The Jesus & Mary Chain: 'Pop music now: I. Just. Do. Not. Understand'
- Fiona Shepherd
- 6 August 2018
Sunny melodies, feedback and fuzz from the Scottish rock pioneers
Jim Reid generally speaks in a soft, steady drawl but the Jesus & Mary Chain frontman wants to emphasise an important point so he punctuates every word. 'Pop music now: I. Just. Do. Not. Understand,' he laments. 'Is this getting old? Or is pop music just dreadful now? Where's the good stuff, that's what I want to know. My kids are constantly playing these songs I've never heard before in the car, and they're all absolutely terrible. I find myself sounding exactly like my dad – "this isn't any good, this isn't a song". And if I make the mistake of putting anything on the stereo, it's like "what's this oldie music that you listen to." It's the Velvet Underground, but you'll like it one day I promise you.'
The idea of this former enfant terrible turning into his dad is both funny and foreign. But Reid has every right to expect the next generation to step up. The Jesus & Mary Chain led the teenage rampage in the mid-80s with their sunny melodies roughed up with ferocious feedback. The feedback and 15 minute gigs / riots of their early years have long been ditched in favour of something close to professionalism (give or take the odd out-of-tune guitar part from Reid's older brother / sparring partner William) but their 2017 album, Damage and Joy – their first in almost 20 years – demonstrated that the Jesus & Mary Chain remain one of the country's best exponents of pop tuneage in rock'n'roll robes.
So it is only appropriate that they should be part of the International Festival's Light on the Shore lineup of top Scottish pop talent at Leith Theatre, curated to accompany the National Museum of Scotland's exhibition Rip It Up: The Story of Scottish Pop. In fact, Reid could do worse than check out the other bands on the Mary Chain bill – Honeyblood and Spinning Coin – for a glimpse not just of that elusive good pop music but also of his own band's enduring influence on subsequent musical generations.
Reid says he is aware of the Rip It Up exhibition and, 35 years into a career which many – not least Reid himself – would not have expected to last a tenth of that time, he is now prepared to ponder the Mary Chain's place in the Scottish pop landscape.
'We were never comfortably part of it,' he says, 'in as much as we struggled to get a show in Scotland. At the very beginning, we felt a bit bitter about that but being Scottish was an essential part of what we are and it's something that takes a long time to realise.'
Reid can even be spotted these days wearing a BBC Scotland t-shirt. 'We become more Scottish as we travel around the world. When I was young, I hated when people did that, but you tend to feel proud of your upbringing the older you get. We formed in East Kilbride and it was an essential part of what we became.
'I've said this so many times but it's true – East Kilbride felt like the moon. You're getting these distant messages about something to do with punk rock happening somewhere but it certainly wasn't where we lived and this all added to the mystery and the determination to get out into the world and find out what it was all about. We felt like outsiders, and I guess we kept that attitude and we still have it. We never really feel like we fit in. I think that's a good thing. I like being the Mary Chain, the people that just don't belong in any particular place.'
Leith Theatre, 14 Aug, 7pm, £25.