The Primitives were a British alternative rock/indie pop band from Coventry formed in 1985 with Tracy Tracy (born Tracy Cattell in Australia) (vocals), PJ Court (born Paul Jonathan Court, on 27 July 1965) (vocals, guitar), Steve Dullaghan (bass) and Pete Tweedie (drums). Their career was boosted when The Smiths singer Morrissey named them as one of his favourite bands.
The Primitives emerged from the much-touted independent scene of the mid-Eighties that reared, amongst others, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, The Soup Dragons and The Wedding Present. They wore their influences on their sleeves; a love of melody and the Sixties (the Monkees, the Velvet Underground and the Byrds), fast Ramones-influenced guitars, and the pop innocence of the Buzzcocks and Orange Juice. This was the backdrop for the Primitives’ formation, and few bands during this period went on to encapsulate all these ingredients so well.
In late 2009, the band re-formed to commemorate the death of bassist Dullaghan. The reunion gig went so well, they’ve decided to launch a tour in 2010. Guitarist Paul Court took a few moments with us to discuss the past and the future of one of our favorite C86 bands.
TDOA: Can you talk about the circumstances that led to the reunion gig and how that led to the decision to re-form for a 2010 tour?
PC: I’d half thought about doing something two years ago, with ‘Crash’ being 20 years and so on, but had lost contact with Tracy.
We met up again at the funeral of our original bass player Stevie D, who died suddenly about a year ago. We had a chat about it all a couple of weeks later and decided that a one off commemorative celebration type thing could be an option. At the same time an exhibition of local music history was being organised at The Herbert art gallery and museum in Coventry, and we were asked to play at the opening night. We did this and also played a secret gig the following week at a small club in London, that I occasionally deejayed at, called Twee As Fuck. We then thought we’d do a couple of slightly larger shows, but we’d let people know about it this time, and somehow this idea grew into a small tour.
TDOA: What caused the band to break up initially?
PC: There was nowhere left to go with it. As one witty scribe put it at the time – we appeared to be flogging the ground where a dead horse used to be.
TDOA: Melody Maker, NME and the assorted music mags have a long history of building up a band and then turning their back on them. Was there a discernible moment where you could tell that the music mags had turned on you and how do you account for their fickle taste?
PC: Well the knives certainly came out when ‘Crash’ did its thing. Whatever those mags wrote, nasty or nice, would be arse wipe a week later, so I suppose if you’re involved with something like that, you’ve got every right to be a bit fickle about stuff.
TDOA: The media really made a big deal about how beautiful Tracy was and she sort-of ascended to “sex symbol” status. Was their ever a point where you found it demeaning or feared that it took away the focus from the great music you were making? Where some bands had singers who were “just a pretty face” Tracy truly had a great voice and wrote great vocal melodies!
PC: The sex symbol thing is inevitable with an attractive front person. It did all seem a little unsubtle at times, and it may have detracted from the fact that we were serious about the music we were creating… but at the same time it got us noticed. I always felt Tracy had more in common with classic girl singers of the 60s, than some flop ‘em out for the lads type like Wendy James.
TDOA: You toured the U.S. a couple of times and I remember seeing you in Detroit, which drew pretty big crowds. Can you talk about your experiences of touring the U.S.? My recollection is that you were massive in England, so was it hard to get motivated when you were selling out huge venues in England and them playing smaller venues in the U.S.?
PC: We toured three times – two short tours and a full scale one with The Sugarcubes. The places weren’t that much smaller than what we were playing in the UK, as I recall. We were happy just to be playing the US and travelling around doing the tourist thing…never thought we were having much of an impact as far as cracking America goes. We were still seen as ‘alternative’ in the US, so it was nice to be able to leave behind some of the cheesiness that goes with mainstream success in the UK.
TDOA: I think that people in North America still think of Crash as your biggest hit. First, can you tell us about the writing of that opening riff and second, given that all of your songs were pretty “catchy”, did you know you’d written a “hit” when you wrote Crash?
