“Rattle My Cage” By The Primitives.
It’s easy to look back on the 80’s and remember it as the decade that taste and kindness forgot. And there was indeed much to rail against, whether it be the musical triumvirate of despair that dominated the charts in the shape of Stock Aitken and Waterman, the ludicrous new romantics, or witnessing the politics of compassion championed by the likes of Joe Strummer engulfed in a tsunami of greed and selfishness dressed up as empowerment by the evil that was Thatcherism. But if punk had lost its way via the make-up counter and fancy dress shop, indie music was still very much alive and kicking and the eighties certainly produced a diverse and exciting range of ‘alternative’ music, all of which served as the perfect antidote to the soulless, shrink wrapped kack purveyed by the likes of S.A.W. Billy Bragg picked up the political torch from The Clash, The Smiths and The Wedding Present introduced romanticised, poetic kitchen sink drama to a new generation of angst ridden students. We had the emergence of the coolest band on the planet in the shape of The Jesus & Mary Chain, who at one stage became as notorious as the Sex Pistols but who crucially had the talent and tunes to back up the hype. And we also saw the birth of a plethora of fantastic indie labels releasing the sort of music that would induce nervous breakdowns in most major labels.
From this fertile musical landscape emerged the object of this articles affections, The Primitives, arriving at the tail end of the “C86” scene and producing a perfect blend of fuzzed up, buzz saw guitar jangle allied to girl group melodies often played at a breakneck speed. Their influences included The Byrds, The Ramones, The Shangri Las and of course the Mary Chain, whilst in the shape of lead singer, glam blonde bombshell Tracy Tracy, the Prims bequeathed the indie scene a new poster girl for bedsit land. Perhaps it was inevitable given Tracy’s drop dead gorgeous looks that the music press started to tout the Primitives as the “English Blondie,” a label which had the potential to become something of an albatross around any band’s neck. As possibly did Morrissey’s patronage when he made public his high regard for the band?
Their debut album ‘Lovely’ was highly praised and the huge success of their single ‘Crash’ (which in this blogs opinion remains to this day, one of the finest examples of the perfect pop song) led to them crossing over to the mainstream. However the band found it difficult to maintain the momentum produced by the first album and despite producing two more albums of indie pop goodness the band called it a day in 1992.
The sad and untimely death of original bass player Steve Dullaghan in 2009 reunited the remaining members of the band and they resolved to reform, initially as a tribute to mark Steve’s passing. The band seemed somewhat taken aback by the enthusiastic response that greeted their reformation and they soon found themselves touring the UK again!
The Primitives decided to mark their reunion by releasing an EP and teamed up with their original producer Paul Sampson. The initial idea was a covers project involving lesser-known songs by female performers/songwriters which included Lee Hazlewood‘s “Need All The Help I Can Get” and “Breakaway” recorded by Toni Basil in 1966 (yes That Toni Basil) When the EP was released earlier this year it included two new songs “Rattle My Cage” and “Never Kill A Secret”, which proved the Prims have still got ‘it.’ As for the future ? Well we won’t speculate, instead we’ll ask Paul and Tracy from the band……
VP: Lets go back in time.. How did Tracy, come to join The Primitives originally, didn’t you initially have a male vocalist? And what was the music scene like in post Specials- Coventry back in the mid 80’s,?
PAUL: Yes, we had a singer called Kieron. We sounded a bit like The Fall, The Gun Club and the Birthday Party. It was a completely different band, but we kept the name after Kieron left. Tracy answered an ad for a new singer. Our paths had already crossed as we’d both worked on the same Youth Opportunity scheme a year or so earlier – I was painting rocking horses, she was making soft toys, but we didn’t really know each other. At her audition, the band huddled together in one corner and made our usual racket and Tracy stood in another corner and sang a Triffids song. We could tell straight away that it wasn’t going to work out, but I had a couple of ideas for songs that were a bit more structured and melodic, so I worked on those and we got back together the following week, and that was the start of the band as people know it.
