Like the Velvet Underground, their most obvious influence, the chart success of the Jesus and Mary Chain was virtually nonexistent, but their artistic impact was incalculable; quite simply, the British group made the world safe for white noise, orchestrating a sound dense in squalling feedback which served as an inspiration to everyone from My Bloody Valentine to Dinosaur Jr. Though the supporting players drifted in and out of focus, the heart of the Mary Chain remained vocalists and guitarists William and Jim Reid, Scottish-born brothers heavily influenced not only by underground legends like the Velvets and the Stooges but also by the sonic grandeur and pop savvy of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson.
In the Jesus and Mary Chain, which the Reids formed outside of Glasgow in 1984 with bassist Douglas Hart and drummer Murray Dalglish (quickly replaced by Bobby Gillespie), these two polarized aesthetics converged; equal parts bubblegum and formless guitar distortion, their sound both celebrated pop conventions and thoroughly subverted them.
The Jesus and Mary Chain formed in East Kilbride, Glasgow in 1983. The band revolves around the songwriting partnership of brothers Jim and William Reid. They released a string of albums, singles and EPs between their 1983 formation and their 1999 breakup, and gained notoriety in their early days for short sets and violence that became common at their live shows. In 2007, the band reunited.
Brothers Jim and William Reid had been inspired to form a band as far back as 1977, having heard groups such as the Sex Pistols, but it would be the early Eighties before they actually formed their own band. William stated, “It was perfect timing because there weren’t any guitar bands. Everybody was making this electronic pop music.” Before forming the band, the brothers had spent five years on the dole, and in those five years they wrote and recorded songs at home and worked out the sound and image of the band. Originally called The Poppy Seeds, and then the Daisy Chain, they initially told journalists that they had taken their eventual name from a line in a Bing Crosby film, although six months later they admitted that this wasn’t true. Other accounts suggest that the name derived from an offer on a breakfast cereal packet, where customers could send off for a gold Jesus & Mary chain.
The brothers started recording and sending demos to record companies in 1983, and by early 1984 they had recruited bass player Douglas Hart and teenage drummer Murray Dalglish. Early influences included The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, and The Shangri-Las, William stating in 1985, “We all love The Shangri-Las, and one day we’re going to make Shangri-Las records”. Early demos displayed a similarity to the Ramones, prompting the brothers to add another element to their sound, in William’s words: “That’s why we started using noise and feedback. We want to make records that sound different.” They began playing live in Spring 1984. In the early days Jim Reid’s guitar would be left out of tune, while Dalglish’s drum kit was limited to two drums, and Hart’s bass guitar only had three strings, down to two by 1985; In Hart’s words “that’s the two I use, I mean what’s the fucking point spending money on another two? Two is enough.
To get gigs, the band took to turning up at venues claiming to be the support band, playing their short set and making a quick exit. After failing to generate any interest from concert promoters and record labels in Scotland, their demo tape was passed to Alan McGee by mutual acquaintance Bobby Gillespie. McGee subsequently promoted a gig for the band at the Living Room in London in June 1984. On the strength of hearing the band sound check, McGee signed them to his Creation Records label on a one-off deal, and also became the band’s manager. The debut single, “Upside Down”, was recorded in October and released in November that year. The sessions were produced by Joe Foster, but McGee and William Reid remixed the A-side. The band were gaining increasing attention from the music press at this time with Neil Taylor of the NME describing them as “the best band in the world”.
Dalglish left in November 1984 and was replaced shortly afterwards by Bobby Gillespie. In December the band were arrested for possession of amphetamines, and Jim Reid also confessed to using LSD. ”Upside Down” topped the UK Indie Chart in February 1985 and then again in March and stayed on the chart for 76 weeks, selling around 35,000 copies in total, making it one of the biggest-selling indie singles of the 1980s.
Playing in front of small audiences, during early shows the Mary Chain performed very short gigs, typically fuelled by amphetamines and lasting around 20 minutes, sometimes with their backs to the audience, and rarely speaking between songs. In late December 1984, the band performed as part of the ICA Rock Week. During their performance, bottles were thrown on stage, with press reports exaggerating events and claiming that there had been a riot, and national newspaper The Sun running a story on the band concentrating on violence and drugs, the band attracting the tag “The new Sex Pistols”. This led several local councils to ban the band from performing in their area.
The success of “Upside Down” led to interest from WEA-subsidiary Blanco y Negro Records which signed the group in early 1985. The group released the single “Never Understand” in February which reached number forty-seven in the UK Singles Chart. The label had initially refused to press the single due to its B-side, “Jesus Fuck”, but went ahead given the alternative put forward by the band, a song called “Suck”. The band were eager to get “Jesus Fuck” released, and Alan McGee got as far as producing test pressings of a re-issue of “Upside Down” with the song on the B-side, before the band insisted that Blanco y Negro include the track on their next single. “You Trip Me Up”, was delayed due to staff at the pressing plant refusing to press it due to the presence of the song, now re-titled “Jesus Suck”; the single was released in June 1985 with a new B-side, “Just Out of Reach”. “Jesus Fuck” would finally receive an official release on the expanded 2011 reissue of debut album Psychocandy.