PC: ‘Crash’ was one of the first songs that I wrote for The Primitives. It was more of a Ramones style thing at first and we dropped it from the set early on as we had an abundance of those type of tunes. I think it was our producer Paul Sampson who thought it was worth resurrecting. The opening riff evolved from a demo version that we did at the time. As with most Primitives tunes, guitar parts were woven together once the song was down…we never really developed ideas from jamming or anything like that.
We were playing someplace the night it was mixed. I remember hearing it the next day and thinking it sounded like The Go Gos or something. I Thought it might have a chance, but I didn’t think it was going to be as massive as it was. At one point we were actually worried it was going to get to number one in the chart…which, for a band that seemed to have come out of nowhere, would probably have meant it was all over.
TDOA: The band always had a slew of amazing b-sides with every release. To me that indicates that you must have recorded a lot of songs every time you were in the studio and couldn’t fit them all on the album. Is that an accurate guess and are there more songs that were recorded and never released?
PC: We recorded whatever had just been written…so once it was decided what the A side was, the other stuff went out as b sides or bonus tracks. There are a few demos of unreleased songs knocking about, but I don’t think they’re up to much.
TDOA: I must have dozens of assorted Primitives 7″ box sets, colored vinyl, picture disks, etc.. Did you have much artistic control over those sorts of items and did you actually get to see any of the money from all the ancillary items that were released?
PC: I can’t remember any picture disks, but the whole marketing thing did get slightly out of hand, and it backfired when the single ‘Way Behind Me’, which had sold enough to make it as big as ‘Crash’, had a load of sales discounted because the rules had changed about giving away free gifts – in this case, badges, a postcard and, for some reason that I can’t remember, a sachet of bubblebath. We did have some control, but stuff was occasionally sneaked out without our knowledge. Some of it I didn’t mind, some of it seemed a bit tacky. As for money…we never saw any from record sales or associated gimmicks. There always seemed to be some recoupment that needed to be taken care of first.
TDOA: Can you talk a bit about the supposed rivalries you had with bands like The Darling Buds? How did you get on with some of your contemporaries like the Mary Chain and others?
PC: The Darling Buds got signed up because record companies were looking for the next Primitives after ‘Crash’ had been such a big hit. We felt they were slightly hanging on to our coattails, but weren’t particularly troubled by them, or any other bands with blonde girl singers that the press tried to lump us in with.
The Mary Chain had been an influence and it was nice to see various members showing up at our gigs early on. We were quite friendly with My Bloody Valentine in those days too …although later on I can remember doing a radio interview in the US, and the guy telling us that Kevin Shields had been in the week previous and had said stuff about us that was basically a load of belittling lies – The Primitives manager plucked Tracy from the dancefloor of a disco and told her how to dress – crap like that. He certainly had reasons to dislike our manager, but I don’t know what his gripe was with us.
TDOA: Why did Kevin Shields dislike your manager?
PC: The Valentines put out a couple of things on Lazy records before moving to Creation. Wayne Morris, who managed The Primitives at that time and also ran Lazy, re-released some of the recordings against the bands will. There’s probably a lot more to it than that, but that’s as much as I know.
TDOA: Beyond the scheduled tour dates for 2010, what else can we expect from The Primitives in 2010? Any plans to record or tour in North
PC: We’re playing NYC the week after the UK tour and I wouldn’t rule out more US dates at some point in the near future. I think we may also be playing a couple of UK and European festivals in the summer. There’s also a covers project in the pipeline. The idea being to record a bunch of lesser known female fronted songs. We recently went back into the studio with Paul Sampson and recorded versions of a Lee Hazlewood song called ‘Need All The Help I Can Get’, originally sung by Suzi Jane Hokom, and a northern soul tune by Toni Basi called ‘Breakaway’. I’m not sure how any of this will be released…maybe an old style 4 track 7″ EP. Apart from that we’ve no great plans for a full on career re-launch…it’s really just a bit of nostalgia.
Be sure to check out their UK tour starting on April 17th at Southhampton Joiners
In the U.S., they’ll be at The Bell House in Brooklyn on May 8th
To purchase the music of The Primitives, go to iTunes
Bonus video for those who remember 80′s hair….