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ZEBRA CROSSINGS
Melody Maker
July 20, 1991
Andrew Mueller

 

"I'll tell you something weird about zebras," confides Primitives guitarist and beat movie extra Paul Court. "The stripes on their neck, right, they go right up to their manes. I'd never realized that before."

It's very, very late. I'm talking to The Primitives, they who are back and it's like they've never been away, in the bar of an endearingly weatherbeaten hotel on the Isle Of Wight. We are talking about zebras. We are talking about zebras because either the Primitives are bloody awful at talking about pop music or--and I refuse, for the moment, to rule out this possibility--I am. Whatever, I have made vague sashays in search of snappy, self-deprecating quips about "surviving", "starting again" and what bands do before they come "back" and have come away with a tapeful of long pauses and earnest responses.

I wanted Marx, Groucho and I got something somewhere between Harpo and Karl. So we are talking about zebras. Our other reason for doing this is that a few weeks back, in the course of making a video for the coolly danceable new single, "You Are The Way", Tracy Tracy was nearly killed by one.

"I was just sort of standing there holding this rope, patting him and talking to him," explains Tracy, "and then this car alarm went off and he just bolted."

"They are not gentle creatures," continues Paul, "not like they look on the plains in those documentaries. It was dead surreal though. There were these trees, there was this cute little river with tennis courts around it, and this mad zebra pulling Tracy in her white suit...."

All this, dear reader, because Paul thought the guitars on the new offering, "sounded a bit like a zebra looks." Tracy, therefore, has very nearly laid down her life for a metaphor. When I discover this, I am hers.

HERE'S a joke. What goes "bang...bang...bang"? A machine-gun in Ryde. Why? Wight's port town is possibly the least apocalyptic metropolis on earth. It will not be the setting for the end-of-the-millennium novel. It's only just the setting for tonight's show. The council have pulled the plug on the original venue due to utterly inexplicable concerns about the band's "undesirable audience." Proceedings have therefore been reconvened in a local wine bar which will not be bidding to host the next cat-swinging Olympiad. As it happens, however, the gig is something of a minor stormer, every[one] gets as crazy as startled zebras over "Really Stupid", "Stop Killing Me", and "Crash" and the new ones suffer only from unfamiliarity, not comparison. Except the one about the little black egg, which is tres twee and profoundly horrible. Afterwards, the band autograph photos, plates and onions and everyone decides it wasn't that bad after all.

"It was okay", decides Paul. "But I don't really like doing places that small. Too much sweating for my liking. It's not particularly glamourous, is it?"

And The Primitives know about glamour, of course. Not so long ago they had monstrous hits, played in very big halls to audiences as undesirable as they liked and when Tracy forsook the bleach for an auburn tint around the time of "Sick Of It", the Berlin Wall come down. They were entirely splendid pop stars at a time before the goalposts were moved by the kind of people who actually know what goalposts are and things got a bit grim. "Exactly", nods Tracy. "I think pop music definitely needs The Primitives."

Yeah. Would you care to elaborate on that?

"Well," she says, "we're a lot more...sort of honest, real, more real than a lot of other stuff around. We stare you in the face, you know. What you see is what you get, basically."

This is not what I was hoping Tracy would say. What I was hoping Tracy would say was: "Pop needs us because I remain a Beatrix Potter goddess, part Debbie Harry part Mrs. Robinson, these chaps here continue to distinguish themselves by being just that little bit less anonymous than they're supposed to be and besides which we retain our effortless charm and sound as gorgeously precocious as we ever did. And sorry about the one about the little black egg. Don't know what came over us." Tracy does not say this. Tracy continues to regard me with an air of slightly tested patience. It's great to watch, but I resolve to try harder.

SO, yeah. "You Are The Way." And that B-side, "Hello Jesus." I like that one. Are they at all grounded in any conventional religious convictions?

"Well," says Paul, only briefly thrown by such a sensible question, "'You Are The Way' is like one of those things you see written on a placard outside a church, and I just thought it would sound good in a song. 'Hello Jesus' is kind of tongue-in-cheek, but I didn't want it to offend anyone, so I wrote it in a way that someone might hear it and take it seriously."

Weird. Do The Primitives have anything to say, as such?

"No! God no," they chorus, amused and horrified. This is as it should be. And just as well, because:
"Sometimes," announces Paul without any prompting whatsoever, "it's difficult to be taken seriously, having a female singer. It's really hard to get anything across. But," and here he notices a look of magnificent reproach from Tracy, "it has been our fortune as well."

But surely (this is good), this is and was the problem of the people who think that, not yours.

"True," nods Tracy, "but it does reflect on us. But I really don't think it would have made us any more cred if I had been a boy."

I reckon (this is great, I've done well) that the problem is that people--not at all incorrectly--associate the woman pop singer with all that is glamorous about pop music. But then--completely incorrectly--they fail to differentiate between glamour and frivolity.

Tracy smiles.

"You know," she says, "I think you're on the right track there."

"You Are The Way" is out on July 22 on Lazy through RCA. The Primitives are on tour now.