Primal Scream musician’s son says band’s ‘tough love’ isolated father before death

Keyboard player Martin Duffy was ‘not able to cope’ after being excluded from tour and rights deal, inquest told

The teenage son of Martin Duffy, the late keyboard player with Primal Scream, has accused other members of the band of leaving his father out in the cold financially and professionally, and of contributing to his isolation before his early death last December.

Duffy, who played on a string of hits in the 1990s, including Movin’ on Up and Loaded, joined the band as a full-time member in 1989, after a period playing with Felt. He contributed to every album, including the award-winning Screamadelica.

Now Duffy’s son, Louie, 19, claims the keyboard player, who died aged 55 last December after a fall at his home in Sussex, should have received a share of the profits of Primal Scream’s tours and back catalogue, and was unfairly ditched at a point when he needed support.

In a long, emotional statement produced last week at an inquest in Brighton, Duffy’s son alleges his father lost hope when told he could not join the band on stage after a 30-year history together. His father, he claimed, aged “10 years in a matter of weeks” and was “not able to cope any more”.

In moving testimony, he wrote: “I am well aware that financial reward may not have saved Dad from himself – we will never know. But I do know that while the band were reaping the rewards from touring Screamadelica, a classic British album, he was having to live month to month – just being paid session fees to perform it – when in fact he had played such an important part in creating it. I know Dad found this really insulting and not right.”

Black and white photo of Duffy in a zip-up anorak and floppy hat playing a Korg synthesiser
Duffy performing at Barrowlands in Glasgow, 1992. Photograph: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images

Duffy fell into debt during the pandemic, and his family claim he was unfairly left out of a £5m rights deal with BMG. The final blow, according to his son, was being “forced off the tour” after a gig in Glasgow in which he made musical errors.

For their part, the band’s frontman, Bobby Gillespie, and guitarist Andrew Innes, are both believed to be grieving the loss of Duffy. Friends of the band have said that Gillespie and Innes had hoped that showing some “tough love” to Duffy, who was addicted to alcohol, might help preserve his career – and save his life.

Gillespie and Innes, who have undergone their own previous battles with substance abuse, had told Duffy he could return if he stopped drinking. Friends of the band have pointed out that the coroner’s court has heard only “one, very understandably emotional, side of the story”. It has been reported that the band did continue to pay Duffy’s session wages, even after asking him to leave the tour.

When Gillespie announced Duffy’s death on social media six months ago, he called him “a beautiful soul” and hailed him as the most musically talented band member.

After Duffy joined Primal Scream, the band went on to win the inaugural Mercury Prize in 1992 with a new kind of dance music that blended acid rock and acid house.

In 2014, the band lost another key member, guitarist Robert Young, who was also plagued with addictions.

Duffy’s son also places responsibility for his father’s death at the door of the record industry.

“The duty of care in the music industry in the mid-80s and early 90s was absolutely terrible,” admitted one promoter who worked in the period this weekend. “The business was reckless and there was very little understanding of mental health. Drinks were on every performer’s rider. Once you are well known, everyone buys you a drink in any case. It was a different time back then, but the worst offenders were those who did not have to get up in the morning.”

Duffy, who grew up in Birmingham, was the star of many bar-room anecdotes during his time touring with Primal Scream. Most notoriously, he was once stabbed and did not realise until later. “I’ve had worse things happen to me,” he told an interviewer, looking back on the injury he mysteriously sustained during the band’s tour of New York in 1993. “Everyone gets in accidents, right, and I don’t really have a good memory, but I’ve been in loads of situations where I could have died a lot easier.”

The coroner, Dr Karen Henderson, concluded that Duffy’s accidental death had resulted from alcohol intoxication and multiple skull fractures after a fall. The inquest also heard that Duffy had been diagnosed with prostate cancer during lockdown.

Primal Scream have not issued a statement on the current controversy.


Vanessa Thorpe Arts and media correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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