The curse of the blogger has struck. Inspiration (or lack of) has slowed down my writing recently. That and decent weather, school holidays and a list of ‘to do’ things from Mrs Pan which quite frankly is taking the piss. Today, in a rare frenzied bout of online activity I read the news that Steve Dullaghan, bass player and founding member of The Primitives had died, aged just 42. I felt compelled to write a wee bit. Just a very wee bit, as you will find out in the next paragraph.
I remembered a piece I wrote a couple of years ago, and given that I have more readers now than I did then, I figured that most of you reading this will be reading it for the first time. Apologies if you’ve been here before (and thanks for sticking around). To make up for it I’ve added a few extra tunes not included in the original post. Get most of them and you’ve got yourself a nice wee introduction to the music of The Primitives.
The Primitives were from Coventry and formed in 1985. Along with The House of Love and The Wedding Present, for me they filled the gap post-Smiths and pre-Stone Roses. I bloody loved them. Their first single was ‘Thru The Flowers’ which was released in May of 1986. I’ve got it on super sexy seven inch and I am open to offers. It’s not the same version that appeared on their debut album ‘Lovely’.
Initially, they were very primitive and all the songs were noisy and sloppy because that is how they played. Listen to the demo of 2nd single ‘Really Stupid’ to see what I mean. Still sounds terrific to this day. John Peel was a bit of a fan, and like many acts of the day, the band recorded a session for him. Here‘s the twangy rockabilly gutterpunk of ‘Buzz Buzz Buzz’.
The obvious focal point for a teenage boy like me was Tracy Tracy who was cute as cute and looked a bit like Ruth Ellis (the last woman to be hanged in Britain). The others dressed head to toe in black, wore skinny jeans and pointy boots and at some point all had Ringo Starr circa 1965 haircuts (though sadly not in the photo below).
Whilst I was in love with Tracy, Paul the guitarist was clearly in love with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground (Lou Reed’s first band was called The Primitives too) and he had a great collection of guitars – he was one of only two guitarists in the UK to own a particularly rare version of a Fender Thinline Telecaster. The other belonged to the guitar player from Culture Club. Fancy that! The band went through more line-up changes than Spinal Tap. The original drummer Pete Tweedie wasn’t very good, so most of their early stuff was actually done with a drum machine (something most people don’t realize – listen carefully and you’ll hear the click track at the start of ‘Stop Killing Me’) and Pete would play along on the ride cymbal or hi hat. They released six singles with the sixth being a re-recorded version of ‘Thru The Flowers‘ before they eventually signed to RCA in 1987.
In 1988 the album ‘Lovely‘ was released and it is brilliant. It was a night and day change from their early singles. All of a sudden they knew how to play their instruments. The first change they made was getting rid of Pete the drummer. The next thing they did was re-record a few of their old singles, such as ‘Stop Killing Me’. I’m normally dead against bands who do that, but in The Primitives case it meant that 1) those early singles became quite collectable, and 2) the new ones arguably sounded better.
Morrissey, out for a duck whilst wearing his Stop Killing Me t-shirt
The other key to their sound was producer Paul Sampson who went back through all their old demos and found ‘Crash‘, a song they had scrapped. This was their only big hit and became a bit of an albatross for them. You’ve probably heard it. That guy from Busted has got a version out just now. It’s in the new Mr Bean movie. Honestly!
Anyway, sales inevitably diminished, and the band continued to release great singles that only myself bought. ‘Way Behind Me’ and ‘You Are The Way’ being a fine examples. Co-written by Ian Broudie, You Are The Way in particular shoulda been a massive hit. I guess there’s just no accounting for taste.
The hidden jewel in their crown for me though is a track that originally appeared on the b-side of ‘Way Behind Me’ and was re-recorded with the guitarist singing. ‘All The Way Down’ is a brilliant piece of pseudo-Nuggets hammond ‘n’ bongos psychedelia and YOU NEED IT! For good measure, you might also need the 1985 demo. Contrast and compare. They came a long way, eh?
Of course, the band eventually petered out. Recording as Pink Bomb, Tracy added her vocals to some generic Ministry Of Sound pishy dance track, and after recording as Starpower (here‘s their rather brilliant twang n reverb-heavy version of Lee n Nancy’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’ (with Tracy on vocals)) Paul became a graphic designer. Download the tracks above and remember them this way. And get over to Amazon or Play or wherever and pick up their Best Of for about £4.
Bonus tracks. Recorded live from the audience at Glasgow School of Art on March 19th 1988 ( a mere 21 years ago!!!), here’s another version of ‘Really Stupid’ and their cover of Iggy & the Stooges ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Ruff ruff ruff-ruff! Or should that be rough rough rough-rough! Aye. No’ very good live, but pleasant to look at. I think I fainted at this gig. It was very warm. Saw the Sugarcubes there a month or so later. I didn’t faint at that one.
tracy tracy ruth ellis