I don’t remember much happening in Coventry music-wise in the mid 80s when we started out, but there’d been a lot of interesting stuff in the early 80s. Some 2 tone related bands like The Swinging Cats, and bands like the Furious Apples and The Human Cabbages. Basically the kind of stuff that you would hear on John Peel at that time.
VP: In the early days what sort of music would you say informed and influenced The Primitives sound? Did you all have the same sort of musical tastes or did you all bring something different into the mix?
PAUL: We were influenced by all the obvious stuff really – Velvet Underground, Buzzcocks, Mary Chain, Byrds, Monkees, Ramones, Cramps, Nancy Sinatra and so on.
We all shared similar tastes. I’d be throwing in things like Jim foetus, and 60s garage Punk. Pete and Steve were into bands like Black flag, Paisley Underground stuff and early Pink Floyd. Tracy was into The Shangri Las and the Go Betweens.
VP: Obviously the mid 80’s spawned some legendary bands and artists The JAMC, MBV, The Wedding Present and of course Rick Astley, amongst your peers were there any bands you were really big fans of? Did you feel part of a ‘scene’ at the time?
PAUL: If there was a scene, then I guess it was something based around the idea of noisepop, ie a handful of bands that seemed to be on a path forged by the Jesus and Mary Chain. As far as I can remember we were the only ones that actually followed through and had any kind of proper success at that time. Of course we all bought Psychocandy as soon it came out and I really liked what the Valentines were doing in 87/88, but press and radio couldn’t give a shit. Nice to see bands being influenced by that stuff all these years later.
VP: Tracy, you once said you’d rather break your fingers then sing along to Stock Aitkin and Waterman and their production line pop. What do you make of Cowell and his hellish legion of karaoke warblers?
TRACY : I’m still of the same opinion about the manufactured bands or solo artist of today……although we’re all manufactured in some way, it’s just that it’s a lot more blatant with some. Not so sure if I’d still go as far as breaking my fingers over singing along to a SAW ditty…ha ha, although Mr Cowell and Co do make my stomach turn. It also seems that very few of the people who make it through this star making journey have any kind of longevity.
PAUL : We used to have Andrew Loog Oldham and Malcolm McLaren, but now we’ve got robots like Cowell.
VP: What were your highlights the first time around with The Primitives? And what were your weirdest experiences?
PAUL: Getting a test pressing of our first record and playing it for the first time was a big thrill, and generally just gazing out of the tour bus window at New York or Paris or wherever and thinking how far away is this from the dole queue.
Weird experiences? –
Being on Terry Wogan’s TV chat show doing Thru The Flowers was mighty strange. It was before we were big, and I’m still not sure quite how we ended up on there. Also Morrissey being in our dressing room at the ICA at around that same time – late 87, chatting to Tracy about Coventry Cathedral.
VP: Tracy, as the bands glamorous female front person and focal point did the chaps ever feel a bit left out with all the cameras being trained on you or was it something you kind of all expected and accepted.
TRACY : Oh thank you, very sweet of you to say…
The front person in a band will always be the focal point and I guess even more so if they’re female, it’s kind of an accepted rule in pop music. Although I remember seeing gig reviews of bands in the NME and if there was, for instance, a female bass player, she’d be the one in the live photo, so it probably had a lot to do with male editors etc.
The guys in the band were not that bothered , and at times I think they were quite glad not to be in the limelight all the time. We always made a point of having all of us in the photo whenever possible, but of course in a review or interview, the publication will always have the choice of what photo they want to use
VP: I was watching an old interview of you guys on youtube , on ‘The Wide Awake Club’ Did you hate doing that sort of promo, being interviewed by hyperactive TV presenters who clearly didn’t know too much about the music. I remember interviewing Miki and Emma from Lush and Miki often talked about cringing at some of the bizarre TVpromo they had to do…
PAUL: Some of it was dreadfully cheesy. You’d see Britpop bands all over kids TV, but a couple of years earlier it wasn’t really the done thing for a band like us. I remember being at home one time, watching Tracy and Tig helping to introduce kids tea time telly and thinking I’m so fucking glad I’m this side of the TV screen, but then realising that whether I’m there or not, it’s all of us that end up looking like twats.