John Peel got the band to record a second session for his BBC Radio 1 show in February 1985 (the first was only a few months earlier), and the band also made a TV appearance on BBC live music showcase the Old Grey Whistle Test in March, and Channel 4’s The Tube the same year. The third single for Blanco y Negro, “Just Like Honey”, released in October, gave them their biggest hit to date, reaching number forty-five.
When the band signed to WEA subsidiary Blanco y Negro in January 1985, there were stories reporting that they had stolen money from managing Director Rob Dickens’ jacket and destroyed his office, all untrue but seen as good publicity by manager McGee. In a performance on Belgian television in March 1985, the band did smash the set and the audio equipment, but this was at the request of the TV producer. Such behaviour became expected of the band and many shows culminated with the Reids trashing their equipment, which was often followed by the audience throwing projectiles onto the stage and damaging equipment.
On 15 March 1985, the Jesus and Mary Chain played a gig at the North London Polytechnic in front of one of their largest crowds up to that point. The organisers had overbooked the venue, leaving hundreds of fans locked outside. When Gillespie and Hart attempted to break the locks, the police were called. Support band Meat Whiplash had stirred up violence before the Mary Chain even set foot onto the stage when singer Paul McDermott threw an empty wine bottle into the audience, prompting four members of the crowd to attack him, leading to their set being abandoned. Second act The Jasmine Minks got through their set without incident, but the Jesus and Mary Chain then kept the audience waiting for over an hour before taking the stage, and then left the stage after playing for less than twenty minutes. Members of the audience began throwing cans, before mounting the stage to smash the equipment that remained there. The violence continued for some time before police eventually took control. The venue blamed the band’s late appearance and two equipment breakdowns, while McGee issued a statement saying that “the audience were not smashing up the hall, they were smashing up pop music”, going on to say “This is truly art as terrorism”. The violence soon started to become a hindrance to the band, with people attending concerts simply for the violence rather than the music, William commenting “I hate it, I despise it. It gets in the way in terms of getting more gigs, and it gets in the way of our image”. Many performances were cancelled during the remainder of 1985, with promoters or local councils not prepared to risk a riot. The violence flared up again at a performance at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town in September, with bottles thrown at the band while they played, and a section of the audience smashing up the amplification equipment and smashing the lights afterwards, with several people injured by flying glass.
Eager to avoid the violence of earlier gigs and to give an opportunity for their songs to be heard without distortion and feedback, the band planned to perform several unannounced acoustic sets supporting Sonic Youth, but this was abandoned when the plans were leaked. Their debut album Psychocandy followed in November that year. The album fused together the Reids’ two primary influences, the guitar noise of The Stooges and The Velvet Underground with The Beach Boys, The Shangri-Las and Phil Spector; In fact, the album’s opening song, “Just Like Honey,” borrows Hal Blaine’s famous drum intro from The Ronettes 1963 classic, “Be My Baby”, produced and co-written by Spector. The record received unanimously positive reviews and is now considered a landmark recording. Drummer Gillespie announced his departure from the band in October 1985, to concentrate on Primal Scream. Southern Studios owner and Psychocandy enginner John Loder acted as a stand-in drummer when Gillespie was unavailable for live performances, with John Moore joining as the full-time replacement when Bobby departed.
The band revived their acoustic intentions with a stripped-down session for John Peel in November 1985, which included “Psychocandy”, the original album title track that was omitted from the release, and “Some Candy Talking”, a song which they had been performing for over a year, but had left off the album. A second version of “Some Candy Talking” was issued on a free EP issued with the NME in January 1986, and the song was released as the band’s next single in July. It reached number thirteen in the UK Singles Chart, but attracted controversy when daytime BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Smith decided that the song was a paean to illegal drugs (denied by the band at the time) and refused to play it on his show.
In September 1986, the band parted ways with manager Alan McGee, and came close to splitting up later in the year, with Jim Reid suffering from “exhaustion”. John Moore had become an established member, but moved to rhythm guitar, with former Redskins member Martin Hewes joining the band briefly and former Dead Can Dance percussionist James Pinker taking over on drums. Blanco y Negro label head Geoff Travis took over management duties, and the band returned in December with two gigs at the National Ballroom in Kilburn, where they premiered new songs. Early in 1987, they entered the studio to record their second album. The first fruits of these sessions were released on the “April Skies” single, which saw the band have their first top ten hit and make their only studio appearance on Top Of The Pops. The various formats released also included the Jan and Dean-referencing “Kill Surf City”, a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”, a tribute to the latter with “Bo Diddley is Jesus”, and a live version of Can’s “Mushroom”. “Happy When It Rains” was the second pre-album single, charting at twenty-five. The band set out on another UK tour, this time with sets stretching to 45 minutes, although to a mixed reaction from the music press. They toured without a drummer, instead using a drum machine.
