Simone Butler

Simone Butler

Words Martin Copland-Gray

Portraits Sandra Vijandi

“I sometimes used to bunk off school for the afternoon and come up here. I loved Soho. Back in the day it was dirtier and filthier and scuzzier. Being young it felt kind of risky being up here.”

Simone Butler smiles as she remembers this unholy pilgrimage to a place so many younger people travelled to hoping to escape their suburban lives. “When you’re allowed to go out on your own as a teenager, everything’s kind of an adventure. So coming up to Soho was amazing. I’d come up when it was getting dark and all the trannys would be outside Madame JoJo’s, it was like another world really.”

Simone is now a familiar face in these parts but she is most well known for landing one of the most coveted jobs in music as Primal Scream’s bassist. But how and where did the journey begin? A journey that has seen her tour the world, play the main stage at Glastonbury, sing live on stage with Jesus & Mary Chain at Austin Psychfest (as well as being the opening DJ at their London shows) and curate part of this year’s Secret Garden Party… “It was The Bass Cellar on Denmark Street where it began in many ways” she says,“I thought ‘Where can I work? Where I can play bass every day and learn about the instrument?’ I was already playing in bands but I wanted to meet as many musicians as possible and they totally took a chance on me. I blagged my way into it. There was one guy who kept trying to get me sacked because he didn’t like the fact that a girl was working there. He would say; ‘what’s she still doing here? I told you to sack her!’ I would set up a sale and then he would come in and go ‘I can deal with it from here’ and then take the sale and commission from me. It prepared me for the industry in the sense that if anyone has a problem with you being female you know how to deal with it.”

She stuck it out and found mutual musical respect and friendship with current Primal Scream guitarist Barrie Cadogan also of Little Barrie who worked at another instrument shop. She paid her dues and eventually when the call came from Bobby Gillespie inviting her to audition, without hesitation she accepted. Rumour has it that she was asked to learn 3 songs but she learned 25, in 4 days – could it be true? Simone smiles and then very seriously says “I did yeah.” When Bobby called I just thought ‘Wow! This is just a fucking incredible opportunity. In my opinion when you really want something you don’t learn just what they tell you, you go in with every bit of ammunition you’ve got, you own it and you make it happen. I put the phone down and thought I’m not going to learn the bare minimum. I’m going to be the bass player of that band. It sounds really arrogant but when you really want something you just go into battle mode.”

At the time, there was lots of press asking who was this unknown person who’d replaced Mani. How did she feel about that? She says “No one knew who the fuck I was”she laughs, “I didn’t want anyone knowing anything about me. I just wanted to get on with the job at hand and not get distracted. NME kept asking to do an article but I declined. I just sort of slipped in the side door. It’s been three years and I’ve only ever experienced love and support from Primal Scream fans.”

When her Scream commitments allow, she also fronts her regular lunchtime show on Soho Radio, The Naked Lunch. I’m interested to know how the title came about and what her approach is to the show. As she says, “It’s a total play on words but I felt like it fitted in to the whole ethos of Soho, an element which is missing, debauched & ravenous. The energy at night in Soho, that’s when it comes alive and I wanted something that hinted at that. I love doing my show. It’s totally organic and doesn’t adhere to a play list. I choose every track myself. The current music scene that’s being sold to the masses is really full of a lot of shit and not stuff that inspires or interests me. But don’t get me wrong, there’s some great bands around right now. I’ve always been interested in what’s going on in the underground scene. For me I feel really passionate about it. It’s really important because music changes & enhances people’s lives. Buying an album you absolutely love makes your week. It can be life changing. Plus, it’s a very sensual thing, the physicality of vinyl. I’m a weird person, I even smell old guitars!”

Having been a regular in Soho for some time, how does she feel about the ongoing modernisation of the area? She sighs and says “I’m all for modernisation and things moving on but not at the cost of the original identity of the area. Soho is such a hugely historical place in terms of music, art & performance. I really think you can preserve the integrity of that without ruining the whole ethos and identity of it. I don’t want to see our cultural history sacrificed for the sake of more multinational chains!”

As an admirer of Primal Scream, I’m also intrigued to know what it’s like play in one of the biggest bands around. “It’s a very special energy you get from playing with the Scream. I’ve never met people who are so immersed in music. It makes me want to be the best musician I can be. I feel really blessed to be able to do that with these people. It’s not really like any other band I’ve been with before. It’s not just about playing music you love it’s about playing music that actually touches you as well. Higher than the Sun is a really beautiful track. I get goose bumps every time I play it. It takes my breath away because it’s such an incredible song!”she says.

It’s refreshing to hear someone speak so honestly and passionately about her work and the area she has given so much of her time to. As she concludes “it’s where I come all the time, even if I’m not working round here I feel like it’s my point of contact for Central London. It’s where I meet people, it’s where I do my radio show, it’s where everything is changing at a really accelerated rate as well. I like the energy around Soho and I like the buzz.”

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