one in McKenna’s electrical shop and was completely in his element. I could imagine the teenage Kevin Shields being absolutely delighted with himself, finally being able to work in an electrical shop in Ireland’s first shopping centre.
The party continued well into the early hours. I recall Bobby Gillespie telling everyone we were in the Continuity IRA. I think we walked back to the hotel. It probably took hours.
Breakfast involved a Bloody Mary for the sake of my own sanity. We did a lot of record shopping. Glasgow and Edinburgh back then were full of brilliant second-hand vinyl shops selling gems for next to nothing. I picked up a vinyl copy of Screamadelica, which meant a lot, as I was running a club called Screamadelica at the time.
Of course, something else had to go wrong. I lost my plane ticket somewhere along the merry way, and had to pay a surcharge at the airport to get another one issued. At least it wasn’t Ryanair, so I wasn’t fleeced too much for being such a twat. I also managed to lose a Primal Scream poster signed by Bobby, Mani, Kevin and Throb, who passed away in 2015.
It was an unforgettable trip, and an amazing chance to see some of the best bands Scotland has ever produced. And of course, John Peel. Teenage dreams so hard to beat.
Lost in France will be shown at the IFI, Dublin on Friday, March 3 at 6.15pm followed by a panel discussion, and then a live show at Workman’s Club afterwards about 9pm featuring Emma Pollock and RM Hubbert. Tickets are €12, or €10 if you bring along your cinema ticket from the screening. Available here.
You can read my feature for The Quietus about Lost in France here.