WHEN the jingly jangly pop heaven that was Crash reached number five in 1988 The Primitives joined an elite group of Coventry bands who had made a serious dent in the charts, a group which included The Specials, The Selector, Lieutenant Pigeon and King.
For some reason, however, all Street Talk in the Coventry Evening Telegraph could do was slag them off.
The group had been together for a couple of years, rehearsing at Foleshill’s General Wolfe pub. Street Talk delighted in reporting that “they expected to be fed for nothing and frequently left the room covered in cigarette packets and newspapers.”
In January 1988 The Primitives embarked on a major tour with Echo and the Bunnymen. When the tour came to the NEC, Street Talk had the knives ready and waiting.
“The drummer plays as though he’s got weights tied to his wrists” wrote Demetrios Matheou. “The songs have little calibre and originality and singer Tracy’s voice is buried beneath their deafening dirge.
“The Primitives are going to be old news before they even get started unless they do something pretty drastic.”
How Tracy, guitarist Paul Court, bassist Steve Dullaghan and drummer Tig must have laughed when Crash entered the charts at number 29 in February. How the laughter must have increased as it climbed to number five.
The success of Crash, which was produced by Paul Sampson at the Cabin Studios on London Road and became a hit across Europe, changed everything for the band. Manager Wayne Morris said at the time: “We played in Manchester the other night. There were about 1,500 people in the club and another 500 locked outside.”
“Even I had trouble getting in” recalled Tracy. “They had to clear a path through the crowd so we could get inside.”
Street Talk, however, still had something of an angry bee in its collective bonnet. They were incensed at their inability to find out Tracy’s surname. They knew she drank at the Dog & Trumpet, Busters and the Rose & Crown. But they couldn’t find out her second name.
Now THAT’S journalism. It was Cattel if you’re still wondering.
They relished reports of Tracy allegedly telling revelers not to photograph her in a nightclub when they had no intention of doing so, a story denied by Tracy.
And they found it impossible to say anything nice without adding a stinger at the end. Example: “Tig’s drumming was superb and the guitarists played with striking strength.
“But, as always, Tracey’s voice sounded wafer thin, quite devoid of power or character, and unable to compete effectively with the rest of the band’s output.”
Amazingly Street Talk seemed surprised when interviews and new press photographs weren’t forthcoming.
Eventually Morris banned the group from talking to Street Talk, a move which prompted this handbag grabbing outburst: “And now Morris says his obedient group will never talk to any of us, ever again.
“Well, Prims, nobody here at the Evening Telegraph is going to lose sleep over that.
“For we’ll still be in business long after the public have forgotten your second rate bubblegum music.” All together now, “ooh, shirty!”
The debut album, Lovely, came out in April ‘88 and although not a classic, it was pretty good. And relatively successful.
With the Primitives’ star rising high, Street Talk needed to find a writer who could say something nice, and in John Myles they found him. He described the album as “bubblegum pop’s equivalent of the Jesus & Mary Chain.”
A gig at the Birmingham Powerhouse in May ‘88 was described as “a glorious noise from beginning to end” and “ a superb hour’s worth of perfect pop.”
Returning from an American tour, the Primitives again enjoyed chart success with the single Sick Of It, which entered at 33 on July 23rd 1989.
Popularity in their home city, however, seemed pretty hard to come by. As Sick Of It climbed the charts a spokesman for Our Price in Coventry’s Shelton Square told Street Talk, without any prompting I’m sure, that the single was “not exactly selling like hot cakes.”
“You can have a band with a lot of local interest, but the Primitives don’t appear to be one of them. I think their chart position is more to do with the backing they’ve got from a big record company and popularity elsewhere than a big following in Coventry.”
Unfortunately, the band members also echo these tales of anonymity in Coventry.
Guitarist Paul Court told Time Out magazine how he and drummer Tig went to buy a bass guitar for new member Andy but encountered a rather unconvinced shop assistant.
“She just stared at us and said: ‘Are you students or what?’ and refused to let us have the bass until Wayne rings up and says we ARE the Primitives.”
It gets worse. Paul continued: “I was upstairs by the bar a minute ago and I heard some students saying ‘Oh, The Darling Buds are downstairs’.”
Adding to their problems on a local front was the fact that other Street Talk writers, Chris Wilson, Tracey Harrison and Demetrios Matheou, were continuing to stick the boot in.
“Tracey’s undernourished voice is drowned by the more impressive guitars” wrote Chris Wilson.
“The Primitives may be determinedly independent, but they show little individuality. A black hole beckons” wrote Demetrios Matheou.
Unfortunately, the journo was right. The city’s best post 2-Tone band to make an impression on the charts plunged into obscurity.
So what happened? They had the initial success. Surely it was all there for the taking.
Tracy Cattell said: “It was a very uncomfortable time for us. We were taken by total surprise and we weren’t really comfortable with that.
“It happened so fast. We didn’t know exactly what was happening. It was just like a whirlwind.”
Another possible explanation is that when a band starts to make those early inroads into the realms of national and international success, they can normally rely on a groundswell of support from their home town.
And that’s usually backed up by a fiercely loyal and supportive local music press, willing the band to do well.
But not in Coventry in the late ‘80s. Would things be any different if it happened now? By Christ, I hope so.