Primal Scream keyboardist Martin Duffy dies aged 55

Celebrated musician was a keen collaborator and released an experimental solo album

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Primal Scream keyboardist and UK rock music stalwart Martin Duffy has died, aged 55.

The news was announced on Twitter on Tuesday by Tim Burgess, collaborator and frontman of British group The Charlatans, who described Duffy as “a beautiful soul.”

No cause of death has been revealed.

The news comes as a further blow to the UK music scene with the death of Terry Hall, lead singer of pioneering ska music band The Specials, also announced on the same day.

Burgess acknowledged Duffy’s contribution to The Charlatans when he stepped in as a temporary replacement after the group’s keyboardist Rob Collins was killed in a car crash in 1996.

“Another tragic loss of a beautiful soul,” Burgess wrote.

“Martin Duffy stepped in to save The Charlatans when we lost Rob — he played with us at Knebworth and was a true friend. He toured with me in my solo band too — he was a pleasure to spend time with. Safe travels Duffy.”

Fans and fellow musicians have also taken to social media to praise an artist that played a major role in the adventurous early sound of the UK’s indie-rock scene.

Former Oasis guitarist Paul "Bonehead" Arthurs tweeted: "Sad, sad news."

"Very sad news, someone we toured with alongside Primal Scream and a fantastic person all round has left us," UK group Asian Dub Foundation said. "Brilliant keyboardist Martin Duffy, ADF salute you."

Born in Birmingham in 1967, Duffy reportedly grew up being enamoured by the sounds of the era with a particular love for The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, in addition to being excited by the emerging UK punk and two-tone genres of the late-1970s.

Duffy joined the indie-rock band Felt in 1985 at 16 after responding to a poster designed by frontman Lawrence Hayward with the headline "do you want to be a rock'n'roll star?"

While the group were generating a steady buzz with their brand of chirpy guitar-driven pop — Duffy made an impression as a keyboardist when playing on Primal Scream's first two albums.

With Felt disbanding in 1989, Duffy became a permanent member of Primal Scream and made his mark with 1991's Screamadelica, a pioneering album that infused indie-rock's sensibilities with the experimental and shuddering sounds of acid house and techno.

By that time, Duffy also gained notoriety for his partying ways.

However, according to the album's studio engineer Huw Price, he was always on point when it came to work.

"He had a mischievous sense of humour, revelled in Zen jokes and was often the worse for wear," he told Guitar.com.

"I got the impression that certain members were conducting a prolonged experiment to determine how wasted he would have to be before he could no longer play. But whenever he sat at Jam’s Yamaha grand piano, Duffy played like an angel."

In addition to his work with Primal Scream, Duffy was a ready collaborator, having worked with the aforementioned The Charlatans, Paul Weller, Beth Orton, Steve Mason and appearing on the soundtrack to the 2018 British film Wild Rose.

Duffy also found the time to work on his only solo album, Assorted Promenades.

Released in 2016, the instrumental and experimental work was praised for its eclectic soundscapes, from shimmering piano arpeggios to the use of field recordings, including the sounds of low-flying planes passing by.

“You can wrap things up in the latest technology but it does boil down to melody,” he told rock music and pop culture website The Quietus.

“I listen to a lot of avant-garde as well, but for me, [what’s] advanced is a good melody.

Because this [album] is instrumental, I'm not relying on a vocal or lyric so I'm relying on a sonic palette and colours... it's quite impressionistic.”

Duffy's last album with Primal Scream was 2016's lukewarm Chaosmosis; he performed on frontman Bobby Gillespie's duet album with Jehnny Beth, Utopian Ashes last year.

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Updated: December 20, 2022, 12:17 PM
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