THE PRIMITIVES: RED DAWN
In the process of recording their second LP and with their new single, 'Sick Of It', about to be released, The Primitives are looking to further the success of 'Crash' and 'Lovely'. Chris Roberts chats to Coventry's finest and discovers there's life after blonde.
TC: "Poor innocent me. And all this time I thought you were a bona fide blonde."
Marilyn: " I am. But nobody's that natural. And incidentally, f*** you."
TC: "Okay, everybody's cleared out, So up, up."
[Truman Capote, from "A Beautiful Child" in "Music For Chameleons".]
Are you proud that "Crash" was the 94th biggest selling single of 1988?
Paul: "Yes, that's quite good, that is."
Tracy: "It was what?"
Didn't you know that? You didn't know that.
"No! It was what? Really?"
You didn't know! It was a slice of pop history. It sold even more than "Shake Your Love" by Debbie Gibson!
That's what I thought.
"God. Really. Who else was in there?"
Oh Kylie, Cliff, Yazz, all the greats. No one with black clothes. Is there a sense of achievement?
"There is, yes, but I think there's still got to be a bit more..."
Tracy Tracy is no longer blonde.
"A lot more..."
Tracy Tracy, once blondest of blondes, the very fountainhead of the imagery of Aryan feminism, is now a redhead. What does this mean, readers? Should we deconstruct it's glaring symbolism ? Is is something to do with the passage of time, the transition from sunbeams to eternal flames? Is it an indication that The Primitives want no misconceptions around their burning wrath, their combustive ire? Can we no longer raise caprice to the dimensions of a system? Is this the death og the last and cheekiest gold dream, or just it's maturity into menace and mayhem? Does it signify that "destructive" now outranks "disposability"? Basically, when you get right down to it: Has somebody plucked the stars down from the sky?
Not really, no. The girl got bored and fancied a change, and The Primitives are better than ever.
Getting bored is something The Primitives are very good at. They are dab hands, virtuosos, at getting bored. The Midlands give you good practice. They get bored during video shoots. They get bored during photo sessions. They get bored on the bus, in the cinema, in the pub. Traveling around the world, they learned many new ways of getting bored, but can be bored with equal conviction at home. You name it, they'll get bored with it. Their comeback single is called "Sick Of It". Fortunately, it happened to be the greatest single ever made.
That enigmatic faraway look on Tracy's delightful visage? The one you always took for precocious wisdom, charming arrogance, narcissistic self-passion? The one which made you wonder what she was thinking? This is what she was thinking: I'm bored.
Ennui, however, has often fuelled the greatest pop moments. Tedium sparks off tirade. Tedium, when you think about it, is second only to love as a source of inspiration. Second out of two ain't bad.
You realise, by the way, that "Sick Of It" is the greatest single ever made?
Paul: "This week it is, yeah. Maybe for two weeks."
That's kind of what I meant.
But you should've kept the title as "Sick Of It All".
"Too many one-syllable words."
We mull this over. Crucial stuff.
The Primitives are filming the video for "Sick Of It" in an East End synagogue. They mime through the tape about 400 times. I could've sat through another 400 quite happily. It was like having your favourite pop group perform in your front room, except you're in an East End synagogue. It helps that the intro to "Sick Of It" is the greatest intro in the history of the world, one of these rare intros which gets everybody anticipating the thrill of a lifetime. It helps that the song is the rapture of rage, a throwaway holocaust, all sweetness and spite.
Paul Court shuffles over during the break and does a very good "self-effacing".
"I dunno," he mumbles. "It's a living, innit?"
The Primitives simply do not realise the brilliance of what they do. I, on the other paw, appreciate it only too well. I'll admit I am prone to blanket approval of The Primitives. Somewhere between us lies the truth. Except that for me, my truth is the truth.
And whose daffy truth is this that's happening now? For the bass player in this video is none other than Pete Tweedie, the drummer who left the band some time ago after an unsightly dalliance with one of Tracy's cats, recently rumoured to be selling tee-shirts on the Birdland tour. (Peter, not the cat.)
His favourite expression is, "Awright, me old roister-doister?"
Erm, fine, yes. I didn't know you could play bass.
"I can't. I can jump around for the sake of the video scenario, there is some confusion as to whether we're meant to be doing an interview thing. It might be sensible to get it done. Although, we might get bored. We could just forget it and go down the pub where it'd take us a little longer to get bored. It's a tough decision.
The Falcon excels itself for seedy low-grade gutter-life filth tonight. It's as if it's putting on the Ritz for the youngsters from Coventry. It's even playing Specials records, horridly enough. We sit on the pavement. No on recognises the Primitives. Hell, no one even recognises me?
