Primal Scream, South Facing Festival review: like a rallying of the troops in the face of cancellation

Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream performs during South Facing Festival
Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream performs during South Facing Festival - Burak Cingi/Redferns

Only a few weeks ago, you’d have expected this outdoor extravaganza to be empty but for a small lynch mob throwing rocks, so unanimously hateful was social-media opinion on Bobby Gillespie’s crew.

Some of the allegations from an inquest statement widely shared by keyboardist Martin Duffy’s son Louie have since been disputed: Duffy, who’d been battling alcoholism and last December tragically passed away after a fall at his Brighton home, apparently didn’t die “penniless”. Still, wouldn’t it have been better for all bereaved parties if Twitter’s judge-and-jury hadn’t irresponsibly passed sentence on the evidence of but one witness?

Post-controversy, South Facing’s Friday billing was like a rallying of the troops to sweep away those online-cancellation blues. Late afternoon in Crystal Palace Bowl, bruised skies threatened overhead until Gillespie’s childhood friends, The Jesus and Mary Chain, blasted away the storm clouds with feedback-drenched alt-pop.

East Kilbride’s Reid brothers – singer Jim sleek and brooding up front, guitarist William a rotund blur of riffs and flyaway grey curls – were galvanised by both a propulsive new drummer, Elastica’s Justin Welch, in a role originally filled by Gillespie in their mid-1980s days of riots and smashed guitars, and, for slo-mo classic Just Like Honey, a glammed-up duet with fellow Scot Isobel Campbell.

As dusk fell, Gillespie finally materialised, impeccably attired in a silver suit, and speculatively invited the packed crowd to add their voices to his five-strong House Gospel Choir. He appeared momentarily choked then grinned manically as perennial party-starter Movin’ On Up had the whole bowl singing, in a jubilant vote of confidence.

Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain performs at South Facing Festival
Jim Reid of The Jesus and Mary Chain performs at South Facing Festival - Burak Cingi/Redferns

This, however, was not to be a repeat of last summer’s in-full renditions of 1991’s era-defining Screamadelica album, instead initially exploring darker, more challenging post-millennial tracks such as the jazzily offbeat Sideman, and a pulsatingly psychedelic Deep Hit of the Morning Sun.

With their checkered history of addiction and loss, Primal Scream have often been erratic live, yet post-pandemic they’re flourishing quite miraculously, with ace guitarist Andrew Innes, Simone Butler (bass) and Darrin Mooney (drums) now joined by Terry Miles (Duffy’s cousin) on keys, and Fat White Family’s Alex White on sax.

This dextrous combo beautifully unfurled soulful 1994 deep cut Big Jet Plane, which that era’s line-up never played – it was too much of a challenge to replicate live but now they have mastered it. During 2013’s samba-inflected It’s Alright, It’s Okay, all the instrumentation dropped out as Gillespie pointedly spat the lyric “in this asphyxiation culture there’s no place for the weak”, but he soon had all 8,000 joyfully chanting the track’s irrepressible “ooh-la-la”s.

This was a powerful, emotionally charged performance, which ultimately climaxed in triumph with an ecstatic Come Together, low-slung dancer Loaded, and a thunderingly affirmative Rocks.

Thankfully, from every angle, it turned out nice again.

Primal Scream are on tour until Sept 1. Tickets: