The Unreligious Story Behind the Band Name The Jesus and Mary Chain

The Jesus and Mary Chain formed in a haze of post-punk in 1983 in East Kilbride, Scotland, by Jim and William Reid. Though, the brothers didn’t exactly experiment with the “cut up method’ famously used by beat writer William S. Burroughs — the technique of rearranging words, phrases, and sentences to create unexpected combinations — when trying to figure out their band name.

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Despite the religious connotations of their band name, The Jesus and Mary Chain, was also not linked to Jesus, his mother Mary or any other biblical figures. It just came out of a jumble of words William had in his head: “Jesus,” “Mary,” and “chain.” He strung the words together into that one, unexpected phrase.

“I don’t know where [William] got it from, but he just said ‘The Jesus and Mary Chain,'” recalled Jim Reid in 2015. “And at first, it sounded like, ‘Naah, no way,’ and then you kind of think about it, you think, ‘Well, fuck, that sounds like no other band.’ So we went with it.”

The Poppy Seeds

Already booked for gigs before they even had a name, the Reid brothers called themselves a bevy of random monikers and even landed on The Poppy Seeds for a brief time.

“It’s the same as any other band, I suppose,” said Jim Reid. “We looked for ideas and stuff, like, things that we thought would be cool and not like any other band’s names. We actually had a gig before we had a name. We kind of arranged this London show with [Creation Records founder] Alan McGee. It was based on demos that we’d made, but we’d kind of made all these demos under various names, most of which were absolutely shite, to be honest with you.”

Reid added, “The one I can remember was, I think, The Poppy Seeds. We were The Poppy Seeds for a while.”

1985: ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ and ‘Psychocandy’

Prior to The Jesus and Mary Chain’s very first appearance on the British music television show The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1985, the band revealed their name for the first time.

Their band name was even likened to punk predecessors The Sex Pistols by one BBC executive, who helped book the band on Old Grey.

“The [Jesus and Mary Chain] was the first big thing we’d had since the Sex Pistols,” said former BBC producer Trevor Dann in Paula Mejia’s 2016 book The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. “Because here’s a list of things [you] shouldn’t do: You shouldn’t name yourself something that presenters have a hard time saying. So being called the Sex Pistols — you forget how radical that was. Sex was not a word that you said.”

The show broadcast just months before the release of their iconic debut Psychocandy, featuring their early drummer and later Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, and the inkier alt-pop of “Just Like Honey” and “Trip You Up.”

‘Darklands’ – Present

The band released their second album Darklands in 1987, bearing the hit “April Skies,” which peaked at No. 8 on the U.K. chart. They followed it up with Automatic in 1989 and their more alt-dance renderings of Honey’s Dead in 1992. Throughout the 1990s, the band released two more albums — Stoned & Dethroned in 1994 and the sixth album Munki in 1998 — before parting ways for nearly 20 years.

The Reid brothers continued to work on and off on singles over the years, eventually reuniting in 2007 for a performance at Coachella. For their performance of “Just Like Honey,” they were joined by actress Scarlett Johansson, who starred in the 2003 film Lost In Translation, which prominently featured their iconic track.

Following their performance, the release of several reissues and compilations, and the track “All Things Must Pass” (not a George Harrison cover) — featured on the NBC series Heroes — the brothers continued working on new music together. The Jesus and Mary Chain released their seventh album, Damage & Joy, in 2017.

Throughout the 2010s, the Reids continued touring, including a 30th-anniversary tour for Psychocandy in 2015. By 2018, The Jesus and Mary Chain joined Nine Inch Nails on tour and have remained a unit and continued touring ever since.

Photos: Steve Gullick / Courtesy of Force Field PR

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