When you get down to the nuts and bolts of rock and roll, it’s not about how tight your jeans are or how good your stylist is, it’s about the music. It’s about the song. For some bands in particular, it’s about the pop song. Two and half minutes of spun gold that held your attention long after the needle left the record. Few bands embodied the spirit of the sublime ’60s pop song than The Primitives.
This Coventry four-piece arrived in the mid-80s with their winsome pop debut single “Thru the Flowers” before quickly mixing their pop flair with some garage growl on follow-up singles “Really Stupid” and “Stop Killing Me” before suddenly arriving at the inexplicably perfect “Crash” — the song that broke the band internationally and turned them into Smash Hits pin-ups.
Lost in the rock and roll wilderness for 18 years, they’ve no doubt watch bands come and go, obviously in debt to their charms and chimes. If it weren’t for the sad occasion in the passing of their original bassist Steve Dullaghan last year that brought vocalist Tracy Tracy and guitarist/songwriter Paul Court back together, we might not be so lucky to hear these songs played live ever again.
Sitting backstage at The Scala in London on the final date of the short n’ sweet tour, Webcuts was fortunate enough to catch up with Tracy and Paul to talk about the circumstances that brought The Primitives into the 21st Century and what lies ahead for the band.
Tracy: We met up again at his (Steve’s) funeral and decided to do something in honour of him, really. It coincided with being asked to open a launch night of an exhibition about Coventry music, and it seemed quite apt to do it there and then. Paul DJ’s in London and was asked to play at a club that he DJ’s at and it just built from there, really.
Paul: We just tried to do a couple of larger shows off our own back after those two and it somehow ended up being a tour. The idea, really, was just to do about three gigs. A place like this (The Scala in London) and there’s was a nice place in Leamington Spa we’ve just played and maybe one up in Scotland. So we’ve kinda gone back to being on the road for two weeks.
Tracy: The list just grew, but it’s been brilliant, though. It’s been really good fun and we don’t want it to stop now.
Did the thought of reforming ever cross your mind in the intervening years? There’s been a steady stream of compilations and cobbled together rarities over the years.
Paul: Those were nothing to do with us. So that was out of our hands, really. (The idea of reforming before then) never really crossed my mind. I’d totally washed my hands of anything to do with being on-stage with a guitar since about 1997. I had no interest.
How does feel stepping back as The Primitives again? Does it feel like pulling out an old dress from the wardrobe and seeing if it still fits?
Tracy: Yeah, it is. Personally for me, yeah.
Paul: It seemed like it wasn’t more than about four years ago that we were doing it. It seemed like when we met at Steve’s funeral, something like that happening does make the past seem very present in a tangible way. It made like 20 years ago seem like 4 weeks ago and in a way that’s how we kind of connected again, I suppose.
How has it been relearning all the songs?
Paul: It hasn’t been too difficult really. It’s all been programmed in, I think. A couple of little bits we’d forgotten about here and there. It didn’t take long to pull it back together, really.
Tracy: Just a bit of tweaking here and there. We just seemed to know them, really. They’re sort of locked in there.
They’re like a part of your life…
Tracy: Locked in a corner in the back, yeah.
How has the tour been so far? Have you been surprised by the fans response?
Tracy: Very surprised, yeah. The fans have been amazing. There’s been two generations — Indie families bringing their kids. So it’s been lovely seeing them again and a lot of them have been bringing back a lot of memorabilia and magazines — things we’d sort of forgotten about. A lot of them said how grateful they are, they’d been waiting for this to happen. It seemed quite sort of prevalent in their lives.
It was quite prevalent in mine too. Despite the only access I ever had to the band was on record and via music television. I remember being quite taken with the clip to “Way Behind Me”
Tracy: That filmed was at the London gasworks.
Paul: Yeah, that’s one of my favourite songs. I prefer it to “Crash” though it’s in the same kind of vein.
Listening to you play that track during sound check, it sounded as good now as it did then. It’s quite a good time for The Primitives to re-assert their place in music, now that’s there’s a resurgence in female-fronted guitar bands in the UK and overseas.
Tracy: There seems to be a lot of that around now, which is really good.
Paul: There’s also a bunch of American bands taking influence from that mid-80s English noise pop which is good. It’ll probably create a lot more interest in what we did, with like Dum Dum Girls and bands like that.
Towards the end of your career it seemed like that kind of sound wasn’t quite the flavour of the month anymore.
Paul: The Madchester thing happened, didn‘t it. That was very macho. That sort of thug element saw to the end of The Primitives in a way. I always thought the Stones Roses were similar in a ways, with a similar record collection. Just they had more of a dance beat going on.
That’s something I guess you tried a little on your final album, Galore.
Paul: There’s a couple of tracks on the last album that had a kind of funkadelic drum beat that Ian Broudie put on it, but there’s little bits on the second album Pure where we used that and we got accused of trying to sound like the Manchester bands, and we didn’t even know about the Manchester bands when we recorded that. There’s a little bit of influence, perhaps of what was in the charts that was a bit like the lighter side of acid house, like in the rhythm on “Sick Of It”, but we didn’t know about these groups. The first time I heard The Stone Roses was when they were on Top of The Pops and we were doing “Sick Of It” and they showed the video for “She Bangs The Drums” and I thought “oh, they sound quite good”, then suddenly we were ripping them off, apparently.
How is the chemistry between the two of you these days?
Paul: It’s been alright I think. Same as, really.
You were never at each other’s throats near the end?
Tracy: No, there was never any problem. Never any internal problems with The Primitives. It was more so the people on the outside — the record companies and managers.
You kind of run out of steam?
Paul: It kinda felt like that really. There was no kind of implosion of massive bust-up. There was nowhere left for us to go really. We did this kind of secret spin-off band called Starpower for a while and we were just doing that as a safety valve thing really to do something that was interesting again, but that only lasted half a year.
With this being the last show of this tour, what have you got planned next?
Paul: We’re playing New York, a week on Saturday, just for one gig. It’s costing all quite of bit of money to get over there. We’re losing money to get over there. But for now, we’re doing what we’re doing. We’ve got a couple of festivals coming up. If someone wants us to do something and we like the idea of it, we’ll do it. There’s a possibility of going back to the States in the Autumn and doing shows then.
So is The Primitives something you’re going to keep on doing?
Paul: Possibly, yeah. I’m only really thinking about this year and perhaps a bit of next year.
Tracy: Just to see what happens, I suppose.
Paul: We had this idea of just recording a few tracks, cover versions of female-fronted, but not very well known, tunes and we’re going to maybe expand that to perhaps a mini-album or something.
You’ve actually been in the studio? Is there a plan to release these tracks?
Paul: It was the end of last year when we recorded a Lee Hazelwood song, “Need All The Help I Can Get” and a Toni Basil ’60s Northern Soul tune called “Breakaway”. We play the Lee Hazelwood one in our set. I’d like to do a vinyl release. Cram as much as you can onto a piece of 7” vinyl, like they did in the ’60s. Sod the quality. So that’s kind of in the pipeline.
Tracy: It’s just to see what happens, really. We’re really enjoying this at the moment, and there’s no pressure about what comes along. If we’re still up for doing it, and we’re happy doing it, we’ll probably do more.