Thursday, 18 February 2010

Get Primitive(s)

Against my better judgement, we’ve got tickets to see The Primitives at The Scala later this year. I resisted last year’s reformation gig at the Buffalo Bar, due to not wanting to destroy happy pop memories, but it was by all accounts a splendid showing, so this time round I’ve given in to peer pressure and we’ll be there in April. This has got me thinking about the sparkly buzzsaw wonder that was The Primitives and how much I loved them, at least for a little while.

Summer 1986 was ‘Thru The Flowers’ and ‘Really Stupid’ (session version). Fizzbombs of overloaded, overexcited, fuzzed out noisepop. They matched my ebullient mood. I’d finished my exams, it seemed to be sunny all the time and I was discovering loads of exciting new bands. The Primitives got little mentions in ‘Melody Maker’. They looked pretty cool. Tracy was a bit gothy looking – big crimped, backcombed hair, Siouxsie eyeliner, lots of dangly jewellery, but that was okay. 1986 was kind of the indiepop fashion transition period (at least in the minds of me and my chums). So you could have messy backcombed hair and dress all in black as long as you did it with the right sensibility, i.e. whilst not being a goth.

Part of the appeal of The Primitives was the way they looked. Especially guitarist Paul Court.He was the perfect indie boy! He managed to look utterly, unimpeachably cool in his moptop, skinny black jeans and Chelsea boots, like, “Yeah, I’ve just been transplanted from 1967, what the fuck are you going to do about it?” A feat often attempted by lesser mortals but rarely achieved so successfully.

The Sound of Autumn 1986 came courtesy of two Andy Kershaw sessions, one by The Avons (much beloved by me as they were a local band) and the other by The Primitives who offered up four easy to sing along with songs, each one a scuffed-up pop-perfect encapsulation of teenage-ness. The nursery rhyme dippiness of ‘Spacehead’ applied pleasingly well to my friend K, ‘What is that boy on? / He’s a strange person’. My favourite was ‘Where The Wind Blows’. Evocative of peering out the window at empty, windblown, night-time streets (we didn’t have actual streets with y’ know pavements and shit in my village, so this was a romantic notion) it always gave me the shivers, especially the bit at the end when Tracy sings, ‘I realise that you’re long since dead and gone’. Brrr! ‘Across My Shoulder’; not sure what that was all about, but it seemed to be in keeping with an oft-occurring Prims lyrical theme: ‘the boy done bad, best get rid’ - a no nonsense toughness that stopped Tracy being too girlie sweet (see also: ‘She Don’t Need You’, ‘Really Stupid’). Oh, and there was a groovy wee song called ‘Crash’.

1987 gave us the ramalama scrawl of ‘Stop Killing Me’ with more bursting bubblegum fuck right off lyrics. I flouted indiepop rules and bought the twelve inch, because the real jewel here was the second track on the b-side, ‘Laughing Up My Sleeve’. It was sung by Paul in a not quite off-key flat tone (sexy!) against a deceptively sweet tumbling guitar. Once again it had a great fuck you theme, not least the bit about 'that boy you're with's a dick’ (or ‘boy who is a dick’, or ‘boy who looks a dick’, we weren’t really sure). But the best bit was kept ‘til last when the guitar went MENTAL! Fuzzing menacingly behind the vocals, gradually increasing in volume until it detonated into a terrible feedback SCREEECH! Genius. We played it LOUD and often.

The b-sides were always brilliant, what about the Velvetsy, day-dreamingly titled, annoyingly bracketed ‘(We’ve) Found A Way (To The Sun)’, with its understated singsongyness building up to a euphoric Tracy ‘n’ Paul duetting end? Or the acid summer shimmer of ‘Everything’s Shining Bright’?

Summer 1987 and The Primitives started evolving ever so slightly. Tracy’s look developed into that of a knowingly prim starlet, complete with excellently applied winged eyeliner (Bilinda Butcher from MBV did the same sort of thing – it was very influential on my eyeliner wearing). ‘Thru The Flowers’ was re-recorded and released on a (limited ed!) three track 7”. Gone was the crunchy scuzz of the original release, this was deliciously pristine. The guitars pealing like bells somehow reminded me of the theme tune to ‘The Magic Roundabout’. It was pure pop but still trippy. The band appeared on ‘Wogan’ plugging their single:

'September 2nd 1987: ‘Happy When It Rains’ came on the radio on the way home and then later The Primitives were on ‘Wogan’! Funny, I know, but they were! They were fab, a perfect pop group. Paul Prim looked v. Johnny Marr-esque and he’s had a haircut so his hair wasn’t such a mega pudding bowl and he had v. anorexic black jean clad legs. Pete forgot to mime to a little bit. Tracy looked v. sweet shaking her head to the ‘You won’t find me, no, no.’ bits. Ace'

Drummer Pete Tweedie was sacked because of something to do with Tracy’s cats (I can vaguely recollect some interview that my friend showed me in which a pre-sacked Pete discussed his predilection for the cats – ugh) and replaced by Tig who was a better drummer, but we still preferred Pete ‘cos he had good hair. I once kept a fiver for ages that he fished out of his jeans pocket to give to me as change when he was manning Birdland’s merch stall. It was a kind of talisman to me and my friends and we were most distraught when I had to spend it on petrol (a fiver’s worth of petrol could get you places then).