Before you can say The Peking Massacre, we're onto The Big Subject.
No Tracy, I don't think it's dreadful. It was just a shock, that's all. How long has the axis of the Earth been so tilted without my knowing? I mean, how long have you been a redhead?
"Mentally, about eight months. Physically, two months. Is it really that big a deal? I just wanted a change. I've been bleaching my hair on and off for eight years, and I was just sick of it. Ah, Yes. A pun. Anyway the condition of my hair was going downhill, so I had to choose--I could either be bald or red."
Tracy pronounces "bald" as "bold". All people from Coventry do. Tracy's from Australia, but don't split hairs. I'm too polite to point it out.
"So I chose red. Seriously."
You're telling me it's serious.
"Plus there was the excitement angle as well. I mean, I was having so much fun being a blond. It was like; slow down, heart condition. I'm definitely having less fun now, thank God."
And not being preferred by gentlemen, I suppose?
"Oh, I don't know about that."
Well, redheads are characterised as angry, passionate, intense and...and...and fiery, that's the one, fiery...
"But I had those qualities anyway, Chris."
"She looks," says Paul, leaning over, "like she should have a cobra, I think. Some sort of snake."
"And some tattoos."
"I don't know why that its."
A couple of nights later we get more organised. Sort of. The Primitives' second LP, the follow-up to the stunning and underrated "Lovely", will be called -- it gives me tremendous and unqualified joy to announce -- "Pure".
"The word has slightly sinister overtones," says Paul.
But you said that about "Lovely". Maybe you see sinister things in things people don't see sinister things in generally, if you see what I mean. Lovely and pure are usually taken as fine good decent Christian words.
"But they're sinister when a band like us uses them. Or any rock'n'roll band."
Give me an example of something that's pure. I'll start you off: snow.
"A child in a bathtub."
"Pure doesn't necessarily mean nice," says drummer and Welshman, Tig. " It could be used in the context of pure evil. Total evil."
Do you feel pure at this moment, Paul?
"I'm going through a purging process. I knew someone once who ate nothing but fruit and water for weeks to purge themselves. Didn't work though."
Have you had any pure experiences lately?
"You've got me there."
Sometimes The Primitives are infuriating interviewees. When the dreaded tape recorder is on, Tracy tends to stare off into the middle distance or down at her vodka and black. Tig tries nobly. Paul will be alternately inspired or bloody useless. He has the kind of perverse sense of humour I like very much, but which makes doing my job marginally easier than knocking down the Berlin Wall with a toothpick. As the songwriter, however, he has a certain prerogative for intermittent avert poeticism.
"Last night was quite pure. I'd had a horrible day in the studio, hadn't seen any natural light, just felt the heat all day. Then I was walking down this road at about 11 and I could smell the flowers, and it was just starting to rain, like really light rain. And it felt as if I was having all the aggression of the day washed out of me."
Tig puts forward "Sick Of It" as an example of purity, and indeed there can be few finer. Originally, it was to be the B-side to a "load of simpering crap" called "Secrets".
Are you pressurised to be more simpering?
"No," says Paul, "that was my fault actually, cos I wrote the song. It's probably the third worst song I've ever written."
"Yes, agrees Tracy, "It's dreadful. I hate it."
"Actually," says Paul, "I haven't seen anybody from our record company for ages. I don't know who they are. But I love them."
Tig: "If they did phone us, there'd just be enormous silences, we'd probably start talking about the weather and stuff."
So what are you SICK OF?
Paul: "All the artless prats who seem to run everything. Anyone who has power is obviously blind -- that's what the job entails. Who? Anyone. Governments, Trendsetters, Brian Tilsley. It's a bit open -- could be the state of the world, could be I'm just sick of being asked to pay the rent and stuff."
Do you get angry about things or do you just think you're supposed to?
"That's it! So many people say they are, just cos it's called for. You watch the news and you hear all this serious bad shit but if you were really that bothered , individually, you wouldn't be able to live. You'd really go out and f***ing do some damage to summate, to make a point."
Tracy: "But you don't just ignore it. I don't. I mean, I don't use aerosols anymore!"
Paul: "Good, so little things make big things. But that's all you can do."
Some would say you were all style and no substance.
Tracy: "All style? Style?? Us??"
Yes. One pure idea, sound, look, no confusing complexities.
Which is why I like it.
You look like no one's ever said this to you before?
(They look like no one's ever said this to them before.)
Paul: "I can think of a lot of bands that are what you just said, but..."
Tracy: "I think there's more to us than your -- dare I say it -- Transvision Vamps."
Dare you say it?
"I've said it! Woo woo!"
Why is there more to you?
