published: 16 /
Indie pop pioneers The Primitives are currently on the road on their Electric Acoustic tour which celebrates the release of boxset 'Bloom! The Complete Recordings 1985-92'. Guitarist/vocalist Paul Court chats to Richard Lewis about the group’s early days, chart success and returning to the stage.
Delayed from last year, indie pop stalwarts The Primitives hit the road this September in celebration of their recent boxset Bloom! The Full Story 1985-1992. Pulling together all the tracks issued by the Coventry outfit during the first half of their career, the five CD set features the band’s three album run, ‘Lovely’ (1988), ‘Pure’ (1989), ‘Galore’ (1991) and earlier indie label recordings.
Combining bubblegum melodies, jangling guitars and a sizeable dollop of distortion, piloted by the diaphanous vocals of lead singer Tracy Tracy, the Primitives did much to set out the parameters of indie pop. PINS in the current era and Veronica Falls a decade ago bear traces of the group’s hallmarks. While The Primitives’ best-known moment is Top 5 charting evergreen power pop anthem ‘Crash,’ a fixture on films, TV and ads since the 1990s, the group’s albums and earlier singles reveal a wealth of indie pop gems. Despite their self-deprecating Twitter bio of being “Three and a half-hit wonders from Coventry and Barcelona,” their catalogue has aged incredibly well.
Tracy Tracy, guitarist, vocalist, Paul Court and drummer Tig Williams reassembled in 2009 with early days producer Paul Sampson recently returning to the fold on bass. Reconnecting following the untimely death of bassist Steve Dullaghan, the band reformed as a tribute and following a successful tour have been recording and playing live ever since.
The upcoming series of dates billed as Electric Acoustic sees the group going unplugged for several shows and promises a dive into earlier material.
“At least half the set will be obvious stuff, but we’ll include songs that we may not have played live in a while,” Paul says of the upcoming gigs. “It’s great to get a chance to go back to some songs that may not have turned out quite how we wanted them to and to rectify that live. For instance, an old song called ‘Everything’s Shining Bright’ was meant to be a kinda Bo Diddley, Gun Club type thing. The recording is OK but it’s a bit lightweight, so now we get the chance to give it the punch it lacked.”
After releasing the ‘Never Kill A Secret’ EP in 2011, the first Primitives’ album in twenty years was hot on its heels with ‘Echoes and Rhymes’ issued the following year. A treasure trove of lesser-known tracks originally performed by female fronted garage rock groups, the band were able to uncover fresh songs from an era already heavily explored. Amongst the highlights is ‘Turn Off the Moon’ originally sung by Sue Lyon, the title character of Stanley Kubrick’s notorious 1961 classic ‘Lolita.’
PB: How did you come across the songs from the LP, were they favourites from years earlier or new discoveries?
“It was mostly stuff we already knew, but while we were recording it we were searching for other unknown songs that we felt would be suitable to include on the album,” Paul states. “The Polly Niles song ‘Sunshine In My Rainy Day Mind’ was a new discovery.”
PB: The present band are no stranger to offbeat covers, including versions of The Velvet Underground standard ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ on ‘Pure’ and ‘The Little Black Egg’ by cult 1960s outfit The Nightcrawlers on ‘Galore.’
“Yes, there was always an interest in 60s garage and psych,” Paul recalls. “A lot of comps started to come out in the early 80s. Coventry music library had The Seeds, Stooges and Chocolate Watch Band. I heard ‘Little Black Egg’ on the radio around that time.”
PB: While these tracks are instantly accessible in the internet age, in the Primitives formative years the material was vastly harder to track down.
“Myself and people I knew were always seeking that stuff out,” the guitarist recalls. “I remember producer Craig Leon (legendary NYC producer and Blondie/ Talking Heads associate) who we worked with on some of our first albums, saying that he had something to do with the recording of ‘Little Black Egg.’ That got me interested in the song again. We recorded our version a few years later.”
PB: Originally scheduled for last year, the live dates flag up the release of five CD box set ‘Bloom! The Full Story 1985-1992’ issued by storied archive label Cherry Red in 2020.
How was it going through the first half of your discography for the project?
“We’ve become familiar with it all over again over the last ten years,” Paul states. “I like the early stuff more than I used to. It was recorded very quickly and without much faff. Around the mid-Nineties someone put a comp out of the Primitives’ ‘Lazy’ singles and I read a really good review in a music mag. I didn’t think anyone in the world could possibly have a good word to say about The Primitives at that point, so I kept re-reading it, thinking it had to be a piss-take. But no, the reviewer genuinely liked it. It took a few more years for me to realise we weren’t hated quite as much as I’d thought.
