Psychocandy: Black Leather & White Noise – The Jesus & Mary Chain

In writing about music, we attempt to maintain a degree of objectivity, to set aside preconceived ideas about a band or singer and provide an honest and unbiased opinion about the music. And then there are times when it is virtually impossible to do this, when the critic in us is temporarily silenced as we respond to the music on a whole different level.

In 1985 I was a teenager who was slowly being consumed by a passion for music. Music mags the NME and Melody Maker were eagerly devoured each week. Stories started to appear in the pages of the NME about this band from the Scottish town of East Kilbride. Tales of black leather and white noise, feedback and blasphemy. Gigs that routinely dissolved into ugly riots after 15 minutes of complete bedlam. If this wasn’t intriguing enough, then there was that name.

Black leather and White Noise -Jesus and aAry Chain

They were called the Jesus and Mary Chain, a name that was confrontational enough to raise eyebrows in an Ireland still very much under the spell of the Catholic Church in the mid-eighties. I bought their debut album the day it was released and was instantly smitten. It was like nothing I had ever heard before.
No band had ever married extreme noise with pop melodies quite like that before. Grown-ups hated it, despised it with a passion, and of course, this only added to its appeal.

Never had an album been more aptly titled: Psychocandy. It was perfect. For someone who was too young to experience the full force of Punk when it erupted in the late seventies, this seemed like an impressively thunderous after shock. They looked and sounded like the best bits from Rock music’s parade of seminal acts – a black hearted magpie mix of the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, The Stooges and the Velvet Underground.


In 1987, I stood transfixed at the SFX Hall in Dublin as the Reid brothers blasted through a stop start set of their dark and sleazy rock, a hopeless devotee. I watched through a fog of hairspray and dry ice as they summoned up some of the sullen disdain of Punk, barely acknowledging the presence of the 1200 Goth disciples that had gathered.
Fast forward twenty seven years. It is Thursday 31 July 2014. There’s a full house at Vicar Street for what had been billed as a ‘secret’ gig in preparation for a series of shows to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of Psychocandy.

From the balcony, the crowd look very different from that night in the SFX. The back combed hair and black leather of the exclusively teenage audience is nowhere to be seen; this is a predominantly middle-aged crowd, a large percentage of which are male. I am anxious. I left buying a ticket until the day of the show, torn between leaving the music that had once meant so much to me in the past, or succumbing to the lure of a trip down memory lane. The memories of listening to their records are incredibly vivid, even 30 years on.The Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy

I took my first faltering steps learning to play guitar to this music – it was, and is, embedded in me in a unique way. As much as I loved the Velvet Underground, The Beatles, the Sex Pistols, these were all acts that I discovered after the fact – the Jesus and Mary Chain were my band, I was there right at the start.

At just after 9.30pm, they stroll on stage, little or no fanfare. Jim Reid, ageless, a fair impression of the youthful rock God I idolised in the eighties. William saunters on looking like some kind of mad guitar scientist, a shock of grey hair, looking eerily like Tim Burton in t-shirt and a pair of sneakers. They launch into ‘Snakedriver’ – the swampy blues sounds impressively heavy, surprisingly tight. The crowd go nuts; Jim Reid acknowledges the applause, and I am feeling a whole lot less apprehensive.

‘Head On’ follows and we have lift off – this is good, very good indeed. We get to the 5th song before the first stumble; ‘Blues From a Gun’ starts and shivers to a stop a few bars in; an equipment malfunction. Another two attempts end in the same way – the crowd cheer loudly, not about to let this dampen the atmosphere.
From here on in, it is a mix of the sublime and the endearingly absurd. ‘Some Candy Talking’ and ‘Happy When It Rains’ prompt a bout of moshing that is both poignant and bittersweet to observe. These smiling, middle-aged masses of flailing bodies were probably at that SFX gig all those years ago, their whole lives ahead of them.

There are more mis-steps; some of the songs collapse prematurely, needing to be restarted more than once. Jim Reid glowers at his brother, leaving us in no doubt where the blame lies. ‘Just Like Honey’, one of the towering pop songs of the eighties dies at just the point when we anticipate a wall of guitars to come crashing in. They start again, but it never really soars, never reaches the heights we know it can.

Jesus and Mary Chain -Reid Brothers

Reid Brothers-JAMC

They perform five songs off Psychocandy as an encore – surprisingly, they manage to recreate the shrill noise of their debut with some degree of aplomb. ‘In A Hole’ and final song ‘Never Understand’ drive the crowd berserk – or as berserk as you can expect from an audience shouldering mortgages who know they have to be up for work in the morning.
We file out of the venue – there are no riots, it is all very civilised. Objectivity is for another time, for a different band, but ultimately, I am glad I was there. To hear this music played live just one more time. Almost thirty years on, the Jesus and Mary Chain are still playing these songs, this music that at one time, had seemed like the most important thing in our lives.

There is sweet poignancy to that; deep down, we knew it was never going to be the same but we still came anyhow, because really, we knew we had to.