The band’s second album, Darklands, was released during the tour, in September 1987, described by writer Steve Taylor as “the definitive blend of light and shade”. Featuring a more melodic sound, the album was recorded almost entirely by the Reids themselves, with some tracks engineered by the legendary Bill Price at Wessex Studios. The album’s title track was released as a single in October, and the band were thrown off the ITV music show The Roxy when they failed to mime well enough to it.
The band’s dangerous reputation culminated at a gig at the RPM club in Toronto in November 1987, when after being heckled throughout the gig by a group in the audience, Jim Reid thrust his microphone stand towards them, hitting one on the head and slashing another on the arm. Jim was arrested and spent a night in jail, before being bailed to return the following February. He was subsequently given an absolute discharge after agreeing to give around £500 to a Salvation Army charity and apologise to the complainants.
Their next release was the “Sidewalking” EP, released in March 1988, with a breakbeat-style rhythm track influenced by the hip-hop records the Reids were listening to at the time. “Sidewalking” was included on the b-sides and outtakes collection Barbed Wire Kisses in April 1988. Richard Thomas was recruited in early 1988 to replace James Pinker, and Dave Evans, former Mary Chain soundman and bass player with Biff Bang Pow! (which also featured Alan McGee and Dick Green of Creation Records) replaced John Moore, who went onto to front his own band the Expressway.
The band’s third studio album Automatic was released in October 1989, by which time Evans had been replaced by Australian guitarist Ben Lurie. Boasting heavy use of synthesized bass and keyboards, it contained the singles “Head On” and “Blues From A Gun”.The band embarked on their longest tour yet of the USA to promote the album and “Head On” became a college radio hit, later being covered by The Pixies on their 1991 swansong album Trompe Le Monde.The Rollercoaster EP (August 1990) would be their last release for over a year, the band undertaking a well-publicised tour of the same name in which they hand-picked My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr and Blur to play with them. The 3 support bands took turns in the running order each night, with the Mary Chain always closing proceedings. They would later stage a US version of the revue with kindred spirits Spiritualized and Curve.
Douglas Hart had moonlighted with the Acid Angels in 1988, and left the band in 1991, to have a successful career in film making, before picking up his bass again in 2006, playing with the Sian Alice Group, Le Volume Courbe and Cristine. Richard Thomas also quit the band to join Renegade Soundwave and was replaced by Steve Monti from Curve. The fluid nature of the Mary Chain’s line up continued throughout their entire career, with a revolving door of drummers, bassists and guitarists being recruited for TV appearances and gigs whenever they were required, the only permanent addition outside of the Reids being Ben Lurie who became a more integral part of the line-up as the decade went on.
The brothers bought their own recording studio in 1991 in Elephant & Castle in South London, which they dubbed The Drugstore, and they returned in February 1992 with the first fruits of the new studio, the single, “Reverence”, which gave them their biggest hit single in almost five years, reaching number ten in the UK. The track was banned from Top of the Pops due to its potentially offensive lyrics (“I wanna die just like JFK, I wanna die in the USA…I wanna die just like Jesus Christ, I wanna die on a bed of spikes”). The single was followed by the release of the album Honey’s Dead (1992), their most successful experiment yet with fusing the latest production technology such as drum loops and samples with noisy guitars. In a 5-star review in Select Magazine, Andrew Perry described the album as “brilliant songs – their biggest, baddest, bitchingest album so far”. A long subsequent engagement on the Lollapalooza tour in the states was less successful, described by William as “the worst experience of our lives”.
The band recorded “Snakedriver” for the soundtrack of the film The Crow in 1993 – it was also released on an EP and as part of the follow-up compilation to Barbed Wire Kisses, The Sound of Speed. They next returned to the studio to record their fifth album proper, Stoned & Dethroned which would see release in 1994, and featured guest appearances from Shane MacGowan and William’s then-girlfriend Hope Sandoval. The album was originally planned as an acoustic album, but developed over the course of recording to incorporate full band electric performances. Writing in the NME, David Quantick described it as “a splendid example of how a decade-old band can ring the changes in new ways. Another year, another Mary Chain album, another mood, another hit”.