PB: An excellent showcase of the bracing garage rock rush of Primitives’ early years, the band’s early releases were compiled on ‘Lazy 86-88 (Singles Collection).’ The group’s second 45, feedback assisted noise pop blast ‘Really Stupid’ featured in a list by Mojo of greatest independent singles. ‘Stop Killing Me’ meanwhile later included on ‘Lovely’ is a thrilling mash-up of snotty garage punk outfit and 1960s girl group melodicism.
“’Lazy’ was run by our manager” Paul explains. “It was set up initially for us to release records on and later a few other bands were on the label. We’d sell a thousand or so singles and that would fund the next release. It wasn’t exactly making anyone rich. More was made on T-shirts than records.”
PB: A group the Coventry outfit were close contemporaries with, The Primitives and My Bloody Valentine occupied similar territory in 1986-8 with their fuzzed-up approach to jangle pop. Recorded during lockdown with vocals from Tracy in Barcelona and guitar and backing vocals from Paul in London, the pair covered early MBV cut ‘Kiss the Eclipse.’
“We shared the bill with them a lot in 1986-87,” Paul recalls of the period. “MBV released a few EPs on ‘Lazy.’ I think there was some kind of falling out with our manager, so they moved down the corridor from ‘Lazy’ to ‘Creation Records.’ We seemed to cop some of the blame for whatever had gone on, no idea why. They sure did slag us off a lot after they’d left ‘Lazy’ and we’d got in the charts and stuff.”
PB: Talking of charts, following their move to major label RCA in late 1987, the Primitives turned in a clutch of appearances on ‘Top of the Pops’ an extremely rare occurrence for indie bands during that era. Following several performances to plug ‘Crash,’ Shangri-La’s go punk track ‘Out Of Reach’ and power pop stomper ‘Sick of It’ saw the group return to television centre.
“Yeah, it was unusual up until then, it certainly felt like we’d achieved something getting on there,” Paul states. “Most of the main indie bands wanted a piece of the action, proper success, etc., but I think we were the first from that ‘86, ‘87 bunch to actually pull it off.”
PB: Leader of indisputably the biggest indie group of the decade meanwhile gave the Primitives a boost when he was pictured wearing one of their T-shirts based on the ‘Stop Killing Me’ single artwork.
“Yeah, Morrissey liked us back in The Smiths days,” Paul remembers. “We met him once in 1987 when he introduced us on stage at the ICA in London. I don’t know what the other members thought about us. Johnny Marr made a disparaging remark about indie bands being ‘all girls singing about flowers’ or something, which might have been a reference to us and possibly a dig at Morrissey’s fondness for The Primitives. But he covered ‘Crash’ live a few years back and it sounded alright.”
PB: Staying with contemporaries, scores of the best-known bands the current group shared stages with in the mid-1980s, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Wedding Present, Primal Scream and the aforementioned MBV are all still going concerns. Did you ever imagine yourselves and the bands you were featured in the music press with would still be around thirty plus years later?
“No, I can’t imagine any of those bands thought they’d be around in 2021,” the guitarist says. “If you’re in a band in your 20s and it’s all over by your 30s, you tend to think of it as something in the past that you won’t go back to, like school or something. Ten years later you realise there’s this ready-made thing that could be dusted off and reactivated, so why not?”
PB: Twenty-fourteen’s warmly received ‘Spin-O-Rama,’ the first set of original Primitives’ material in almost a quarter of a century was followed by 2017s ‘New Thrills’ EP. With all the activity going on at the moment, are there any plans to head into the recording studio?
“There’s been some brief discussions about an acoustic mini album or something,” Paul says. “We’re playing some acoustic shows on the tour and have been sorting out acoustic arrangements of a bunch of songs.”
PB: A final enquiry then, going way, way back where did The Primitives get their name from? Was it cult documentary ‘Primitive London,’ which showed the seamier side of the capital during the mid-1960s?
“It was from the pre-Velvet Underground Lou Reed, John Cale band,” the guitarist explains. “I had a compilation album called ‘The Velvet Underground – Etc.’ which featured them. Our manager said one day at a rehearsal, ‘What about calling the band The Primitives?’ and I’d had exactly the same thought earlier that day with reference to that album, so it seemed kinda fateful. We thought it sounded like a street gang or something. What we didn’t realise at the time was that there’d been loads of bands called The Primitives. In fact, it seems as if it was the name a lot of bands would be called before they chose their proper name, so in a way that was us too. Except we didn’t bother to come up with a new name!”
Play in YouTube:-
Have a Listen:-