By 1988 The band had signed to RCA and started moving up in the world. Paul got a quiff! ‘Crash’ got released. The song from the Andy Kershaw session that had been a raucous headlong charge with Tracy spitting the words out spitefully was a big gleaming pop monster that the whole world and its granny loved. I still loved it too, despite the big bucks video. And I loved the album ‘Lovely’ when it emerged triumphant on the back of this sudden success. The Primitives finally came and played in our neck of the woods:

'The Primitives – UEA, 5th May 1988

Very sunny day, but my bike is broken so had to take the omnibus to school. Had Biology, but K wasn’t in. Phoned her and she couldn’t decide whether to come in or not (v. laissez faire approach to education there), so I strimbled round to hers and we listened to 14 Iced Bears and saw a v. depressing programme about death.

Left about 12, went home and listened to the grooveeeeeeeee Pooh Sticks session (er, what about SCHOOL?) and did some English (oh alright then). Later, drove all four of us to the UEA. It was SOLD OUT (man). Saw N and Loz and bought a so-called ‘badge-pack’ i.e. four badges and a naff postcard for £1.50, only we split it between us. I got a cool gear black and white badge with Paul and Steve Prim on.

Stood about near the front even before Goodbye Mister McKenzie the support band were on ‘cos of large abundance of people there. GMM were quite boring really. I managed to elbow my way to the front of the stage and I was the only girlie there, the rest being pervy boys wanting to see Tracy! The stage ‘set’ was a big pop-art ‘Crash!’ backdrop and a shiny actual car or the front of a car or fake car or something. I was dead in front of Paul and I had a brill view of his pedals and fings.

They came on and did ‘Dreamwalk Baby’, then ‘I’ll Stick With You’, ‘Run Baby Run’, ‘Nothing Less’ and everything off the LP except ‘Spacehead’ Boo! Swizzed! They also did ‘Across My Shoulder’, the three session songs (Peel session from April 1988 I think), ‘Really Stupid’, ‘Everything’s Shining Bright’, ‘We Found A Way To The Sun’ and one I DON’T KNOW! Anyways, it was dead cosmic and FAB and stuff and I got mega-crushed so I had to fight my way out and execute groovy dances further back. They came back for one encore. D. went backstage and got their autographs. Huh!'

Then what? On my last ever day at school the ‘Out Of Reach’ video was on the Chart Show. The band were playing on a beach (‘cos it says about walking on the sand or something in the lyrics) and I was just about to go out to an ‘end of school forever’ beach party! Blimey!

I bought the next single ‘Way Behind Me’ ‘cos I found it cheap. Again, the b-side was the best bit, ‘All The Way Down’ sung by Paul (I think basically I loved everything that Paul did) against a Velvetsy drone with hints of squally noise underneath. Yum. I just played it again for the first time in 1000 years. It sounds dreamy! It’s also maybe a precursor to the stuff Mr Court did under the name Starpower. I only came across them once, when Mark Radcliffe played their gorgeous take on ‘Some Velvet Morning’. It crackles and hums with interference like its being beamed from a distant planet.

By 1989 I was losing interest in The Primitives. Bass player Steve Dullaghan had left, so they weren’t really the proper band any more. Tracy g-a-s-p changed from blonde to redhead and I thought she looked much better even if nobody else did (I had red hair), but it wasn’t enough to sustain my interest. I’d moved to London. I was at Art School. I was Busy. Plus the band just weren’t cool anymore. They got a good hard major label scrubbing and ended up looking shit – all sheeny and clean with crappily perfect stu stu stu studioline hair’styles’. I didn’t know or care what happened next. According to the internet they had two more albums! I don’t think I want to hear them. I want to preserve the songs I know in a velvet(s) lined box alongside the teenage memories they represent. Until April when we go to The Scala, anyway.


Trev Oddbox said...

If the show is anything like the BB one from last year - it'll be worth it and you still won't have heard their later LPs. :-) Which is a bonus.

String Bean Jen said...

This is like reading the diary of the coolest girl in high school whom I would never have had the guts to talk to. I love it!