Paul: "Because our fingers hurt more. We sweat more than they do, bleed more than they do. And we're probably not as pampered. Pampering can kill a man. How about some more beers? In a way though, I do think they are...quite good. The singles...and that."
Tracy: "Yeah, but..."
Paul: "Let's not talk abut this band any more. Stop now."
Tracy: "Oh, all right then."
Tig: "So that's Transvision Vamp and the weather barred."
Paul: "Good bit of Transvision Vamp we've been having lately."
What I fail to communicate to The Primitives is that Dumpy's Rusty Nuts sweat. Hawkwind sweat, Depeche Mode probably sweat under certain lighting. If we want seat we can find it in any crappy old hovel. We want an illusion of glacial grace, of effortless raw power, from our pop stars. However this is the stumbling block. For me, The Primitives are potentially our finest pop stars, a national treasure. But to themselves, they're a bunch of nerds from Cov.
A lot of people are madly in love with you, Tracy. You realise that?
"It's not that they're madly in love. It's just I'm a female. I'm up on stage, and people look up to it. I've never thought, 'Oh yes, that front row is in love with me'."
Do you think you appear cold and calculating, an ice maiden?
"No, no, though a lot of people say that to me. I'm certainly not trying to give that impression. I don't develop a certain mood. I'm just trying to relax under all the nervousness really. It's just...a myth. I don't know what it is.
So you're not posing impassively?
"There probably is a certain amount of posing there. But I'm obviously not doing it correctly if that's what everyone's getting from it."
Anyway, people will say you look like All About Eve now. (A joke. A small joke.)
"Oh, God. I'm disappointed with you. You just have to accept that sort of thing. I mean -- do people really care that much about image and hair color?"
Paul: "It's sexism, basically. They wouldn't say it about a boy."
Yes they would. In pop music they would. This is the whole point. If Jenny saw that...
"That Jason Donovan had shaved his head..."
Thank you Tig. If Jenny saw that, she'd rush round to Julie's house and tell her. They'd think Armageddon had come.
Tracy: "But they'd still like him for it."
Tig: The guy out of INXS -- what's his name? He looks like a complete and utter dingo now."
Paul: "I hadn't thought all this. But maybe changing from blonde to dark is a bit radical, yeah.'
Tracy: "But should I stick to that routine, keep my blonde hair for the rest of my career? I mean, does it really matter?"
Paul: "The time does come when you stand and look at yourself and think, 'Blonde hair is cheap'."
Tracy: "I don't think blonde hair is cheap! How dare you! Ha!"
Ha, she still has a heart (Mine conceivably.)
Paul: "No, I don't mean...well, I do mean. I mean peroxide-from-the-chemist blonde hair. It's clichéd. Better red than bald, I say."
As if by magic, I produce from my hat that day's Daily Mirror. On the full-colour front page there screams the ultimate trash headline: "MARILYN LOOKALIKE SUICIDE -- She Lived Like Marilyn...And She Died Like Her. "In terms of real life, this is pretty damn sick (over on page two, Reagan Slams China Killings).
In terms of Warholian pop art, it's a towering classic. A fake reproduction. Tracy reads it keenly, hands it back and says, "Sad".
That's all. Quite right too. It has nothing to do with her.
I consider inventing a musical movement (to sweep the nation) which reveres Rita Hayworth as it's icon. We could rape in all sorts of ascendant people across the board from Harriet Sunday to Vicky Fuzzbox. What's more, we would be known as The Reds, a name not lacking in emotive and ideological status. But then I remember the existence of Mick Hucknall and decide that, in these times, continuity is a dated and bourgeois concept.
Are you worried that, while touring America and recording, you've been forgotten as one-and-a-half hit wonders?
Paul: "It hasn't been that long! It's not a couple of months!"
Tracy: "No, but it seems a lot longer. Some people have moved on to other bands of the same ilk. Or not of the same ilk, if you know what I mean.'
Paul: "There are other bands that have seen what we've done, copied it, jumped in and tried to steal our thunder. But if they've got nothing of their own in the first place, they're not gonna survive."
Is this album more "grown-up"?
Paul: "Pure and rhythmical and natural. It's got more body in it. And soul. Body and soul, you could say. And it's deeper. Expressing things less superficially."
Tracy: "I felt very detached from 'Lovely', but I can relate to these songs more. Half the songs I don't know what they're about, but what I think they're about, they are about..."
Makes sense to me.
"I mean Paul wrote them so I'm just like the average person on the street. Like with 'Sick Of It' I just thought of rainforests, the ozone layer, governments, stuff like that. I just make my own picture and give it to the record."
Are these songs laying your heart bare, Paul?
