Duffy died of a brain injury after falling at home, his Primal Scream bandmate Bobby Gillespie confirmed
Martin Duffy, who played keyboards for Primal Scream and Felt, has died aged 55. The cause of death was a brain injury due to a fall at his home in Brighton, his bandmate Bobby Gillespie said.
“I’ve known Martin since he was a teenager in Felt,” Gillespie wrote on Instagram. “He played keyboards on every album of ours from the first to the last. Finally joining the band in 1991. Martin was a very special character. He had a love and understanding of music on a deep spiritual level. Music meant everything to him.”
Duffy was born in Birmingham on 18 May 1967 and grew up in Rednal.
He joined the indie band Felt in 1985 after frontman Lawrence put up a notice in the Birmingham branch of Virgin records advertising for a guitarist that read: “Do you want to be a rock’n’roll star?” and a man recommended Duffy.
Duffy’s sound became central to the band in the mid-80s as they signed to Creation Records, for 1986’s The Seventeenth Century, and embarked on what fans consider their imperial phase. The second side of their 1988 album The Pictorial Jackson Review features two Duffy instrumentals.
The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess cited the album as proof that Duffy was “actually the only musical genius I have ever met … me and [My Bloody Valentine’s] Kevin Shields sat up all night once with open mouths praising his natural ability,” he told the Quietus.
Duffy remained a member of the band until their split in 1989 – when Lawrence said he had fulfilled his aim of releasing 10 singles and 10 albums in 10 years.
In the interim, Duffy had played on Primal Scream’s first two albums, 1987’s Sonic Flower Groove and 1989’s Primal Scream; he joined the band full-time at the end of that year.
“He loved literature and was well read and erudite,” said Gillespie. “An autodidact. A deep thinker, curious about the world and other cultures. Always visiting museums in every city we played or looking for neolithic stones in remote places. Opinionated and stubborn in his views.”
Mojo’s Tim Tooher described Duffy as “probably the purest musician in the band, bringing in echoes of Thelonious Monk, Johnnie Johnson, Jerry Lee and Cecil Taylor. His voice sounds like his throat was pickled in whisky before he was even born. Martin brings the blues to Primal Scream.”
Gillespie called him “the most musically talented of all of us … He could play piano to the level where he was feted not just by his peers in British music, but old school master American musicians such as James Luther Dickinson, Roger Hawkins and David Hood and producer Tom Dowd.
“I witnessed a session at Abbey Rd in 1997 for a Dr John album where his record company had assembled a bunch of young indie Brit musicians where Mac Rebenac (Dr John) seemed bored and uninterested in the session until Martin started playing, then suddenly the good Dr started knocking some funky piano chops and I instantly knew it was because his ears had pricked up when he heard Martin play and the session at last came alive.”
In 1993, Duffy was the victim of a near-fatal stabbing in New York City while there with the band.
Duffy would also play with the Charlatans following the death of founding member Rob Collins, stepping into his shoes when the band supported Oasis at Knebworth in August 1996. He also contributed to their 1997 album Tellin’ Stories.
Burgess celebrated Duffy on Twitter: “Another tragic loss of a beautiful soul. 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.”
Primal Scream bassist Simone Marie Butler also paid tribute: “You would struggle to find a more genuine, gifted, funny, kind hearted, caring, naturally talented person who played like no one else … Your light will always burn Duffy. Everyone who knew him loved, everyone who met him loved him. He was a pure genuine soul.”
Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre was among the musicians to remember Duffy, alongside Asian Dub Foundation, Gruff Rhys and Dodgy.
Duffy would also collaborate with artists including Beth Orton, Steve Mason, the Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, Chemical Brothers, Paul Weller, Vic Godard and Subway Sect and Jessie Buckley, on the soundtrack to the 2018 film Wild Rose.
Duffy released a solo album, Assorted Promenades, on Burgess’s O Genesis label in 2014, which included music dating back to 1997. The album’s release was inspired by Duffy and Burgess witnessing a car catching fire by the side of the road, Duffy told the Quietus. The pair had just been listening to the John Foxx song Burning Car: “Tim saw it as a sign.”
Primal Scream’s most recent studio album, Chaosmosis, was released in 2016. Duffy also performed on frontman Bobby Gillespie’s 2021 collaborative album Utopian Ashes.