POST-PUNK trailblazers, noise-pop pioneers, the band of a generation; few artists have had the same profound effect on musical culture as The Jesus and Mary Chain. Few would have predicted that one of the world’s most important rock & roll bands would emerge from the non-cultural hotbed of East Kilbride; a place the band have since described as “deadly boring“.
Formed in 1983, it didn’t take long for two shy lads from the outskirts of Glasgow to transform into the purveyors of a formidable sound that was equally beguiling as it was bewildering. Based around the songwriting partnership of brothers Jim and William Reid, a fractious relationship that would prove to be the focal point of the group, the pair recruited bass player Douglas Hart and teenage drummer Murray Dalglish and quickly gained a reputation for their raucous live shows; nights that were often characterised by the band’s abnormally loud use of feedback and the hostile crowd interaction that ensued thereafter.
Having caught the attention of Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie and industry figurehead Alan McGee, the band soon signed to Creation Records and unleashed their debut single ‘Upside Down’; a three minute punk rock thrill ride that would ultimately change everything. Swiftly picked up by the music press, it was a song that had the NME describing them as “the best band in the world”.
With Bobby Gillespie taking over as drummer, The Jesus and Mary Chain became increasingly notorious around the UK for their outlaw behaviour. Shrouded in black leather, sunglasses and sneering attitudes, they were the sheer embodiment of rock & roll abandon; living up to the old punk adage of going in fast, delivering 20 minutes of thrashing guitar music and getting back out of there in a flash. At times performing with their backs to the crowd, their raucous and often musically violent shows were known to dissolve into utter chaos when they refused to return for an encore. In an interview with The Guardian earlier this year, Jim Reid looked back on those earlier days: “I remember we went on at Liverpool University, someone had given us a fuckload of speed before and it was just so … non-musical. We didn’t even play any songs, it was just a free-form freakout. And then afterwards, we had the gall to go and mingle with the audience!”
It was the release of their seminal debut album Psychocandy in 1985 that established them as a bonafide musical force though. Crafting a sound that was unlike anything that had come before it, the band channelled their love for punk rock and classic girl pop through a barrage of noise and attitude. Heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground, The Stooges and The Shangri Las, they buried pretty pop melodies in lacerating feedback and heavy distortion; producing a deeply distinctive sound that would go onto influence other critically acclaimed bands of the era such as My Bloody Valentine, Ride and others. In an interview with New Zealand website STUFF, Jim Reid discussed their unique approach to music: “A guitar makes equally brilliant music when it’s abused as it does when some expert plays it. And so we spent years and years abusing musical instruments and getting the best out of them.”
Bobby Gillespie pursued The Velvet Underground’s style of drumming with a single snare and floor tom, while frontman Reid delivered his surly Scottish brogue over a wall of noise. It was an album that dealt in juxtapositions; melody and noise, beauty and violence, love and hate. The Jesus and Mary Chain had no middle ground. From the nihilistic ‘In A Hole’ and ‘The Living End’ to the throbbing noise-pop classic ‘Just Like Honey’, Psychocandy was a landmark moment in the history of British music.
After being picked up by US college radio, the band toured America before releasing their second album Darklands in 1987. By this time Bobby Gillespie had left the band to pursue his career with Primal Scream, so the brothers used a drum machine in his place throughout the recording. Widely regarded as one of their more accessible records, the album saw them temper their initial noisier approach in favour of a more melodic and structured sound; the moody romance and smouldering aesthetic were very much still present but the wall of noise had been pared back to tight chords and big pop hooks. For those excited by the raw, feedback-laden sound of Psychocandy, Darklands came as a surprise; however, not only did it contain some of their finest work, but it also highlighted the unobstructed level of songwriting talent at their disposal. Featuring the iconic single ‘April Skies’, their second record dealt the brothers their biggest commercial success – reaching number 5 in the UK charts.
Following trouble in America and a number of line-up changes, the band released Automatic (1989), Honey’s Dead (1992) and Stoned & Dethroned (1994). Despite containing career highlights such as ‘Sometimes Always’, a track which featured Hope Sandoval from Mazzy Star, ‘Head On’ and ‘Blues From A Gun’, the pair failed to reach the unassailable heights of their earlier work. However, on the verge of a US breakthrough with Stoned & Dethroned, in true Mary Chain style, it took the band another four years to produce Munki (1998); a record which failed to spark interest at the time and went onto be largely ignored amongst the rest of their hugely influential discography. By the time they had staggered to the release of their sixth album, the Reid brothers’ relationship had all but disintegrated and the band soon split. Speaking to Uncut magazine, Jim said: “It started to become a bit tedious to go to the studio. Then on tour we’d bicker about anything. It got quite unpleasant on gruelling 10-week tours.”
After trying their hand at new musical projects (Jim formed Freeheat while William went solo as Lazycame), The Jesus and Mary Chain announced their long awaited return with an appearance at Coachella in 2007. A series of well-received world tours, greatest hits releases and anniversary shows followed along with a reunion with Alan McGee at Creation Management. Having teased the prospect of new material along the way, the band finally unveiled their first album in nearly two decades earlier this year.
Picking up exactly where they left off, Damage and Joy was met with roundly positive reviews upon its release in March. Featuring a myriad of guest female vocalists, it marked a slick and polished return to that distinctive Mary Chain sound; a sound brimming with big guitars and even bigger hooks. Adding morbid gems like ‘Amputation’, ‘Always Sad’ and ‘All Things Must Pass’ to their canon of musical eminence, fans were overjoyed by the return of one of rock & roll’s most influential songwriting partnerships. In an interview with the Guardian back in March, William discussed his working relationship with Jim and the need to become an “alive band” again: “I have been playing in studios over the decades, doing demos and trying to get my shit together, and I always come back to the same conclusion: that I needed Jim, you know. I needed his input, his voice. He’s not an effusive guy. He’ll never be coming to you and telling you you’re brilliant or you’re great or whatever, but Jim’s seal of approval, even if it’s just a nod or a ‘Hmmm, that’s OK,’ means a lot to me, you know? And I think the same is true of him with me Yeah, I can make records without Jim, Jim can make records without me, but there’s a special thing that happens, and I’d kind of missed that.”
Without rehashing former glories, the Mary Chain have proven that they are still every bit as relevant as they were thirty years ago. 2017 has marked the dawning of a new era for the band; and their highly anticipated appearance at Electric Fields will surely go down as one of its many crowning glories. While they may not attract the same tabloid-bating ruckus of yesteryear, the festival will be a chance to see one of the most influential back catalogues in musical history; an opportunity to catch one of Scotland’s finest musical exports in action. Simply put, it’s a set you cannot miss.
The Jesus and Mary Chain play Electric Fields on Saturday 2nd September. Weekend and day tickets are still available here.