"Not really, not totally. Some songs have obviously got a penis attached to them. and there's no way a girl could sing it unless you were just trying to be 'weird'. So it's only as far as The Primitives would allow."
Of course. The Primitives remain The Primitives. Flash. The surface thrill, the sheen rush, the distillation of "Hound Dog" through TV Eye" through "Holidays In The Sun" through "Hanging On The Telephone". "Sick Of It" features a cover of The Velvets' 'I'll Be Your Mirror' on the 12-inch, also a Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra spaghetti western parody called "Noose". Another imminent track is "Summer Rain", which is pristine, pert and perfect and laden with cascades. Furthermore, you can pretend you thought it was called "Submarine" and make everyone chuckle faintly.
Here comes my interesting, possibly Freudian, error. Now, do you think "Sick Of You"...
Paul: "Sick Of You"? Isn't that Iggy Pop?"
Ah. (After 5,000 interviews, 3,000 of these with The Primitives, I have made the cardinal mistake. The most basic of basic. I have got the name of their bloody single wrong and they are six inches away from me and this is live. Brilliantly, ever so brilliantly, with a brilliance in fact which flashes from my lips like lightening, I brazenly bluff it out.) Yes, that's right -- I thought we'd talk about Iggy Pop for a bit. My chin juts up.
Clear, I think. That was brilliant. Three young faces look back at me somewhat scornfully. Tracy wrinkles her nose. I am not clear. They know me better than that. In the state of Embarrassment on the river Faux Pas, I am creekbound. But there is no end to the human ego's defiance of the inevitable.
Okay, yeah, but anyway you see my point...
Desperate, but spirited.
A kind of tightrope kind of snaps. Hysteria says: "Yummy! Floodgates!"
Paul: "What point? Where was the point?"
Tracy: "You didn't finish it! You didn't even start it!"
Intriguing: Next it'll be arthritis, and I'm sure that'll be fascinating too.
Do you care Tracy?
The Primitives. The records. All this stuff.
"Oh definitely, it's a big part of my life."
What would it make people do, ideally?
"Get up and dance and break a few chairs."
What have you got against chairs?
Paul: "They should listen to "Sick Of It" when they've had some kind of heavy drug. I've often listened to music like that and thought, "Oh this is great, I wish we did records that people would put on when they were in this state. We have done already, But I think you might even be able to smell this one."
Will it rouse people?
If you like
Tracy: "Without a doubt."
Paul: "It will rouse people on tacky dancefloors all over the UK. It'll come on and they'll suddenly jump out there and bong into each other."
Will it make people "smash the system" or "assassinate Thatcher"?
"It might help one man do that, somewhere in the world."
Did "Crash" change your lives?
Paul: "We went to more places and experienced more weather. We're more secure, but also more insecure, if you can see that. No, cos --the more secure you are, the more worried you are about becoming insecure. Like, pop bands haven't got that long a lifespan. What the hell do you do after The Primitives? Back to washing dishes, perhaps, if they'll have me. Open up a shop selling general household items, I imagine."
Serve a useful role in society?
Not like pop music.
"Well it isn't, is it, really? It is for us, but...generally it does about as much as a soap opera does."
Tracy: "People need it. They need something to admire, or...lust after. It's got to be there. Kids want to dream about something."
Paul: "You get fan letters from people getting really personal. They've seen our photographs and heard our records and really believe that we're something else..."
Tracy: "We are something else, Paul."
Paul: "I mean...other-worldly. We get weird letters like, 'Can you help me, I really like the band, but I wet the bed'. Who are these people? What do they look like?"
I thought I'd forgotten to post that one. Do you feel different to the whippersnappers I met playing 'Thru The Flowers' at The Oval Cricketers two years ago?
Tracy: "Yes, we feel feel like Swing Out Sister now."
Paul: "Only in photo sessions. The other day we were traveling in a little van, sitting on amps and that, and that felt like when we used to come down to London to do those gigs. I felt like I ought to have a doner kebob in my hand to complete the experience.
"Oh, we've had little ventures into the mainstream, and what you have to do to be part of that, but we've always slipped back out again. There've been two times when I've felt like a pop star. Getting shuttle aeroplanes from Heathrow to Newcastle with The Sisters Of Mercy and Johnny Hates Jazz. And once when I was in the library in Cov and 'Crash' came on the radio in the street outside. And it was good being on Top Of The Pops, where you just felt everyone hated you. All these nonentities."
When they're old and grey, Tracy, who rarely writes anything down in her diary any more, will sit in a rocking chair and do her knitting. Paul will shout at young people in the street, telling them he fought four world wars for them. Tig, who keeps plane boarding cards as souvenirs, would like to have "some worth in the world".