The Jesus and Mary Chain are back with a new album and a tour which takes them to Oxford on Sunday. Tim Hughes asks Jim Reid why they got the band back together
I EXPECTED Jim Reid to be terrifying. I grew up hearing stories of the antics of his band – and only the coolest kids were fans.
The Jesus and Mary Chain burst onto the 80s music scene like neighbours from hell gatecrashing your granny's birthday party – kicking in the door, breaking the furniture, spiking the sherry with speed and throwing cake in everyone's face.
In a world of effete new romanticism, robotic synths and commercial pop, Jim and his brother William were unsettling and refreshing, channelling the rebellious spirit of punk along, the garage rock attitude of The Stooges and the fuzz and flare of The Velvet Underground.
Their gigs were noisy, brutish and short. They smashed their own equipment – when their crowd hadn't already done it for them. Riots were not unknown. At one gig in Toronto, Jim lashed out at hecklers with his microphone stand injuring them. Probably deservedly.
When I caught up with him though, there was no sign of the wild man of East Kilbride. Subdued, considered and radiating wisdom, it was more like chatting to the Dalai Lama.
"I'd like to think there's more to the band than a few stories of bust-ups at gigs," he says warmly. "Those tales of hell-raising go back to the 1980s."
But what tales! The Jesus and Mary Chain's swagger and mastery of distortion and feedback earned them a fearsome reputation and they were snapped up by Alan McGee's Creation Records label.
The result was Upside Down and debut album Psychocandy, widely regarded as one of the best of the 80s, featuring one Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream fame on drums. He was followed by John Moore, who went on to perform as part of Black Box Recorder.
Acclaimed album Darklands and follow-up Automatic were accompanied by more controversy and salacious publicity and a rotation of members. The fiercest division though was between Jim and William – their barely concealed animosity ultimately splitting the band – it finally coming off the rails, after six great albums, in 1999.
But Jim stayed busy – signing up Oxford drumming legend Loz Colbert, of Ride – and rumours persisted of a reunion, which eventually took place at California's Coachella festival, 10 years ago.
The band were joined onstage by Scarlett Johansson for a rendition of Just Like Honey (the song having appeared in her film Lost in Translation).
To the delight of fans – who had largely calmed down since the sweat-soaked early days they revisited their seminal album, Psychocandy.
Their second coming is now complete with the release of a new album – Damage and Joy, out last week.
"We got the job done," Jim tells me, modestly.
It includes the song Amputation, on which Jim rails against "being edited out of the whole music business... like a rock ‘n’ roll amputation."
"Well it felt that way when I was writing the song," he says. "We had become a footnote in the history of rock & roll music and living in exile, almost."
He pauses for reflection. "Around the period the band broke up for a decade, it felt like we'd slipped off the world and no longer seemed to exist. People seemed more interested in listening to bands that sounded like the Jesus and Mary Chain but not The Jesus and Mary Chain...
"That feeling has long gone though. It took a while but it feels best doing it at our own pace."
The band are now back on the road, the brothers joined by guitarist Scott Von Ryper, bassist Mark Crozer and drummer Brian Young. They play Oxford on Sunday in probably the most eagerly awaited rock gig of the year.
And, importantly, Jim and William appeared to have buried the hatchet.
"We came back together in 2007," he says, insisting life in the band couldn't be more different to The JMC pre-split.
"The making of music was painful to say the least," he sighs.
"My brother and I weren't getting along and the stress we were under was unbelievable. The band broke up, and I kind of didn't want to go back to the studio. A studio is very claustrophobic and you just have to buckle down. There's nothing else to do. But things got impossible, and it has taken this long to get over it."
He pauses for thought again, adding: "I don't care; all I know is I've had issues with my brother – but if I was an electrician or a plumber no one would give a damn.
"It was the worse environment to spend time together. When a band splits, you go your separate ways. But when it's your brother... he's still your brother.
"Over the final few years of the band we argued a lot. It was constant. To start with they were forgotten in 20 minutes, but as the band progressed they started to change and things tended to fester. The band shattered and that was that."
The tension is summed up by raucous new song Facing Up To The Facts, with its line: “I hate my brother and he hates me. That’s the way it’s supposed to be."
But, he says, a reunion was always on the cards.
"People talked about getting us together for years," he says. "There was always the promise of a Psychocandy tour, but I didn't want to do that. Then Coachella came along. William apparently didn't want to do it, but I thought 'let's see how it goes' – and we enjoyed it."
Though it took some getting used to. "It was terrifying," he says. "It felt really scary. It had been almost a decade away."
Of course, aged 55, Jim might be expected to have mellowed, but he embraces his reputation for fast-living - and the contribution his hard-rocking lifestyle made to The JMC's sound. "I didn't stand on the roof tops and say 'kids do this it's cool,'" he says.
"But would the music have been as good without the drink and drugs? Probably not."
He is now happy doing things on his own terms.
"I don't have a message... I have no words of wisdom," he says.
"We are going to see what happens with this, and if it goes okay and people want it, we'll come back again...."