Steve Dullaghan: Bassist and founder-member of The Primitives
Monday 13 April 2009
The Coventry group The Primitives came in at the tail end of the C86 indie movement championed by the New Musical Express in the Eighties and became an emblematic example of the genre alongside Primal Scream, the Soup Dragons and The Wedding Present.
Comprising the peroxide-blonde Australian singer Tracy Tracy, guitarist Paul Court, bassist Steve Dullaghan and drummer Pete Tweedie, they formed their own Lazy label and issued three singles independently before licensing their imprint to the major label RCA. In spring 1988, they scored a Top 5 hit in the UK with the perfect jingly-jangly power-pop single "Crash", co-written by Tracy, Court and Dullaghan, and also made the Top Ten with Lovely, their debut album, which sold 100,000 copies in Britain.
After two more Top 40 singles – "Out of Reach" and "Way Behind Me" – Dullaghan left. The group never quite recaptured the heady heights of "Crash" and split in 1992. However, their signature song has proved an enduring favourite and has featured on several movie soundtracks including Dumb & Dumber (1994), Surviving Christmas (2004), and Mr Bean's Holiday, in a cover version by Matt Willis of Busted (2007).
Born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, in 1966, Dullaghan moved to Coventry in the mid-Seventies. In his teens, he acquired his first guitar and was soon playing with a local band, the Nocturnal Babies. In 1985, he formed The Primitives with Court, Tweedie and a vocalist named Keiron McDermott who was soon replaced by Tracy Tracy (née Tracy Cattell). Drawing on influences like the Velvet Underground – whose frontman Lou Reed had once been in a group called The Primitives – the Monkees, the Ramones and Blondie, to whom they were often compared, they made an almighty racket. "When we first started, we were just noise," admitted the bass player. "We started our own label because nobody was the slightest bit interested in us."
The band released "Thru the Flowers", "Really Stupid" and "Stop Killing Me" in quick succession in 1986-87 and created such a buzz that they sold out the Astoria in London. They had captured the imagination of teenagers and seemed unstoppable. Even Morrissey was a fan at the time, wearing a "Stop Killing Me" T-shirt and introducing the band on stage at London's ICA. Tracy Tracy became an alternative pin-up, surrounded by her leather jacket-wearing bandmates on the cover of the music weeklies, and RCA offered The Primitives a record deal. A re-recorded "Thru the Flowers" paved the way for the success of "Crash" – an early demo that the producer Paul Sampson had spotted – as the band toured with Echo & the Bunnymen.
RCA pushed the cute female singer ever more to the fore, trying to turn her into the new Deborah Harry, while other majors tried to cash in on The Primitives' popularity by signing bands such as Transvision Vamp and The Darling Buds. Tweedie had been sacked before Lovely and Dullaghan left after a US tour in December 1988, briefly joining forces with the drummer in a band called Hate.
In the Nineties, Dullaghan roadied for Pulp, Catatonia and David McAlmont, and subsequently launched a project called Means to an End. He remained active in the Coventry scene and fought the occasional battle with the Department for Work and Pensions about his refusal to consider a career outside of music.
Nicknamed "Dulla", the bassist was a shy and sensitive individual with a tendency to hide behind his long hair during the heyday of The Primitives. "I like to look on our songs as little holidays from life," he told Record Mirror in 1988. "Don't take it too seriously."
Steven Anthony Dullaghan, musician and songwriter: born Leamington Spa, Warwickshire 18 December 1966; died Coventry 4 February 2009.
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