The Jesus and Mary Chain are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their debut album by going on tour. Duncan Seaman reports.
The Jesus and Mary Chain were never a band to do things by halves. Their early shows in the mid-1980s were so incendiary that they prompted riots, DJs at BBC Radio 1 refused to play their records and the group memorably ended in 1998 with an onstage punch-up between brothers Jim and William Reid.
Up until recent times the prospect of a reunion seemed highly unlikely – but, explains singer and guitarist Jim, now aged 53, much has changed. This month he and William head out on a tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their landmark album Psychocandy.
Reflecting on the circumstances that brought them back together, Jim says: “Time passes and wounds heal, I guess.”
At the point when he and this interviewer last spoke, in 2006, he admits: “At that particular time I couldn’t have imagined being in the Mary Chain again. Five years passed, there had been several people that made several offers. It was only when we talked about it that we realised we were both into it.
“And also you start to realise that if you don’t do it now it’s never going to happen. You’ve only got one life, you know, you might as well make the most of it.”
With its combination of ear-splitting noise and melody, Psychocandy, the band’s debut album which came out in 1985, is commonly regarded by rock writers as one of the greatest albums of all time. Three decades later, Jim says: “It was pretty chaotic back then but it was as exciting as hell. The record has stood the test of time – you can’t ask for more than that.”
Looking back, he admits he and William were at least half-prepared for the reaction their feedback-drenched records and brief yet explosive concerts would inspire.
“We kind of knew that we didn’t have a showbiz bone in our body,” he says wryly. “We knew more about what we hated than what we liked back then. We hated most of what we came across in the music business, so yes, we knew we were going to put noses out of joint. We were sort of aware of what we were doing and what was going on. I wouldn’t say that it was contrived but we were certainly aware of the impact it was having, both negative and positive.”
Their then manager, Alan McGee, talked provocatively of the JAMC’s gigs as “art terrorism”. “Depending on what night you caught us, it was pretty unscripted and chaos was the order of the day,” remembers Jim. “We didn’t know what was going to happen next. It got rather out of control when it became the norm to come to a Mary Chain gig with a crowbar or something. Then it started to get a bit ridiculous, a bit out of control and it wasn’t funny any more. It was scary at times, there were some ugly scenes. We probably poured petrol on those flames but a lot of it was our naivety and our inexperience. We’d never been in a band before, hadn’t really travelled or seen the world. We were just stumbling through doing what we thought was a laugh, what was amusing to us and then we realised that being in a band carried responsibilities. We actually had to control this thing. It was becoming out of control.”
The howls of feedback and white noise that was Pyschocandy was cloaked in were a response, Jim says, to the polished chart music of that era.
“Me and William said we were inspired by bad music rather than good,” he says. “We were appalled by the music scene in the early 80s. The stuff that was in the charts was bad enough. We also thought the non-achieving indie crowd were almost as bad, maybe even worse.
“It seemed to be that the indie scene was like a celebration of failure. That sounds almost Thatcherite – I don’t mean it to, I can almost understand the way the indie scene was, it was a reaction to Thatcher’s Britain – ‘You’ve got all these idiots in Armani suits with no soul, we’ll be the opposite of that’ – I think that was the wrong approach, basically.
“We wanted to take our music into large arenas and stadiums and that was it, that’s what the Mary Chain were all about. We grew up watching the likes of David Bowie and Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops – that was our role models.”
Despite the fact that their inspirations, which included the Velvet Underground, Einstürzende Neubaten, the Stooges and the Shangri-Las, were as far from regular Top of the Pops fare, the Reids genuinely believed their band would be massive.
“I can’t really think of any reason to do it if you didn’t think you were better than anybody else, therefore you’re going to succeed,” Jim explains. “You couldn’t get out of bed if you thought you were mediocre. We thought we were better than everyone else in the world. We wanted to take that as far as we could.
“The Velvet Underground were, I think, the best rock and roll band ever. There were lessons to be learned from listening to Velvets records, as hopefully there are listening to Mary Chain records.”
Today Jim recognises the Mary Chain were “fabulously naive” and “snotty-nosed little punks”; he appreciates their attitude held them back commercially. “I’d say we thought ‘Let’s play the game a little bit’ and then it suddenly dawned on us that we had no clue as to how to do that,” he says. “We seemed to put noses out of joint without even trying; we seemed to be constantly shooting ourselves in the foot. We’d make friends and all we’d end up doing would be to appall people and add another enemy to the list.”
• The Jesus and Mary Chain play at O2 Academy Leeds on February 17.
• For tickets visit http://www.o2academyleeds.co.uk/event/72197/the-jesus-and-mary-chain-tickets