VP: So was the reunion purely as a result of Steve’s sad and untimely death getting together as a tribute , had the idea ever been mooted before or had you all been to busy on your own projects?
PAUL: Steve’s death was the thing that forced us back into contact with each other.
I had a vague idea of doing something to mark the 20th anniversary of Crash in 2008, but had completely lost touch with Tracy and didn’t think she’d be into it anyhow. I then heard she’d moved to Argentina, so that kind of scuppered any reunion plans. We met for the first time in about 5 years at Steve’s funeral and stayed in touch. We were then asked if we’d get involved with an exhibition at our local art gallery to do with Coventry and its pop music heritage. We ended up playing on the opening night as a tribute to Steve, and played a small secret show a week later in London. Then somehow or other we found ourselves back on tour the following year, 2010.
VP: Where you worried about coming back after so long? When did you decide to carry on gigging and then record new material? Did everything click straight away or did it take a while to get used to being a ‘Primitive’ again?
PAUL: It didn’t click straight away and playing the songs again did seem strange at first, but it soon became apparent that a lot of it had stayed programmed in.
We didn’t think so many people would be interested in seeing us again, so it was a nice surprise when the tickets started flying out. We were getting offers to go abroad after the 2010 UK tour, and things just went on from there.
The EP was done as a little commemorative keepsake to mark our comeback, but then that in itself has created more interest, so it rolls on.
VP: Of the four tracks on your latest EP you have two originals and two covers, will you be writing and recording more new material (an album maybe?) . And what was it that drew you to the covers on the Ep?
PAUL: We’ve been working on a covers project of semi obscure female fronted songs, which may end up being an album. We’re choosing songs that haven’t really been touched and that we feel we can ‘Prim up’ in some way.
Not sure about new material. There are a few half written songs, but It takes a lot more commitment and I’m not sure I’d really want to put my neck on that particular line again. Our whole thing is probably just a nostalgia trip anyhow – which is fine because I think that’s what we were pretty much about in the first place. If we’re nothing more than a tribute to ourselves, then who better to do it.
VP: And what have been the most enjoyable moments of being a Primitive again this time around?
PAUL : It’s been a buzz bringing the songs back to life for the odd hour here and there and going overseas again. It’s also been great to be able to do this again without the misery and dread of a manager or record company. It feels much more like a mad adventure than it ever did back then.
VP: Obviously a lot of things have changed in music since the Primitives first burst onto the scene. The internet has probably had the biggest impact, what do you make of its effect on the music bizz? Do you think the industry has been slow to react to new technology, do you perhaps think it has in many ways democratised the ability to produce and sell music. Or is the net effect somewhat overstated?
PAUL: Not really my field of expertise, but obviously there’s been a massive script flip and the whole thing runs in a very different way now. Not sure how I feel about people being able to download your music without having to shell out, but it’s probably mainly a kick in the balls for record companies. It’s great to be able to hear so much stuff so easily, although the thrill of the hunt isn’t really there anymore. Nice that vinyl is re-emerging too, as a kind of reaction to all this digital nothingness, I guess.
NB/ Paul also features in our May Podcast which you can hear HERE
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- Don’t Feel Doomed: An Interview With the Moondoggies (Feature) (popmatters.com)
- Liverpool Sound City Music Festival 2011 – Part 1 – The Good Natured, Pete And the Pirates, Let’s Buy Happiness. (vonpipmusicalexpress.wordpress.com)
- Echo & The Bunnymen and Caribou at Primavera Sound (chromewaves.net)