Live: Hugh Cornwell / The Primitives

The Apex, Bury St Edmunds January 17, 2024

by Dave Stevens

It’s an icy cold evening for the first night of a short tour by the former Stranglers frontman.

Support comes from indie power popsters The Primitives, featuring the bulk of their longest-running line-up with a seemingly ageless Tracy Tracy on vocals, main songwriter Paul Court on guitar and Tig Williams on drums. Paul Sampson on bass is a relative newcomer, although he’s the producer of much of their material and he had an earlier stint in the band before they first disbanded in the early-90s.

It's a snappy set from The Primitives (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
It’s a snappy set from The Primitives (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

Debut single Thru The Flowers eases us in gently before the pace is picked up with Spacehead and the excellent Stop Killing Me.This sets the tone for the performace with many of the songs coming from the debut album, Lovely.

The Primitives’ sound is guitar-led, sometimes jangly and sometimes buzzy and Ramones-like, but always with melodic vocals.

The ageless Tracy Tracy (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
The ageless Tracy Tracy (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

Tracy stands out in her sparkly red top and often throws shapes with her tambourine when not singing.

Lose The Reason from 2013’s Spin-O-Rama gives Court the opportunity to duet with Tracy, which provides an interesting contrast. Court seems a bit grumpy, telling us that “Bury is lovely, but you’re not”.

Out Of Reach almost lives up to its name as the band need three attempts to properly start it.

Paul Court: Having a bad day? (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
Paul Court: Having a bad day? (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

The new songs blend in well with the old ones. Last year’s Don’t Know Where To Start is easily as good as their first big hit and the song many are waiting for, Crash, which follows.

Two more songs conclude the sharp, snappy, 14-song support set, and The Primitives are well worth getting here early for.

In the limelight (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
In the limelight (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

Hugh Cornwell last played The Apex just over a year ago while promoting the excellent Moments Of Madness album.

There was no support that time, with Cornwell doing a set of solo material followed by a one of singles and deeper cuts from his time with The Stranglers. Tonight we get a single, mixed set of songs, which sit together really well.

There are no gimmicks tonight (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
There are no gimmicks tonight (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

There is no fuss and there are no gimmicks. The lighting is basic and the band are dressed in black with black guitars. It is all about the music.

They launch into two songs from Moments Of Madness followed by Skin Deep from The Stranglers.

Cornwell informs us that this will be the pattern for the night, with two solo songs for each one from his old band. This doesn’t seem unreasonable given that his solo output exceeds that with The Stranglers and is of equal or better quality.

Hugh Cornwell and Pat Hughes (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
Hugh Cornwell and Pat Hughes (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

Pat Hughes on bass and Windsor McGilvray on drums (both also on backing vocals) provide a tight and solid backing. Cornwell completes the power trio with his distinctive vocals and a mix of rhythm and lead played on his trademark Fender Telecaster.

The setlist is well chosen for this line-up although the sound – while still decent – is not as good as on their previous performance here, when it was outstanding.

Power trio Hugh Cornwell, Pat Hughes and Windsor McGilvray (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
Power trio Hugh Cornwell, Pat Hughes and Windsor McGilvray (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

Highlights include the solo tracks When I Was A Young Man and Mr Leather from Cornwell’s two most recent albums, and Stranglers classic Always The Sun.

Towards the end of the set, Another Kind Of Love utilises vocal harmonies from McGilvray and Hughes, and the result is almost Beach Boys-like in places.

Hugh Cornwell remains a musical force (Picture: Rob Fairclough)
Hugh Cornwell remains a musical force (Picture: Rob Fairclough)

After the trio are called back for a well-deserved encore, there are four more songs, ending with a brilliant rendition of The Stranglers’ first single (Get A) Grip (On Yourself). Whether it’s old or new songs, Cornwell is still a musical force.

Shuffling out of the hall, it is a surprise to see John Cooper Clarke lurking by the door. He has come to see his collaborator on the covers album This Time It’s Personal, although why in Suffolk on a cold Wednesday night is a mystery.

And it’s certain the man himself would say he doesn’t lurk!

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