Following the release of the 1995 compilation The Jesus And Mary Chain Hate Rock ‘N’ Roll, the Mary Chain parted ways with Blanco y Negro, their record label of over a decade, and re-signed to their original label Creation Records, and Sub Pop in America. 1998′s Munki album, which would turn out to be their last before splitting the following year, was commercially the least successful album the band released, peaking at number forty-seven in the UK Album Chart. The album featured the Reid’s sister Linda, who sang on the track “Mo Tucker” using the pseudonym Sister Vanilla, as well as vocals from Hope Sandoval on “Perfume” and horns from Terry Edwards. Although the critical reception was generally mixed, Uncut magazine hailed the album as “scuffed-up classic rock with all guns blazing – a terrific 70-minute, 17-track sprawl which gives their supercharged sex’n’death riffola a mighty second wind. With Munki, The Jesus And Mary Chain finally become their own genre, timeless and unassailable and seamlessly integrated into the pentheon of rock’n’roll inconography they once seemed intent on trashing.”
Though it was not until October 1999 that the split was made official, on 12 September 1998, William had a falling out in the tour bus with guitarist Ben Lurie before they were to play a sold out performance at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. Jim appeared onstage drunk and barely able to stand or sing. William walked offstage about 15 minutes into their set, and the show ended. The audience was later refunded the price of their tickets. The band finished up their U.S. and Japanese dates without William, but from that point, it was clear that the band was at its end. Jim Reid said in 2006 of the tension between himself and William: “After each tour we wanted to kill each other, and during the final tour we tried”
Immediately after the split, William Reid went solo as Lazycame—having already released a solo EP in April 1998—and Jim Reid founded Freeheat with Ben Lurie, ex-Gun Club bassist Romi Mori and Earl Brutus singer Nick Sanderson on drums, although neither act received much attention or found any success. In October 2005, Jim Reid’s track “Song For A Secret”, a duet with his wife Julie Barber, was released as a single, paired up with Sister Vanilla’s “Can’t Stop The Rock”, which was written and produced by William Reid and the brothers’ younger sibling, Linda. Jim Reid promoted his side of the single with a very rare solo gig at London’s Sonic Cathedral club on John Peel Day, Thursday 13 October 2005. He finished this rare live appearance with a performance of the early Mary Chain classic “Never Understand”. Jim Reid also performed new material at low-key gigs with a new band comprising Phil King (Felt, Lush and the last touring line-up of JAMC) on bass, Loz Colbert (Ride) on drums and bassist Mark Crozer (International Jetsetters) on guitar.
In 2006 five albums were remastered and reissued through Rhino Records: Psychocandy, Darklands, Automatic, Honey’s Dead and Stoned & Dethroned on 11 July 2006. Although containing no bonus tracks, each album was released in the states in the ‘dualdisc’ format with a DVD containing three promo videos from that particular album.
On 22 January 2007, the band was confirmed as one of the acts for the Coachella festival in California. They were joined on stage by actress Scarlett Johansson for “Just Like Honey” as part of their 27 April 2007 main-stage performance, an acknowledgment of the prominent use of the track in the Sofia Coppola film Lost In Translation. The band’s first UK performance since reforming was at the Meltdown festival in June 2007 as a guest of curator Jarvis Cocker. In an interview to Uncut magazine, Jim Reid announced that a new album by the band is in the works. Following the reformation they undertook a world tour which incorporated appearances at several prominent music festivals. In March 2008, the band released a studio recording of “All Things Must Pass” on the soundtrack album to the NBC television drama Heroes. It is the first new song to be released by The Jesus and Mary Chain since 1998. In September 2008, Rhino Records released a 4 CD box set entitledThe Power of Negative Thinking: B-Sides & Rarities. The box set compiled material from the Barbed Wire Kisses, Sound of Speed and The Jesus And Mary Chain Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll compilations. Their final live date in the UK to date was at the “Trainline In Eyeliner” tribute concert to ex-Jesus And Mary Chain and Freeheat drummer Nick Sanderson who had passed away from lung cancer. They were joined on stage by Nick’s widow, Romi Mori for a duet on “Sometimes Always”, and they also covered “Come Taste My Mind” by Nick’s band Earl Brutus. Also appearing on the night were British Sea Power, and Black Box Recorder featuring former Jesus And Mary Chain member John Moore. They finished their touring commitments with a string of dates in South America.Since then there have been no further live shows whilst William has concentrated on recording his debut solo album. In 2010 catalogue label Demon Music Group issued a double-CD career-spanning Best-Of collection Upside Down which compiled singles, album tracks, b-sides and the first physical release of “All Things Must Pass”. This led onto the September 2011 reissue of all the band’s studio albums in expanded editions for the first time – each album being re-done as 2CD+DVD editions incorporating b-sides, radio sessions, live tracks, remixes, rarities, outtakes, audio interviews, promo videos, TV appearances and extensive booklets featuring new interviews with the band, unpublished photos and rarely-seen memorabilia from throughout the band’s career.